Tag Archive: british columbia


Toad Time

Time for amphibians to get some love. This grumpy looking character is a boreal toad (Anaxyrus boreas boreas). They range along the west coast from Alaska down to Mexico.

Western Toad ss wm

A common myth is that they have warts along their backs that are contagious. However, these ‘warts’ aren’t warts at all, but large glands that secrete a bitter fluid that causes numbness and irritation in the mouth of their would be predators. An important point to remember if you touch one and forget to wash your hands!

Like many other amphibians, their numbers have declined significantly throughout their range, in part due to the introduction of chytrid fungus, habitat loss and pollution. I photographed this guy near Meziadin Junction in Northern British Columbia, where their populations are still relatively stable.

Even in the USA, where their numbers have plummeted, it’s not all bad news for these toads. The first evidence of successful, natural breeding of translocated toads occurred in Colorado last year, giving hope that over time and with protected species status, they can be re-established throughout their historical range.

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Those were the first two options that came to my mind as I crested a hill in Northern British Columbia and saw this creature far off in the distance.

Black fox portrait all ears WMThankfully, it stuck around long enough for me to get closer and as it moved out into the open it became clear that it was a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) with an unusual coat. I’m not sure if the experts would call this a silver, black or cross fox? There are 8 genes responsible for coat colour in foxes and depending on which genes have dominant or recessive coding, there can be over 80 different colour combinations.

Maybe just a coincidence, but I’ve only ever come across red foxes with unusual coats when I head further north. This one seemed almost as curious about me as I was of it, giving me this questioning look before we both moved along.

Red fox carrying hare WM

The morning after photographing Fire Fox the same fox, now several miles from where I first found it, was feasting on a snowshoe hare. After burying a few mouthfuls to lighten the load, it neatly folded the rest into a bundle and made the long journey back to the den to serve breakfast to its family.

Gray Wolf

Wolf head profile wm fb

I came across this gray wolf in Muncho Lake Provincial Park in Northern British Columbia.

If you spend any time photographing wild wolves, they make it clear from their body language if they are relaxed with you around. This 2-3 year old wolf (based on body size and teeth condition) could have cared less that I was just a short distance away. It kept its ears forward, jaw relaxed and pace at a slow trot, paying no attention to me while scanning the clearings for any caribou or stone sheep.

The entire sighting was over within a few minutes as it disappeared into the trees, but like with any wolf encounter, it left me with an adrenalin rush that kept me going for the rest of the day.

Out On A Limb

Chipmunk eating tree buds wm fb

A determined chipmunk precariously balanced on the branches of a willow before it plucked the buds and scurried down the tree to safety. I took this photo earlier this spring near Toad River, in northern British Columbia.

Fire Fox

Fire Fox

 

Caribou curious WM

If I told you that for the past few years mountain caribou have been captured by nets, sedated and loaded into helicopters and then flown to either awaiting transport trailers or large enclosures on the sides of mountains you would likely think I’m pulling your leg. I wish I was, but for the past several years dedicated teams composed of First Nations personnel, wildlife biologists, fellow veterinarians, and countless others have being doing just that in order to try to conserve some of the most critically endangered caribou herds in British Columbia.

Past and current caribou conservation measures in the province include everything from limiting human access to caribou habitat, predator management and caribou translocations. Talks continue to occur to establish a captive breeding program so that there is a source population for dwindling herds, but while those plans are still in the preliminary stages other intensive caribou conservation initiatives are being implemented. The most recent includes what is termed ‘maternal penning’ of caribou.

Maternal penning involves taking wild, pregnant caribou and placing them in large enclosures in their native habitat for about 3 months. During this time they are protected from predators, given lots of lichen and other high quality caribou food and provided with a safe place to give birth to their calves. Disturbances from people are kept to an absolute minimum so caribou are not conditioned to human presence. The calves are born in May-June and kept in the enclosure for the next 1-2 months until they are strong enough to easily keep up with the herd and to be able to outrun predators like wolves and bears. At this point the mothers and calves are released back into their natural habitat and monitored to track calf survival. Previous application of this technique in the Yukon showed promising results and so the technique was adapted for use in the mountainous areas of British Columbia.

A few months ago maternal penning projects were undertaken for two declining herds in BC. One was in Revelstoke and another near Chetwynd. The later is a unique initiative spearheaded by the West Moberly First Nations in partnership with biologists and the provincial government.  The West Moberly first nations have suspended their treaty right to hunt caribou for the past several decades and have recently used this treaty right to drive the process of caribou recovery in their native lands. They created their own caribou recovery plan that met the requirements of the Species at Risk Act, which in turn has led to the maternal penning project that was implemented earlier this spring.

It is too early to say whether all of these efforts will pay off, and some may argue that the resources put into mountain caribou conservation would be better spent elsewhere. In my opinion caribou are just a symptom of much bigger problems that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. While governments decide on what to do to combat climate change as a result of habitat destruction and pollution, those of us on the front lines will continue to try to treat the symptoms until the bigger issues are finally addressed.

If you’re interested in learning more about mountain caribou click on the below links for additional details.

 

Caribou water mountains WM

 

Mountain caribou herds facing extinction

Alberta government sells off caribou habitat to industry

US government downgrades mountain caribou federal status despite continued declines

Revelstoke caribou rearing in the wild

Captive breeding of mountain caribou

Caribou lone, mountain profile tree WM

Putting it mildly, mountain caribou as a whole are not doing well. Several of the southern and central mountain herds are down to less than 50 animals! In fact, these two populations were just listed as endangered by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). The northern mountain population was listed as ‘special concern,’ which is one step away from threatened status.

On my drive up to a conference to discuss current research on caribou I was lucky enough to come across some of these iconic animals along the way.  This bull was hanging out near the border between BC and the Yukon, where many bulls were feeding on plants in the valley bottoms. Unfortunately, in the near future sightings like this may become exceedingly rare.

Next week I will post on some of the intensive conservation measures being undertaken to try to save this species.

Sunset river yellow and green trees cropped and edited WM

After a busy few months I’m starting to get back on track with my photography. I took this photo earlier this month in northern British Columbia near the Yukon border. It was more spring like in the Yukon than in Calgary, so that was a nice, pleasant surprise!

Ironically, it seems every time I’m on this road there is a caribou connection. The first time I drove this section it was to complete a long distance transport of a herd of caribou from Fairbanks, Alaska to Fort St. John BC, so we only stopped for fueling up and short breaks.  This time it was because I was presenting at the North American Caribou Workshop in Whitehorse, Yukon and I decided to drive rather than fly. It was a great trip with lots of wildlife sightings, including numerous caribou along the way.

Over the next month or so I will post a few photos from the trip. I hope you enjoy them!

Fireweed blankets the floor of a burnt forest in Kooteney National Park in British Columbia. The plant is not named because of its association with previously burnt landscapes, but because in autumn the leaves turn a brilliant red-orange colour resembling flames.

On a recent trip to British Columbia for work, a colleague and I stopped in Radium for a quick pit-stop to take some photos. This was one of my favourites.