Anne Elliott

Anne Elliott

Posted on 01/23/2016

Photo taken on January 22, 2016

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Rocky Mountains
Lake Louise
Banff National Park
Anne Elliott
Clark's Nutcracker
Nucifraga columbiana
Family: Corvidae
22 January 2016

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Clark's Nutcracker / Nucifraga columbiana

Clark's Nutcracker / Nucifraga columbiana
This is one of the Clark's Nutcrackers that we saw in the trees near the Chateau Lake Louise parking lot yesterday. I do have nicer photos that I will post as main photos sometime. They really do look at their best when seen from the side. These birds equate people with food, so like to hang around places such as parking lots.

"High in the mountains of the West, gray-and-black Clark’s Nutcrackers swoop among wizened pine trees, flashing white in the tail and wing. They use their dagger-like bills to rip into pine cones and pull out large seeds, which they stash in a pouch under their tongue and then carry away to bury for the winter. Each birds buries tens of thousands of seeds each summer and remembers the locations of most of them. Seeds they don’t retrieve play a crucial role in growing new pine forests." From AllAboutBirds.

All three photos posted today were taken yesterday, 22 January 2016, when I was fortunate enough to get a place on a bus trip to Lake Louise and the annual Ice Sculpture display, in Banff National Park, in the Rocky Mountains. It is a two-hour drive west of Calgary. Of course, any time a bus trip is organized way ahead of the day, you have no idea what the weather is going to be like. Unfortunately, the weather was grim all day, with snow all day long, turning to really heavy, wet snow when we stood in the parking lot at the end of the day. No sign of the sun, which made photography a real challenge. There were so many people visiting the area that it was more or less impossible to get photos without at least a few people included. Even the mountains had mostly disappeared. Our bus driver, Tim, did a wonderful job of getting us to the lake and all the way back to Calgary. I was just so thankful that I wasn't driving!

Some of the group chose to snowshoe, others to walk, and others to join Anne Belton's group for birding. I was expecting a stroll with Anne along the lake shore and around the Chateau grounds, lol, but instead we did a hike along the creek all the way to Lake Louise Village, roughly 4.2 km! The trail was very narrow - wide enough for heavy winter boots and icers plus maybe a couple of inches on either side. If you were unlucky enough to walk an inch further, you would have one leg plunge into snow up to your knee or higher and you would go flying into the snow. I was so thankful that this didn't happen to me, but it did mean that my eyes were looking downwards all the time instead of soaking up most of the glorious, snow-covered forest. The snow was so thick on the trees and when it became just too heavy for a branch to support, you stood the risk of being snow-bombed from high above. A lot of the trail was downhill - never fun in such conditions, but we all took it very slowly, though there were several tumbles or someone would end up travelling downhill on their rear end. Not the easiset hike, but the surroundings couldn't have been more beautiful. Thankfully, the bus driver had driven down to the Village ready to pick us up and take us back uphill to the Lake.

As for the birds yesterday, well, they obviously didn't particularly like the grey, snowy day and stayed in hiding, other than several Common Ravens, a couple of Magpies, one or two Clark's Nutcrackers and two House Sparrows. Back at the Chateau, two of the birders did see a very distant Stellar's Jay - always a lovely bird to see, but it was too far for them to get photos.

We had time to wander round the Ice Scuptures area, in front of the Chateau. Some amazing work created by sculptors from various parts of the world.

"Winter comes alive in iconic Lake Louise, Alberta. Ice Magic Festival, January 15 - 24, 2016 is a world class event with over 20 years under its belt. Talented ice artists from around the world delicately balance grueling physical labour with precision artistry in a 34 hour International Ice Carving Competition.

Jaw-dropping scenery sets the stage as ice carving teams of 2 create sculptures illustrating their interpretations of our chosen theme for 2016: Earth, Wind, Fire & Water - Elements of Life." Taken from link below. I love that the prize money for this competition is only a comparativey small amount, which I think shows that the carvers do what they do for love of the art, not for the money : )

Team Ice Carving Competition
1st Place: $2,500
2nd Place: $1,500
3rd Place: $750
Carver's Choice: $750
People's Choice: $500

One Carver, One Hour, One Block
1st Place: $1,000
2nd Place: $300
3rd Place: $200
People's Choice: $250

So, a wonderful day trip for us all in breathtaking surroundings. I am especially appreciative, as I don't drive to the mountains, so rarely get to see them. Many thanks to FLC for doing such a great job of organizing this most enjoyable day for us. Thanks to Anne Belton for taking some of us on a beautiful hike through the forest. Definitely a day to remember.