Tag Archives: Whitemud Creek Ravine

Spring is here and so are the beavers

Today is the first day of spring and all the signs are here; the creeks and rivers are largely ice-free, the beavers at the Whitemud Creek have awoken from their winter hibernation and the buds are bursting.

During my nature walk along the Whitemud Creek the other day the beavers were out in full force, swimming around in the slurry waters, breaking through ice floes like fury little ice breakers and chilling on the banks with their friend, the muskrat. The onset of the seasonal changes is sudden and things are changing fast. Just a week ago my son and I walked on the frozen creek, meeting people on skis and walking their dogs. Today the creek is virtually ice free. I am super-excited about the upcoming return of the migratory birds, but a bit sad that I have to bid farewell to the Snowy Owls.

The buds are bursting. Photo: Mario Pineda.

Officially Spring arrives at 3:58pm today (Spring Equinox). It is a sunny day, not a cloud in the sky and +11 °C. What better way to greet spring and all the the excitement it will bring about in nature than heading down to the creek. We will head down for a first spring nature walk as soon as work and school is out.

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) doing a very thorough spring grooming. Photo: Mario Pineda.
North American Beavers (Castor canadensis) basking on the banks of Whitemud Creek. Photo: Mario Pineda.


Beaver on ice. Photo: Mario Pineda.
Canadian-style fury icebreaker. Photo: Mario Pineda.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling).

Spring is in the air

So it looks like spring is in the air. I would not dare to claim that spring has arrived. It’s in the air, like the smell of something yummy simmering and tempting us of greater things to come. The deep freeze has finally relented and we are back at more seasonal temperatures.

One of my recent “resolutions” is to get out into Nature more often. Now, “more often” is unacceptably vague. It’s like saying, “I will loose some weight”. Anyone into fitness and weight loss would tell you that “loosing some weight” just does not cut it. It needs to be specific. So, lets quantify what spending more time in Nature means to me. My aim is (currently) to head out into Nature at least twice a week, once during the work-week and a second time, for a longer outing, during the weekend. I have been doing well over the last few weeks, often going birding several times during the week and weekend. Undoubtedly the milder weather and the brighter evenings make it easier and more appealing to head out.

During a walk earlier this week at Whitemud Creek we tested our new camera, a Canon SX70 HS. My son managed to get a nice picture of a Black-capped Chickadee, something I found notoriously difficult as these tiny feathered bundles seem to be in constant motion. I did however manage to get a shot of a Southern Red-backed Vole peeking out of a tunnel in the snow trying to grab a sunflower seed. Southern Red-backed Voles are active throughout the winter and spend their time under the snow-pack in the subnivean zone. Here they enjoy protection from the elements  and construct long tunnels as travel corridors. These forest dwelling voles are short-lived, with a maximum life-span of about one year, and depend on coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests. 

A Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapus) enjoying the spring in the air. Photo: Matias.
Southern Red-backed Vole (Myodes gapperi) peaking out of its snow tunnel in search of a snowflower seed snack. Photo: Mario Pineda.
Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) enjoying a snack. Photo: Matias.

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling).

World Wildlife Day birding

Today’s excursion, first one in March, happened to coincide with the World Wildlife Day (March 3). It was a beautiful sunny winter day with temperatures reaching a “balmy” -15 °C (-19 °C with the wind chill). Living in sub -30 °C range for a month changes one’s perspective on what constitutes cold weather. Anyone not having lived through these extreme temperatures for any length of time would likely and perhaps rightfully consider us a bit “nuts”. It is remarkable, however, that no matter how cold it gets, the birds are always out and active; with the exception of the owls, which just seem to “chill” (pun intended). Perhaps extremely low temperatures require birds to keep foraging in order to stay warm and to maintain their metabolism throughout the night.

Today we went for a 4 km walk along the Whitemud Creek Ravine (south of Snow Valley this time), our local winter bird hotspot. While we did not break any birding records it was well worth spending some time outside with the usual suspects; the Black-capped Chickadees demanding sunflower seeds, a Pileated Woodpecker going to town on an old tree, a very energetic Downy Woodpecker making a racket that seemed entirely disproportionate to its diminutive size, a Raven soaring silently overhead and a White-breasted Nuthatch snatching a sunflower seed before the chickadees found it. Lots of Red Squirrels were out as well looking for a morsel to eat.

