Trail Cameras Reveal Shoulder Season Secrets of Animals in Alberta

When you go outside, do you ever wonder what wildlife is wandering nearby?

We wanted to bring you something fun and lighthearted today (knowing that a lot of people’s minds are preoccupied with other news). What could distract our dear readers from the American election for a minute or two, we wondered? After much thought, we settled on a little look at what’s been walking in the woods this shoulder season.

This was made possible thanks to Viv, our resident trail camera enthusiast (who also happens to be our dear mom). 

First, a little background: Almost 15 years ago, our parents decided to try setting up a remote camera at their wooded property in the Foothills. They had seen countless deer and moose, as well as the odd cougar or lynx, but wondered what else was wandering in the woods. 

So they bought a trail camera, which takes photos when motion and heat are detected. They’re commonly used by curious property owners, as well as in national and city parks to track and monitor wildlife populations.

Turns out, a lot was wandering in those woods! Over the years, our parents’ growing collection of trail cameras have captured incredible photos of grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, bobcats, elk, moose, deer, coyotes, lynx, foxes, wolves, skunks, owls, sandhill cranes, a golden eagle, weasels, pine martens, bats, beavers, a badger, and even stray cows and wild dogs. Viv has also discovered an entire internet community full of other trail cam enthusiasts who love to share their photos and findings.

This past weekend, Viv was especially excited about her captures. It started when she came across these two different sets of animal tracks (the glove was placed for a size comparison)…

Viv then checked nearby trail cameras and she found these photos…

Wow! Viv hasn’t had a wolf capture for almost a year and a half, and wolves are her favourite animal to get photos of, so she was thrilled. 

“Wolves are such secretive animals, and it’s so seldom you get pictures of them,” she tells us. “And when you do, it’s often them just walking past, not stopping long enough for anything. I just think they’re beautiful.”

As for those two big grizzly bears, Viv says this is the latest in the year she’s ever captured bears. She says they’re a mom and cub pair, and thinks they could be the same pair she captured images of in the spring. (It’s not uncommon for Viv to identify individual animals like this and watch the same animal grow and change over time via the trail cameras.) 

It’s not just big grizzlies getting ready for hibernation and wolves that have been wandering the woods lately. Any guesses what this is?

Turns out, it’s a snow cave belonging to a ruffed grouse! 

Discovering the cave involved a little detective work. Viv captured trail camera photos of a grouse poking its head out of the snow, then walked back to look at the spot where the images were captured and found the “perfect little cave.” Here’s what a ruffed grouse looks like when it’s out and about.

It’s discoveries like these that have kept Viv obsessed with trail cameras for so many years. And while spring is her favourite time of year for the remote captures (there’s so many baby animals to see and bears are back from hibernation), shoulder season has perks, too. An early snowfall means obvious animal tracks, and looking at what the cameras have captured can then confirm what’s passing by. 

We hope next time you head outside, you take a second to think about all the animals that call the outdoors home. While seeing wildlife, especially wolves and grizzlies, in person is rare, it’s truly amazing that trail camera technology is able to show us how common these animals are on private land and in provincial and national parks. Banff National Park, for example, put together this video montage of 12 months of trail camera captures.

And because we know today will be stressful for many, here are a few more (non-shoulder-season) trail camera photos for your viewing pleasure.

Triplet baby bears!

A jumping fox!

A moose!

Three deer!

Two Grizzlies! Look at those claws!

If you want to learn more about wildlife in Alberta, we highly recommend following Viv on Twitter or Instagram.

COVID-19 restrictions have led more Albertans than ever before to explore their own backyards. We’ve been hiking, biking and skiing near Calgary since childhood, and we want to help more people Go Outside. Subscribe to get our newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.