The trunk of the dead tree looks unassuming. It had withered to a light grey color and there were numerous large cavities along the trunk. If it would not have been for The Pileated Woodpecker landing on the trunk and entering one of the cavities just moments before I would have never noticed the dead tree. I was at the banks of the Whitemud Creek, at a location where I have seen beavers many times in the past. No beavers this time though. Only that Pileated Woodpecker. I waited for a long time, hoping it would come out or at least stick its head out to have a peek. It never came out. I will be returning with my camera, a tripod, a stool and some snacks for a Pileated Woodpeckers stakeout. I have seen many Pileated Woodpeckers over the last year, but I have yet to capture a good picture of one. They are large and conspicuous, but remarkably hard to photograph as they never seem to stay in the same spot for long.
It has been a few weeks since I visited the Whitemud Ravine last. Despite the early sunset and the dusk-like conditions I managed to squeeze in a short walk by the creek. Things were quiet and uneventful. The water level is low and the flow is slow and quaint. I was hoping to spot some beavers but alas had no luck. On the bright side as I was scanning the creek for furry little heads breaking through the water surface the unmistakable call of Pileated Woodpeckers caught my attention. Pileated Woodpeckers are easy to hear but can be tricky to spot. Not this time, an adult came swooping out from the dense forest and and landed on a dead tree trunk, right next to a large oval cavity. Next thing you know it goes inside. That is a first for me, a Pileated Woodpecker nest. I hang around for a while with the camera loaded and ready but the fella never came out. I will definitely be keeping an eye on the cavity in the future to see if I can get some pictures of its inhabitants. Pileated Woodpeckers stay in Alberta year round so chances are that this cavity will be used by them during the winter.
According to the Beaufort Scale for measuring the strength of wind the wind gusts on this day were at around Beaufort number 6, which is defined as a strong breeze with large branches in motion and umbrellas used with difficulty. I did not have an umbrella to check if it would be possible to use it, but there was plenty of reed that was being whipped back and forth by the gusts. Talking about “large numbers”, this is post number 200. 166 left to go. I thought this would be a marathon, but I was mistaken. I passed the “marathon threshold” a long time ago. This is more like a Forest Gump-style ultra marathon.
Today’s post is brought to you from Heritage Wetland park. Along the boardwalk going around the ponds there are informational displays for visitors. One of these displays is about the flight feathers of mallards. So I will let the anonymous writer of this display to do the talking today.
If summer seems short to you, be glad you’re not a mallard duck. They’re already preparing for fall by July. Males leave the open prairie breeding grounds and move to sheltered wetlands with lots of shoreline plants. They need to hide while they grow new flight feathers, and fatten up on insects before migration.
Now that the leaves are gone one can see them. Large conspicuous stick nests high up in the tree crowns all along the trails down by the North Saskatchewan river. When the trees had leaves the nests were, despite their size, almost impossible to spot. Now, with the leaves gone, one would be hard pressed to miss the nests. The nests are empty as their tenants have moved on on their southward migrations. Who build and occupied these nests? Judging from the size it was likely a larger species, perhaps a corvid such as crows, ravens or jays. Now that I know where the nests are located, I can keep an eye on them next spring to see who moves in (which does not necessarily have to be the same inhabitants as this year).
The North Saskatchewan river is know for its brown and murky water. The color is due naturally occurring sediments that are washed into the river, particularly during he spring melt and during periods of rain. People sometimes assume that the water is dirty, which is not entirely true. Run off from the storm outfalls contributes a large number of pollutants to the rive. In addition to this, people are generally discouraged from consuming fish from the river due to high levels of naturally occurring mercury. On sunny days and if the light is right the river can, however, become a chameleon and change colour. On a late afternoon, as the sun was getting low, I managed to take this picture of the pale blue surface of the river with the reflections of the Walterdale bridge. No brown color on this afternoon.
Throughout the river valley and along the creeks in the city many trees have been wrapped in metal wire to protect them from being chewed on and felled by beavers. Obviously not every tree can be protected like this so the city is focusing its effort on large and high-valued trees. One does not have to go far to see the effect energetic beavers can have on trees. The forest understory all over the city is littered with tree trunks having chewed on, stumps and felled tree trunks. Beavers require a large number of trees for food and for building dams. I have not seen any beaver dams in Edmonton so I assume that within city limits the beavers use the trees primarily as a food source. As soon as one goes outside the city, however, most lakes, ponds and creeks have lots of beaver dams in them. If the city beavers do not build dams, where do they live? This is a question I have not yet been able to find a satisfactory answer to.
It was a sunny late afternoon without a cloud in the sky. A gentle cold breeze made it feel colder than what it really was. It was silent down at the North Saskatchewan River except the rustle from the Quaking Aspen leafs. It was easy to spot the Aspen stand as these were the only trees with leaves left on them. As a matter of fact, while all the leaves were golden yellow on color it looked like none of them had been shed yet. Various species of Aspen are the most widely and commonly occurring three species in the northern part of North America.
From a distance The North Saskatchewan river looks like a quaint meandering water serpent. Once you get next to it, however, you quickly realize that the flow is fast and unrelenting. As a result, the river only freezes over completely when the temperature drops extremely low for long periods of time. As I went for walk along the river edge today I came across patches of thin ice along the shore. This first ice of the year is a sure sign of things to come.
I ook this picture along the Whitemud Ravine trail a few weeks back but it did not post it as identifying this organisms was a real head scratched. I erroneously assumed that it was a form of fungi as it had quite fleshly lobe-like leafs, not unlike some oyster mushrooms. This assumption is what made me hit a dead end when it came to identification. I stumbled across the picture by chance tonight and decided to take another stab at it. By now I had run out of “mushroom options” so I decided to broaden the set of possibilities. The only possibility, other than a fungus, would be a lichen. Loo and behold, it turned out to be a dog lichen. There are about 91 species of dog lichens world wide, all belonging to the genus Peltigera. These lichen are able to fix nitrogen directly from the atmosphere due to their coexistence with cyanobacteria. The fleshly leaf-like appendages are called foliose thalli. I have not been able to find out why they are referred to as dog lichens.