Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beavers on Cue

Friday evening was cool, cloudy, and wet - not the best weather to tour tourism folks squired by Ashley Kalk from the Town. We met about 6:15 PM and walked the main beaver pond and the upstream loop. At the start I mentioned that beaver sightings were pretty much guaranteed in the late evening, but we might be a little early for today. As we only had 20 minutes for the tour I hoped at least one would be out and about.

Sure enough, a yearling was swimming in the main pond between the lodge and the dam. One woman said that was the first beaver she had ever seen in her life. She was thrilled. We watched for a few minutes and then quickly walked the upstream loop, where we encountered an adult. This beaver swam right alongside us, came out of the water to browse willow leaves, and clipped a willow to continue it's supper in shallow water beside the dam. All of this was less than 10 meters from 8 excited people.

Our last stop was at the observation tower, where 4 beavers were active in the waters below. One climbed up on the lodge with a load of mud. Needless to say, the duration of the tour got extended a bit by all the beaver watching.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Coltsfoot is flowering

Queen Victoria's birthday was kind in 2010. We didn't get snow on the long weekend, at least in Hinton town. But the hills and mountains had a fresh white coat and it was pretty cool. Pretty typical. That doesn't take away from the hardy early spring flowers, which are used to the occasional snowfall. The flower stalks of the palmate-leaved coltsfoot Petasites palmatus are blooming along the Beaver Boardwalk right now. With this species it's hard to connect the characteristic palmate leaves with the flowers, because the flowers appear before the leaves. The young flower stalks and the leaves are edible. If you'd like to try them please don't pick near the Boardwalk, and only take a portion of the plants in any area so they will continue to grow there.

Interestingly, the palmate-leaved coltsfoot leaves are far more common than the flower stalks. It's a very common forest floor sight, but most of these plants don't have enough sunlight to flower. The genus name Petasites means "wide-brimmed hat", which refers to the large leaves.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Waterfowl Sign

The last of the 3 new signs put up last Saturday was the waterfowl sign. Still to come is the large mammals sign, but first we need to replace the plywood backing, which was damaged over the winter.

Wildflowers Sign

Here's the new wildflowers sign. I apologize for the resolution of the image on these. I haven't figured out yet how to get a high quality .jpg from the .pdf original. When I do I'll replace these low quality versions.

Owls Sign

The last of the 12 interpretive signs recently arrived from the production company, and I put up three of them last Saturday. I'll do a series of short posts to publish them on the blog. The first one shows some of the owls that frequent the boardwalk. A walk in late evening or a calm moon lit night is a good chance to hear one or more of the local species. I'm also planning to put up a few owl nesting structures this coming winter.  The locations of those will be secret because owls like their privacy when they are nesting.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Loons on Maxwell Lake

Another loon has joined the bird that's been on Maxwell Lake for over a week now. Perhaps this is the pair that nested last year on nearby Thompson Lake about 1 km east. Or maybe it's another pair that is not going to breed this year or just resting on the way to somewhere else. Regardless, it's nice to see loons visit even if they will probably decide not to stay. I'm sure they are both feasting on the plentiful sticklebacks in the lake.

Two days ago I walked around Wildhorse Lake and enjoyed the loud calling between 2 pairs of loons, along with the creaky caterwauling of several pairs of red-necked grebes. One loon pair escorted me by swimming alongside as I walked the shoreline trail. They did a lot of calling at one point and I wondered if I might be near a nest, but I couldn't see any likely spots. Loons nest very near water because their legs are located too far back for good mobility on land.

I saw a website poll a few days ago that is collecting suggestions for a Canadian National Bird. The red-tailed hawk was leading the poll, followed at a distant second tie between the Canada goose and the common loon. In my opinion it's no contest - the loon is the quintessential Canadian bird. After all, it's on our money and we nickname no less than two of our coins after the loon.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Log in the Forest

A morning or evening walk in mixedwood or deciduous forest in late April or early May often yields a spring icon - the drumming of a male ruffed grouse. Have you ever attempted to sneak in close enough to see the drumming male? It can be surprisingly difficult. The grouse is out to impress the females, but he isn't too keen to end up on some predator's menu while he beats his ardor to the world.  Fortunately, the grouse is a creature of habit. He has a favourite log to drum on, and he will return to that log over and over again, even between years. If one flushes him from his log and sits and then waits patiently nearby (but not too close) he may return fairly quickly. Even better is to locate the log, and then get there ahead of him to await his next session.

If you don't see the grouse leave his log, keep walking and look for an accumulation of droppings and a worn look, as shown in the photo with this post. Older logs with some rot are favoured, and so are logs located in cover (the better to discourage predators).

Back in high school a friend and I headed to our favourite lake for a fishing trip. We got there after dark, pitched our tent in the forest, and turned in. The wake-up call came at about 4:30 AM. In the dark we had inadvertently tied our tent rope to a ruffed grouse's drumming log. That particular grouse wasn't going to let a minor thing like a tent deter his schedule. At close range the drumming is really loud. We wanted to sleep, so we shooed him away. He was back within 15 minutes. After 2 or 3 repeats of this exercise we gave up and got up. And we moved our tent so he could have his log to himself the next morning.

How to Find a Goose Nest

Canada geese often nest in very conspicuous locations. But not always. Years ago I spent an enjoyable 7 springs searching for goose nests along the Columbia River in B.C. and learned a lot of their preferences. Usually a single goose in the spring is a good indicator that there's a nest not too far away. A secretive single goose is a smoking hot sure thing. Usually that single goose is the gander and he's not too far from the nest - in fact he can usually see it from his watch position.

Next comes a mental picture of the kinds of sites the goose chooses for her nest. She likes privacy but also wants a good view of her surroundings. A small island or isolated penninsula is ideal. Her brown plumage blends in with the dry grasses and other muted colours, and she hides that spectacular black head with the white markings by putting her head down and remaining very still when an intruder is near.

So putting all this together, recently I surprised a gander at close range on an old beaver pond. He had his head down when I first saw him which means he saw me first but didn't have time to do a better job of hiding. The photo shows him after he knew I had seen him and he's just about to leave. He left silently instead of the usual loud honking exit, which is another tip-off a nest was near.

It didn't take me long to find the goose on her nest. She was on top of an old beaver lodge only about 40 m from the gander. You might have to zoom in to the second photo to see her right in the middle of the frame.

She's pretty hard to see, isn't she? But not hard to find at all if you know what to look for. The goose will hold very close to her nest as long as she thinks you haven't seen her. I've seen people walk right by a nesting goose in plain view within a few meters and never see the goose. Look at her though and she's gone, and she leaves loudly. If you aren't expecting it, you could get a pretty good startle! When she leaves the gander will immediately fly to her and both will remain very upset and vocal until the intruder leaves the area.