Cowan with Hamilton Mack Laing and bride, Ethel May
Cowan with horses at Maccarib Pass
Timberline Sparrow’s nest
... that summer of 1930, Cowan continued his training in Rocky Mountain ecology and life:
The rest of that summer was devoted to mammals of Jasper with some bird highlights. During three weeks alone in the Tonquin alplands my senses were sharpened by knowledge that I was the first person to occupy the cabin since the warden was killed the previous autumn by a sow grizzly with cubs. The bears were still in the valley! On the alpine slopes I flushed a Timberline Sparrow (Spizella taverneri) [now a subspecies of Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri taverneri)] from her nest in a dwarfed spruce. This was many hundreds of miles south and east of its type locality and nearest known location, Atlin – a major range extension. Exciting stuff! Another surprise was nesting Willow Ptarmigan, also a southerly record. But it was the Golden-crowned Sparrows that were unforgettable.27
Cowan continues in his recollections of the Golden-crowned Sparrow:
Their plaintive 3-note song greeted each dawn and closed each day. Just recalling, I can see the great sweep of alpine meadows to Amethyst Lake and the towering Ramparts beyond. A Columbian Ground-squirrel ate the chicks.28
That last sentence was typical of Cowan’s dry humour; he was renowned for it. In his later lectures, popular writing and television shows he was to draw heavily upon observations from his days in the field to illustrate concepts. In his television series The Web of Life, he began one episode with: “Today we visit the roof of the world. I love alpine lands – I have had some of the most beautiful days of my life above timberline. Every plant is a different individual. If you surround yourself with beauty it changes your life. What else?”29 His lectures inevitably kicked off with a personal anecdote, the summer of 1930 being no exception.