All Creatures Great and Small
at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
We know who the great creatures are at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Bucks accompanied by does and even fawns, the occasional coyote. And, flying by, the big birds, hawks, owls and osprey. But what about the far more secretive yet abundant small ones? A diverse group of songbirds make their home at the park in the summer. They migrate up from southern climes to breed and feed off insects and other northern hemisphere delicacies.
In Alberta, Clay-coloured Sparrows’ most common occurrence is in the prairies and parklands, not treed areas. A walk along a park trail can have them flitting out of the grasses every hundred feet. Listen for the insect-like buzzy calls of the male Clay-colored Sparrows from May through July. They can be distinguished from some other sparrows commonly found at Glenbow, the Vesper and Savannah, by their relatively unstriped buff breast. They search out insects in the shrubbery and seeds in the grass. Nesting habitat is typically a shrubby area with wild grass, situating the nest on the ground or in a low shrub above ground. They build open cup nests out of grass, weeds and twigs, lining it with rootlets, fine grass, and hair. This is another reason to keep dogs on leash in the park to avoid disturbing these or any wildlife shelter.
Spring after spring, Mountain Bluebirds return to nest boxes placed at strategic locations in the park. They can arrive in Alberta as early as March while fall migration for many migratory birds is an extended affair from mid-August to late October. Bluebirds can’t resist the open country with occasional trees for shelter offered at the park.
As members of the Thrush Family (such as American Robins) they feed mainly on insects, spiders or other invertebrates, which they glean from short ground vegetation. Nest boxes are paired, with Tree Swallows often taking one box, and the bluebird occupying the other. The former seeks out insects flying high and the Bluebird will not compete with its ground watch. Unlike other Bluebirds, they often hunt by hovering, obviously inspecting the ground below for any potential food item. The striking turquoise blue is unmatched against the prairie setting.
The next time you see an insect at the park think of the food source and protection it is offering our beloved small avian creatures.
For these and other nature sightings at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, see also:
Superbloom Death Valley
Wildflower Peepers Delight
Roadside extravaganza. Desert floribunda. Botany bloomfest. Superbloom Death Valley is on again as wildflowers sprinkle and spread a dramatic carpet of colours in one of the bleakest places on earth.
Death Valley is having a flower show? Unpredictable and even more rare, this floral showing is wilder than just wildflowers. Once a century, and recently with El Nino, once a decade, a wildflower extravaganza hits the dismal emptiness of this valley turning a typically hostile environment into a flower festival.
Less than occasionally and sometimes once in a century Death Valley gets more than it’s allotted four trickles a year in rainfall. AND a critical amount splatters the blistered desert in the fall. Wildflower seeds wait for decades for enough moisture to wash off their outer coating allowing germination to perform nature’s magic. The following spring, after a lot of hope and anticipation that this year will be The Big One, Mother Nature nods in approval and the valley turns into a superific extravaganza of colour. Superbloom Death Valley explodes continuously for weeks as the seed to flower to seed cycle progresses from floor (sea level) to ceiling (mountains over 5000 feet) across and up and down this typically barren landscape. With climate change and wet events like El Nino, “normal” is uncommon, and for the second time this century, a “once in a century event” has imploded again.
Everywhere. Watch your step! Please do not step on the desert sunflowers. They are responsible for the entire desert floor taking on a sunshiney yellow hue.
Missing the 2005 Superbloom Death Valley meant a chance of the century passed you by. But last fall the rain gods descended on the desert seeds again with another superbloom. If you miss it you may have to wait another century or a lifetime or maybe just a decade this time.
For more on fragile places and California spring, see also:
Life In The Woods With Deer and Moose
Deer and moose. You know they are there. You just do not always see them. And sometimes you don’t even hear them although the latter is more often the case. Heard but not seen. Deer and moose in the North American hinterland.
Twigs breaking, leaves crackling, ever so quietly. No alarms for these critters. Their instinct has been honed since the arrival of white man with metal sticks of fire. They are aware of the deadly consequences when fall hunting season descends. Meanwhile, it is spring, the cycle of life is revolving, and the next generation is showing up behind bushes, under deadfall. In the crevices and hideaways that only the woods knows. Mamas are on high alert for mammalian predators of the furry variety.
“Heads down kids. Do not lift them until I get back”, urges the doe as she nuzzles her newborn. It arrived at dawn, a sharp barking pierces the first light of the morning as a red fox made the birth announcement. 4 AM strikes with Savannah Sparrows followed by dependable American Robins joining in the exaltation. The doe will spend most of the daylight hours foraging back to recovery and the challenge of keeping her fawn alive the first few days of its life. Twin moose do not require such rigorous instruction as their parent will not be abandoning them. They follow her instinctively. A cow moose with babes in tow can take care of just about anything that comes their way this time of year.
A new day is breaking, instincts kick in, and all is well with the world.
For more on deer and moose and other life in the woods, see also:
Snowing In New York City, Disabled but not Crippled
In this town snowstorms are civilized enough that umbrellas are the head covering of choice, but a pinched plastic bag will do for a quick trip to the corner store. It is snowing again in New York City and the folks are ready, or not. Mother Nature has descended again.
Snowploughs comb New York City streets after the new dusting, relieving commuters worries and settling the mixy mass onto unsuspecting parked cars. While folks scramble for discarded outerwear, sidelined galoshes, parkas with zippers that did not get fixed after their discovery in the last snowfall, intrepid photographers head out aware only of the mystery that awaits. A new page yet to be published, all fresh and begging to be revealed, a monochromatic palette of hunkered down humanity, foliage folding in the elements, centuries old architecture witnessing, yet again, the humbling event of a winter snowfall.
For more on New York City and snowstorms in this fair city, see also: