Saturday, December 26, 2015

Deer Demise

Last fall I bushwhacked off a regular trail and came across the old skeletal remains of a deer. Below is the pelvis and part of the spinal column of the dead deer. 

This will be either a Mule Deer or a White-tailed Deer. I am not skilled enough to tell the difference. 

There is a break in the spinal column. Perhaps the deer was killed by a coyote and the spinal column was targeted to immobilise the deer. Alternatively, the break happened after death when any number of opportunistic carnivores happened upon the carcass and broke the column to access the nutrient-rich marrow. 

The rest of the skeleton was not around. The other parts were likely carried off to eat in a more secure location.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ice Patterns on the Elbow River

Ice forms on the Elbow River every winter. 

The temperature during the winter can fluctuate from minus 10 degrees C to plus 10 in a day and the ice along the edge of the river forms, melts, reforms, and melts again to form a continuous display of patterns.  

The perfect circle in the ice above shows off the river floor.

This crack reminds me of a map of a river with tributaries. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

House Finch

During the colder months, House Finches arrive from points north and replace the niche occupied by the very similar Purple Finches, who live here in the warmer months, and who travel even further south for the winter. 

House Finches travel in flocks and choose higher locations in trees or on communication and utility wires to perch.

Males have reddish colouration due to the berries they eat. Females are attracted to the males with the most colour. Presumably these males eat more berries, which implies an enhanced nutritional state, and the better nutrition confers a genetic advantage.  

Sunday, December 06, 2015


This Killdeer - Charadrius vociferus - was totally nonplussed by my presence and allowed me within three meters while foraging for shoreline food. 

The distribution range noted in Sibley implies that Killdeer should not be in Calgary during the colder months but I occasionally see these shorebirds during the winter. eBird confirms sightings from December to February. 

Sibley DA. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. 2000.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Gone to Seed

Where have all the flowers gone?

The seeds below are nature's promise for the spring. 

This bullrush (cat's tail) - Typha latifolia - was one of six or so in a new location by the Elbow River. There is a wetland about a kilometer away, which is the spring and summer home to dozens of Red-winged Blackbirds who nest at the base of these plants. The bullrush seeds were likely carried by wind, water, or an animal to the new location. The region the seeds took root seems ideal for a new bullrush wetland. Perhaps in a few years there will be Red-winged Blackbirds nesting in this location?

Bearberry or Kinnikinnick - Arctostaphlos uva-ursi
These berries are a so named because bears favor them as a food source.

Alberta Rose - Rosa acicularis

Common Fireweed - Epilobium angustifolium
The plumes have all but dispersed from this naked fireweed stalk.

Below are photos of other seeds common along the Elbow River.

The "cone" at the end of the willow shoot in the photo above is not a seed. This is a willow gall and home to a midge. The insect lives in the center of the gall. The gall has opened in the photo to the right.

Scotter GW & Flygare Halle. Wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies. Hurtig Publishers. Edmonton. 1986.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Grizzly Bear Poop

Bears are omnivores and berries form a substantial part of their diet, especially in the late summer and autumn.

While hiking along the Shadow Lake Trail in early September, we came across bear poop filled with seasonal berries. The photos below show the bear scat.

The poop was definitely fresh and we had been advised by other hikers that a Grizzly was in the area, but we saw no other signs of the bear. There were lots of hikers that day and likely the bear had used the trail the prior night or earlier in that morning.

Below is what the poop looks like once time has passed. The poop in the photo below was taken in October and was likely weeks or even more than a month old. 

1. Naughton, Donna. The Natural History of Canadian Mammals. University of Toronto Press. 2012.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula

Common Goldeneye are common where I hike along the Elbow River and some of these ducks choose to winter here. 

The autumn colour and setting was perfect for this female Common Goldeneye. 

The duck remained still enough that the photo includes a good reflection of the golden eye.  

This is a Common and not a Barrow's Goldeneye because the bill is black with no hint of yellow. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Raven Harassing a Bald Eagle

Ravens commonly pester raptors. This Raven took offense to the presence of a third-year Bald Eagle and hounded him out of the area. 

The white line above the eye and the yellow color to the proximal portion of the beak are the tell-tale signs that this bird is a third year. Next year the head will be all white. 

When more than one smaller bird is involved the behavior is referred to as "mobbing." 

Mobbing is clearly a defensive strategy to minimize the perceived threat of a predator. 

Why don't the eagles fight back? My best guess is that the raptors are loath to risk even minor injury in an airborne skirmish with another bird, however small. Survival includes the need to stay fit and healthy. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

More on Nature's Palette

The previous post showed the photo below of a natural phenomena on the surface of the Elbow River. 

I returned to the site five days later. The pigments had dispersed and the water was covered with a thin layer of ice. I searched for and found the source of the pigments and the photo below shows the orange organic material on the ground beside the river.The organic pigments on the surface of the river included shades of red, orange, yellow, and green. The organic pigments on the shore were exclusively orange! 

How did this happen?

My sense is that the factors involved might include the very slow movement of the surface water (shallow rivulet with pigment restricted by beaver dam at one end and surface ice at the other), the incident light from the sun (south-exposed location), the temperature at the water-air interface (cold November mountain water but warmer air in sunlight), the chemical nature of the orange organic material, and time. These and likely other factors allowed the orange pigment to separate into the other colors. 

