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CALL OF THE WILD
 
(2015 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: KATHARINE FLETCHER



Canada's diverse habitats offer opportunities for spectacular wildlife viewing.

I’m on the deck of Vancouver Whale Watch’s boat, Explorathor II, south of Vancouver Island, whale-watching in Juan de Fuca Strait. Suddenly, Captain John Bulmer shouts, “Off to starboard: there’s an orca superpod!”Looking left, we watch 88 killer whales swimming about and playing for about an hour before they disappear. After they’re gone, our group of 40 passengers erupts into excited chatter: talk about being at the right place at the right time!

Wildlife watching is like that: Mother Nature rules. Superpods occur when family groups congregate to socialize, hunt and check out mating partners. Such large groups are rarely seen.

Wildlife abounds in Canada due to the country’s vast expanses of varied topography and some extreme wilderness territory. Here you can discover mountains, forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers and ocean waters, all home to various wildlife. Even in many urban landscapes, coyotes, mink, owls, herons and more thrive.

However, just because we are in an animal’s habitat, sightings are never guaranteed.

If you’re keen on animals, consider joining a guided excursion over several hours or days, and visit interpretation centres to learn about species’ habitats and needs. This way, if you do see wildlife, you’ll appreciate it much more. And another thing. All operators I mention follow best practices, meaning the welfare of the animals is paramount.

Where to go? What to see? Here aresome ideas.

Marine Life

On the Atlantic coast, New Brunswick’s shores offer many whale-watching outfitters, including two on Grand Manan Island: Whales-n-Sails Adventures and Sea Watch Tours. Also renowned for birding, this island is where famous American ornithological artist John James Audubon visited in 1831 to sketch birds such as ospreys and Atlantic puffins.

Nova Scotia’s eastern shore is protected by a rocky archipelago, perfect for kayaking for a day or more with Coastal Adventures outfitters. Paddle and look for curious seals and search for bald eagle and osprey nests, while guides explain marine biology.

The confluence of Québec’s Saguenay Fjord and St. Lawrence River at Tadoussac is part of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park. Brackish waters provide a rich feeding ground for beluga, humpback, sperm, fin, blue and minke whales. Many whale-watching outfitters schedule trips here, but first, learn about marine life at Tadoussac’s Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre. And, visit Parks Canada’s Pointe-Noire Interpretation and Observation Centre to talk to naturalists and watch for whales from the observation deck.

Manitoba’s Big Five Safari

Manitoba’s Frontiers North hosts numerous exciting experiences based in Churchill, located on Hudson Bay, home to polar bears and belugas. However, their Big Five Safari package offers an unusual, exciting pairing. First, you visit the rare fescue grassland and forest habitat of Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP) west of Winnipeg, then fly north to Churchill.

While the park is home to black bear, bison and moose, the Arctic tundra and Hudson Bay are beluga and polar bear territory. Bonuses abound in both habitats. In RMNP find deer, red foxes and elk; in Churchill, there are Arctic fox, ptarmigan and others. Frontiers North operates Tundra Buggies out of Churchill, so you travel in safety and comfort while seeking polar bears.

Incidentally, RMNP is now promoted as one of the best and most diverse watchable wildlife areas in North America. It’s almost guaranteed wildlife can be viewed very accessibly in this 3,000-square-kilometre park that’s home to black bear, moose, elk, bison, wolves and more. The park has a bison enclosure where visitors can join park staff who interpret bison signs (rubbing areas, tracks) and explain the importance of these creatures to First Nations peoples.

Backcountry Expeditions

Want to immerse yourself in wilderness? Wayne Sawchuk of Muskwa-Kechika Adventures in British Columbia leads multi-day horseback expeditions, on which pack horses carry gear. The Muskwa-Kechika is the largest remaining wilderness in the Rocky Mountains and one of the most varied wildlife ecosystems in North America. Since these rugged trips can last up to 12 days, you must be in excellent physical shape. Why? You’ll be doing it all, from helping to catch and saddle your horse to pitching your tent and assisting with campfire meals. Ride with Sawchuk, seeking grizzly and black bears, wolves, mountain goats, Stone sheep, elk, wolverine, caribou and moose. Guaranteed, you’ll see tracks, rubbings and other wildlife signs.

