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Winter Wildlife Watching

Written by Michele Leyenaar
Edited by Joanne Elves

CRANBROOK – Although you won’t find any bears or south-flying birds once the snow falls, there are still many wild species that grace us with their presence during the winter months, several of which are more likely to be seen than in summer.

An elk herd – creative commons public domain

Elk – The first time I came to Cranbrook, I was amazed at all the elk. I’d heard from locals that they would be seen but I didn’t realize how many there were and, that they linger here in winter (both migratory and non-migratory elk).
Elk, like deer and moose are ungulates (which means mammals with hooves). They are usually twice as heavy as deer, have a buff coloured rump and the bulls have very large antlers that are shed in the winter. Elk in the Cranbrook area can be seen almost anywhere including within city limits. The largest herd tends to hang out along the highway anywhere around Kimberley, Wasa and Cranbrook, moving regularly between these areas. Within the Cranbrook area they can often be seen out in the open near the Cranbrook airport, along Echo Field Rd, Gold Creek and around Wycliffe up to Forest Crown/Kimberley Nature Park.

Bull Moose – photo: Larry Tooze

Moose –  are the largest of the deer family, is shy, unpredictable and an inconspicuous animal. They have extremely long legs, dark brown fur and high, humped shoulders. Males grow flat, palm-shaped antlers that can span up to 2 metres wide.
Moose are very difficult to see regardless of their relatively open habitats – they frequent marshes, muskegs, streams of boreal forests and wooded hillsides. Unlike the elk and deer who tend to stay in herds, moose are solitary animals so if you do see one, consider it a treat. You’re most likely to see moose around St. Mary’s Lake, along the Bull River and Kimberley Nature Park where resident moose can be seen strolling through Forest Crowne.

Mule Deer – Photo: Larry Tooze

Deer – These guys are absolutely everywhere grazing anywhere they can find grass, shrubs, berries, fruit (and in the summer –  gardens and flower beds). The two species of deer in the Cranbrook area are the Whitetail and Mule. Whitetail are the smaller of the two with its prominent feature being the triangular, foot-long tail. Underneath the tail is a patch of white fur that is typically only seen when they raise their tails acting as a signal to warn the herd. They tend to be much more skittish than Mule.
Mule deer, on the other hand, are large animals with their prominent features including large, mule-like ears, black-tipped white tails which they do not raise under alarm and generally white rear-ends.

Blue Jay – creative commons public domain

Blue Jays – Although the jay is a permanent resident to the area, they seem to be seen more regularly in winter months than in summer months. This may be due to the fact there is less competition for bird feeders. Blue Jays can be seen anywhere within the city and prefer sunflower seeds, acorns and peanuts over other seeds and nuts. Blue Jays are a noisy bird but are absolutely stunning with a snowy backdrop.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare – this cute little animal is native to all over BC except the islands. They are called the snowshoe hare because of their large, furry hind feet which prevent them from sinking in snow. They are a large rabbit with large black-tipped ears and have fur colourings to match the season. They can be seen hopping around dense forests and under garden shrubbery in communities that border these forests. Considering they are preyed upon by carnivores, they are quick to flee. Those hind legs can bound three meters in one bounce and propel a sprint as fast as 45 km/hr. 

Areas great for wildlife watching include the Kimberley Nature Park, the Cranbrook Community Forest, Elizabeth Lake Bird Sanctuary, Fort Steele and Wycliffe.

For more information on wildlife viewing in the Kootenays,  read this!

Thanks to the Kimberley Camera Club and especially Larry Tooze for the use of these photographs (except where otherwise stated).