What a surprise – winter came early this year with some heavy snow and freezing temperatures that has turned the ground white at times and partially frozen the Sanctuary wetlands. While the weather may be chilly, it is a perfect time to hike and watch for animal tracks that now show quite clearly the creatures that have been out and about. A number of Trumpeter Swans were also sighted on the water just off Sanctuary Road which was a real treat to see.
If you are feeding birds you are in good company . Birding is one of North America’s favorite pastimes. A 2006 report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that about 55.5 million Americans provide food for wild birds. Most feeders are found in urban areas where natural habitat is not found. Feeding birds requires some basic information to keep them healthy.
Cornell Labs did a seed preference test study to find out what birds like to eat from feeders. The black sunflowers are the best feed for most species of birds and the standard mix of seed often bought is wasteful as the birds pick out the prized sunflower seeds and leave the milo, millet, oats, wheat, flax and buckwheat seeds. These uneaten seeds fall to the ground and foster mold and bacteria growth which can make the birds sick. Not only can this discarded seed cause problems but poorly maintained feeders can contribute to the spread of infection and diseases and the feeders themselves pose hazards with sharp edges, too deep of tray for feeding safely and placed out in the open with no protection for the birds.
As the Clifford E Lee Nature Sanctuary is a natural area we do not encourage feeders for many of the reasons pointed out above. Indeed we have found injured or dead birds in or near the feeders some have placed on the Sanctuary. We encourage people to feed in their own yards were they can keep an eye on feeders and birds as well as cleaning the feeders and spilled seed.
Fall seems to have come early to the Sanctuary with some trees dropping leaves early, but some trees are showing spectacular colour. A lot of our migratory birds have left, but you can still see the regular standbys like chickadees, nuthatches, and blue jays. Occasionally you may hear the call of Sandhill Cranes flying far overhead and there has also been an odd moose sighting in the meadow areas. Even if you don’t see a moose directly, you may see their large crescent-shaped tracks in the soft earth or see where they have been pawing alongside the trails.
An interesting thing that you may notice at this time of year is that the baby birds (fledglings) are now out and about with their parents – flapping their wings and chirping as they beg to be fed. Ironically the “baby” is sometimes larger looking than the parent because of the fluffiness of its feathers. You may also see some Canada Goose goslings swimming in formation behind an adult and perhaps also young American Coots (sporting reddish feathers if still on the younger side). The continued rains in June have resulted in the Sanctuary being very lush and green with the appearance of summer flowers like twinflower, bunchberry, and fireweed. Of particular note – the wild roses are especially beautiful and plentiful this year. Mosquitos have also started to appear, which may be annoying to us, but they offer plentiful food for the many tree swallows you will see swooping over the water of the Sanctuary.
Spring has definitely sprung at the Sanctuary and thanks to the recent rains water levels have more or less returned to where they were last year. The Red-winged blackbirds are a common sight on willows beside the boardwalk and you’re almost sure to hear the “pure sweet Canada, Canada, Canada” call of the White-throated sparrow. Chokecherry and Saskatoon bushes are pretty much done blooming, but the wild roses are starting to appear already. Watch on the water for the beautiful Blue-winged Teal – easy to spot because they have a violet-grey head with a white crescent on each side. If you’re hiking in the evening also listen for the unusual “swooping” sound of the Common Snipe as it dives through the air high overhead – making the noise with wind rushing over its tail feathers.
Our first snow of the season has already come and with the warm temperatures of early December started to settle and subside. The great thing about having some snow cover is that nature lovers can more easily see what wildlife has been out and about. You will certainly notice the tracks of the Varying Hare (they look like rabbit ears), along with the trails left by Red Squirrels as they move between trees to collect cones or other treats. You will no doubt see many deer tracks and occasionally the large footsteps of a moose. You will likely also notice many small seeds scattered on top of the snow. This is likely White Birch seed that has scattered in the wind – a favourite food of the Common Redpoll – some of which have been seen in the area already. Keep your eyes peeled for a large Great-horned Owl – also sighted of late in the area.
It’s early in the month and the marsh at the Sanctuary has frozen over a few times only to open up again on warmer days. One can still see ducks swimming about on those warmer days, but most of the action this time of year is on land. Chickadees will no doubt find you if you are out for a hike – hoping you have brought along some sunflower seeds to feed them with. A large bull moose with antlers was also seen on the meadow on the west end of the property just off of the pathway – an impressive sight! Even if you don’t see a moose directly, watch for its unmistakeable crescent-shaped hoof prints, plus watch for signs of freshly browsed (bitten off) twigs on Dogwoods, Willows or Saskatoons. This is sure signs that the “Twig Eaters” have been there!
Fall colours are at their best in early October with the aspens really putting on a show. Canada Geese have been congregating on the water and creating quite the soundscape in the evenings. You may also notice groupings of Robins visiting chokecherry stands to feast on the over-ripe berries that are still hanging on in dark red clumps. This fall also seems to be a time for many types of mushrooms to peek their caps out of the leaf litter – bring your ID book and see if you can identify them. If you’re looking for a photographic treat, check out the wetlands from the road just at sunset – the reflections are amazing!
The colours of fall are starting to appear with yellow and red leaves showing on plants such as High-bush Cranberry and Sarsaparilla. A variety of waterfowl are also starting to gather on the water – a fun challenge to identify now that they have their more drab fall plumage. You may also hear the chatter of a Marsh Wren if you stop at one of the viewing platforms. Make sure to watch for moose tracks in the muddy ground near the viewing platforms, plus listen for the rusty cry of migrating Sandhill Cranes as they fly high overhead in large flocks heading south.