Tuesday, November 27, 2007

To the Top of the Wall

Now don't go dashing away just yet. The snow is falling, the temperature is getting downright cold, the lakes and rivers are freezing over and the car-accident rates are going up. It must be getting to be winter in Central Alberta.

Winter in the Sanctuary means getting out on snowshoes and listening to the Red Squirrels cuss you out for daring to be under their tree. Winter in the Sanctuary means tracking the local deer and coyotes through the grass by following their footprints. Winter in the Sanctuary means watching the pre-schoolers lying on their backs in the snow trying to catch the falling flakes; wishing that you had the time to join them.

It's a time to watch the Black-capped Chickadees lose their minds and try to breed every time the temperature rises a few degrees. Chickadees are nothing if not entertaining. It's also the time of year I catch myself staring wistfully out my office window, knowing that it will be dark when I leave work. This winter, I'll be sharing that view with the newly-arrived, previously-mentioned Daring Jumping Spider who has taken up residence on my desk. I'm betting that she is less wistful about the view than I am.

Enjoy the winter folks. It looks like we've set in for a cold one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Spider sightings

We don't get to see a lot of spiders at the Nature Centre this time of year, since our native species have either laid eggs and died or found places to hide from winter by now. Today, though, we've had a visit from a Jumping Spider who seems to have hitched a ride up to Red Deer from California via some grapes.

After searching the internet, we think we may have identified the hitchhiker. Not too shabby, considering that there's not an arachnologist among us. It looks to be a member of the Phidippus genus; most likely Phidippus aurax, which is commonly known as the Daring (or Bold) Jumping Spider. The spider is widespread through North America and can often be identified by the three white spots on its abdomen. That stumped us for a little while since our spider very definitely has orange spots rather than white ones, but this photo on bugguide.net turned out to be a near-perfect match.

They say you learn something every day, and today I learned that the Daring Jumping Spider has a few colour variations.

I took some photos of our latest office pet (yep, we're going to try to keep her), but since they were taken through a bug box they're not terribly clear. If you look closely at the last one, though, you can see a hint of her iridescent green jaws (chelicerae).

These spiders will bite if provoked, but like most spiders in our area the bite doesn't usually cause anything worse than a bump or slight rash. A small price to pay for something that helps keep the garden pest population at bay.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Tree To Me

Hello to all... living now in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, I found a new tree to learn about. In the Gaetz Lake Sanctuary, there are a lot of white spruce, balsam poplar and aspen poplar trees. I took a walk through the Alcott Creek Demonstration Forest here, and while they have many spruce and aspen (not so much balsam), there were also many jack pine trees. In the picture, the jack pine are all the yellowish green trees, and the tall spruce are in the back, and if you look carefully there are some naked aspen trees. This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago.. if I took it now, it would look much more white. Yes, we do have snow here, hope Red Deer gets some soon, I'm really enjoying it up here. Anyways, back to the jack pine tree, I'm rather new to it, so if anyone has some stories or facts about it, feel free to post a comment or two :)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Not one but TWO!

This morning I was pulling into the parking lot and out of the corner of my eye happened to spot something in a tree. As I pulled in to park I looked up the tree to see what was there, low and behold there were 2 porcupines. 2 porcupines hanging out in a tree in the island in the parking lot. There is also a fair amount of porcupine droppings on the ground around the tree, so watch your step if you're walking on the paved path across the island. Sadly I left my camera at home today.
Keep your eyes open I'm sure we'll see more as the winter wears on.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

Track tales

I was out on the Dr. George trail this morning taking some photos of the weekend snow (that in itself seems an odd thing to do. We'll no doubt have enough snow in the coming months that I won't even want to look at it, let alone take its picture) and I found myself doing an informal survey of our local trail-users on the way.

You've probably guessed from the above photo (click the photo for a closer view) that I don't mean the human trail-users.

Many of the animals in the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary make heavy use of the trails when the human visitors aren't around. It's not too surprising. Animals are as likely as humans to want to use the easiest means to get from place to place, and when there's a choice between crashing through the forest or using a pre-made path the path will often win.

Normally we don't even notice our animal trail-users because they tend to be crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk) or nocturnal. After a snowfall, though, the night's activities can leave very clear marks for anyone willing to look down and investigate as they walk.

In case you were wondering about today's findings, I noticed quite a number of deer tracks, one moose trail, one coyote, several squirrels, some mice or voles, and the occasional magpie. Not a bad tally for fifteen minutes of walking.

If you're interested in more information about who's leaving what footprint in the snow, ask us about the tracking resources available in the Kerry Wood Reading Room or check out the bookstore's stock of tracking field guides.