Sunday, April 19, 2009

This And That

Ready for spring seeding

Another fine day was shaping up, as spring made its presence known across southern Alberta with the promise of temperatures in the mid to high teens. Of course it would be later in the day before I would see those kind of temperatures. Sunrise found me at the north end of Lake McGregor just west of the village of Milo, 70 kilometers east of High River. With heavy cloud on the horizon sunrise was a moot point, as the sun would not put in a presence until high enough in the sky to peek over this band of clouds.
I had driven down from Calgary wanting to see what shape the lake was in, as American White Pelicans and Double-Crested Cormorants often forage on this large prairie reservoir starting in April. The lake is an important staging area for waterfowl, including Snow Geese, Canada Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese. Blue-Winged Teals and Northern Shovelers can be seen in spring and summer. There actually was a fair amount of open water along the shoreline and there were a fair number of Tundra Swans and Snow Geese just leaving the lake to forage in nearby fields. Later in the summer the surrounding dry prairie uplands offer opportunities to observe Marbled Godwits and Long-Billed Curlews. After a half hour or so, I decided to work my way further west with a planned stop at a fairly large slough that I had noticed several weeks before. At that time I was short on time and promised to return for a closer look. I was pleased to see that the slough was clear of ice and there were a fair number of species of ducks represented that included Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Common Golden Eye, American Wigeon, Canvas Back, Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail as well as other species. Red Winged Blackbirds were squabbling amongst themselves over the best nesting sites in the cattails that bordered the slough. I also noticed a pair of Muskrats going about their business, as they swam back and forth to their burrow at one end of the slough. The first time I saw a muskrat many years ago, I thought it was a young beaver. Even today a second look is sometimes required, for these two semi-aquatic species bear more than a passing resemblance to each other if seen when they are swimming, despite the significant size difference Muskrats are very common right across Canada and can be found in almost any wetland, particularly cattail marshes such as this one. I noticed that they were swimming near some brush that bordered one end of the slough. I grabbed my camera and was able to sneak in close enough for a photo of the one muskrat who had exited the water and was resting near the bank. Although very common, muskrats can be surprisingly difficult to see. This is largely because they are most active early and late in the day.It is also a reflection of their habitat which doesn't make for easy observation. However, if you are patient (or lucky as I was) you should be able to observe them swimming and feeding, moving across mats of aquatic vegetation, or even trundling across dry land on occasion. I had crawled in fairly close and after I had enough photos, I stood up and the muskrat went back in the water with a splash and was gone. By now with the time nearing 9:00am, the day was shaping up nicely with the temperature on my truck thermometer indicating 8 degrees Celsius. At this point, a coffee was in order and like the muskrat, and a spin of the wheels on my truck, I was off to High River where I would stop in at the Heritage Inn for breakfast and swap a few stories with some of my ham radio friends who would be there. Talk To You.

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