The female Downy Woodpecker had made a pencil sized hole through the bark and was intent on thoroughly investigating what lied inside. I wonder how she decided to make the hole where she did it. Experience? Can she sense that there is something hiding under the bark? Or perhaps it’s was a random spot.
Today’s picture captures the iconic pose of the Red-breasted Nuthatch – clinging to a tree trunk, upside down and with its head cocked checking out its surrounding. Nuthatches are curious yet cautious. Yesterday, as we were walking along the Whitemud Ravine south of the Snow valley trail head looking for a reported Black-backed Woodpecker, all of a sudden a scrawny-looking Red-breasted Nuthatch landed on a branch right in front of my face, no more than two feet away. It was almost as if it was demanding an offering before it would let me pass b. A nuthatch hold up. Except I did not have any food with me. I hesitantly reaches out towards it, fully expecting it to take off. Instead it eagerly jumped onto my hand and started hopping around looking for something to eat. It started to energetically pecking at my thumb. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, another Red-breasted Nuthatch swooped it, tackles the scrawny nuthatch on my hand and took its place. Once it had determined that I did not have anything edible, it took off. I was quite perplexed by the behaviour of these nuthatches. I have had plenty of chickadees eagerly landing and pecking on my hand hoping for a hand out, but this was the first time nuthatches had shown this behaviour. I am not sure if these two individuals were just more habituated to humans and from getting handouts, or if they were just more desperate to find food. The first nuthatch did look quick scrawny and skinny. In the end we never found the Black-backed Woodpecker, but thanks to these two nuthatches we nevertheless were left with an unforgettable experience.
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.
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.
Despite the many months of subzero temperature, bitterly cold wind and snow and ice this freeze dried cow parsnip remains standing with the seed pods firmly attached. Like a fossil of times long past it remains in a frozen state, preserved for the after-world to witness. In contrast to a fossil, however, it also symbolizes new life. When the ground has thawed and the air is warm again those frozen seeds will germinate and create the next generation of cow parsnips.
These days there is a lot of hoopla here in Canada, and in Alberta in particular, about pipelines. While some people are all for them, others are vehemently against them. What you usually do not hear, however, is that pipelines are all around us and that usually we are completely unaware of it. It is easy to find pipeline maps online (for example here) and what is immediately striking when one looks closely at such map is the web of interconnected pipelines running all over Edmonton. Which also made me realize that there is an underground oil pipeline two blocks from my house. I have already written about the iconic orange Transmountain Pipeline that is crossing high above the Whitemud ravine. Throughout the ravine there are, however, many signs warning of buried pipelines, many of which do not even appear on any of the pipeline maps I have been able to find.
Along to top of the wooden railing running along boardwalk spanning a low-lying wet area adjacent to the Whitemud Creek there were hundreds of tiny tracks in the snow. The tracks ran along the full length of the railing, around 100 meters or so. There could only be one small animal audacious enough to cross such a large exposed area in prime owl habitat – a Red Squirrel. These conspicuous animals typically make a great amount of noise as they defend their territories with loud chattering calls. There are a number of predators present in the ravine that would love to have a Red Squirrel for snack, including Great Horned Howls, Bald Eagles, Merlins, Northern Goshawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, not to mention Coyotes. I always wonder how many clueless squirrels end up in the talons or jaws of a predator while they are strutting around in the open seemingly oblivious to the dangers. My suspicion is that the tables are turned once night falls.
The Pine Siskins were out in full force all along the Whitemud Ravine. They were chirping and making a lot of noise as they were foraging on dried up catkins. Initially I was thrown for a loop. I have not seen Pine Siskins for a while and these looked too chubby. All the Pine Siskins I have seen previously have been slender and lean looking. These individuals were, however, round and appeared quite well fed. When I submitted my eBird checklist I tentatively put them down as Pine Siskins only because there really was not other realistic alternative. While I was thrown off by their shape, the overall size and color was siskin-like. Once I came home I compared my photos to my reference books, which only corroborated their id.
Windthrow refers to trees that have been uprooted by wind. In the Whitemud Ravine there is a large number of windthrown trees with large exposed root plates. When I grew up I was told that windthrown trees with exposed root plates could be dangerous as the tree could spring back up. For a long time I thought that this only was a myth but when I decided to do a bit of research for this post it turns out that it actually does occasionally happen. When severe weather conditions cause trees to fail from their root plates the tree root’s may still be connected on one side. As a result this can cause the tree to be under a spring-like compression tension. All it may take is a minor disturbance, like a wind gust or a person standing on the tree to release the tension and spring the tree back to an upright position.
Black-capped Chickadees are small and charismatic and it is difficult to sneak up on one without it noticing. This little fella was busy trying to open a sunflower seed and was completely oblivious to the large creature sneaking up on it from behind. I managed to get a picture of the lesser-seen side of chickadees and, guess what, it is just as feathery as the front side.