Until recently the winter has been mild by Alberta standards, dipping down to -15 ºC at the lowest. That has all changed now. Today the temperature was hovering around -20 ºC, and right now, at 9 pm it has dropped down to -24 ºC. Overnight temperatures are forecast to drop all the way down to -36 ºC. It is a quite typical for the winter temperatures to drop quite substantially in January and February. Only time will tell if we will reach the magnitude of last year’s cold snap, both in terms of how low the temperature goes and for how long (see the post Owling in the Frozen Wilds for a write up of last years record cold snap).
One does not have to go far along the Whitemud Creek to see striking evidence of ongoing erosion. In many of the creek’s meanders one the creek is craving out overhangs that result in vegetation clinging to increasingly unstable overhangs of dirt. It appear that the soil is quite loose throughout the ravine and as a result these overhangs collapse on a regular basis. In many of the meanders there are large amounts of trees that have fallen during one of these collapses. Clearly the meandering course of the creek, the loose soil and the never ending industrious work of the local beavers all contribute to the changing landscape. This stands in stark contrast to the various structures humans put in place to mitigate and control the erosion, such as planting fast growing plants, using carpets to hold the soil in place and building large fields of boulders along the outside curves of the creek.
Bokeh balls is the aesthetic quality of blur produced in the out-of-focus points of light of an image produced by a lens. Bokeh balls are particularly common when one is doing back-lit photography. Bokeh balls are fun and I only discover them after having taken the picture and when I am in post-processing, making their presence in photographs unpredictable and serendipitous. In this picture of ice covered leaves of grass shot in back-lit conditions I ended up with multicolored bokeh balls (to the left of the grass).
The Red Squirrels are everywhere. These fellas do not hibernate during the winter, but rather stay active throughout the season. They spend the fall collecting and storing food for future consumption in large. Using tree cavities, underbrush piles, or dens as their own pantries, red squirrels can ensure that the food they’ve gathered for the winter will be kept safely and out of the way of trespassers. Because their food stashes are critical for their survival they tend to be very territorial towards intruders. Confrontation between two red squirrels often entails a lot of tail flicking, chattering, and foot stomping. Even when I walk through the forest and come across a Red Squirrel it often shows its displeasure at my presence with loud chattering, aha sing its ground even when I am very close to it.
There are always ravens down at the Whitemud Ravine. Sometimes you only hear them, but they are typically not difficult to spot as they soar high above the ravine. I do not like the name “Common Raven” as I find it demeaning. Yes they are common as in abundant and easy to find, but they are not common as in an “ordinary” bird. They are undoubtedly one of the smartest bird around in these neck of the woods. They are also capable of an extraordinary repertoire of vocalizations. On a few occasions I have heard sounds in the forest that sounded like whistles or dripping water only to find, to my great surprise, that it was a raven vocalizing.
As soon as I got to the trail head I heard the buzzing trills in the tree tops. It was different, yet familiar. I knew I that I knew who it was, yet could no put my finger on it. As I stood there searching my brain the answer became self-evident. Over the tree tops emerged two dozen Bohemian Waxwings. They flow over-head and landed in the top of a nearby spruce tree. The Bohemian Waxwings are back. True to their name, the Bohemian Waxwings are, well, bohemian. They travel in groups, chattering all the time and enjoy gorging themselves on berries. Occasionally they get drunk on fermented berries. In short, a very bohemian lifestyle fitting this magnificent bird.
In Post 271: A Rivulet of Water I came across a small stream of running water in an otherwise frozen landscape. As odd as this phenomenon was I did not have a good explanation for what caused it, but I theorized: “Is it discharge from a human-made source higher up in the forest? Is it a warm spring? Unlikely, but possible.“. As it turns out I was on to something. As I was doing the research on the geology of the River Valley and the Whitemud Creek for the January 1 post I came across information indicating that there are indeed springs in the Whitmud Ravine. I put the two things together and realized that the rivulet of water in the middle of winter could be coming from a ground water spring higher up in the ravine. This just had to be investigated. Said and done, yesterday returned to the location of the tiny creek. It had snowed during the night and the trail was in pristine untouched condition.
As I made my way up the trail the rivulet was still there, its blackness in stark contrast to the fresh white snow.
I started following the creek upstream. Occasionally it disappeared under the snow and I had to either make an educated guess based on the slope of the terrain from which direction it might be coming from or, if I stayed completely still, I could hear the trickle of water leading me upstream to where it made appeared again. Progressively the rivulet became wider, at times reaching a meter across.
I had been following the rivulet for quite some distance into the forest and up the slope of the ravine when, all of a sudden, it changed color. Quite abruptly it went from black to rusty brown color.
As I continued making my way through the understory along the steep slope the color became more intense rust colored.
I could not resist digging up some of the sediment with my fingers. The substrate was creamy and slippery with the color staining my fingers.
Finally I seemed to have reached the source of the river. I was high up in the ravine now and there were numerous pools of water with thick rusty colored sediment covering the bottoms. The water was no longer flowing and was completely still.
It turns out that this is indeed a spring and the rust colored sediment is tufa, a type of limestone. The tufa forms here because of groundwater springs emerge bringing warm groundwater bubbles up, loses carbon dioxide and goes through numerous other chemical reactions. Calcium carbonate comes out of the water to form stone. Tufa is typically fragile and crumble with your fingers and is often full of trapped moss, sticks and other vegetation. The rusty colored slime is created by bacteria breaking down iron oxide for energy.