Jasper National Park

Wildlife at Jasper, just to the north, is more numerous and visible, understandably since Jasper is more than twice as big as Banff—4,200 square miles (10,878 km2)—with less than half the visitors.

Shy, striking harlequin ducks nest amid low vegetation, especially on riverine islands, and feed on mayfly, blackfly, and caddisfly larvae in the Maligne and Athabasca Rivers near Jasper townsite. Elk roam through meadows grazing all along the Athabasca valley. So do mule deer (named for their sensitive, outsize ears), coyotes and, in berry season, black bears. Endangered woodland caribou are often in the Maligne valley. Grizzlies summer in alpine areas but are often along highways in May and June (tell black bears from grizzlies by humps on the latters’ backs. Both can be brown or cinnamon-colored).

Black swifts swirl around a nest colony along the walls of Maligne Canyon.

Mountain goats come to naturally-occurring Mount Kerkeslin goat lick at Disaster Point, bleating when young ones wander too far off, their white coats shedding great furry clumps in summer. Bighorn sheep with massive 360-degree horn curls watch passing traffic along Icefields Parkway, most often where rock cliffs are at the road’s edge, and sometimes rest on the sun-warmed parkway itself.

Wolves are fairly common—50 to 60 in the park—sometimes seen at Pyramid Lake. They have no natural predators but they do have sworn enemies—grizzly bears kill wolf pups when they can, perhaps because wolves (looking to the future?) kill bear cubs when they can.

Beavers busy themselves at Cottonwood Slough and in the Valley of the Five Lakes, particularly at dusk. These are prime areas too for birds—common snipe, barred owls, and flame-crested foot-long pileated woodpeckers, also migrant and breeding ring-necked ducks, Barrow’s goldeneyes, green-winged teal, and buffleheads fanning out showy white facial discs.

Moose favor grassy water’s edges at Maligne Lake, along Yellowhead Pass and at Pocahontas Ponds along the Miette River, a wetland flooded much of the summer by overflow from glacially-fed Athabasca River. More than 60 water-oriented species nest here, and it is an important seasonal staging area for whistling swans and other waterbirds.