Red Deer River Naturalists

The Red Deer river Naturalists are a group dedicated to learning about and preserving natural history. They have regular programs with speakers and many field trips.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tree Swallows Visit

      A few days ago I looked up from my backyard work and saw a couple of Tree Swallows investigating the nest box I had on my fence.


    I was most surprised to see the Tree Swallows as I hadn't seen them in my yard since 1985! In the 1970' I had Tree Swallows nest in the yard for about five years.


     Tree Swallows are common in the area so I'm wondering why they don't visit treed areas in a city. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Crow Harassment at Piper Creek

    Today around three PM I was on the middle foot bridge over Piper Creek. I was going to watch for a few minutes to see if suckers or Rocky Mountain Whitefish were spawning. 


    I noticed that nearby crows were doing what crows do best...harassing something.  They were about 100 m away and down in some spruce trees. as usual they take turns flying at something. They yell and scream so that their buddies from miles away come to join in the action.


    I decided to try and get  little better look at the action because it's quite often interesting what you find. I had walked about 30 or 40 m towards the racket when I was surprised by something furiously beating  out of the spruce thicket. I had time in the 1 or 2 second flight to realize it was an owl with deep wing beats and light brown striped vertically. I had a camera in my hands but had no chance what soever for a photo. I would think it was a short eared owl. I have often heard the crows harassing something in this area. I hope it wasn't this same owl. 


     So again crows wee doing what their good at and a very unhappy and frightened owl was looking for cover.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Eastern Phoebe Visits.

    An Eastern Phoebe visited my yard recently.


     I have a bird feeder out my kitchen window. I was trying to see the ground under the feeder to see if any Juncoes were there. I was very surprised to see a bird on the ledge just outside the window. At first I thought it was a boreal chickadee and then I noticed a lack of facial marking and saw the bird was dark gray. I had only 5 or 6 seconds to identify the bird at very close range.


     I know that Phoebes are fairly common. They are extremely quiet  and can be easily overlooked. I know that they like to poke around under eaves and on window ledges looking for insects.


    So I was thrilled to have a Phoebe visit my yard. It was the first Phoebe I had noticed in my yard.


   

   

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Eerie Coyote Howl Nearby

    A few evenings ago I was standing on a small foot bridge which crosses Piper Creek. I was visiting a couple of friends and watching the water to see if any Red Backed Suckers or Rocky Mountain Whitefish were swimming up the creek to spawn.
The foot bridge I was standing on.


     All of a sudden I heard extremely  loud howling. At first I didn't recognize it as a coyote howl. I thought it was a siren. Then yes, I knew it was a coyote howl. 
Photo by Bill Heinsen


     Since it was so very loud it must have been close. I would guess they were within 200 m. The area is heavily wooded so it was impossible to see the coyotes. There were two or more howling and the howling went on for at least a minute.
Bower  Woods looking over a large beaver dam.


    This area is completely surrounded by housing. It is about 300 m from the bower Mall. I would suspicion these coyotes frequent the mall at night and do very well as far as food is concerned.


    Usually we hear coyotes from a distance so this occurrence was very different.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Erin Cameron on Earth Worms

     Erin Cameron gave an excellent talk to the Red Deer River Naturalists on earth worms.


     One of the first surprises she gave us was that we don't have native earth worms in Alberta. Where glaciation occurred , our native earthworms were wiped out. Earthworms that we have now have come to us by various methods. 


    Erin Cameron is studying the effect of earthworms in the Boreal forest. The research is only just beginning. Very few answers have been found. They know that earthworms have only recently moved into the boreal forest. Earthworms have been brought in by man rather than earth worms travelling on their own to the boreal. Roads, industrial activity and fishermen have all brought earth worms into the area. They have made extensive counts along roadways and siesmic lines and find that the earth worms are have not gone very far from the roadway. 

     What's the worry about earth worms in the boreal? Some earth worms influence the leaf mold layer on the surface above the mineral soil. Many plants and insect life do not perform well with that layer gone. Two of the earth worm species live in the mineral soil and come to the surface and take the leaf debris into the mineral soil   thus depleting the leaf mold. Other types of earth worms that function only in the leaf mold disappear. 


    So the big question is how the boreal forest will replace itself because of the earth worms which were not here before.?