[Walking softly through the forest]
BIRD: Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee!
HUMAN: Who are you?
BIRD: We are the Chickadees that say... Fee-bee!
HUMAN: No! Not the Chickadees that say Fee-bee!
BIRD: The same!
HUMAN: Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!
BIRD: The Chickadees Who Say Fee-bee demand a sacrifice!
HUMAN: Chickadees of Fee-bee, I am but a simple birder who seek the enchanter who lives beyond these woods.
BIRD: Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee! Fee-bee!
HUMAN: Oh, ow!
BIRD: We shall say 'Fee-bee' again to you if you do not appease us.
HUMAN: Well, what is it you want?
BIRD: We want... sunflower seeds!
Black-capped Chickadees have a remarkably complex and varied repertoire of vocalizations, but perhaps the most common song carrying through the forest is their characteristic fee-bee (aka as ‘Hey, sweetie’). You can listen to recordings of their vocalizations here. As I was making my way along the Whitemud Ravine trail the Black-capped Chickadees came out in full force confronting me. The exchange that followed was remarkably reminiscent of the exchange King Arthur has with the Nights of Ni in Monty Python and The Holy Grail. In case you are not familiar with this scene you can enjoy it in all its glory right here. This band of Chickadees meant business. A dozen chickadees quickly surrounded me, perching in the shrubbery and on the ground around my feet and said ‘fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee’. One of them landed on my leg. Another one went straight for my outstretched hand. When it realized that I had not brought an offering I received a condescending look of disbelieve and indignation. I had no other choice than continue walking with a dozen chickadees tagging along fee-bee’ing me incessantly.
So a mushroom walks into a party and the bouncer says, “Sorry we are full”. The mushroom replies: “But I don’t take up mushroom”.
Now that we have that out of the way,… this is without question the funkiest looking fungus I have come across so far. Initially I was even questioning if it was a fungus or something else altogether. But it turns out it is a fungus, a fungus that looks like no other fungus. The fruiting body seems to defy every notion of how a fungus should look. Where is the cap and the stalk? It turns out this one belongs to the clavarioid fungi group (after the genus Clavaria). These fungi are more commonly referred to as coral fungi. Despite the absence of the classical fairytale “mushroom look” it turns out that coral fungi do not only have a worldwide distribution but are one of the most common groups of fungi. With over 1200 species of coral fungi identifying the exact species is well beyond my ability, but apparently these fellas are edible.
After seeing plenty of Wood Bison at a distance dotting pastures, fields and forest edges I imagined that the day I would get close and personal with the largest terrestrial animal in the americas would be along a remote trail far away from human civilization. Well I could not me more mistaken. I came across this gigantic male Wood Bison right by the fence along Highway 16. I had stopped on a gravel road turn-out along the highway and there he was, a solitary male Wood Bison, right on the other side of the fence. I could have reached out and touched him if I wanted to. I decided not to give him any reason to tear down the fence and go after me. He was certainly curious though. As I approached the fence he came right up to meet me, not the least shy. Although the wire fence looked solid and was at least 6 feet tall it would not stand a chance against an adult Wood Bison hellbent on getting through. I did manage to get some nice closed up pictures of him, including this one where he is staring me down probably wondering what my intentions were.
The flowers of the Prickly Wilde Roses are long gone and have been replaced by green hips. As they ripen they will turn orange and then red. The hips are edible, something the First Nations and Swedes have known since the dawn of time. I’ll be keeping my eyes on the rose hips to harvest some when they become ripe. Making rose hip tea might be the easiest way of reaping some of the health benefits of these fruits or, if I feel adventurous, I might just make a batch of rose hip soup. The wilting of the flowers and the ripening of fruits signals the impeding end of the summer. Technically September 23 is the last day of summer but typically things turn fall’ish much earlier in these neck of the woods.
Most mushrooms I have encountered are difficult to identify to say the least. When I came across this fungi growing out of a rotting log on the moist forest floor I figure that something this distinct looking should be easier to identify. I did nevertheless take me quite some time to identify it, mainly because it took me a while to find an appropriate online reference for Alberta fungi. My best educated guess is that it is a Shaggy Mane, also known as Shaggy Ink Cap or Lawyer’s Wig (Coprinus comatus). In this fungi the young fruit bodies first appear as white cylinders emerging from the ground, reminiscent of The Gherkin. As the fruit bodies mature a bell-shaped cap opens out (you can see one in the far right foreground in the picture). It is edible, but I am not about to take any chances just in case I got the identification wrong. The species is carnivorous specializing in trapping, killing and digesting underground nematodes (microscopic underground roundworms) to obtain nutrients (so called nematophagy).
