Tag Archives: Jasper National Park

Project 366 – Post No. 027 – Shooting Shrubberies

What is Project 366? Read more here!

There is an elevated boardwalk across a small creek along the Valley of the Five Lakes trail in Jasper National Park. The creek cannot be more than 2 m (~7 ft) across and is surrounded by lush riparian vegetation. When we visited, we came across a shrub by the creek, still leaf-less, sporting what looked like willow catkins. I am not a plant person so I am going out on a limb here, but the shrub looked like a form of Pussy Willow, one of the smaller species of the genus Salix. The catkins typically appear much earlier than the leaves and are traditionally considered one of the earliest signs of spring. With the light behind the shrubbery I decided to try to do a backlit shot with my Nikon P1000. With the jumble of branches, not surprisingly, the camera did not have any trouble focusing on the shrubbery. A similar scenario occurred a bit further along the trail. Lots of shrubbery in the foreground, but this time a bear family lounging in the understory behind the jumble of branches. Perhaps not surprising, the camera focused on the shrubbery rather than the bear family. This is a common scenario as most of the subjects I photograph are birds in, you guessed in, trees and shrubs. Often with a jumble of branches between me and them. I have only had the P1000 for a few weeks so far. With my lack of previous experience with digital cameras, taming this beast is quite frustrating at times. There is an active P1000 Facebook group that I peruse when things get out of hand, just to remind me that it is actually a quite capable camera able to to take stunning images once you master it. My experience shooting through shrubbery with the P1000 reminds me of Monty Python’s The Knights Who Say Ni, where the Head King demand a shrubbery as a appeasement in return for letting Arthur and his party pass unharmed. Once Arthur brings the shrubbery it turns out that the Knights Who Say Ni are no longer the Knights Who Say Ni, but rather the Knights Who Say Ecky-ecky-ecky-ecky-pikang-zoom-boing-mumble-mumble who now require another shrubbery and also require Arthur to cut down mightiest tree in the forest… with … a herring! Nonsensical, yes, but sometimes my success (or lack thereof) with the P1000 is reminiscent of this farce.

Nikon P1000, 280mm equivalent, 1/125s, f/4.5, ISO 110

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling.com). Copyright Mario Pineda.

Project 366 – Post No. 026 – Loon at the Fifth Lake

What is Project 366? Read more here!

The trail the Valley of Five Lakes in Jasper National Park meanders between and around…, you guessed it, five lakes. The Fifth Lake (that is actually it’s name) is different from the other four lakes in that it is emerald green this time of year. It is surrounded by lush spruce forests and at one end of it (NW side) there is a small wooden boat dock. The dock is the perfect spot for taking a break with a beautiful view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Last time we were here there was a lonely Common Loon enjoying the spring sun. This iconic species came in as species 52 on the AB Big Year list and 103 on the Life List. As we were studying it through our binoculars I noticed how the loon would lay its head flat on the water surface moments before diving. I am not sure if I just have not noticed this behaviour previously or if this was a behaviour unique to this particular individual. I will definitely look for this next time I see a loon and hopefully get a video recording of it.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling.com). Copyright Mario Pineda.

Project 366 – Post No. 025 – Valley of the Five Lakes

What is Project 366? Read more here!

One of our favourite valley bottom hikes around Jasper is the Valley of the Five Lakes trail. With a name that sounds like it would come right out of the lore of Middle Earth, the hike does not disappoint. With panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains, emerald green and azure blue lakes the trail meanders through Mountain Pine Beetle ravaged pine forests, lush spruce stands and aspen groves. It is a popular trail and to beat the rush you want to be hitting the trail before 10 am. Last weekend we visited Jasper National Park and were fortunate enough to be able to do the Valley of the Fives Lakes trail twice. On our first day out we were greeted by a vocal Pileated Woodpecker and accompanied along the trail by Dark-eyed Juncos singing from the tree tops and American Robins hopping about through the understory. We found a mother bear with her cubs hiding in the bushes along the trail. As tempting as it was to linger and try to get a nice photograph of the family, we opted for a quick peek and then moved on to avoid undue stress on the new mother. The sound the cubs made was quite interesting. It was reminiscent of the cooing sounds of pigeons. So next time you heart a cooing in the forest it might be something bigger and furier than a pigeon or a dove. Often people are worried about meeting bears along the trails, and admittedly that I shared this concern once upon a time. Many bear encounter later, however, I found myself very lucky if I spot a bear. I don’t go actively looking for bears, but if our paths cross an already special day suddenly becomes unforgettable in the best of possible ways.

Nikon P1000, 655mm equivalent, 1/640s, f/5, ISO 100

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling.com). Copyright Mario Pineda.

