It was a grey, cloudy and breezy day. It was drizzling and the temperature was hovering around the freezing point. Perhaps not an ideal for a nature walk but as I was already down at Snow Valley on other business I decided got for a walk along the creek on the south side of Whitemud Drive. The last few days have been going back and forth between thawing and freezing so the trails were icy and slippery. It was a good opportunity to try out my new cleats and they made all the difference, doing an admirable job of securing my footing on even the iciest of surfaces. As soon as I entered the trail the wind died down, the clouds parted and the sun came out. It was not long before the sun was beaming down from a clear blue sky. Nature can be unpredictable at times. The usual suspects were out in full force, several dozen Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Downy Woodpeckers were fluttering around in the forest while ravens were soaring and cawing high above the tree tops. Most of the action, however, was at the Nutz Saloon were a couple confident and noisy and Red-breasted Nuthatches were having a jolly good time. I spend quite some time at the saloon before moving on. I’ll bring some refreshments next time to refill the saloon.
The snow cover at the Whitemud Ravine is criss-crossed by the distinct tracks of rabbits and hares. Here in Alberta we have three species of native rabbits and hares, the cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare and white-tailed jackrabbit. While I cannot tell the species apart just based on their tracks they are relatively easy to identify if you spot one.
Looks can be deceiving, specially when it comes to ice. After a few days of cold temperatures the creek finally froze over. This was followed by snow covering up the ice. After all of this the creek looked like it was frozen solid and that it may support a person walking on it. In reality the ice is thin enough to be entirely transparent and is fat from being thick enough to support a person. It will take a weeks of extremely low temperatures (in the double digits) to make the ice thick enough to walk on. The moving water under the ice likely causes it to take longer to build up thick ice.
An epiphyte is an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, water or from debris accumulating around it. While epiphytes in the tropics are know to be rather splendid in size and diversity the boreal zone has its fair share of epiphytic organisms as well. They may not be as charismatic as their tropical counterparts, but they are just as beautiful. This naked branch of a pine, that is no more than a foot in length, is covered in at least two different types of lichens and a bit of moss as well. While it is getting crowded on the branch, when it comes to lichens, things happen very slowly due to their slow rate of growth.
On the concrete embankment under the Fox Drive overpass across the Whitemud Creek fresh snow has blown on and covered the concerted in a pristine thin and fluffy layer of fresh snow. A series of animal track Crossed the snow diagonally. The tracks looked fresh so I tried to follow them for a bit but they disappeared into the shrubbery and were lost. There are not many choices in terms of who could have made the tracks. Size-wise they could be squirrel tracks but are missing the imprint of the long forepaw and they are too large for a vole. I suspect they were made by a weasel, likely a least weasel.
Last week weekend the time changed back to winter time. As a result darkness falls even earlier now, making it difficult to do any nature walks in the afternoons during the week. This picture was taken at around 3:30 in the afternoon with the sun already starting to set behind the tree tops. The earliest I would be able to reach this spot during the week would be around 5 pm, at which point darkness is falling and there would be no possibility to take any pictures. We are currently about one month away from winter solstice (December 21) so the darkness will get worse first, before things will start to move in the opposite direction.
In a naked tree right by the Whitemud Creek, along a sinuous bend in the creek, an abandoned bird’s nest is clinging perilously to a branch that seems to be far to narrow for it to balance on it. It must have been a prime real estate location during the summer, with a view of the creek and beavers frolicking in the waters below. One can still see lichen that was used for insulation and warmth sticking out of the nest. The nest is now covered in snow and I have my doubts whether it will survive the winter storms and the weight of heavy snow.