Came across the unusually fuzzy looking Black-capped Chickadee at the MacTaggard Sanctuary the other day. This chickadee looked bedraggled and mottled , like it was having a bad hair feather day. I have my suspicions that’s perhaps it could bear a juvenile, but I have not been able to find any conclusive information supporting my theory. During the winter the chickadees were very abundant and as soon as one would arrive at the trail, the chickadees would greet you, probably hoping for a treat. During the summer the situation is quite different. While one can hear their song in the forest they keep to them selves and rarely accost unsuspecting humans. This disheveled looking chickadee, however, came down to check me out. It did not stray long. Once it was clear that I was not offering any treats it took off and vanished in the shrubbery again.
If your look around the forest after a rain, you might notice that some leaves shed the water readily and appear dry while on other leaves the water pools in droplets. Leaves are covered in a waxy cuticle and the structure and chemistry of the cuticle determines how water on its surface behaves. The stronger the water is repelled from the surface of the leave the larger and more dome shaped the water droplets on the leaves are. It is the cohesive intermolecular forces between the water molecules (specifically the hydrogen bonds between water molecules) that result in surface tension That ultimately form the spherical shape. There is probably a lot more that could be said about this phenomenon but suffice to say that is quite photogenic.
I had dropped off my teen at practice, there was a break in the never ending rain and I had 90 minutes to myself. Dark clouds loomed at the horizon so there was no time to waste. I raced as fast as it was legal to the nearest birding spot, which happened to be the MacTaggard Sanctuary. The MacTaggard sancturary straddles the Whitemud Creek south of 23rd avenue. I have been here once before, about three weeks ago at which point I was almost eaten alive by the mosquitoes. (See Post No. 078) With the copious amounts of rain we have received over the last few weeks the mosquito situation has not improved. With the trail covered in mud and mushrooms sprouting all around in the soggy leaf litter I set out with my sights set on the oxbow lake situated in sanctuary (See Post No. 075 for an explanation of what an oxbow lake is). I never made it to the lake. First I got sidetracked by a fleeting glimpse of an American Goldfinch. I spend some time trying to get a better look at it but to no avail. Then I spotted a Pileated Woodpecker perched high up on a dead tree. As I was watching it another one landed on the same tree. You simply do not walk away from a duet of Pileated Woodpeckers, so I spend quite some time checking out these cool fellas. They were flying too and fro between trees and seemed to have a jolly good time together. Once I decided to move on something in the corner of my eye caught my attention as I hiked over a bluff overlooking the creek. I stopped and scanned the creek and the dense riparian vegetation below me. It took a while, but then I saw them. Five magnificent and regal Cedar Waxwings were playing hide and seek in the thick riparian vegetation with an occasional foray out into the open over the creek. Cedar Waxwings have been on my birding wanna-see list ever since the beginning of the year. Way back on March 29 my very first Project 366 post was about Bohemian Waxwings (See Post No. 001). I ended seeing lots of Bohemian Waxwings along the Whitemud Creek as the winter petered out. The almost identical Cedar Waxwings, however, evaded me.., until today. The two species look almost identical and the physical differences between them are subtle. While Bohemian Waxwings are bigger and chunkier than Cedar Waxwings, for the uninitiated noob (like me) that does not really help. The key distinguishing feature for me was the orange under-tail of the Bohemian Waxwings versus the white under-tail of Cedar Waxwings. Today’s Cedar Waxwings brings my AB Big Year total to 115 and my Life list to 163. The last month has been a bit of a dry spell in terms of spotting new species as the birding has been a bit of hiatus in favour of a focus on bison. Hopefully the Cedar Waxwings are a sign of being back in the swing of things.
Yesterday I went for a nature walk to a part of the Whitemud Creek that is located south of the 23rd Avenue. I have not been to this location previously and I just happened to run some errands in this neighbourhood so I decided to “kill two birds with one stone” and squeeze in a short nature walk in-between errands. As it turns out this part of the creek flows through the Mactaggard Sanctuary, a 104 hectares nature sanctuary, part of which was donated to the University of Alberta in 1980 by Sandy A. Mactaggard, a developer and philanthropist. The sanctuary has a interesting history, which also explains why it is called a “sanctuary” and not a “park”. There is a video where the late Mr. Mactaggard tells the story behind the sanctuary. In short, the sanctuary used to be located outside of Edmonton when Sandy Mactaggard originally purchased the land for housing development, but only after promising the previous owner of the land that he will preserve it to benefit the citizens of Edmonton. The purpose was not to turn it into another park, but rather keep it pristine and let it remain the way it always had been. That is why it became a sanctuary. The trails along this part of the creek are more untamed and rough with less traffic.
I did not have much time for my nature walk so I had to move quick and as a result did not get much birding done. My main aim was to find a large oxbow lake situated in the sanctuary and do some preliminary scouting to figure out how to access the lake. Oxbow lakes are often enveloped in dense vegetation and can be difficult to find and access. The benefit of this is that many animals use these lakes for raising their young. I did not have any trouble finding the lake as the trail briefly passes right along side of it, but just as I suspected most of the lake is surrounded by dense vegetation. Accessing the more remote parts of the lake (the ones where the trail did not go) proved, however, to be even more difficult than I had anticipated as the entire outside rim of the lake is surrounded by a high and very steep bank (almost like an overgrown cliff) and there was not obvious way of accessing the shoreline. There is a trail, the Mactaggard sanctuary loop trail, that loops around the lake ascending the steep bank. Although this quick exploration gave me some ideas of how one might be able to access some of the more remote parts of the lake, I did not have time to look into the feasibility of any of these possibilites. That will have to be another excursion. On a different note, the mosquitos were voracious and I did not bring any repellent so, this is a reminder to myself not to forget the repellent next time.