Project 366 – Post No. 024 – Old Man’s Beard in Jasper National Park

What is Project 366? Read more here!

During a hike through the Valley of the Five Lakes in Jasper National Park we encountered a grove of trees covered in Old Man’s Beard, a type of lichen that grows in tassels attached to the branches of trees. These lichens grow extremely slowly and are sensitive to air pollution, especially sulfur dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels. I found it peculiar that we only found this lichen in a single grove of trees located in a small area. Clearly there must be something unique about that location or those trees, but I cannot put my finger on what that might be. We hiked this trail twice this weekend as many of the higher elevation trails are still snow covered. The Valley of the Five Lakes is at the bottom of a valley just south of the town site and is one of our favourite day hike trails.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling.com). Copyright Mario Pineda.

Project 366 – Post No. 022 – Long Weekend in the Mountains

What is Project 366? Read more here!

The mountains have been calling and with the Easter long-weekend arriving we wasted no time. As soon as school was out we hit the highway heading East. We arrived in Jasper late last night. Other than a close encounter with a band of coyotes on the highway the darkness was enveloping the landscape and did not reveal any other animals or scenery upon our arrival. The next morning we woke up to a grey sky with intermittent light rain. None of that mattered as we were happy and rejuvenated to breathe the cool mountain air. Jasper is at an elevation of about 1000 m (compared to Edmonton’s 645 m) and as a result the lakes still have a thin layer of ice on them and the mountains still have substantial amounts of snow on them. We are hoping to do some hiking over the weekend, but as many trails still are snow and ice covered we have to choose the trail wisely. A month ago I attempted to the Tonquin Valley trail but the trail surface was sheer ice and it was far to perilous to proceed. In the end we renting expedition grade cleats and ended up hiking the Maligne Canyon (which was spectacular). We will probably not see too many birds as these arrive later here. If we are lucky we might see some large mammals though.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling.com). Copyright Mario Pineda.

The changing scenery of Jasper

Spring break is here and there is not time to waste. Right after school on Friday afternoon we hit the road and went to Jasper for the weekend. Other than skiing at Marmot Basin we had no plans other than enjoying the mountains. We have been to Jasper many times before, but this time a distinctly different scenery greeted us when we arrived. The smoke of burning wood hung heavy in the air and stacks of lumber were piled up high throughout Jasper. Anyone who has been to Jasper over the last few years could not have missed the signs. Over the last few years more and more trees around Jasper (and throughout the National Park) have been turning rust coloured as they succumbed and died to an almost invisible foe – the Mountain Pine Beetle. No larger than a grain of rice this beetle has decimated the pine forests of British Columbia over the last decades. Slowly but surely it has advanced East-wards until it crossed the Rocky Mountains and invaded Alberta.

We go to Jasper every year and every time more of the pine forests has turned a rusty brown colour. With this many standing dead trees fire hazard becomes a serious concern. To prevent a wildfire in the proximity of the town-site, last fall infested stands were logged and remove or burned.

As one enters Jasper from the highway (west side of town) along Connaugh Drive, one used to be greeted by a lush green forest along the roadside.

Not anymore. Now the view from Connaugh Drive is dramatically different.

A closer look at the tree trunks reveals the characteristic blue staining of the wood due to a fungus that is introduced into the tree by the Mountain Pine Beetle. If recovered in time this wood is structurally sound and can still be used for lumber. It would be interesting to know what the plans for this lumber are.

When pines are infested by Mountain Pine Beetles they turn a rusty colour as they die. The rust color fades to a grey color after a few years creating stands of ghost-like forests.

This trunk of a pine trees exhibits the characteristic pitch tubes of a Mountain Pine Beetle attack. As the beetles drill into the tree, the tree defends itself by extruding sap which then form yellow clumps on the outside of the bark.

The lack of sap around these holes suggests that these may be exit holes for the offspring of the beetles that initially attacked this tree. By the time the offspring emerge (the following year) the tree is already dead and does not have the sap anymore. Once the offspring emerge they set out to find new hosts and mates to continue the cycle.

Clear cutting and burning of infested stands by Patricia Lake north of the town-site.

The removal of the infested trees around Jasper started last October, once the ground was frozen to minimize damage from the heavy machinery. The green hatched area on the map indicates the where trees are being removed.

The pine forest will undoubtedly recover, but it will take time and in the meantime there will be some major changes to the flora and fauna of the affected regions. I suspect that once the vegetation starts to colonize the newly formed large open areas we will likely see more brush-like vegetation and perhaps more wildflowers as well. Obviously anywhere where the dead trees are left (which is pretty much everywhere) there will likely also be an increase in wildfires.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling). Copyright Mario Pineda.