Spring Has Sprung in the Canadian Rockies

Spring has sprung in the Canadian Rockies! How wonderful that our Photo Blogging Challenge host waited until May to assign a spring-related theme. Our distance from the equator means spring arrives a little late in the Bow Valley. And usually after a long, slow dance with Old Man Winter.

Here are five sure signs that spring has (finally) sprung in this part of the world:

1. Birds

One of the first harbingers of spring is the arrival of flocks of American Robins. The males arrive first, and work cooperatively to find food. The females arrive several weeks later and then the cooperation between the males turns to competition.

Some highlights of this year’s bird migration season: a Red-tail hawk, many kinds of sparrows, a Clark’s nutcracker, a pair of brown-headed cowbirds, a couple of bald eagles, and Mountain bluebirds. We spotted a Mountain bluebird in 2015, and then again in 2018. This year we spotted that distinctive flash of blue on two different days, in two different parts of Canmore!

bluebird in flight
A highlight of bird migratory season: Mountain bluebird sightings on two different days!

2. Wildflowers

Scouting for wildflowers in the spring is one of my favourite ways to strengthen my feeling of connectedness with nature. And over the years I’ve learned to identify quite a few by sight. This year I registered for two citizen science projects in May.

The City Nature Challenge is a worldwide initiative to inventory nature in cities. Between two neighbourhood walks and an hour in our yard, I observed 79 different species over the first weekend in May.

The last weekend in May included two wildflower walks in Canmore, netting observations of 35 species. A highlight: the beautiful Fairy Slipper (aka Calypso bulbosa var. americana), photographed by MinifigMe. 🙂

I put my photos into iNaturalist, a free resource with an AI to help identify plants and animals. There are all kinds of projects you can join. Some, like the provincial parks in our area, automatically add new observations to those projects based on location tag. I’m finding it’s a no-pressure way to learn more about the plants I see while out and about – whether in spring, summer or fall!

Lego minifig with camera and Calypso orchids
This was my first year taking part in the May Plant Count, which aims to assess the phase of vascular plants across Alberta at the end of May.

3. Cycling Roads Closed to Vehicles

A spring has sprung tradition in the Canadian Rockies is to cycle highways still closed to vehicles. The most long-standing example is the Highwood Pass. Canada’s highest paved road is closed to vehicles from mid-December to mid-June. Starting late May, intrepid cyclists park at the winter gate and pedal until they’re stopped by snow or reach the summit. We’re planning to ride to the summit in early June this year.

In 2020, Parks Canada closed a stretch of the Bow Valley Parkway to vehicles. This was mainly to restrict access to Johnston Canyon (a constructed trail with catwalks which don’t allow for physical distancing). The closure to vehicles was a boon for cyclists, who embraced the opportunity to pedal this scenic stretch of road. We rode it four times in 2020.

Cyclists everywhere cheered when Parks Canada announced the road would be closed to vehicles over the summer of 2021. We chose this route for our first bike ride of the year and smiled at the signs warning of amphibians on the road: long-toed salamanders, who go looking for love in May. 😉 And while we didn’t see any salamanders, we did have quite a (mis)adventure. Check out this Relive video for the whole story.

temporary salamander crossing sign
We cycled the Bow Valley Parkway several times last year, but missed the salamander road crossing season.

4. Ice and Turquoise

As winter recedes, so does the ice on our mountain lakes. After that, glacier melt recharges the distinctive turquoise colour that makes places like Moraine Lake so photogenic. For the first time ever, we cycled up Moraine Lake Road before it opened to vehicles. As a result, we had the lakeshore pretty much to ourselves for awhile. Mr. GeoK set up a timelapse and I played around with our waterproof camera. But after about 90 minutes, hordes of cyclists started to arrive. So we mounted up and rode back, passing more than a hundred bicyclists pedaling up while we coasted down.

Moraine Lake partly ice covered
The slow melt of ice on our mountain lakes makes for great spring photography opportunities – if you can get to them!

5. Bears

Finally, another sure sign that spring has sprung: bears emerge from their dens. We spotted this small black bear along the Legacy Trail between Canmore and Banff. Pretty much everyone stopped just long enough to take one or two photos and then continued riding. As for the bear, it’s primary interest was dandelions for lunch!

black bear
We spotted this small black bear along Cascade Creek just outside the Banff townsite. Snapped a couple of quick photos and continued home, leaving the bear to its dandelion feast.

Want to see what spring looks like in other parts of the world? Check out the link up over at A ‘lil HooHaa. Want a fun, low-stress way prompt to practice your photography? Join us for June’s Photo Blogging Challenge. The main requirement is five photographs related to the monthly theme. For June 2021, the theme is DIY. The amount of accompanying text is entirely up to you.

4 thoughts on “Spring Has Sprung in the Canadian Rockies

  1. AMAZING scenery at Moraine Lake! and the Bear – can it get any more Canadian, eh? ♥

    Did you want to insert the link to your video after the salamander paragraph?

    Happy Friday!

  2. Bears!?!?!? Yes, we’ve had some bear sightings in middle Missouri too. Our summer birds are back. The cardinals and bluebirds stay all winter, which is nice to see on those winter days. Sometimes I see an indigo bunting in the spring and summer. They are gorgeous! Your melting lake shot is stunning and the little wildflowers are adorable.

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