The Whitemud creek can be a busy construction zone. During spring, summer and fall the beavers are busy with their engineering handiwork. In the winter, however, another form of construction, or rather reconstruction, is taking place. This is when humans come in and try to undo what the beavers have built. Over the last few weeks the city crews have been busy shoring up one of the meanders in the creek that was threatening to undermine and collapse the main path.
Yesterday’s post features a carefree Red Squirrel in a snow blizzard. Today’s post is featuring the Whitemud Ravine Great Horned mom owl in her tree cavity sitting out the blizzard. Getting this picture proved to be a bit of a challenge as the camera’s focusing system was being thrown off by the falling snow. We visited mom and pops owl last week, and this weekend they are still there. Mom still in her cavity and pops on guard in a nearby tree. I am not sure if the female is sitting on the eggs yet. If not it would just be a matter if time.
Clearly this Red Squirrel was not being bothered by the snow blizzard the least bit. It had found a spot on top of the back rest of a park bench overlooking the Whitemud Creek. It seemed to be contemplating profound things as it was gazing out over the frozen creek as the snow fell and blew around it. Even when it ended up having snow on its face it did not seem to mind. I assume it might take a squirrel to understand a squirrel.
It can be safely said that most people would agree that a snow blizzard is not the best circumstances for going birding. But if the birding is on the agenda and it just happens to snow…, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and go for it. Birding while the snow flying sideways presents particular challenges. Some are obvious such as such as snow covered binoculars and the need to protect camera equipment. Other are perhaps not obvious, such as the camera focusing system being thrown off by blowing snow. Oh, and the minor detail that most birds are in hiding during such inclement weather is also somewhat of an inconvenience. This particular birding outing had, however, a particular goal in mind…, to check in on mom and pops Great Horned Owls, which, are pretty much stationary and this point no matter the weather conditions.
This Hairy Woodpecker did not fancy getting its picture take. Instead of just flying away it turned its back on me. Perhaps the tree was a good source of food and it wanted to spend more time foraging there? The subtleties that differentiate hairy an Downy Woodpeckers are intriguing. I have seen enough Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers to tell that the slightly larger size of this one means it is a Hairy Woodpecker. If you can see the bill, that would be another useful clue. In hairy Woodpeckers the bill is almost as long as the length of the head (if you would “fold the bill over backwards” it would almost reach the other side of the head), while in Downy Woodpeckers the bill is substantially shorter relative the the width of the head.
Nature walks and birding within the city limits often comes with nose pollution. It is remarkable how far vehicle noise travels even through the densest forest. It is also remarkable how effectively one’s brain filters out the humming noise making you oblivious to its presence. For example, the northern part of the Whitemud Ravine is surrounded by the Whitemud Drive on two of its side and Fox drive on a third side. As a result there is no escape from the humming sound of vehicles. It makes me wonder what effect this noise pollution has on the local fauna, particularly animals that rely on vocal communication such as many birds. We humans often raise our voice to be heard in a noisy environment. Do birds use the same strategy to have their song and calls heard through the forest when there is noise pollution present? I a sure someone must have done research on this?
As one wanders through through the Grey Nuns Spruce Woodlot you come across a large number of spruce seedlings with protective mesh around them. Apparently around 2500 seedlings were planted in 2019 and a total of over 11,600 spruce trees have been planted since 2016 in an attempt to return the area to its native spruce forest, particularly on locations that were dominated by invasive species. The Grey Nuns White Spruce Forest is an ecologically and historically significant area located at the outskirts of St. Albert and has been designated a Municipal Historic Resource. It is the home of many trees that are well over 100 years old, and a habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, plants, and amphibians.
I was slowly and carefully walking along a narrow meandering trail through a clear it in The Grey Nun’s Spruce Woodlot. A handful Pine Siskins sitting under a log eating sunflower seeds got spooked and took off…., except one. I assumed it would also leave as I got closer to it, but it did not. I ended up less than 2 metres from it and it happily continues eating sunflower seeds. I guess it must have found the sunflower seeds really yummy and figured it was worth the risk of staying.
It was clear and sunny day and the forest was full of bird song. The spring was definitely in the air at the Grey Nun’s Spruce Woodlot on this Sunday. My ear caught the distance reverberating and hollow sound of a drumming Pileated Woodpecker. The sound was unmistakable and the only creature in these neck of the woods capable of producing it is the charismatic Pileated Woodpecker. I decided to try track down the woodpecker by following the drumming sound. The woodpecker was not hard to find as it was perched high up on a tree stump in a clearing. Every few minutes it got to work drumming up a loud hollow sound that traveled far through the forest. It clearly was not foraging as there was no damage to the tree. It looked like it was using the sound to communicate. What was it trying to say? Was it lonesome and looking for company or was it telling other Pileated Woodpeckers in the vicinity to stay away?
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.