Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Walk Through a Spruce Bog

Canada's boreal forests are considered to be the most intact forests on earth, with over 3 million square kilometers of intact habitat undisturbed by roads, settlements and industrial development.
Boreal forests are dominated by black and white spruce, tamarack and pine with a small proportion of deciduous trees.  The boreal forest or tiaga forms a transition zone that separates deciduous woodlands from the tundra in the north.
I enjoyed seeing the map below, showing the boreal forests around the world which helps give a perspective on how close we are to the artic region when we encounter these forests.

A spruce bog is a wetland in the boreal forest region.  



Lichen covered branches were a common sight.


As you can see, we are still bundled up.  Strong winds continued during our entire visit to Riding Mountain, making our walk in the bog invigorating!  It was quite beautiful and serene.
In this more densely forested area, Christian pointed out trees that had been frequented by Three-toed Woodpeckers.  The outer bark of these trees is stripped from woodpeckers excavations as they uncover insect larvae.
The trees can be spotted at a distance because of their richer brown appearance.



Above and below, another site where you can identify woodpecker activity.  We wanted to SEE a Three-toed woodpecker here but did not have that good fortune.  We did see one later in another area at a distance.

We did not identify this thorny shrub above, but we did flush a couple of Ruffed Grouse, shown below, as we continued on the trail.  

When we returned to the parking area, Christian spotted a Snow Bunting. our first encounter with this species.  They are abundant in the area later in the month, and we saw many in flight as we continued on to Churchill.

This one was very cooperative!
This is the sixth post in a series on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see Polar Bears including a visit to Riding Mountain National Park.  Click the journey to Churchill link to see all the posts.  The most recent post will appear first.  When you reach the end of the page, click "older post" to continue with the series.

Next:  the historic district of Winnipeg

Christian Artuso's blog
Riding Mountain National Park
More information about Boreal Bogs
Hudson Bay Buggies and Bears with Rail Travel Tours
Learn about Polar Bears

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moose!

I was so excited to finally see a moose since I wasn't able to see any on my trip to Alaska, even though they were all around!  We saw seven, all together, both times in twilight, late in the evening or early in the morning, making it impossible for me to get any images. Try not to stare at this photo too long--it may make you dizzy!
We're in luck, though.  My friend, Colin Leonard, had his video camera ready.  As you are watching the video, notice when you see the fourth moose standing in the grasses to the right of the road, and listen carefully.

October is rutting season for moose and other large hooved mammals.  There were several bull moose in this area and shortly before we found this male, we had a glimpse of a female as she disappeared in the brush.  This large male paused to look at us after heading toward the woods. At that moment, Christian Artuso, our guide, gave his best imitation of a female moose call to see if he could turn him around, and it worked! He trotted our way to investigate!  Watch what happens.


Since I was on the moose side of the truck, behind Christian, with window open, I automatically scooted toward the center of the seat as the moose trotted toward us!  When he was within about six feet of the truck, he veared off the road and disappeared in the brush.  I asked Christian what he planned to do if the moose hadn't stopped.  His answer, "I eased the gear into reverse and my foot was poised over the accelerator.  If he kept coming, we were going to have a fast ride backwards!"
Above and below, Poor Michaels Emporium where we enjoyed hot mocha and lunch at the in Onanole outside of Riding Mountain National Park.

Colin Leonard, Christian Artuso, and Billie Cantwell at the Emporium in Onanole.

This is the fifth in a series of posts on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see Polar Bears including a visit to Riding Mountain National Park.  Click the journey to Churchill link to see all the posts.  The most recent post will appear first.  When you reach the end of the page, click "older post" to continue with the series.

Next:  A Walk through the Boreal Forest

Poor Michael's Cafe and Emporium
Christian Artuso's blog
Riding Mountain National Park
Learn about Polar Bears

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tail Signals from a Spruce Grouse!

I walked out of the woods and stood on the edge of the road, checking to see if any of the grouse remained in the spruce limbs.  Billie quietly alerted me, "A female just walked down to the road."  
I looked around and found her standing perfectly still, only about five feet away on a little mound of dirt and dead grass. As I mentioned in the previous post, Spruce Grouse are well camouflaged.
She clearly saw me before I saw her.  Look at the feathers standing up on her crown!  Such an intimate moment.  I enjoy observing a bird's behavior so closely.  Even though this would not be considered a "wild" interaction, she most definitely is responding to my presence, or a threat.
I stood still, but of course, raised my camera and began clicking away.  I suppose if one intends to walk away, turning your back makes sense, but that isn't all she did.  She partially fanned her tail--
--fanning one side and then the other, in alternating fashion, as she slowly walked back toward the woods to join her companions.  I wondered if the tail feathers made sounds that the birds could hear, but we couldn't.  I also wondered who the signals were intended for and what they meant.  It is possible that this is a nervous behavior, but it seemed more deliberate.  I wasn't able to find any information about this in Birds of North America, my resource for bird behavior.


I paused my camera and just followed her slowly as she re-entered the forest.  At this point I was in a different area from my own companions, and I found myself among six foraging Spruce Grouse!  I lingered until they disappeared in the brush and walked deeper into the woods.  
They were all foraging, and slowly moving, so quietly--alert, but unhurried.  A special wildlife encounter.
While visiting Riding Mountain, we enjoyed breakfast and a couple of dinners at the Fox Tail Cafe in Wasagaming, the nearest town.  Don't miss this fun cafe if you are in the area!








