On this Family Day we went to the Royal Alberta Museum. This was my first time going at the new location that opened in the fall of 2018. The natural history wing was a different form of nature walk and a travel through roughly 800 million years of Alberta history. As far as birding goes, the exhibit has a large number of bird-themed dioramas. One of the more impressive one being the Golden Eagle diorama with two specimens that could probably pickup a small child if they were inclined to do so. The talons of these birds are our of this world. Although these eagles are one of the most common birds of prey worldwide it feels like it would not be a trivial task to find them and observe them in the wild.
These days there is a lot of hoopla here in Canada, and in Alberta in particular, about pipelines. While some people are all for them, others are vehemently against them. What you usually do not hear, however, is that pipelines are all around us and that usually we are completely unaware of it. It is easy to find pipeline maps online (for example here) and what is immediately striking when one looks closely at such map is the web of interconnected pipelines running all over Edmonton. Which also made me realize that there is an underground oil pipeline two blocks from my house. I have already written about the iconic orange Transmountain Pipeline that is crossing high above the Whitemud ravine. Throughout the ravine there are, however, many signs warning of buried pipelines, many of which do not even appear on any of the pipeline maps I have been able to find.
Along to top of the wooden railing running along boardwalk spanning a low-lying wet area adjacent to the Whitemud Creek there were hundreds of tiny tracks in the snow. The tracks ran along the full length of the railing, around 100 meters or so. There could only be one small animal audacious enough to cross such a large exposed area in prime owl habitat – a Red Squirrel. These conspicuous animals typically make a great amount of noise as they defend their territories with loud chattering calls. There are a number of predators present in the ravine that would love to have a Red Squirrel for snack, including Great Horned Howls, Bald Eagles, Merlins, Northern Goshawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, not to mention Coyotes. I always wonder how many clueless squirrels end up in the talons or jaws of a predator while they are strutting around in the open seemingly oblivious to the dangers. My suspicion is that the tables are turned once night falls.
The Pine Siskins were out in full force all along the Whitemud Ravine. They were chirping and making a lot of noise as they were foraging on dried up catkins. Initially I was thrown for a loop. I have not seen Pine Siskins for a while and these looked too chubby. All the Pine Siskins I have seen previously have been slender and lean looking. These individuals were, however, round and appeared quite well fed. When I submitted my eBird checklist I tentatively put them down as Pine Siskins only because there really was not other realistic alternative. While I was thrown off by their shape, the overall size and color was siskin-like. Once I came home I compared my photos to my reference books, which only corroborated their id.
Like silent feathery gargoyles the pigeons were snoozing on the duct work of the grain terminal. As I was scanning the thousands of pigeons covering the facade of the hundred year old brick building I was thinking to myself “why are there so many ducts?”. Is it ventilation or heating? Who knows what it takes to store and transport gain. The pigeons did not seem to ponder such trivial and technical details. The merely seemed to enjoy the duct work as a place of resting and pooping.
Like a sentinel of a long lost time the urban grain terminal in north Edmonton is still very much in business. The terminal has been in operation since 1924 and last year 400000 tonnes of grain passed through the terminal. Seed crops arrive at the terminal from Alberta farms and are sorted, cleaned and graded before being loaded onto a train bound for Vancouver and the ocean journey to overseas customers in countries like Japan. This bounty of grain has not gone unnoticed to the local pigeons that flock to the south side of the structure in the thousands. I assume that there must be spillage as the grain is loaded and unloaded from train cars. While the location is a birding hotspot, not so much because of the pigeons bur rather due to the birds of prey that are attracted by the pigeons it makes you wonder if rodents also are attracted to the location by the abundant food source. Officially Alberta is rat free (there is an oxymoron for you), but this location seems perfect for an Alberta-grown rat colony (if there is such a thing).
Windthrow refers to trees that have been uprooted by wind. In the Whitemud Ravine there is a large number of windthrown trees with large exposed root plates. When I grew up I was told that windthrown trees with exposed root plates could be dangerous as the tree could spring back up. For a long time I thought that this only was a myth but when I decided to do a bit of research for this post it turns out that it actually does occasionally happen. When severe weather conditions cause trees to fail from their root plates the tree root’s may still be connected on one side. As a result this can cause the tree to be under a spring-like compression tension. All it may take is a minor disturbance, like a wind gust or a person standing on the tree to release the tension and spring the tree back to an upright position.
Black-capped Chickadees are small and charismatic and it is difficult to sneak up on one without it noticing. This little fella was busy trying to open a sunflower seed and was completely oblivious to the large creature sneaking up on it from behind. I managed to get a picture of the lesser-seen side of chickadees and, guess what, it is just as feathery as the front side.
The White-breasted Nuthatch was too busy looking for something to eat to notice me. Although these birds are common in the Whitemud Ravine they can be tricky to photograph as they always seem to be on the move and rarely sit still for any amount of time. As I quickly and quietly drew my camera and focused in on the nuthatch it suddenly stopped and looked up at me. I thought that it all was lost and that it would just take off. Well, it did, but it took several seconds during which he was staring at me and this was just enough to allow me to get a picture of it. I managed to capture it in the iconic upside down nuthatch pose. Nuthatches ability of climbing down a tree upside down is a very unique ability among birds and I cannot think of any other species of bird that makes its living by finding food on tree trunks, e.g. woodpeckers, that does it upside down.
I came across this Black-capped Chickadee enjoying a snack on an afternoon. It was all fluffed up and seemed quite content as it was sitting on a branch basking in the sunshine with a small seed in its beak. In one respect chickadees are like human teenagers – always hungry and looking for food. In other respects they are unlike unman teenagers. For one, they are much more energetic early in the morning than the average human teenager.