July 6 and 7 – Riding Mountain National Park

I had been back home for almost a month and found that I was missing seeing critters and being in nature.  I could tell from the posts on the Riding Mountain National Park Facebook page that there were plenty of baby critters being seen there and decided I should see some Canadian critters and hopefully some babies.  I booked a room for myself at the Prairie Mountain Inn, in Dauphin, which is just north of the park and on July 6th I left the City of Winnipeg at about 5:00 am for a 3 hour drive.

First critters were cattle.

Without much traffic on the roads at that time, it was almost exactly the 3 hours when I drove into the park and stopped in at Clear Lake to use the washroom and stretch my legs.  I walked out to the end of the dock and back and dodged a few sprinklers watering the grass on land.

From there I headed towards the Wishing Well road and stopped for some pictures at the there.  My first trip here was in September last year so this is the first time I have seen the flower gardens at the Wishing Well.  It was all very pretty and a nice place to relax and spend some time.  I saw my first baby critter while I was taking pictures.  A little Chipmunk was scampering around.  He was so tiny.

After driving along the little road that goes into the bush from there, I ended up back on #10 and headed back towards #19 as that road often has critters (although I haven’t been lucky enough to see anything there except some birds).  That day though, even the birds were missing except for 1 Common Merganser at Whirlpool River.

I decided not to travel the whole road, but to drive out for about 1 hour (at my reduced speed) and then return to Clear Lake for lunch.  What I did see were hundreds (if not thousands) of beautiful wild flowers.

I also stopped for the river views and just views in general.  Gotta stop and smell the air!

There was a marshy spot where I noticed a Great Blue Heron in the water, so I stopped for a picture, but he took off immediately.  I really have to work on flying bird pictures.

After lunch at the Boardwalk, I drove to Lake Audy Road and to the Bison enclosure, stopping at Jackfish Creek for pictures.

Bison were pretty much all in hiding, but one was in a field almost hidden in the tall grass and wildflowers.  With no movement from him I wasn’t even sure that it was a Bison or if it was a pile of something.  I was pretty sure it was in fact a Bison though – due to the colour and my zoomed in picture confirmed that. There were so many wild flowers in the enclosure, that I have to assume that Bison do not eat flowers.  Either that or there were just too many for them to make a dent in the numbers.

On the drive back out, I saw a baby duckling on the side of the road.  The tiny thing scared me (for his safety) when he (it has to be a male) started running towards my car from the side.  I put my foot on the brake at the same time as he changed his mind and he went head over heals and then turned and raced back.  I don’t know if Mom and siblings were on my side of the road and he was way behind them or if he was just off exploring on his own and the rest of the family was behind him.  I didn’t get a picture of the little guy, but I sure hope he found his family and has learned his lesson about playing on the road.  I thought afterwards that maybe I should have stopped and got out to listen for his  mom quacking for him and could have pushed him in the right direction.

I turned left when I got back to #10 to head towards Dauphin, with whatever stops I made on the way.  First stop was Grayling Lake.  The only time I had been on that dock before was late last fall and the lake was frozen, so the floating dock did not move.  This time there was a family already on the dock, so it was really moving.  🙂  I took some pictures and continued north.  Tomorrow morning I will be heading for Grayling Lake for sunrise pictures

Next stop was Moon Lake, where I had apparently just missed a Black Bear that had been right at the turn when some people came in.  Moon Lake is where I saw my only bear in the park last year – although I also saw one just outside the park.  I sat down to enjoy the sights and sounds there for awhile before continuing on, but didn’t take any pictures until I stopped at the side of the highway a little later to enjoy the view ahead.

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I arrived in Dauphin and found my motel quite easily.  After checking into my room #7, I took the usual room pictures, logged onto FaceBook to check in online and then walked over to Timmy’s for supper.  Then it was time to drive back to the park to see what I could find.

Actually, I didn’t find anything on the way back south.  I was heading to Spruces for sunset, but had hours before the sun was going to set.  I stopped at Moon Lake and Grayling Lake again, but nothing going on at either of them.  This time I had the dock to myself at Grayling though.

I stopped at Spruces, but the sun was still way up in the sky, so I walked around and picked up some plastic bags that were blowing towards the water.  The garbage cans are right there, so I have no idea why someone just left them.  I also took more pictures of wildflowers, the dock, a sailboat, a dragonfly (there are thousands) and a butterfly.

I decided to head further south to Wasagaming and get gas in the car and then wander around a bit.

The bear wood carving is brand new and had apparently just been put up this afternoon.