The photos below show close ups with water seeping over the organic material towards the river. Originally I considered the organic material to be from autumn leaves, berries, and lichen. I thought the colors fit well with the xanthines that are visible once the chlorophyll disappears. However, the organic material in the photos below look more like an algal growth? 

If any readers have other thoughts, please let me know. Thanks. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Nature's Palette

Very exciting discovery!

I came across this natural phenomena on an offshoot of the Elbow River in early November. 

The Elbow River is neither deep nor fast in the fall. The river meanders down a valley and encircles numerous small forested islands. The tiny rivulets that encircle the islands are often only inches deep and during exceptionally dry summers the water sometimes dries up.

At the north end of this rivulet was a beaver-built dam. The dam allowed a deeper wetland to form and this marshy area is home to Mallards and Wigeons that nest there in the spring and summer. The wetland is also a popular food source for a Moose that lives nearby. The dam this year kept the wetland about 6 to 12 inches above the natural water level of the Elbow River where this photo was taken. 

At the south end, the rivulet opens into the Elbow River and some ice had recently formed on the slower moving portions close to the shore.  

This phenomena was therefore bounded by ice and by a beaver dam. The photo shows the "colors" moving from the dam to the ice. 

The banks on the east side of the rivulet were stained with natural pigments similar to the colors in the photo. The leaves, berries, lichen, and other plant material are the source for the natural pigments. 

The pigments likely gathered on the surface at the beaver dam end of the rivulet and must have moved very slowly towards the south. I presume the ice that formed at the north prevented the surface water from moving faster.

Much like litmus paper separates out chemicals based on the molecular weight of the substances in a solution, the natural pigments (chemicals) separated out on the surface of the rivulet. This created a palette of colors. Nature's Palette. 

The close-up above shows the details of the tiny wave motion on the surface of the water. Looks like "brush strokes."

The close-up above shows the "sheen on the surface" that implies the oily nature of the pigments.


Friday, November 06, 2015

Walking in the Path of a Grizzly

Grizzly prints are not common because the ground must be just right for an impression to form and last.

This print of the right hind paw of a grizzly was a solitary find in the middle of the Big Elbow Trail in Kananaskis. There were no prints ahead or behind. There had been rainfall in the last 24 hours. The grizzly likely chose this forest freeway to move quickly during the night to a new destination. The print likely formed when the grizzly stepped into a depression with mud that was just the right consistency to form a distinct impression. We were lucky enough to come along before other hikers disturbed the print.

1. Naughton, Donna. The Natural History of Canadian Mammals. University of Toronto Press. 2012.

Friday, October 30, 2015

New Beaver Lodge

A beaver moved into the storm water pond below my home in the aftermath of the horrific June 2013 Calgary flood. A longstanding beaver lodge on the Elbow River about a kilometer away was damaged and perhaps rendered uninhabitable by the flood surge. I know the adults from this lodged survived because I saw them searching for their kits in the days immediately after the flood. They were out during the middle of the day, which is unusual, and they were combing the shoreline in a search-like behavior. Sadly, the kits I saw earlier in the year were likely lost in the deluge. I suspect the beaver that relocated was from this lodge.

In the two falls and springs since the flood, the lodge has slowly increased in size and the number of Aspens around the pond have dwindled. The ground around the pond is littered with felled trees, and debarked and debranched trunks. Beavers are herbivores and prefer Aspen and Willow species. They eat the bark and the smaller branches.

The photo above shows a submerged grove of relocated Aspen branches in the water in front of the lodge. After debranching a trunk, the beaver tows the branches on the surface of the water to the lodge and then anchors (plants) the cut ends into the mud at the bottom of the pond. The branches in the photo are an "all-season, living, vegetable garden" for the beaver. The Aspen leaves were green until the autumn chill turned off the chlorophyll growth. The submerged branches will serve as the winter food source for the beaver. 

The photo above shows one of the dozens of Aspen cut down by the beaver within the last year. The protective wire mesh was not high enough to offer any impediment to the beaver. Beaver incisors are very sharp and their lower jaw muscles are powerful enough to cut through a tree this size in minutes. Beavers tip their head sideways at a 45 degree angle and make cuts until the upper and lower incisors meet and then they turn their head in the opposite direction and make opposing cuts on the other side. They move the head back and forth until the trunk is severed. The tree is felled to gain access to the branches and the bark of the trunk. 

The photo above shows the higher end of a felled trunk. The exposed bark has been eaten. Perhaps the beaver prefers the thinner, softer newer bark higher in the tree rather than the older, thicker bark at the bottom.

The photos below show close ups of the cutting marks from the beaver incisors. Beaver incisors are about a cm wide and the grooves confirm this.

I have only seen one beaver at a time in the pond and I am not sure if the lodge is home to a breeding pair. If so, perhaps next spring I will see new kits. With more beavers, the existing Aspen around the pond will likely all disappear within a few years. Fortunately Aspen grow quickly.

1. Naughton, Donna. The Natural History of Canadian Mammals. University of Toronto Press. 2012.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ursus Blonde

This adolescent grizzly tried to ignore us as the animal crossed a gravel road in Kananaskis Country. This youngster likely left the mother the prior year. 

We were hiking that June day up to the lower of the Headwall Lakes. Likely the bear had emerged from solitary hibernation about three months before the photograph.

The bear looks healthy. The old fur has molted and the bear has a new and healthy looking coat. The bear looks well nourished for early in the season. 

The mouth is open, the lips are curled back, the canines are showing, and the ears are almost flat against the head; all signs that this young grizzly is annoyed by our presence. 

We backed off.