Fresh ingredients, cheerful, welcoming atmosphere, homemade breads, generous crisp salads and a nice selection of main dishes with pizzas served hot from the open oven shown above.
Photo credit for Foxtail images:  Foxtail Facebook page 

This is the fourth post in a series on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba, to see Polar Bears including a visit to Riding Mountain National Park.  To see all the posts click the journey to Churchill link. The most recent post will appear first.  When you reach the end of the page, click "older posts" to continue.

Next:  Moose!

Christian Artuso's blog
Riding Mountain National Park
Learn about Polar Bears

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Spruce Grouse in Riding Mountain National Park

One of the Spruce Grouse's primary defenses against predators is the disruptive coloration of its plummage, tricking the eye and enabling the bird's shape to blend with its surroundings.  In addition to this camouflage, the grouse instinctively stops, remaining perfectly still in the presence of a predator.  This behavior makes them very hard to see!  
Christian Artuso, our guide while bird and mammal watching at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba, was an expert at spotting birds, both finding them as he was driving and recognizing them by sight, movement and sound.  He spotted six Spruce Grouse on the edge of the road, a very exciting moment, a bird high on my list.
We all piled out of the truck with our cameras as the birds scattered into the forest or the spruce branches on either side of the road.  Divided, they were alert and wary but did not leave the vicinity of their flock mates.
Above a male walks alertly toward the forest, and below a female sits motionless under a spruce.  If you did not know she was there, she would disappear, blending completely into the browns and grays around her.
Spruce Grouse are specialist birds that live in the northern coniferous forests, usually in remote areas, feeding on spruce and pine needles much of the year.
Our behavior giving them little reason for alarm, the birds that had flown to tree limbs, one-by-one, flew down to the ground to re-join their flock mates.  Since they seemed to be in no hurry, and even pecked at the ground around them, we, in our separate places, slowly followed.

Walking into the forest with Spruce Grouse is magical.  The thick spruce and pine needles blocked and silenced the relentless wind that had been blowing at 40 mph since our arrival.  Dense piles of peat moss and needles cushioned the forest floor so that with each step, it felt like my feet were sinking into pillows.  Even more fascinating, the grouse returned to foraging and we found ourselves walking along side them as they plucked berries and rose hips from their stems.
An example above and below, of how the female's brown, black and white markings enable her to blend right into the stems and grasses of her habitat.  Without movement, she becomes a clump of dried grass.
This is the third in a series of posts on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba to see Polar Bears including a visit to Riding Mountain National Park.
Also visit my post on the Gray Jays we encountered in RMNP:  Gray Jays--Smart, Bold, Resourceful!

More about Spruce Grouse
Camouflage and disruptive coloration in bird plumage.
Christian Artuso's blog
Riding Mountain National Park
Mooswa Resort
Learn about Polar Bears

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Journey to Churchill to see Polar Bears

Churchill, Manitoba, is a remote town located on the western shore of the Hudson Bay, the southern most limit of where Polar Bears can survive year-around.
Polar Bears are marine mammals that spend most of their time on artic sea ice feeding on their main prey, seals.  The prospect of seeing Polar Bears was my primary reason for traveling to Churchill, but the experience of getting there and the other wildlife we saw held magic, as well.
Christian Artuso and Billie Cantwell, on a very cold and windy day in Riding Mountain National Park, MB.  Winds were blowing at 40 mph and the wind chill was 21 degrees F!  Can you tell who lives in Manitoba?

Our first destination was Winnipeg, MB, where we met our naturalist guide, Christian Artuso, for a side trip to Riding Mountain National Park. Christian is not only an expert ornithologist, he is a wildlife photographer and the coordinator of Manitoba's Breeding Bird Atlas.  He can hear and identify birds from incredible distances, even while driving a vehicle, and makes a "head turning" imitation female moose call!  More about that in a later post.

A glimpse of what parts of the North American prairie looked like at one time, preserved at Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP).  The view directly above and below is within the bison enclosure. We also saw elk running in the distance--a too brief encounter.  They were certainly more skittish than the buffalo.
Fall is rutting season for the hooved mammals and in the bison herd, females (left) and male bison were paired and associating while grazing.
 A female bison and her calf.
 Quaking Aspen framing the sides of the park road.
As we were driving to Wasagaming, the location of our lodging, we spotted a juvenile bald eagle as it was flying in to land in a group of aspen.  Stopping for a better look, we also discovered a golden eagle perched below the juvenile.  This was a spectacular sighting for us all--my first golden eagle sighting in a number of years, and Christian confirmed, a rare sighting for this area.  Of course, seeing two species of eagles in one sighting is a spectacular occurrence anyway!
The habitat surrounding the clump of trees included cultivated fields with harvested crops and clumps of over-grown areas desireable to rodents and rabbits. Prime hunting for golden eagles.
Golden Eagle
The golden eagle took flight first, in a grand sweep across the fields, circling over our heads in such a way that we had great views of its plumage and field marks.  In the image below you can see the golden hackles on the head and neck reflecting in the sunlight.
The characteristic white band in the tail feathers is apparent from this underneath view as the eagle turns.



The young bald eagle, above and below, perched for a longer period and we finally had to say, goodbye.  To have such a lingering look at these two magnificent birds on our first visit to the park filled us with excitement.
We were the last guests for the season at Mooswa Lodge in Wasagaming and were afforded very spacious and comfortable accomodations for two nights while visiting the park.  My lodging had two bedrooms with additonal loft sleeping, kitchen and living area with two sofas--plenty of room for six!
This is my first in a series of posts on my journey to Churchill, Manitoba to see Polar Bears.
Also visit my post on the Gray Jays we encountered in RMNP:  Gray Jays--Smart, Bold, Resourceful!

Christian Artuso's blog
Riding Mountain National Park
Mooswa Resort
Learn about Polar Bears
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham