Sometimes it is fun to take the less travelled patch and go off roading during a nature walk. You never know what you will come across when you get away from the main trail and go for a bit of bush whacking. This time, however, I did not realize what I had ran into until after the fact. As I was on my way home I realize my pant legs were covered in burs. I was essentially being used as a vehicle for dispersal and reproduction by a plant. A but is a seed or dry fruit that has hooks or teeth that catch on the fur of passing animals or on the clothing of people. The technical term for this type of dispersal is epizoochory, aka dispersal by attaching to the outside of animals. After I came home I spends some time picking the burs of the pants, but gave up after a while. They were pretty well attached and there were so many that I would be at it the rest of the day if I continued removing them one by one. So I went ahead and washed the pants in the laundry machine. Guess what, they remain attached to the pants. At this point I am thinking of leaving them attached to see if they eventually fall off. After all, this would not be a very successful dispersal strategy if the burs never came off on their own. Apparently burs were the inspiration for Velcro fasteners.
Nuthatches are common at the Whitemud Ravine but tricky to take pictures of as they never seem to sit still. I managed to snap this on single picture of a White-breasted Nuthatch sitting on a log for a second before it quickly moved on. Nuthatches forage on insects climbing around on trunks and branches and are unique as they often move head-first down trees and can even hang upside-down beneath twigs and branches. They have a quite distinctive call so it is easy to pick them out in the forest, it’s another thing to actually spot them though. The White-breasted Nuthatch is the larger of the two nuthatches we have in Alberta, the other one being the Red-breasted Nuthatch.
As I was walking along the trail down at Whitemud Ravine a subtle rustle of leaves from a grove of High-bush Cranberries caught my attention. The bushes were laden with ripe berries and I assumed that the noise came from birds enjoying a snack. I tried to coax my eyes into focusing in on the source of the rustle. It took a while, but then I saw a quick flash of a diminutive bushy tail. That was sufficient evidence to identify the culprit. A Least Chipmunk was balancing on the thin branches of one of the bushes and gorging itself with ripe berries. Summer is coming to an end and the forest is full of ripe berries, fruits, nuts and mushrooms. The squirrels, chipmunks and birds are bushy feasting on the bounty and hoarding supplies for the long winter. Further down the trail I came across a Red Squirrel enjoying a nut from a Beaked Hazelnut bush and another one carrying an entire apple (it was a small apple).
The age old idea that moss grows on the north side of trees seems to be true, at least on the older larger trees down at the Whitemud Ravine. The picture below shows the north side of an old growth deciduous tree, the south side of the trunk was completely free from moss growing on it. Moss growing one the north side of the trunks makes sense as the north side of a tree generally get les sun light, is cooler, more damp and more shaded. All of these are perfect conditions for mosses too become established. Apparently in the Southern Hemisphere it is the opposite situation, moss tends to growth on the south side of three trunks. Mental note to self: Check tree trunks when visiting South America next time…, and the direction the toilet flushes.
I came across these unique looking seed pods along the Whitemud Creek the other day. I have never seen anything like it so I was quite intrigued. The actual seeds were riddling around inside the sed pod so it was almost like a gigantic rattlesnake rattle. It turns out that the rattle belongs to Cicer milkvetch (Astragalus cicer) a perennial legume introduced from Europe for pasture and forage for cattle. The seeds go unharmed throughly the digestive system of cattle and farmers are taking advantage of this manure/seeding technique to help the Cicer Milkvetch spread to new pastures. They let their cows graze on a pasture where Cicer Milkvetch is present and then they move the cows to another pasture that does not have this plant. As the cow deposit their manure on the new field they introduce the Cicer Milkvetch seeds and the plant gets a foothold.
Another pretty face and another invasive species. The striking Butter-and-egg plant (Linaria vulgaris) is native to Europe and Asia. It was introduced in North America as a decorative garden plant. It did not take long for it to escape and the rest is history. These days it is common throughout North America, from Canada in the north to Mexico in the south. While this plant is also know as Common Toadflax and Yellow Toadflax the Butter-and-eggs name seems most imaginative. Where does it get such an odd name from? I am not sure, but perhaps it has to do with the color of the snap-dragon shaped flower with the darker yellow/orange being the yolk and the lighter yellow being the butter. It turns out that orange center part is known as a “honey guide” guiding pollinators along the long spur of the flower. My teenager disagrees with this interpretation and has concluded that the name does as much sense as calling it “Yellow-and-green”. “I went for a walk and saw some Yellow-and-green and some Purple-and-green”. Perhaps he is right, the name seems quite silly, so I guess it is a silly and pretty invader.
[Walking softly through the forest]
BIRD: Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee!
HUMAN: Who are you?
BIRD: We are the Chickadees that say... Fee-bee!
HUMAN: No! Not the Chickadees that say Fee-bee!
BIRD: The same!
HUMAN: Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!
BIRD: The Chickadees Who Say Fee-bee demand a sacrifice!
HUMAN: Chickadees of Fee-bee, I am but a simple birder who seek the enchanter who lives beyond these woods.
BIRD: Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee!
HUMAN: Oh, ow!
BIRD: We shall say 'Fee-bee' again to you if you do not appease us.
HUMAN: Well, what is it you want?
BIRD: We want... sunflower seeds!
Black-capped Chickadees have a remarkably complex and varied repertoire of vocalizations, but perhaps the most common song carrying through the forest is their characteristic fee-bee (aka as ‘Hey, sweetie’). You can listen to recordings of their vocalizations here. As I was making my way along the Whitemud Ravine trail the Black-capped Chickadees came out in full force confronting me. The exchange that followed was remarkably reminiscent of the exchange King Arthur has with the Nights of Ni in Monty Python and The Holy Grail. In case you are not familiar with this scene you can enjoy it in all its glory right here. This band of Chickadees meant business. A dozen chickadees quickly surrounded me, perching in the shrubbery and on the ground around my feet and said ‘fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee’. One of them landed on my leg. Another one went straight for my outstretched hand. When it realized that I had not brought an offering I received a condescending look of disbelieve and indignation. I had no other choice than continue walking with a dozen chickadees tagging along fee-bee’ing me incessantly.