Officially it is still three weeks to the first day of spring on March 17. This being central Alberta, however, it is quite common that spring is not in the air until substantially later. This year, however, the second half of February has been very springlike, with mild temperatures, sunny skies and lots of snow melt. While there there are now guarantees, one can only hope that they long cold winter season is coming to an end. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of spring is to see all the familiar birds return from their southern overwintering grounds.
The river valley is a window into Edmonton’s geological the past. The North Saskatchewan River originates 1,800 metres above sea level in the Columbia Icefield. It flows across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, into the Nelson River and eventually into the Hudson Bay. In Edmonton It runs from the southwest to the northeast through the city and is fed by numerous creeks throughout the city, such as Mill Creek and Whitemud Creek. This creates numerous ravines, many of which have been incorporated into the urban parkland. Along sections of the river bank one can see the relentless erosion caused by the fast flowing river. If one knows about geology, I can imagine that the cross sections of the river bank must be alike an open book telling the geological story of the past.
Trees trunks and branches grow thicker by adding new cells beneath the bark. The effects of this process can be observed when you are looking at tree rings. To accommodate increased girth the bark also has to increase in width and in doing so the outside parts of the bark crack and sometimes peel off. The picture shows a close up of a pine tree where the bark resembles circular ice floes as it cracking. Eventually the the old dead bark falls off as new bark is emerging beneath it.
A small song bird was hopping around among the barren branches against a the canvass of a dark blue sky. My first thoughts went to a Black-capped Chickadee but it only took a quick glance to identify it as another common winter bird in these neck of the woods. A White-breasted Nuthatch. It was an energetic little fella that clearly was on a mission to find a morsel to eat. In the end I managed to capture a picture of it peaking out behind a tree trunk.
There often seems to be a trade off between success in finding animals to photograph and the ease of photography. If you want to take pictures of animals, including birds, early morning is better, but at the expense of light. If you want lots of bright light (which makes photography easier), then you are limited to mid day or early afternoon, but this comes at the expense of seeing birds and other animals. Today was a good example of this tradeoff. It was a sunny and beautiful winter’s day with springlike conditions. I went for a walk along the North Saskatchewan River by Fort Edmonton. The light was perfect for taking pictures, sunny and clear…, but there were not birds to be seen. One could hear the odd chickadee or nuthatch, but I had no luck in actually spotting any birds or even squirrels. So what does one do? Well, you turn your attention to the less mobile denizens of the forest. like the colorful lichens.
Here is one last diorama post, this time from a deciduous forest with, what appears to be cottonwoods or aspen stands and a Northern Flicker in the center, a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on the left and a snoozing flying squirrel in its den on the right. Of the three diorama posts, in my experience, this one is the most unrealistic. Winter is definitely woodpecker season, so it is quite easy to see this type of woodpecker abundance (multiple species in the same stand of trees). I have never, however, encountered multiple species of woodpeckers like this during any of the other seasons. As a matter of fact, my woodpecker track record during spring, summer and fall is atrocious. Of course, it could just be me…, I am sure the woodpeckers are there all year round, they just are better at hiding when there are leaves on the trees I guess.
Another dreamlike image from one of the dioramas at RAM. This time a Golden Eagle perched high above aN unnamed valley, presumably somewhere In the Canadian Rockies. At a quick glance one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between this staged scene and the real thing.
During my recent visit to the Alberta Royal Museum (aka RAM) we were treated to some pretty neat dioramas of Alberta nature scapes. Here is one neat one of prairie dogs and burrowing owls representing the dry grasslands of southern Alberta. Burrowing owls are high on my birding wish list. They are threatened it Alberta, mainly due to habitat loss, so track these down is a bit of a challenge.
There is a bend in the creek close to the Snow Valley end of the Whitemud Creek where erosion has slowly (or perhaps not so slowly) undermined the trail. Left to its own means it would only be a matter of time before the bank would collapse, taking the trail along with it. Beavers like to hang out in this particular section of the creek and I have my suspicions that the erosion ultimately may have been caused by the industrious engineering of the local beavers. It was time for humans to step in to prevent the inevitable doom of the trail. The other day when I went for a walk the construction, or reconstruction, had started. I am not sure what is in the works but a large swath Of vegetation along the creek has been cleared. Judging from other reconstructed sections along the creek, we are likely looking at some form of erosion control using boulders and/or planting fast growing vegetation.
Despite the many months of subzero temperature, bitterly cold wind and snow and ice this freeze dried cow parsnip remains standing with the seed pods firmly attached. Like a fossil of times long past it remains in a frozen state, preserved for the after-world to witness. In contrast to a fossil, however, it also symbolizes new life. When the ground has thawed and the air is warm again those frozen seeds will germinate and create the next generation of cow parsnips.