After experiencing the a winter and summer season watching birds, plants and other critters it is clear that there are some rather unique pros and cons to both seasons. The obvious pro of the spring and summer was the explosion in the diversity of birds…, but it comes at a price. Foliage! During the summer, many times I could hear the birds but due to foliage and vegetation I was never able to actually see them. The leaves are gone now and so are most of the birds, but whoever is left is much easier to spot. On the other hand, it is much harder to identify plants now that all the leaves are gone. So here is one enigmatic plant growing along the shores of Heritage Wetland park in Sherwood park. I suspect that if it would have had leaves left it would be straightforward to identify, but without the foliage…, not so much. Lets just call it shoreline fuzz. I like the back-light making the spherical balls of seeds look all fuzzy. Looks like the fuzz balls are here to stay for the next little while. Long live the fuzz balls.
House Sparrows are usually not considered particularly glamorous as far as birds go, perhaps because they are so common. Native to most of Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, and a large part of Asia it has been introduced – on purpose or accidentally – in most parts of the world. These days it is easily the most common wild bird across the world. On this chilly morning we came across a dozen House Sparrows skulking in the shrubbery. They caught my attention because they seemed plumper than usual. Maybe they were just well fed or maybe they had fluffed up their feathers for added insulation.
If it would not have been for their characteristic calls I would have missed the gaggle of Canada geese flying overhead at the Heritage Wetlands Park. It was a sunny day with a steel blue sky and the large dark birds stood out distinctly against the backdrop. I was about to dismiss them, after all, Canada Geese are one of the most common year-round occurring birds in these neck of the woods, when my trusty birding partner pointed out that they all stopped beating their wings at exactly the same time. The gaggle started soaring, aiming for a water landing at the far eastern edge of the wetlands. There might have been two dozen individual geese but they all seemed to be of the same mind. Maybe they had a predetermined flight plan? Maybe its was a routine flight that they do on a regular basis? Maybe there there was a lead goose that issued a subtle signal that had all of them stop beating their wings at the same time? Perhaps you have to think like a goose to fully understand what made them work in unison.
Other than a gaggle of Canada geese doing a flyover it was a quiet day at the Heritage Wetland Park in Sherwood Park. It was sunny, clear blue sky and the temperature was a crispy zero degrees. Most of the water surfaces on the ponds were covered in a thin layer of transparent ice that would likely be gone by the end of the day. The lack of avian activity was, however, made up for by a bustle of activity under the ice. Although I have been at these wetlands many times I have never seen any aquatic life and I was taken By surprise as I was studying the thin ice layer When I realized there were schools if hundreds of tiny fish under the ice. They looked like some sort of minnows, but were to small Identify any details. I managed to take a picture that ended up looking like it was shot through a dirty window.
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.
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.
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.