In the center of the Bison Loop at Elk Island National Park there is a small shallow pond. You can clearly see it from the gravel road as it is no more than 25 meters away. Despite the proximity I have never actually been down to the water’s edge. I decided to change that unacceptable omission today…, I mean, I have been to the Bison Loop more times than I can count and never though it was worth going down to the water. I assume I though that looking down at the pond from the gravel road is close enough to see everything that could possibly be of interest around the pond. That is clearly the view of someone that still has a very superficial understanding of nature, someone that still does not know how to pay attention to the small details. Said and done. I found a well-beaten bison path through the tall grass (ticks anyone?) and walked down to the pond. It took me almost 30 seconds to get from the gravel road and down to the pond, so not to strenuous by any measure. The bison clearly used this pond as a watering hole as the surrounding grassy field was criss crossed by bison trails and the mud along the water’s edge was covered in bison hoof prints. In a low shrub along the trail a piece of bison fur was floating in the wind. I could not resist picking up the fur. I was half expecting the fur to be coarse and stiff and, perhaps, have some sort of bison body odour to it. To my surprise it was silky soft and had no smell at all.
It was a typical family scene that probably happens in bird families around the world every morning. While mom was looking after the kids, dad was busy looking for breakfast. The Red-necked Grebe family had two chicks, one of which was snoozing snug and cosy on mom’s back while the other one was floating nearby, also snoozing. Dad was nowhere to be seen. After about five minutes dad appears out of nowhere with a small fish in his beak. When realizing breakfast was incoming the chick floating on the water stirred, shook the sleep out of its eyes and raced towards the dad. The chick was rewarded with the fish. Dad took off right away and the chick swam back to mom and fell asleep again. This scene repeated itself several times over the next ten to fifteen minutes. The fish catching abilities of the dad were quite impressive. He returned with a new fish every few minutes. Most of the time the fish was small enough for the chick to eat it, but a few times he came back with impressively large fish that even he had trouble swallowing. He ended up having to let go of some of the fish as they were simply to large.
It was an overcast Friday morning. It had been raining non-stop all week and the last time I was able to go for birding was a week ago. Luck was, however, on my side this morning. As I was heading out to work there was a break in the rain and next thing I knew the morning meeting I was heading to was rescheduled. All of a sudden I had one hour of rain-free unscheduled time at my disposal. Without further ado I ran back in, grabbed my camera binoculars and set my heading dead north. I was heading to Beaumaris Lake, a birding location I have heard lots of excited birders rave about but not had an opportunity to visit yet. Beaumaris Lake is a 2.7 km loop around a lake that is situated in the neighbourhood of, you guessed it, Beaumaris in North Edmonton. Despite its location in the midst of the subdivision, surrounded by houses on all sides, the lake is a birding hotspot with 158 species recorded on eBird. I spend the next 45 minutes strolling around the lake (I did not make it all the way around, so I have a good reasons to come back to explore the rest of the lake). The Red-necked Grebes were out in full force with their chicks hanging out with mom while dad was busy catching fish. While the Red-necked Grebe family were the highlight of the day, I also got a nice close up look at a bunch of Common Grackles. While it was overcast and grey when I arrived, once I started photographing the birds a well-timed break in the cloud cover let the sun through. The Common Grackles suddenly went from looking black to stunning dark blue purple iridescent. My time was soon up and I had to head to work. It was a wonderful start to the day and I will definitely be back to spend some more quality time at the lake getting to know its feathery inhabitants.
During the last visit to Jasper National Park we came across this low coniferous shrub covered in odd looking orange spiky clusters. My suspicion is that it is some form of rusty fungus, but this comes from someone that knows absolutely nothing about fungi, so take that with a very large pinch of salt. Rusty fungi are pathogens that infect plants, and while they typically do not kill the plant they are considered unsightly when occurring in gardens. There are some 7000 species of rust fungi so trying to identify the species is no small feat. The second thought that came to my mind when I encountered the fungus (the first thought was, ”what on earth is that?”) was “how does it feel?”. Although spiky I had a sneaky suspicion that it might not be solid upon touch. I tried touching it and sure enough, as soon as the spikes were touched they collapsed into a slimy mess. The third though that came to my mind was “I wonder how it tastes?”, so without further ado I…, just kidding. I did resist the temptation to lick the slime off my fingers.
There is mounting evidence that too much screen time is detrimental to humans, and in particular to children. Excessive screen time has physical effects of being sedentary and sitting for too long, as well as mental health issues and interrupted sleep patterns. The good news is is that the solution to the problem is right outside the door. Studies have shown that spending time outside and, in particular, in nature is highly beneficial to children’s’ (and adults’) physical and mental health. It reduces stress, anxiety, improves resiliency and improves sleep quality. I believe the best way of breaking the cycle of screen dependence in children and youth is to take them along into nature, essentially modelling the behaviour. You can go for a walk, you can birds watch or you can go fishing. A few weeks ago I took my teen and a borrowed one fishing at the Ashland Reservoir. They had a blast, caught a trout and even dispatched it and processed it themselves. In my day job I spend my time with 100+ teens and from getting to know them I know that most youth today have virtually no exposure to the natural world, never mind spending a few tranquile hours fishing for your lunch and then prepping it. These are skills and experiences that will last last a life time and provide much more meaningful memories than any screen can ever provide. Vive la nature!
A few days ago I wrote a post about a Common Goldeneye female soloing it in Whitemud Creek (see post #079). Well, as I mentioned in that post, there are two species of goldeneyes in these neck of the woods, the Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica). Similarly to the Common Goldeneye, the Barrow’s Goldeneye is named after its piercing golden eye. While the species look very similar their distributions are quite different. The Common Goldeneye can be found across Canada, from the Pacific all the way to the Atlantic Ocean while Barrow’s Goldeneye, on the other hand, is found in a narrow belt running north south along the Rocky Mountains and the odd small pocket in Eastern Canada.
I have been seeing these white flowers on the first floor all over the place. To continue in a state of ignorance is obviously unacceptable when it comes to something you encounter in every forest you visit. Sure enough, they were not difficult to identify. These are Bunchberries (Cronus canadienses), also known as Bunchberry Dogwood, a common plant carpeting moist forest floors throughout Canada. This unassuming plant has been referred to as the fastest moving plant in the world due to the curious way in which the plant spreads its pollen. The stamens in the Bunchberry are like miniature medieval trebuchets and, when triggered by an insect, launch the pollen into the air to coat the unsuspecting insect. If I would have known about this I would have definitely tried it out by poking at the flower. This is just a botanical ballistic experiment that I have to do next time I come across these plants. The original study reporting this remarkable pollen spreading strategy was published in the journal Nature in 2005. Here is a link to the paper, but you need a subscription to access the article. There is, however, a freely available PDF here and there is also lots of information, including videos of the process, on the website of the author.