March 1 and mom and pops Great Horned owl team is back in their cavernous tree down in the Whitemud Ravine. This couple are a bit of celebrities and people flock to their tree to watch them snooze. Last year they raised a pair of fluffy chicks using the same nesting location. I wrote several posts about the event: here, here, here and here. Assuming there female is sitting on eggs (or will be shortly) based on last year’s time line we are probably not going to see any owlets until end of April or beginning of May at least. So we are in for a bit of a waiting game.
The number of hours of daylight is not noticeably longer than just a few weeks ago. Currently the length of time between sunrise and sunset is increasing by about 4 minutes and 13 seconds every day. By the end of the month the days will be 4 minutes and 14 minutes longer every day. The season changes are happening fast now. The changes are also evident in the behavior of the local birds with more song, starting to prep nests and more social interactions in species that normally are solitary. Breeding season is definitely coming up. It will be interesting to see how long it will take before the first returning migrant show up…, and who it will be.
I came across this female Downy Woodpecker that was thoroughly enjoying the sunflower seeds someone had left on a stump at the Grey Nun Spruce Woodlot in St. Albert. I managed to snap the following picture that nicely illustrates why woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers. Woodpeckers commonly use their tails for support when their are climbing or working on trees. This behavior is possible as a result of adaptations such as pointed, strong and rigid tail feathers and larger and stronger tail bone, lower vertebrae and the tail’s supporting muscles in comparison to other birds.
Officially it is still three weeks to the first day of spring on March 17. This being central Alberta, however, it is quite common that spring is not in the air until substantially later. This year, however, the second half of February has been very springlike, with mild temperatures, sunny skies and lots of snow melt. While there there are now guarantees, one can only hope that they long cold winter season is coming to an end. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of spring is to see all the familiar birds return from their southern overwintering grounds.
The river valley is a window into Edmonton’s geological the past. The North Saskatchewan River originates 1,800 metres above sea level in the Columbia Icefield. It flows across Alberta and Saskatchewan to Lake Winnipeg, into the Nelson River and eventually into the Hudson Bay. In Edmonton It runs from the southwest to the northeast through the city and is fed by numerous creeks throughout the city, such as Mill Creek and Whitemud Creek. This creates numerous ravines, many of which have been incorporated into the urban parkland. Along sections of the river bank one can see the relentless erosion caused by the fast flowing river. If one knows about geology, I can imagine that the cross sections of the river bank must be alike an open book telling the geological story of the past.
Trees trunks and branches grow thicker by adding new cells beneath the bark. The effects of this process can be observed when you are looking at tree rings. To accommodate increased girth the bark also has to increase in width and in doing so the outside parts of the bark crack and sometimes peel off. The picture shows a close up of a pine tree where the bark resembles circular ice floes as it cracking. Eventually the the old dead bark falls off as new bark is emerging beneath it.
A small song bird was hopping around among the barren branches against a the canvass of a dark blue sky. My first thoughts went to a Black-capped Chickadee but it only took a quick glance to identify it as another common winter bird in these neck of the woods. A White-breasted Nuthatch. It was an energetic little fella that clearly was on a mission to find a morsel to eat. In the end I managed to capture a picture of it peaking out behind a tree trunk.
There often seems to be a trade off between success in finding animals to photograph and the ease of photography. If you want to take pictures of animals, including birds, early morning is better, but at the expense of light. If you want lots of bright light (which makes photography easier), then you are limited to mid day or early afternoon, but this comes at the expense of seeing birds and other animals. Today was a good example of this tradeoff. It was a sunny and beautiful winter’s day with springlike conditions. I went for a walk along the North Saskatchewan River by Fort Edmonton. The light was perfect for taking pictures, sunny and clear…, but there were not birds to be seen. One could hear the odd chickadee or nuthatch, but I had no luck in actually spotting any birds or even squirrels. So what does one do? Well, you turn your attention to the less mobile denizens of the forest. like the colorful lichens.
Here is one last diorama post, this time from a deciduous forest with, what appears to be cottonwoods or aspen stands and a Northern Flicker in the center, a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on the left and a snoozing flying squirrel in its den on the right. Of the three diorama posts, in my experience, this one is the most unrealistic. Winter is definitely woodpecker season, so it is quite easy to see this type of woodpecker abundance (multiple species in the same stand of trees). I have never, however, encountered multiple species of woodpeckers like this during any of the other seasons. As a matter of fact, my woodpecker track record during spring, summer and fall is atrocious. Of course, it could just be me…, I am sure the woodpeckers are there all year round, they just are better at hiding when there are leaves on the trees I guess.
Another dreamlike image from one of the dioramas at RAM. This time a Golden Eagle perched high above aN unnamed valley, presumably somewhere In the Canadian Rockies. At a quick glance one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between this staged scene and the real thing.