I took this picture about a week ago at Heritage Wetlands park. The colorful leaves did not last long. After a few windy days most trees are now completely leafless. The process of of shedding the leaves seasonally is called abscission and is under hormonal control in most plants. There are several advantages of loosing leaves seasonally, including conserving water and being able to better tolerate severe winter conditions. The obvious disadvantage is that deciduous plants need to spend resources on regrowing their leaves, a cost that evergreens do not have.
The petite Bufflehead was unphased by the strong breeze pushing it around on the choppy waters. Every now and then it did its funny looking dive where it sort of launches up and then dives down, similarly to how a person would dive into the water from the edge of a pool. Buffleheads can be found in the Edmonton area year round hanging out on any open water that they can find. My first Bufflehead was actually spotted in the middle of a deep freeze on January 20 in Genesee lake. It might be a small unassuming waterfowl but anyone that has the wits to survive the long Alberta winter deserves our respect.
The plan was to head out to the Heritage Wetlands park in Sherwood Park but half way there I realized that I would have to change my plans. The wind was picking up and with rain showers rolling in I had to make a quick decision if I should just scrap the plan and turn around or come up with a Plan B. I went with Plan B. As I was already in Sherwood Park I decided to make a quick visit to Emerald Lake and then decide where to go from there. To call Emerald Lake a lake is an overstatement. It is more of a storm water pond squeezed in between big box stores, a high school and busy roadways. Despite its unglamorous location the bird life can be surprisingly rich here. The main benefit on a day like this is that one can park in the parking lot of one of the big box stores only meters away from the edge of the lake. The wind blew off my cap several times and the trees were swaying in the strong breeze. A half dozen Canada Geese were swimming against the wind but did not seem to make any headway. Other than the geese, a few Golden Eye and Mallards it pond was, perhaps not surprisingly, abandoned.
I haven been visiting the Heritage Wetlands Park in Sherwood Park on a regular basis lately. The wetlands consists of a series of connected ponds, surrounded by thick reeds and stands of mature trees. The habitat is quite diverse and ideal for everything from water fowl to raptors. What is unique about these wetlands, however, is that they are surrounded by residential subdivisions to the north and south, with backyards going all the way to the water’s edge in some locations. The east and west sides of the wetlands are bounded by two major roadways, highway 21 on the east and Clover Bar Road to the west. It is difficult to go anywhere in the park without hearing the sound of vehicle traffic. Despite this, 162 species of birds have been reported at this location on eBird and I have scored eleven lifers here, including Green-winged Teal, Franklin Gull, Common Tern, Double-crested Cormorant, and most recently the Belted Kingfisher. Only a few days ago 100 Snow Geese were reported here so I will be heading back tomorrow to try to pickup a few more cool bird species.
I like the word “mangy”. The sound of the word aptly conveys its meaning (something that is in poor condition or shabby) and finally (after 188) posts I have reasons to use the word in a post. The cattails along the shores of the Heritage Wetlands are mangy these days as they are wilting, disintegrating and falling apart. Clearly they have reached the end of their life. Technically speaking the term cattail refers to the plant itself and not just the characteristic brown furry fruiting spikes. When mature, which would be about now I presume, the spike disintegrates to release cottony masses of minute wind-dispersed seeds.
As I was walking down the trail with eyes fixed on the trees there was a splashing sound. At first I though it came from the river, which was just a short distance away on the other side of some shrubbery. The sound seemed closer than the river and more subtle. Not a large splashing sound, but more of a small splashy sound. It did not take long to identify the culprit. In a large puddle along the trail a robin was having its morning bath. It was a very energetic and vigorous bath as it was ruffling up the feathers and shaking around in the brown puddle. My presence did not seem to bother the robin as it continued its bathing routine. It was not until a runner came steaming down the trail that the robin all of a sudden took off and vanished into the shrubbery.
Tree conks are the the fruiting bodies of fungi growing inside tree. They are an ominous signs that the tree is decaying from the inside out. This harbinger of death can be quite pretty though. I came across this stunning conk on a paper birch at the heritage Wetlands park. With a brown gradient on the top, a crisp dark brown line along its waist and a white underside it almost looked like it had been painted with water colors. The decay process is typically slow and conks can grow quite large. The lifestyle of growing on dead or dying organisms called a saprotrophic lifestyle and, while it does not sounds very glamorous, is a important ecological role of many fungi. What dies has to be recycled and fungi and bacteria are key players making this possible.
The leaves are long gone and all that remains are clusters of berries. Quite fittingly names these are Snowberries, a deciduous shrub commonly found in backyards as well as along trails. The name of the genus – Symphoricarpos – means “to bear together” in Greek and refers to the distinct closely packed clusters of berries the species produce. While the berries are an important source of food in the winter for birds it is poisonous to humans. While the berries are easy to spot on the leafless branches this will obviously change once the snow arrives.
A Song Sparrow hiding among the reed was letting everyone know it was there. Song Sparrows can be found in our city parks until the end of October at which point most of them head south to continental USA. Occasionally, however, the odd one decides to stay behind braving the local winter. True to its name, the Song Sparrow has a colorful repertoire of songs. In one of his journals Henry David Thoreau suggested that the song sounded to him like “Maids! Maids! Maids! Hang up your teakettle-ettle-ettle.” Song sparrows tend to develop local dialects and some people even claim that no two Song Sparrows have the same song. There is a collection of recorded songs here to give you a taste of the diversity of songs. The typical “three short identical notes followed by a longer one” has even been compared to rhythmical pattern of the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I am not entirely convinced about the Beethoven’s Fifth comparison but I will keep my ears peeled next time I am listening to a Song Sparrow.
A solitary female mallard was perched on an underwater rock energetically grooming her flight feathers. Perhaps she was getting ready to embark on her journey south. Her speckled fuzzy feathers blended in perfectly with the wilting yellow-brown reeds. It was a cold and crisp morning at the Heritage Wetlands Park. As most birds already have flown south I did not expect to see much. It turnes out that this location is full of surprises. These unassuming wetlands treated me to my first Belted Kingfisher and a Merlin last week. This time both the kingfisher and Merlin were nowhere to be found but instead I ended up seeing (or hearing) 13 species during the hour I was strolling around the ponds. The last time I spotted more species in a single outing was in mid-May and that walk lasted for two and a half hours, so I would say that today was pretty successful. The final breakdown of today’s tally is:
10 Canada Goose 10 Mallard 1 Bufflehead 10 Common Goldeneye 2 Hooded Merganser 4 Red-necked Grebe 2 Ring-billed Gull 1 Pileated Woodpecker 1 Black-billed Magpie 1 American Crow 1 Black-capped Chickadee 5 American Robin 2 Song Sparrow
On a different note. This is post 183 which means it is the half-way mark of Project 366. 183 posts down, 183 posts to go and still going strong.