It just goes on, forever.
Crossed by wary wild things.
And some smaller but bolder. This bundle of frenetic energy is a mink, a small, water-loving member of the weasel family.
It is so intent on its quest that it almost ignores me.
Spruce grouse keep watch on their own stretch of highway.
If there are any bats in the batbox, they are certainly asleep.
And the road – it just continues, rolling out of the park gate and into the rural provinces beyond.
You can never really know a path like this. As soon as you reach one end, the beginning has reinvented itself with the seasons and you have to start all over again.
Constant travelling. Constant learning. Life on the Canadian roads.
In cities, humans often try to kill Night. But in the wild, there are no lampposts or floodlit landmarks. Just the sky, painting the land as it will.
There are animals in these forests that seldom appear except in starlight. I have ambitions to find them – but in the meantime, the impossible colours steal the show.
And there is a king in waiting amongst the trees. This moose is a lot younger than the giant who showed up yesterday.
When night does fall, lights glow in the grass.
A lynx! Ghost cat of the forest. Even before we drew close, I recognised it – nothing else on earth produces such brilliant eyeshine. Eighteen years ago, I saw another Canadian lynx in the car headlights in British Columbia, and you never forget that glow.
This one is resting on the forest edge. I take a short movie – the photo is a still from it – and leave him be.
Days are not complete without Night. And no forest is complete without its cats.
September 2018 – Canada is riddled with water. Rivers, waterfalls, mountain lakes – frequent material for tourist advertisements, yet quiet corners remain where wild creatures swim.
Beaver: ecosystem engineer. They’re a hot topic in the UK at the moment because the reintroduction of the closely-related European species has shown a lot of promise, not only for biodiversity but also in reducing flooding of towns. Beavers change the environment, more than any wild animal except perhaps elephants. They slow rivers, create pools, fell trees – creating microhabitats, in other words, which other species eagerly use.
And the beaver’s fans don’t get much bigger than moose! These fabulous ungulates often browse in the marshy habitat created by beavers.
This one is clearly ready for the rut. A moose’s antlers can weigh close to 80lb, one of the heaviest crowns in the animal kingdom.
The weather’s still turning.
But a woodchuck is still awake. Hibernation hasn’t called him to a winter burrow yet.
There are days that you remember for the smallest possible reasons. I honestly thought it was a beetle, scootling across a forest road, but, no. It’s a mammal. The smallest mammal that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
It’s about the size of a £2 coin. Definitely a shrew, possibly an American pygmy shrew Sorex hoyi, the second smallest mammal on Earth. There are hummingbirds that would dwarf this bundle of whiskers and fur. Uncaring of the two-legged giants and their cameras, it predates invertebrates amongst pebbles that must seem like monoliths.
It’s easy to see a forest in only the big pieces – clouds, trees, lakes. But this wonderland at the autumn-winter boundary continues to enchant with surprises.
I used to watch belted kingfishers when I lived on Vancouver Island. This one cuts a fine figure against Manitoba trees sprinkled with white.
And it is still full of seasonal boundary lines out there.
Afternoon brings something of a thaw. And with it, a welcome face.
Not a particularly large bear, but I wouldn’t even like to guess how many shrews would equal the weight of just his head.
We’ve stumbled into a place of magic. Autumn and winter built a palace, and look at their art!
It’s quiet now, with skies lightening after last night’s snow. Spruce grouse wander the roads.
…roads: pathways past miraculous beauty.
And – this!
A bear! Three bears in fact; mama and two cubs of the year. They must be wondering who has repainted their forest, but seeing these wonderful creatures contrast the white is spellbinding.
Black bears are a special species to me after all the time I spent with them out west. I’ve travelled so far driven by the hope of seeing one again, and here there are three! Christmas come early, I think.
A good moment. A special moment. The type of moment that makes you realise how precious our wild neighbours are.
Out there, where land and sky are greeting. Where wind whips the grass into waves, and light dresses hills in gold.
It is wolf country. Can you hear them call?
For ninety years they’ve been gone, but the deer, I think, are still listening. The grasslands never forget their own.
Things that belong to it: implausible ridges cloaked in sagebush.
Ghosts of villages that crumbled under Time.
Trees that grow grackles like autumn leaves.
Shallow lakes the locals call ‘potholes’: scars of past glaciation, now tended by muskrats.
And roads that redefine infinity.
I’m on one of them. It’s been an eventful 48 hours in Saskatchewan, but now it’s time to turn north.
I’m a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog and lone,
I’m a rough dog, a tough dog, hunting on my own!
I’m a bad dog, a mad dog, teasing silly [photographers];
I love to sit and bay the moon and keep fat souls from sleep.
Not for me the other dogs, running by my side,
Some have run a short while, but none of them would bide.
O mine is still the lone trail, the hard trail, the best,
Wide wind and wild stars and the hunger of the quest.
– Lone Dog, Irene McLeod
Coyote, spirit of the prairies. What it is to hear them sing!
We live in a strange era where the grey wolf is saluted for its ecological importance, and its coyote cousin is often criticised for having the gall not to become endangered. Not a fair judgement. Science has shown that coyotes, too, are keystone predators who have widespread and fascinating influences on the rest of the natural web.
As for wildlife watching value – well, who could ask for more? Coyotes greeting on wild prairie, ruffled by the wind, shadowed by a passing golden eagle.
North America has rewritten the book on wolf genetics, and there will probably be more surprises in the future. Current understanding is that the coyote, red wolf and eastern wolf are all close relatives and ancient North American natives. The grey or timber wolf is a relatively recent arrival from eastern Russia. It would have entered North America through the lost land bridge of Beringia, arriving in what is now Alaska.
It is strange that the coyote did not return the favour and migrate into the old world. We have an ecological equivalent – the golden jackal – but no coyote.
But it’s no hardship to travel to this beautiful land to hear them sing.