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.
According to the Beaufort Scale for measuring the strength of wind the wind gusts on this day were at around Beaufort number 6, which is defined as a strong breeze with large branches in motion and umbrellas used with difficulty. I did not have an umbrella to check if it would be possible to use it, but there was plenty of reed that was being whipped back and forth by the gusts. Talking about “large numbers”, this is post number 200. 166 left to go. I thought this would be a marathon, but I was mistaken. I passed the “marathon threshold” a long time ago. This is more like a Forest Gump-style ultra marathon.
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.
The petite Bufflehead was unphased by the strong breeze pushing it around on the choppy waters. Every now and then it did its funny looking dive where it sort of launches up and then dives down, similarly to how a person would dive into the water from the edge of a pool. Buffleheads can be found in the Edmonton area year round hanging out on any open water that they can find. My first Bufflehead was actually spotted in the middle of a deep freeze on January 20 in Genesee lake. It might be a small unassuming waterfowl but anyone that has the wits to survive the long Alberta winter deserves our respect.
The plan was to head out to the Heritage Wetlands park in Sherwood Park but half way there I realized that I would have to change my plans. The wind was picking up and with rain showers rolling in I had to make a quick decision if I should just scrap the plan and turn around or come up with a Plan B. I went with Plan B. As I was already in Sherwood Park I decided to make a quick visit to Emerald Lake and then decide where to go from there. To call Emerald Lake a lake is an overstatement. It is more of a storm water pond squeezed in between big box stores, a high school and busy roadways. Despite its unglamorous location the bird life can be surprisingly rich here. The main benefit on a day like this is that one can park in the parking lot of one of the big box stores only meters away from the edge of the lake. The wind blew off my cap several times and the trees were swaying in the strong breeze. A half dozen Canada Geese were swimming against the wind but did not seem to make any headway. Other than the geese, a few Golden Eye and Mallards it pond was, perhaps not surprisingly, abandoned.
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.
I like the word “mangy”. The sound of the word aptly conveys its meaning (something that is in poor condition or shabby) and finally (after 188) posts I have reasons to use the word in a post. The cattails along the shores of the Heritage Wetlands are mangy these days as they are wilting, disintegrating and falling apart. Clearly they have reached the end of their life. Technically speaking the term cattail refers to the plant itself and not just the characteristic brown furry fruiting spikes. When mature, which would be about now I presume, the spike disintegrates to release cottony masses of minute wind-dispersed seeds.
Tree conks are the the fruiting bodies of fungi growing inside tree. They are an ominous signs that the tree is decaying from the inside out. This harbinger of death can be quite pretty though. I came across this stunning conk on a paper birch at the heritage Wetlands park. With a brown gradient on the top, a crisp dark brown line along its waist and a white underside it almost looked like it had been painted with water colors. The decay process is typically slow and conks can grow quite large. The lifestyle of growing on dead or dying organisms called a saprotrophic lifestyle and, while it does not sounds very glamorous, is a important ecological role of many fungi. What dies has to be recycled and fungi and bacteria are key players making this possible.