This entire post is dedicated to wildlife we’ve seen in Alaska and Canada. Many of our wildlife sightings went undocumented, but luckily I have a few photos to share. Pictured above is the prints of a grizzly bear and elk. We saw those prints about 50 yards from where we were camping in Denali National Park.
This is the Willow Ptarmigan, the state bird of Alaska. In the winter, their feathers turn white with a black tail. They are pretty large for a bird and sound almost duck-like. While we were camping in Denali’s back country, a few ptarmigan surrounded our tent and woke us up with their silly sounds.
While hiking, we came across a big group of these Black-billed Magpies, members of the crow family. Their black, white and blue coloring makes them quite beautiful songbirds. Adult magpies stay together year-round and often for life. Fun fact: Magpies in South Dakota have a “divorce rate” of 8% while the magpies in Alberta, Canada have a much higher rate of up to 63%.
The ground squirrel is a member of the “marmot tribe” of squirrels. Small ground squirrels are usually referred to as chipmunks and large ground squirrels are called marmots or prairie dogs. We often saw these medium-sized ground squirrels standing on their hind legs. This one was hanging outside of The Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park.
This is our buddy the tree squirrel. He hung out at our campsite in the Yukon Territory for an entire morning. He seemed to have little fear of us and frequently hopped onto our picnic table, drinking water that had pooled from an overnight rainfall. He even walked over to me and put his two front paws on my leg, like a begging dog. We finally had to kick him out when we found him on the front seat of our car.
During our back country experience in Denali, we were walking through brush taller than we were. When we emerged to waist-high brush, we were right next to this caribou. He is a member of the Denali Caribou Herd, which lives almost entirely within park boundaries. There used to be about 20,000 caribou in Denali but due to hunting the population declined to 1,000 before they became a protected species. There’s around 1,700 in the park now.
Grizzly bears! We actually had a pair of adolescent grizzly bears get too close to us, but didn’t have a camera and were more concerned with our safety than anything else. These bears were around 300 yards away, which is the minimum distance for safe viewing. There’s 300-350 grizzly bears in Denali National Park. Their coloring ranges from blonde, the color of the pictured sow, to dark brown, like her cubs. Cubs stay with their mothers for three years, which is an additional year compared to a typical grizzly bear. Denali grizzly bears have an 80-85% vegetarian diet and typically weigh about 600 pounds.
Black bear! While driving along the Cassiar Highway in British Columbia, we saw ten black bears grazing on the side of the road, including two cubs. They are much smaller and more docile than grizzly bears, though we only got this close to the bear because we were safely in our car. The bears hardly acknowledged us as we passed by and seemed very accustomed to human attention. Sadly, the tenth black bear we saw was hit and killed by the car in front of us.
There were plenty more wildlife sightings and a few pictures of animal butts that I am not including. We saw otters, bald eagles, moose, dall sheep, porpoises, marmot, bison and a bunch of birds that we wish we could have identified. The abundance of wild animals in the north is amazing and something we’ll really miss when we’re back in the Lower 48.