A Red Squirrel taking advantage of the sunflower handouts. Picture by Vero M.
After accosting us for sunflower seeds, this Black-capped chickadee got its demands met. Picture by Vero M.

The eBird record for today’s excursion:

Edmonton--Whitemud Creek, S of Snowvalley, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
3-Mar-2019 12:04 PM - 1:33 PM
Protocol: Traveling
3.976 kilometer(s)
Comments:     Beautiful sunny winter day, -15C (-19C with wind chill). 
5 species

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)  1
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  1
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  10
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)  1

As of end of February we have seen 40 species of birds in Alberta. While the winter may be a slow time for birding, the final count for the greater Edmonton area winter bird count was finalised by the Edmonton Nature Club on March 1. Between December and February total of 91 species of birds were observed in a 160 km diameter circle centred on Edmonton (West/east boundaries are roughly Seba Beach and Ryley and the north/south boundaries are roughly Westlock and Wetaskiwin). This is the highest number of species observe since the count started 7 years ago. This year there were several notable additions (e.g. Eared Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Hermit Thrush and Brewer’s Blackbird). A total of 119 species were observed over the last 7 years. This just shows that, despite the long harsh winter, there is a remarkably large number of species present in and around Edmonton during this time of year.

Although we have had a somewhat slow start to our AB Big Year, most of these species will be present throughout the year giving us opportunities to bag them later. Some species, however, only occurs in the Edmonton area during the winter, for example Snowy Owls (which we did see a few weeks ago), Snow Bunting (not seen), Common Redpoll (seen), Hoary Redpoll (not seen), Pine Grosbeak (not seen), Brown Creeper (seen) and Northern Shrike (not seen) just to mention a few. Since we are “lucky enough” to have winter weather for more-or-less half the year (Oct to March on a typical year), we still have a few weeks to track down these winter visitors.

Number of check lists reporting Snowy Owl sightings in the Edmonton area over the last five years by time of year clearly showing that Snowy Owl sightings only occur between November and March.

I find myself still thinking of the poor Great Blue Heron that was found in Hermitage Park at the beginning of February (during the extreme cold spell). There was a discussion thread on the Edmonton Nature Club’s bulletin board that tracked the heron’s deteriorating condition and then it just vanished. It appears that this individual was at the wrong place at the wrong time of the year and it is unlikely this story had a happy ending. While many species seem to do well in our harsh winter environment, there is a fine line between survival and death when environmental conditions are at their extreme.

Here is the complete list by Edmonton Nature Club of species seen during the winter count 2018/19 in the greater Edmonton area:

  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Tundra Swan
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Western Grebe
  • Horned Grebe
  • Eared Grebe
  • Canada Goose  
  • Mallard
  • Gadwall
  • Northern Pintail
  • American Wigeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Canvasback
  • Redhead
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Greater Scaup
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Barrows Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Common Merganser
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Rough-legged Hawk
  • Golden Eagle
  • Bald Eagle
  • Merlin
  • Prairie Falcon
  • Gyrfalcon
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Gray Partridge
  • Ring-necked Pheasant
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • American Coot
  • Eurasian-Collared Dove
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Great Gray Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • American Three-toed Woodpecker
  • Black-backed Woodpecker
  • Northern  Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Northern Shrike
  • Blue Jay
  • Canada Jay
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • Common Raven
  • American Crow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Boreal Chickadee
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Brown Creeper
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Townsend’s Solitaire
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Varied Thrush
  • American Robin
  • European Starling
  • Bohemian Waxwing
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Northern Cardinal
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Snow Bunting
  • Common Grackle
  • Evening Grosbeak
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • House Finch
  • Red Crossbill
  • White-winged Crossbill
  • Common Redpoll
  • Hoary Redpoll
  • Pine Siskin
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

May the curiosity be with you. This is from “The Birds are Calling” blog (www.thebirdsarecalling).