I still had lots of time before sunset, so I didn’t stop at Spruces this time and went to Grayling Lake again.  As I pulled in there was a guy on his bicycle there.  He looked like he wanted to talk, so I asked him how far he was going. He said he had spent the last 3 weeks biking around southern Manitoba and after Dauphin, he was heading west to BC.  He had spent a week at Onanole, just outside the park, working to earn some money for gas (which is when I realized his bike was partially gas powered) and food.  At the end of the week, she apparently refused to pay him though, saying that she had let him camp in her yard for no charge and she was charging him what she could have collected.  He was pretty upset because he worked long hours for her during that week for nothing.  Now, he just realized that he was going to have to head back there because his cat must have jumped out of the carrier when he was stopped there for gas earlier today.  He said he was going to pick a camp spot on the way back and leave his stuff to lighten the load.  I hope he found his cat, but I didn’t see him again – so I don’t know.

I continued north thinking that Moon Lake might be a good place for sunset pictures, but just before the road divides between Grayling and Moon Lakes, I looked at my rear view mirror and saw a very large bear walking across the road behind me.  I turned around, but he was already across before I started back and had disappeared into the bush before I arrived at the location.  My first bear sighting for the year – but no pictures.

Since I was already turned around, I decided to head back to the Spruces.  😀   About 2 km down the road, there was another bear.  This one was much smaller than that last guy, but he was calmly eating and walking along the ditch, near the trees – so I got pictures!  After a couple of minutes, he disappeared into the bush.

I got back to Spruces and found a good place to sit and wait for the sunset, at one of the picnic tables.  I used a couple of the trees there to partially block the sun and it’s reflection in the water to take some pre-sunset pictures.  I could hear Loons and I thought this bird was a Loon until I looked at the picture.  I haven’t figured out what it is yet.  A little Squirrel somehow managed to get into a couple of pictures too.

Then, I noticed some fishing line in one of the bushes 😦  so I pulled that out and walked over to the garbage bin and put it in.  Walking back, I found another similar sized fishing line on the road and disposed of that also.  Sometimes I really dislike people!

Then, it was time for the full sunset colours.  The last picture is taken at the dock on my way out.

I stopped at Moon Lake and decided that would be a good place for sunset pictures too.

Next morning, I left the room at 5am to try for a sunrise picture. I grabbed a bagel & coffee at Timmys and headed out.  It was a very foggy morning.  No wildlife seen on the way to Grayling Lake, but beautiful foggy morning sunrise had already started when I got there.  The water was very calm and reflected all the colours from the sky.  It almost looked surreal!  A Red-winged Blackbird kept me company and managed to get into some photos.

Then I headed for the Bison enclosure, thinking that I could catch them in the morning and maybe see some of them.  I stopped for a picture of the lake from the road in the early morning light.

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I was only on the road for a couple of minutes when I saw a Moose!  Finally – a Moose!  He was walking away from me and wouldn’t turn around, but I got some pictures of his back end before he disappeared into the bush.  A few turns in the road later and a White-tail Deer was in the road.  It was quite a distance away so the pictures aren’t great, but it’s an official critter!  🙂

I was almost in sight of the gate, when I had to come to a complete stop.  A tree had fallen and blocked the entire road.  I got out and looked at it and decided that I could move enough of it out of the way so I could continue.  It is a long drive to get there and I wasn’t going to turn around unless I had no other option.  So I broke off a lot of smaller branches and threw them out of the way, along with picking up the ones that had broken from the tree during the fall.  Then I grabbed a large branch and pulled the tree far enough over to open room to get by.

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I was inside the enclosure within a few minutes and I found Bison!  🙂  I even got up close and personal to them as they were right on the road.  A  big guy was lying down by himself not too far away from where the lump was yesterday.

I saw another White-tail Deer inside the enclosure and got 1 decent picture of her.

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I also watched some Swallows (with babies in the nests) at the observation building while there. I couldn’t get any of the babies in my photos though.  I also got pics of another couple of birds near the Bison.

I was getting hungry by then and that bagel was long gone, so I headed to Wasagaming (taking pictures as I went) and had a real breakfast at the bakery.  Then I headed for #19 and drove slowly, going into each turn-off to check out what was there.  I stopped to take pictures at some of them.

Soon after exiting the east gate, I was heading for home when ahead of me, I could see a couple of dark spots on the left hand side of the road.  They were a long way away, so I couldn’t tell what they were, but when one dot divided into 2, I thought they looked about the size of Ravens and thinking that the larger dot might divide into 3 or 4 more of them.  I was slowly getting closer, when the large one lifted her head instead of dividing and I realized this was a Black Bear with her 2 cubs.  At the same time, she called her cubs and headed across the road back towards the park.  I slammed on my brakes and grabbed the camera for one quick shot.  There was no time to zoom at all, so I was surprised it turned out as good as it did.  I was expecting a blur.  We can actually see Mom disappearing into the tall grass with the cubs right behind her.  I did have to crop the picture – but we can see them.  🙂

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The rest is just the drive home, with no excitement at all.