25 July 2012

July Meeting, What a Venue!

Submitted by D. Calder

With the generous permission of a Wycliffe land owner, naturalists were able to visit a small pothole lake situated in the heart of rolling grasslands one mid-July evening.

photo: H. Knote

A variety of habitats including multi-colored alfalfa, native grasses, scattered clumps of trees and brush, and muddy shoreline surrounded the open water. A couple of yellow pine snags provided nesting cavities, and perches for the Osprey and hawks. As the evening winds subsided, a greater assortment of waterfowl could be identified, some trailing strings of ducklings across the calmer water.

photo: H. Knote

A few wildflowers dotted a rocky meadow where sharp eyed naturalists noticed an uncommon, singular, mauve flower. To quote from the 1952 book “Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to know in British Columbia”, by C.P. (Chess) Lyons, “The simplicity of this beautiful flower imparts an air of rarity that is further enhanced by it’s random appearance in drab range land. The stout stem carries one or more pale purple or lavender blooms often 2” across. Three large petals are marked on the inside with dark blotches near their base and a green band down their centre. One thin leaf grows from the base of the stem. The Sagebrush Mariposa Lily is seldom found in any quantity and often escapes notice because of it’s delicate shading...” Thanks, Chess. (1915- 1998)

photo: D. Cooper

As the evening light ebbed and the reflected sunset intensified, a couple of us heard the unmistakable call, a series of 3 to 8 deep, soft ‘hoo’ notes, of the Great Horned Owl.

photo: H. Knote

Conveniently, it perched on a nearby fencepost.

This large, heavy-bodied owl with noticeable ear tufts has glowing orange or yellow eyes on a tawny-brown facial disc. It is one of the largest owls in the Rockies and has ear tufts or horns which are toward the sides of the head. The eyeball of the great horned is as large as a human eye, and like other owls it has binocular vision. Its’ ear openings are of unequal size which also helps it to locate prey. The finely toothed edges of the outer primary feathers allow almost noiseless flights by this large predator. Along with long, sharp talons, these special adaptations make this mostly nocturnal owl an extremely effective predator on small rodents, birds, hares and even skunks.

As is the general case with owls, the female is considerably larger than the male, although the male has a deeper voice. They are year-round residents in the Rockies and very early nesters, sometimes incubating eggs beneath a blanket of snow. In February and March, naturalists make night time outings to detect the owls as they call to each other while establishing territory and preparing to breed. Submitted by Daryl Calder.

The list:

Pied-billed Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe
Canada Goose
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Ruddy Duck
Duck ‘Species’
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Shorebird ‘Species’
Gull ‘Species’
Great Horned Owl
Common Nighthawk
Northern Flicker
Eastern Kingbird
American Crow
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling
Warbler ‘Species’
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird

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