Tag Archives: Wildlife encounters with kids

Moose on the loose at Island Lake

With nature, timing is everything. Some days you can hike 20 kilometres in the backcountry and see nary a bird; other times you hit the wildlife jackpot with minimum effort. Such was our hot July afternoon at Island Lake.

A mother moose grazes while her calf eyes us up at Island Lake near Fernie, B.C.

A mother moose grazes while her calf eyes us up at Island Lake near Fernie, B.C.

We drove from Fernie up to Island Lake Lodge to rent a canoe ($10 for one hour) and paddle around the lake. The lake is named for the small island in its centre that makes a fun target to navigate around. After situating Bennett and Avery inside the canoe, with instructions to stay as still as possible in spite of the crazy swarms of mayflies (in other words, no tipping!), Blake and I dipped our oars toward the island.

The mayflies were swarming us in the canoe. Good thing they don't bite!

The mayflies were swarming us in the canoe. Good thing they don’t bite!

I spotted movement along a shaded bank. As we glided closer I saw it was a mama moose and her baby, which appeared to be pretty darn new. The pair were busy munching on leaves along the water’s edge. Mama raised her head and stared us down (Blake stopped paddling; I was busy taking endless photos), then hunger drove her back to her afternoon snack. Baby tried unsuccessfully to nurse several times, but was repeatedly dissuaded by a guttural moan from its mother, who clearly needed sustenance after birthing and nursing her calf. We watched them in awe for 10 minutes or more, marvelling at the tiny, fuzzy baby and its skinny, gangly mama. As we paddled away the small family headed inland on the island.

Mama and baby moose pause to glance at our approaching canoe.

Mama and baby moose pause to glance at our approaching canoe.

We continued our trip around the lake, chasing ducklings (much to Bennett’s delight) and letting Avery try to catch tadpoles. A final circle of the island showed no signs of the wildlife sheltered there.

Canoeing at Island LAke is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Canoeing at Island Lake is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Later, over cocktails on the Bear Lodge patio, Island Lake Lodge marketing guy Mike McPhee told us that a mother moose swims out to the island every spring to birth a calf. She shelters it there for awhile, then they move back to the mainland for the rest of the summer. Smart mama — what a beautiful place to raise a babe.

Wildlife encounters at Elbow Falls

As we were walking down the pathway toward Elbow Falls in Kananaskis Country this past weekend my daughter spotted a cougar. Thankfully, it was not a live cougar (neither the mountain nor urban variety), but the pelt of one (the mountain kind), head and all. A volunteer from Bow Valley WildSmart wore it around her shoulders like a stole to get families’ attention and thus educate them about “living smart” with wildlife.

Q: What’s better than petting a cougar pelt?
A: Sticking your hand down its throat.

But we weren’t there to learn stuff so I marched the kids over to the waterfall-viewing platforms.

Bennett looks longingly back toward the cougar.

OK, now that’s a waterfall. (Avery deemed Elbow Falls too “lame” for a photo with her in it.)

After we observed Elbow Falls from every vantage along the trail (according to Avery Elbow Falls is kind of “lame” because it’s not bigger than our house), both kids wanted to wander back to the cougar. Lucky day! There was also a grizzly bear pelt available for petting, manned by a volunteer from Friends of Kananaskis.

Truthfully, Avery and Bennett were more interested in stroking both pelts’ soft fur, touching the grizzly’s sharp claws and sticking their hands down the cougar’s throat, than learning about playing dead should they encounter a bear in the woods.

Bennett vs. grizzly claws. Though he’s loathe to have his nails trimmed, I still think the griz would win.

Besides, I like to think I’m fairly “wildsmart” — I never leave bacon or gutted fish out at the campsite, only vegetables and open jars of peanut butter. Kidding! The volunteers handed out brochures with wildsmart tips — good information about what to do during wildlife encounters when hiking or camping with kids. The only problem was I then had to explain some things to my children, who had just spent 10 minutes petting and playing with what, in their world, equated to life-size cougar and grizzly “stuffies”:

  • Avery: “So if we see a cougar on a hike, you have to pick us up for our protection?” Me: “Yes.” Avery: “But then how would you fight back if he attacked?” Me: “Um, I’d hurl you at his head like a human cannonball.”
  • Avery: “Aww, bears are so soft and cute. I wish we could cuddle them in real life.” Me: “They don’t like being cuddled.” Avery: “Not even the baby ones?” Me: “Well, the babies might like it, but then the mommy would maul you and feed you to them.” Avery: “What does ‘maul’ mean?” Me: “Nevermind.”
  • Avery: “I’ve seen coyotes by our house. They look like dogs and always run off.” Me: “They may look tame but they’re wild and dangerous.” Avery: “Then maybe you should supervise us when we’re playing in the yard.” Me: “Nah, just pick up your brother and yell at the coyote. If that doesn’t work throw Bennett into its head like a human cannonball.”

But seriously, Elbow Falls is a hugely popular day-trip destination and many picnickers may lack knowledge about handling human-wildlife encounters. I think it’s great Bow Valley WildSmart and Friends of Kananaskis are taking the initiative to educate visitors about sharing nature safely with the critters. Plus, they kind of saved the day with their pelts: for kids, wild animals trump wild water any day.