Dandelion Salad

Winter hung around for a long time but spring finally found its way to our corner of the forest.

This past week yellow appeared on the menu for these red and black wood ants.

There are about 21 species of wood ants in Alberta. As the name suggests they live in or near the edge of wooded areas, building large hills from forest litter and soil.

Although dandelions caught the attention of these ants, poplar buds are even more popular. They’re like the main course to the dandelion appetizer.

This leaf bud hasn’t even opened yet, but the ants have already moved their “herd” of aphids into position. The aphids feed on the sap, then excrete a sweet sticky “syrup” that the ants eat.

This thistle gives an idea of how big well-tended aphid herds can get.

Wood ant Formica spp.

Snow Melt

The calendar holds no sway when it comes to spring in Alberta’s boreal forest—the March equinox often finds us still knee-deep in snow.

But late April, ah that’s a different matter.

The sun is higher, the days are warmer and deep in the treed shadows meltwater pools in the hollows.

Thief

Bones and skulls are a good source of calcium and minerals for rodents. A close look at this deer antler reveals their tiny teeth marks.

On my trips through the bush I sometimes pick up these castoffs and remains. I currently had two old coyote skulls on the deck that I intended to add to a big pot of flowers.

But I hadn’t counted on the new neighbour.

This summer a changing of the guard occurred on one of the nearby middens (aka squirrel homes).

The young male squirrel must have assumed our house was part of his territory as he often appeared on the deck. On warm days he’d visit the bird bath for a drink. (Yuck. Bird poo and feathers.)

One day I heard a kafuffle outside. As I glanced out I saw my neighbour making off with one of the coyote skulls. It was slow going. The darn thing was nearly as big as him.

By the time I got outside the skull had landed on the grass and the black eyes that turned my way had a What?-Not-me! look. I retrieved the skull.

The next day when I went to plant the flowers the other skull was missing. I searched the deck, the grass, the gravel. Nope. Gone.

A few days later I visited my neighbour. Yup. There was the skull, perched on the pile of cone scales.

I paced out the distance: 50 metres (more than 50 yards). He’d dragged that skull through grass, across gravel and into a tangle of forest understory.

At that point I decided the flower arrangement didn’t need two skulls. He’d earned his.

Myth-taken

Moss only grows on the north side of trees. Do survival texts still tell us to look for moss if we want to know which way is north?

It used to be standard rhetoric for Boy Scouts (and presumably any Girl Guide who chose to wander into the woods on her own, unaccompanied by an aforementioned Boy Scout).

Another good story debunked by Mother Nature. This grove of aspens is facing south; each tree sports a dark green collar of moss around its base.

Northside-only moss is on par with leaving a trail of breadcrumbs — best for fairy tales. A compass or GPS makes for a safer travelling companion. 🙂

 

Commonly Uncommon

This common alpine butterfly is anything but, at least in my experience. I can’t remember seeing one before yet in the space of three days I’ve seen several of them in separate places.

I found the first one on our gravel road, one of its hind wings so badly damaged it couldn’t fly. Unlike many butterflies its distinctive markings made it easy to identify.

Common alpine

The one in the featured photo on this post was a lucky shot—it paused to feed just long enough for me to snap the shutter then it was off. The others I’ve seen have been on the wing, fluttering and flitting and seldom pausing.

Common? Perhaps. Uncommonly beautiful? For sure. 🙂


Common alpine   Erebia episodea

 

Moose on the Loose

For several evenings we’ve been treated to a visit by two young bull moose. They are possibly last year’s calves, out on their own. Or maybe they’re just a couple of teenagers, hanging out together.

They were curious about our deck. One nibbled the edge but decided it wasn’t worth the bite.  Then it was back to what they came for—tender willow leaves.

The bumps on their foreheads? This year’s antlers in the making. The skin, known as velvet, provides blood and nutrients to the growing bone beneath.

Young bull moose dining on willows

Pollen-ated

‘Tis the season! The time when a gazillion grains of pollen float, sift and drift through the air. (And allergy sufferers go into high gear buying Kleenex and antihistamines.)

The small red male cones in the featured photo are the source of this wonder (or misery, depending on your body’s reaction).

The spruce trees in our woods have unleashed a bumper crop of pollen this year. On one tree near the house there were so many red cones it looked like a Christmas tree on steroids.

Everything is covered with a fine yellow film. And I do mean everything. Check out the tiny whitish dots on this bearberry. Pollen.

Bearberry with pollen

Ditto on this wolf spider.

Wolf spider with pollen

Note the pollen trapped on the deer hair snagged in barbwire.

Pollen on animal hair

And on this tiny wild plant.

Leaves and buds with pollen (blueberry?)

And of course, when you turn on the windshield washer you can really see those pollen grains. 🙂

Truck hood with pollen


White spruce   Picea glauca

Remains of the Day

Despite our best efforts to camouflage our windows, a few birds continue to hit the glass. Reflections of the surrounding trees make it look like just part of the forest.

If the birds are lucky it’s only a glancing blow. Others succumb to the impact and die — which is what happened to this ruffed grouse.

We placed her body a few feet into the bush. Within hours all that remained was the feathers.

Who benefitted from her untimely end? Foxes live nearby so perhaps their hunt for a meal was easier today.

Ruffed grouse feathers

Ruffed grouse feathers


Ruffed grouse   Bonasa umbellus