What about more accessible wilderness? Famous for its icefields, Kluane National Park covers more than 22,000 square kilometres in the Yukon Territory. Near Kluane, Dalton Trail Lodge offers superb eco activities, fishing, gourmet meals, plus some of the best “drive-by”wildlife watching I’ve ever encountered. Two nights in a row, just by driving at dusk, I spotted grizzly and black bears, a mother moose with two calves, deer, red fox, and most surprisingly, a lynx. Best wildlife viewing is in May and June because wildlife is moving into summer feeding grounds.

Northern Saskatchewan presents another sort of wilderness in Prince Albert National Park, where rolling hills and poplar forests, lakes and grasslands provide a completely different habitat. Here, Gord Vaadeland of Sturgeon River Ranch leads gentle overnight horseback outings in search of the only free-ranging herd of plains bison still within their historic range in Canada. Watch for deer, red fox, coyotes, wolves and many birds.

Québec’s Gatineau Park is 20 minutes north of Ottawa. Its 361 square kilometres of forests and lakes provide habitat for black bear, wolves, coyotes, red fox, marten, mink and more. Friends of Gatineau Park offer guided programs, such as “Snowshoe Under the Stars,”during which guides explain animal behaviour in winter.

Howling with Wolves

Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park is internationally renowned for its serene lakes, paddling and camping opportunities—and August wolf howls. What are these? Visitors assemble in an outdoor amphitheatre to hear an illustrated talk on the ecology of wolves in the park and then accompany a guide to a scouted location where they may hear wolves respond to howls uttered by the guide-interpreter. It’s a magical, spine-chilling thrill to hear a pack respond at night under a canopy of stars twinkling overhead.

Better yet, why not time your visit to combine a paddling trip in Algonquin searching for moose with Voyageur Quest?

Birding Festivals

Due to Canada’s diverse ecosystems and climates, birding is immensely varied. And with the migration of species, there’s always reason to celebrate.

In the Yukon Territory, there’s April’s Celebration of Swans. Don’t miss the Swan Haven Interpretive Centre’s exhibit.

In Canmore, Alberta, October’s Festival of Eagles encourages us to learn about bald eagles and other wildlife through lectures and guided walks.

In Canada’s National Capital Region, which includes the twin cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, plus parts of Québec and Ontario, birders Tony Beck and Nina Stavlund of Always an Adventure lead year-round tours, which often include photography tips.

Prince Edward Island isn’t just home to legendary Anne of Green Gables. More than 300 species of birds live here, such as great blue herons, endangered piping plovers and more. Learn more about the endangered plovers by visiting PEI National Park.

Bird “the Rock” in rugged Newfoundland. Hike and seek rock ptarmigan, northern gannets, pine grosbeaks and more at Gros Morne National Park.

Travel Planner

Before booking a trip, contact outfitters to learn about special gear you may need. Don’t forget cameras and binoculars, and during Canadian summers, insect repellent for mosquitoes is a must. For more information, visit:

Algonquin Provincial Park: ontarioparks.com/park/algonquin

Always an Adventure: alwaysanadventure.ca

Coastal Adventures: coastaladventures.com

Dalton Trail Lodge: daltontrail.com

Environment Yukon: env.gov.yk.ca

Friends of Gatineau Park: friendsofgatineaupark.com

Frontiers North: frontiersnorth.com

Muskwa-Kechika Adventures: go2mk.ca/expedition

Parks Canada: pc.gc.ca

Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park: parcmarin.qc.ca/home.html

Sea Watch Tours: seawatchtours.com

Sturgeon River Ranch: sturgeonriverranch.com

The Town of Canmore: canmore.ca/Community-Celebrations

Tourism PEI: tourismpei.com/pei-birding

Vancouver Whale Watch: vancouverwhalewatch.com

Voyageur Quest: voyageurquest.com

Whales-n-sails Adventures: whales-n-sails.com

 
 
 
 
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