If you look at a spruce tree closely you may notice that all of the cones seem to be at the very top of the tree. The reason for this is an interesting life-history adaptation. A single spruce tree carries both female and male cones. Spruce trees, and conifers in general, depend on the wind to reproduce. In the spring, short-lived male cones produce pollen, which is carried to female cones by the wind. Usually, male cones grow toward the bottom of the tree and female cones toward the top, which reduces the chance that polled from the male cones “falls down” on female cones. Self-pollination is a bad thing since it could lead to reduced genetic variability and inbreeding. So if the male cones are at the bottom of the tree, how come the only visible cones are at the top of the tree. As it turns out, while the female cones are large and conspicuous while the male cones are small and inconspicuous.
We are in a bit of a heat wave with +1 °C. Despite this it is snowing. Big wet heavy snow flakes are slowly descending on the landscape. Although it is picturesque it makes it wet and soggy walking on the trails through the forest. It is a nice change from the biting cold and for the first time in a long time one does not have to bundle up when heading into the forest. Birding is definitely more enjoyable and the birds seem to be more active as well. Some birds, like chickadees, actually lower their body temperature in the winter. This reduces the gradient between the internal body temperature and the external temperature. This is the same as keeping your house at a cooler temperature to reduce your heating bill. Both responses reduce the amount of energy necessary to stay warm. With milder temperatures there would not be a need to conserve energy by lowering the body temperature and more energy could be spend on other things, say like increasing activity levels.
I have lost count of the number pictures and posts I have so far with chickadees, but there must e quite a number by now. For good measure, here is another one. Chickadees never cease to entertain. They may be one of the smallest birds we have in these neck of the woods but they are feisty, spunky and not the least bit shy. They are a “go-getter” – they know what they want (always food) and they do not hesitate getting it, even if it means they have to get our of your hand. They are rather particular about where they eat their acquired sunflower seed. Once they have the treat they take off to a into cover, like a tree or a bush and go to work cracking open the seed.
The holiday season is long gone and so is winter solstice. With a busy life it is easy to miss that the days are actually getting longer by almost 4 minutes a day. The turnaround point (aka winter solstice) was on December 23 when the day was the shortest at 7 hours 27 minutes and 43 seconds. Today the day was 7 hours 37 minutes 11 seconds long, about 1 hours and 10 minutes longer than on December 23. Of course this all has to do with the motion of Earth around the sun. Today’s photograph depicts some long forgotten ornaments still decorating a tree in Hermitage park. The ornaments could be a celestial metaphor for the current season with the large ball representing Earth with a snow and ice covered Northern Hemisphere and the small ball representing the moon.
Today seems to be an appropriate day for reminiscing about some of the superb owls I have had the fortune to see over the last year. Although owls are common around here they are remarkable elusive and stealthy. Every time I am walking through the forest I cannot but wonder how many owls I pass by without noticing them. This is of course a rhetorical question that I do not want to know the answer to.
Along the Whitemud Creek old coniferous forest tends to grow at the bottom of the ravine along the creek while deciduous forest tends to cover bank slopes. The deciduous stands consists of trembling aspen and balsam poplar trees along with white birch. These species are typically considered “pioneer” deciduous species, because they can establish and grow where there are not already many other trees. Coniferous trees, such as White spruce, on the other hand, are “shade tolerant”, and can survive and grow under a canopy of aspen/poplar. Eventually the spruce exceed the aspen and poplar trees in height and they become dominant in the upper canopy.
While winter is still holding our neck of the woods in a solid grip the temperatures have climbed up to more balmy temperatures after a few weeks of deep freeze. It is interesting to notice how a few week weeks of sub -30 C temperatures make the -20 C to -10 C range feel like spring. It appears the the birds feel the same way as they certainly seem to be more active. The snow is still covering the forest in a thick blanket but it is nice when birding is not a physically painful experience.