One of my greatest joys living at Riding Mountain National Park is to head out for some “slow travel”, where I drive slowly to a random location, get out of my car and just slowly listen, walk, or snowshoe. Riding Mountain National Park is a large national park where things become so much clearer in the months between November and April. It may be that you get to see tracks in the snow from wolves, grouse, or lynx – tracks you would never notice at other times of the year. A bird on a branch. A raven calls. Things seem to be more intense, quiet, and there are less distractions. It is a wonderfully rejuvenative time of year. Yesterday, I had a quiet encounter with a spruce grouse. The male is colourful. It’s a bird that lives in boreal (coniferous forests). Notice that this one is on a jack pine branch. This bird, as described by Cornell University’s All About Birds site is the north-eastern species. “Two distinct subspecies of Spruce Grouse exist. “Franklin’s Grouse,” D. c. franklinii, found in the southwestern portion of the range, in the mountains from Alberta southward, has an all black tail with small white spots on the feathers overlying it. The northeastern subspecies, D. c. canadensis, has a rufous tip to the tail and lacks white spots above the tail.”
Recently, we had the pleasure of taking a mother and her daughter on a customized photo safari into Riding Mountain National Park. Late July and August is a beautiful time to experience wildflower blooms. The following is a slide show of some of the flowers and wildlife images of things that you may see at this time of year on the prairies. Rough fescue prairies are one of the most biologically diverse habitats anywhere in Canada. With rich Chernozemic soils undisturbed by any human activities, you will see an ecosystem that has over 30 plant species per square metre in some places. This is the land of wild grazers (herbivores) like bison, elk, and white-tailed deer. Occasionally, moose or wolves or coyotes may also be seen.
PHOTO TIP: Knowing how and when to go, the time of day, lighting conditions for optimal photography, and understanding the habitats and habits of each wildlife species is helpful in being able to photograph or view birds or mammals in the cycle of light and weather each day.
Riding Mountain Fescue Grasslands and Aspen Forests
As we turn the corner to Canada’s traditional “May long weekend”, we are finally experiencing spring. Warm temperatures in excess of +20C are bringing smiles to people’s faces. My wife is in the garden planting potatoes. And, me..well, I am out taking photographs of local wildlife, identifying birds, and being alert to new species moving through. Here is a short video about wildlife and birds that you might see in the spring, around Riding Mountain National Park. You’ll see some neat footage of buffleheads, Canada lynx, and spruce grouse.
This morning, I woke up to a Riding Mountain world that was magically transformed. The aspen trees were thick with hoarfrost, almost like “winter leaves”. Instead of being able to see through the forest at this time of the year, we were looking at a magical forest of snow crystals. A combination of weather conditions (In an earlier post, I explained the origin of hoarfrost).
There are several online sources that offer an explanation of Hoar Frost (or radiation frost). Hoarfrost refers to white ice crystals, loosely deposited on exposed objects or the ground, that form on cold, clear nights when heat losses (infrared radiation) into the open skies cause objects to cool to a temperature which is colder than the dewpoint of the air next to the surface. Frost is frozen water that has condensed from some of the water vapour contained in the air.
The birds at the feeder, the trees themselves and the entire landscape was transformed. I am going snowshoeing today into this forest of hoarfrost. It’s kind of like a real-world pocket of some part of Lord of The Rings.
The birds are moving around, new ones are arriving, and the sun is much higher in the sky. Today, the first crows arrived at our seed feeder. They were eating sunflower seeds on the ground. Yesterday, we had a Northern Shrike hungrily looking at birds near our feeder. The Black-Capped Chickadees gave it lots of room, while continuing to scold from a safe distance.