Monday, June 25, 2007

Prickly Wild Rose

If you manage to get on the trail sometime in between rainstorms, you might still be able to see some of the wild roses blooming.

Prickly Wild Rose (Rosa acicularis) is Alberta's provincial flower and was chosen by the schoolchildren of the province back in 1930.

Our other provincial symbols include:
  • Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia)
  • Rough Fescue (Festuca scabrella)
  • Petrified Wood
  • Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)
  • Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus)
  • and the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Come Fly With Me

The Come Fly With Me exhibit at the Nature Centre works again!

What's the big deal, you ask? Isn't it supposed to work? Ahh yes, but it hasn't in a couple of years. It was running on an old laser disk player. (Laser disks are about the size of a vinyl LP record -- and just as obsolete.) The disk player died; we found a used player, and it died too. No others were to be had anywhere, it seemed, so we spent a lot of time searching for and finally installing some modern technology. The six minute movie is now on a chip, and is plugged into a chip reader. No more moving parts, so nothing to wear out!

The only down side of this is that the video is so very dated ... the 67th Street bridge wasn't built, Three Mile Bend and Heritage Ranch were still under construction and were still bare earth from the bulldozers, and all the trees around the Nature Centre were only a metre high. Waskasoo Park has changed since 1987 when the movie was filmed. Now, if we had a spare $40,000 we could make an updated version of Come Fly With Me!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sphinx Moth

Late last week Jim spotted the creature below hanging on the side of the building. After a little bit of internet research I'm thinking that it might be a Blinded Sphinx Moth (Paonias excaecatus). I'm definitely not a moth expert at the best of times, though, so if this is a wrong identification please let me know.

Sphinx moths like this one camouflage as dried-up leaves to keep from being eaten by birds and other predators.

The Blinded Sphinx Moth gets its nickname because the eyespots on its underwings (not visible in these photos) lack a "pupil".

Friday, June 15, 2007

Yellow Lady's-Slippers

While the recent weather may not agree with all of us, it definitely agrees with the orchids in the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary. I took this photo a couple of days ago in the grassland on the Dr. George Trail.

Remember, it's important not to pick this or any other wildflower you see in the Sanctuary. If nothing else, by leaving them alone you're giving other visitors a chance to enjoy them.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Office visitor

I was sharing the office this morning with a couple of these little spiders. By little, I mean far less than a centimetre in diameter, legs included.

They're called Zebra Jumping Spiders (Salticus scenicus), and to an arachnophile they're very entertaining.

The Salticids (jumping spiders) don't make webs but instead actively leap at their prey. Because of this they need very good eyesight. Yes, there really are spiders with good eyesight.

Jumping spiders are quite aware of their environment and will turn with characteristic jerky motions to follow every movement made near them. It makes it a bit hard to take photos of them with an autofocus camera, since the spiders are constantly coming closer to check out what you're doing.

Zebra Jumpers are found in both North America and Europe. They get their common name from the black and white stripes found on their abdomens.

These little spiders are harmless to humans and are actually kind of fun to watch as they leap around their habitats. And sometimes their habitat can be the desk of an easily distracted naturalist, apparently. Thanks, boys. I enjoyed the visit.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sanctuary flooding

We've had higher water in the Sanctuary this year than in the last twenty, and it's led to interesting things like duck families swimming through the forest. Here are some photos from last week:

You can see the usual level of the West Lake from the remnants of last year's cattails.

This flooded forest path is where we usually take groups of school children for things like insect hunts. We're making alternate plans this time around.

The water level's come down a bit since I took this photo, but it's still a little deep to walk through. Plan to take the grassland route to get to the Wishart Trail for at least a while longer. The sign in the middle of the water, by the way, reads Life in An Abandoned Channel.

This normally dry dip in the grassland (the continuation of the old river channel) has hosted a pair of ducks this year. When I took the picture there were Boreal Chorus Frogs singing in there as well.

The water is slowly falling with our last few days' worth of warm weather, but since the water table is fairly high it wouldn't take much of a rainstorm to bring things back up again. Please be careful out on the trails, and let our staff know if you notice any flood damage during your walks.

Old and new

Sorry for the lack of blogging lately. It's been a little busy here at the Nature Centre. I'll do my best to make up for the neglect today, though.

I'll start with a big thank-you to everyone who came out to help us celebrate Kerry Wood's 100th birthday on Saturday, June 2nd. The party was a big success, with a highlight being the re-dedication of the old/new Sanctuary gate.

For anyone who's wondering how a gate can be both old and new, here's how it happened. Recently, the pillars marking the old Sanctuary entrance (which hadn't been used since the Nature Centre was opened, creating a new entrance) were moved into position at our current entrance. As part of both the celebration of Kerry Wood's centenary and Historic Red Deer Week, the old Sanctuary sign was recreated. New plaques have been placed on the pillars, commemorating both the Gaetz family for their donation of the Sanctuary land and Kerry Wood for his commitment to the preservation of nature.

You can see our old/new gate right outside the back doors of the Nature Centre.

When I went out to take a picture of the sign this morning, I happened to catch a (slightly scruffy-looking) red squirrel making use of one of our bird feeders:

Here at the Nature Centre bird feeders definitely aren't just for the birds. Tree squirrels often steal a few seeds (and occasionally nest in the feeders), and ground squirrels scavenge the spilled food. If you happen to be out for a walk around dusk, you may even be treated to the sight of our resident deers heading to the feeders to clean up any leftovers.