At the same snow covered tree log where someone had placed sunflower seeds where yesterday’s Pine Siskin was having a snack a White-breasted Nuthatch swooped in for a quick bite as well. While the Pine Siskin took its sweet time staying put while it ate, the nuthatch had a markedly different strategy. As soon as the Pine Siskin had left the Nuthatch swooped in. It eyed the seeds, picked up one that had been hulled and took off. While the Pine Siskin was more of a sit and dine sort of bird the nuthatch was more of dash and grab type.
The Pine Siskins were out in full force today along the Whitemud creek. Despite the frigid temperature (-20 C) they were chirping away in the tree tops only taking a break to swoop down and gorge themselves on sunflower seeds. Pine Siskins are iconic winter birds in these neck of the woods and may look unassuming on first glance, but in the right light they are quite beautiful with bright yellows and olive green feathers.
Just as sudden as the spring temperatures arrived, they are gone and we are back in the deep freeze. This does not seem to stop the winter birds from making a racket through the forest. Most of them seem to be preoccupied with foraging. Nobody, however, seems too interested in these maple seed pods.
As we are inching our way out of the winter and closer to the first day of spring – which now is one week away (March 19) – some days definitely have spring in the air , but others not so much. This picture is just a few days old from the Whitemud creek right after another fresh layer of snow had fallen. A few mild days late and the snow is gone (again), but the temperatures are dropping again. It makes me wonder how plants and animals are dealing with these repeated false starts.
So in yesterday’s post the picture showed the big all terrain machines the crews are using do reconstruct the Whitemud creek after the beavers’ handiwork. Today’s picture shows what the reconstruction entails. While much of the terrain is blanketed in a fresh coat of snow one can still make out the field of boulders that now line the left bank of the creek. This is the outside of the meander where the erosion is the highest. It appears that shrubs have been planted along the base of the boulder field, likely to stabilize the slope further. In the pat I have seen lots of beaver activity along this stretch of the creek. It is going to be interesting to see how the beavers will take this change to the scenery.
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.
There is a bend in the creek close to the Snow Valley end of the Whitemud Creek where erosion has slowly (or perhaps not so slowly) undermined the trail. Left to its own means it would only be a matter of time before the bank would collapse, taking the trail along with it. Beavers like to hang out in this particular section of the creek and I have my suspicions that the erosion ultimately may have been caused by the industrious engineering of the local beavers. It was time for humans to step in to prevent the inevitable doom of the trail. The other day when I went for a walk the construction, or reconstruction, had started. I am not sure what is in the works but a large swath Of vegetation along the creek has been cleared. Judging from other reconstructed sections along the creek, we are likely looking at some form of erosion control using boulders and/or planting fast growing vegetation.
One does not have to go far along the Whitemud Creek to see striking evidence of ongoing erosion. In many of the creek’s meanders one the creek is craving out overhangs that result in vegetation clinging to increasingly unstable overhangs of dirt. It appear that the soil is quite loose throughout the ravine and as a result these overhangs collapse on a regular basis. In many of the meanders there are large amounts of trees that have fallen during one of these collapses. Clearly the meandering course of the creek, the loose soil and the never ending industrious work of the local beavers all contribute to the changing landscape. This stands in stark contrast to the various structures humans put in place to mitigate and control the erosion, such as planting fast growing plants, using carpets to hold the soil in place and building large fields of boulders along the outside curves of the creek.
A walk along the Whitemud Ravine and the North Saskatchewan River is a walk through time. The creek and the river are like time machines revealing past history by carving themselves slowly through earth revealing. The ancestral North Saskatchewan River flowed across the prairies for millions of years within a broad shallow-sloped valley named the Beverly Valley. Parts of that ancestral valley underlie the central part of Edmonton. About 27000 years ago a major glacier from the Canadian Shield advanced over the Edmonton region and ended up depositing thick sediment, completely burying Beverly Valley. The part of the river valley that is presently exposed in the City of Edmonton is only about 12000 years old. It was formed by the re-establishment of the regional drainage following the retreat and melting of the glaciers. This time, however, along a different path that the original Beverly Valley. Over the past 12000 years the North Saskatchewan River has carved down through the sediments deposited by the glacier creating today’s river valley. These days more than 60 million years of time are exposed in the geological records along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, spanning the age of the dinosaurs to the arrival of man in North America. The signs of the ongoing erosion are everywhere along the Whitemud Ravine and while it may appear to be a slow process there are also signs that occasionally changes can happen in a matter of seconds. Several of the steepest banks along the creek show clear signs of landslides. Judging by the lack of vegetation on the slopes these landslides must have happened recently. Living along the upper edge of the ravine can be perilous as a 1999 landslides took several houses with it down.
This is not someone’s Christmas tree. Someone has been decorating random trees in the Whitemud Ravine with holiday ornaments. I guess one could call this free-range Christmas trees. I assume the same person will collect the decorations after the holiday season.