It was a biting cold day and against my better judgement I decided to head to the Grey Nuns White Spruce Park in St. Alberta in the hope of catching some Snowy Owls. The sky was clear blue and the sun was shining yet it was around -26 °C. I took a stroll through a small wood lot and did not last more than 30 minutes despite wearing many layers. I did not see a single bird. Thy were probably smarter than me in this deep freeze, huddling in a cover somewhere minimizing energy expenditure.
A ghillie suit a type of camouflage clothing designed to resemble the background environment such as foliage, snow or sand enabling the wearer to “disappear” into the background. Whoever build this nest achieved the same effect as a ghillie suit. The untidy straws of grass protesting around the best almost eliminates the outline of the best making it blend in with the surroundings. Some people might say that the best is messy. I like to think that the design of the nest was intentional and a highly effective camouflage trick.
Chickadees might be tiny but they sure know what they want and make sure you know what it is. They regularly follow one along as you go for walks in the forest. They flutter around, chirp and it is pretty clear that they are hoping for a treat. They might be common and in your face, but they are que painful difficult to photograph as they never seem to sit still. They are always moving and on the go. This fella sat still long enough for me to quickly take a picture, but before I knew what had happened it was off and on to a different branch.
With the leaves gone, the branches are exposed revealing nests that were occupied just a few months ago. Meticulously constructed using twigs, grass and lined with feathers these were the domiciles where baby birds were hatched, reared and before moving out and moving on in life. Of course, when the nests were inhabited they were well-concealed by foliage. Will the same inhabitants return next year? Will new tenants move in? Are these disposable nests used only one season? What shape will the nest be after the winter?
Throughout the city parks and forests one encounters locations that are undergoing reforestation. Typically these are locations that were invasive species have been removed followed by an attempt to reintroduce native species. I say “attempt” because most invasive species are very aggressive and once established they can me almost impossible to eliminate. Today’s picture was taken at the Grey Nun’s Spruce Woodlot where baby spruce trees have been planted wrapped in metal mesh to protect them from hungry deer and rabbits.
As I was saying in yesterday’s post, the chickadees at the Grey Nuns Spruce Woodlot were out in full force. Accosting us as soon as we arrived. If you stretched out your hand, a chickadee would immediately land on it and start to look for treats, pecking your fingers with its tiny bill. As soon as it realized that there were no treats to be had it would take off, only to immediately be replace by another one. It was a whirlwind of chickadees and, as usual, I identified them all as Black-capped Chickadees.., that was, until I was going through the pictures the next day. I realized that one of the chickadees did not look like the others. Instead of a black capped head it had a brown head with more brown throughout its body. In the freeze frame picture it is easy to see (if you pay attention) that this is a Boreal Chickadee. Boreal Chickadees are typically solidly outnumbered by the Black-capped Chickadees and I a rarely lucky enough to spot one. This is the first picture I have taken of a Boreal Chickadee. It’s a bit ironic that I did not realize what I had taken a picture of until the next day.
We went to the Grey Nuns Spruce Woodlot today. This patch of forest is a remnant of a much larger forest that existed at the time of settlement of the St. Albert area over 170 years ago. It is an old-growth forest that is squeezed in between the busy Ray Gibbon Drive, the Joy Centre and sprawling sub-division developments. The forest is just over 40 hectares in size and contains a diversity of tree covered, shrub and grassland areas. Among birders the area is perhaps best known for its large number of Snowy Owls during the winter. It was here that I spotted my first Snowy Owl last winter. During our visit today we went on the narrow trails winding through the forest. As soon as we arrived we were accosted by a band of energetic and chubby Black-capped Chickadees that required us to appease them with food. They simply did not take a no for an answer and continued to follow us through the forest. I suspect that they probably are used to being fed by humans, which was further corroborated when we came across an old dilapidated feeder hanging just off the trail where the chickadees had spray-pained “FEED US PLEASE”. We did not bring any food for the feathered denizens of the forest this time, but clearly next time we will have to make up for this.