The Cooking-Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreational Are is a large nature reserve east of Edmonton. This reserve is characterized by rolling hills and a “knob and kettle” terrain, containing glacial moraines and depressions filled with small lakes. In one of those kettle lakes we came across a solitary American Beaver doing laps back and forth across the lake. Was it doing it’s daily exercise regime, was it patrolling its territory or was it just generally restless? Who knows what goes through the head of a lonely beaver on a sunny summer day. The Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreational Area is part of a much larger 1600 square kilometre area known as Beaver Hills and was designated an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2016.
This Wood Frog liked to live dangerously. It was basking at the surface of a shallow vernal pool of water in the middle of the trail as we came barraging along on our mountain bikes. The only reasons we managed to spot it was because we decided to get of our bikes and walk around the pool that nearly covered the entire width of the trail. Any other mountain biker would have seen this obstacle as a challenge one needs to tackle head on at full speed. The frog did not bat an eye as we spotted it and moved in closer to have a good look at it. Maybe it figured that if it just stays completely still we might not see it. Perhaps that is a viable strategy for the half a dozen garter snakes that we came across on the trail just a few hundered meters away, but it did not work with us…, then again, we were not considering it as our next meal.
Dragonflies are a bit of an oxymoron. While everyone is able to instantly recognize a dragonfly, very few people know the names of the various dragonfly species, never mind being able to tell them apart and identify them. I am no different. We had just finished a trail ride in Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area and had taken a break for a snack at the Waskahegan Staging Area when a couple a dragonflies landed on a sunny patch on the ground right next to us. My camera was out of reach and I did not want to spook the dragonflies so I decided to try to use my phone to take some pictures. I took a few pictures from some distance away and then I slowly moved to phone closer and closer thinking that they will for sure take off. But they stayed. I managed to get about a foot away from this one dragonfly (the phone was not able to focus at a closer distance) and managed to take this close up. At the time I had no idea what it was, other than a dragonfly. After a bit of research it appears that it most likely is a species of Meadowhawk, specifically a Cherry-Faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum internum), but there are a few other species of Meadowhawk that look very similar. The name “Meadowhawk” is quite telling of the ecology of this species. It is found near marshy ponds, lakes, slow streams and on meadows. Like all dragonflies, the Meadowhawk is a predator. I can just picture it patrolling the meadow like a hawk for any soft-bodies flying insects such as mosquitoes, flies, moths and mayflies.
Going birding mid-day is not ideal. Most birds are out of sight, but if you put your mind to it you might be able to hear them skulking in the shrubbery. For a birding noob like me the only thing more frustrating than no birds is hearing birds and being unable to see them and identify them. Plants have none of these problems. Be it dawn, mid-day or dusk – the plants are there. So on this late afternoon down by the Whitemud Creek I did not see much in terms of birds but I did encounter this patch of White Cockles. Like many of the pretty flowers I have encountered, this one is also an invasive species. White Cockles are commonly found in pastures, roadsides, waste areas, gardens and occasionally in cultivated fields. The White Cockle, also known as White Campion (Lychnis alba syn. Silene alba S. latifolia) was introduced from Eurasia and rumor has it that it was introduced with ship ballast.
Black-capped Chickadees may be one of our smallest birds but they are definitely one of the most resourceful and intelligent birds in these neck of the woods. There have learned to take full advantage of our weakness for cuteness and manipulated our feeble human minds to provide them with free snacks year round. Although I do not bring snacks, plenty of other people do. There are always piles of sun flower seed strewn about along the trail and on the bridge railings along Whitemud Creek. They swoop down, grab a sunflower seed and then fly off to a nearby shrub where they get to work on the seed. It’s basically like a fly-through fast food joint. Chickadees are also known for hoarding food for leaner times. Although chickadees undeniably have small brains, they are no bird brains. They are very capable of remembering where they hide food stashes when they need to find them in the middle of the winter.