It’s the law: visiting friends have to go to Wells Gray Park, even if there’s time to see only a portion of it, easily accessible waterfalls at the top of the list. When we are lucky, animals and birds put on a show for us.
Such was the case at Helmcken Falls in June of last year. Hawks swooped around, above and through the high-flying mists of the thundering, falling water. We continued on to the foot of Clearwater Lake where we sat outside the small café, our two dogs tied up nearby. Suddenly a yellow-headed blackbird landed on the railing not three m from us all. It stayed until its photo was taken by us and the other diners before leaving as abruptly as it had come. Flitting in a nearby bush, a wee yellow-green bird blended in with the spring colours of the leaves that were just emerging. Its sprightly activity in leaping from bough to bough was accompanied by cheerful singing. Checking a bird book, we think we were watching a Wilson’s warbler. Just before we left, and definitely part of this lovely, if chilly, scene, a loon silently drifted by before submerging.
On our return journey, a car was stopped in the middle of the road just south of the Murtle River warming hut. “Game ahead,” we guessed – correctly. A black bear and her small black cub were foraging in the green grass at road’s edge. Some camera fumbling in the excitement of the moment cost us the opportunity for a picture of them both together. And then one of the dogs barked! The scene changed. In a flash the cub was up the nearest tree. “Go higher,” urged Mama as the second dog added his comments. The lesson over and her young’un safely above her and out of danger, Mama then unconcernedly continued her munching.
Sometimes our guests are taken up to Green Mountain Lookout on the way up, but this time we drove up that winding road when we were on our way back. Descending after enjoying the 360 degree view of the park, we were greeted by a second bear as we were about to turn onto Clearwater Valley Road. Probably a yearling, it stood up when it first saw us, then abruptly decided it wasn’t old enough to do this big-bear thing, and scrambled up the nearest tree. Here it perched as we attempted to photograph this shy black beauty, now barely (sorry!) visible through the branches. It outstayed us, remaining on its lofty perch until after we had set off again.
For visiting Australians, seeing a bear is the biggest thrill, but other animals can be curiosities as well. For example, in a totally different setting, we were returning to Clearwater from Barriere with some of my country-folk on board. Happily, we saw a group of eight to 10 deer grazing in a field above Highway 5.
“Are they tame deer?” one asked. While this seems strange, even humorous, to those who live here, the question was a reasonable one. Any deer seen in Australia, or wapiti/elk in New Zealand for that matter, are enclosed as they are raised for meat. They are not seen in the wild as we see them here, so they don’t even get to moan about any munched gardens.
Don’t you get tired of going to the same places all the time?” we are asked occasionally.
“Never!” we respond. “Something is different every time: the sky, the colours, the flora, and – best of all – you never know what wildlife you might encounter.”