Snow Fleas

At first glance it looked like tiny bits of dust. Or pepper scattered on the snow.

Down on my knees I noticed that the “pepper” was moving. Hmmm.

Turns out I was watching snow fleas cavorting  on a “warm” winter afternoon when the temperature had risen to a couple of degrees above freezing.

Despite their name, snow fleas aren’t fleas at all — they’re springtails. Tucked under the abdomen is a tail-like structure called a furcula. When this tiny critter releases the furcula it catapults the owner into the air — hence the name, springtail.

Springtails are great decomposers, feeding on decaying plant material and soil bacteria. They’re active year-round but because of their size it’s unlikely you’ll see them any time but in the winter. The ones I found were about 1 – 2 mm long, shorter than an eyelash.

My snowy footprints filled with snow fleas one afternoon. Like some other “cold-blooded” animals, springtails contain a natural antifreeze that keeps their bodies from freezing. (Springtails in Antarctica are tougher than our Alberta species. They’ve been seen hopping about at -38C (-31F). )

Snow fleas in foot prints

The springtails clustered together by the thousands. By comparison, my ring looks huge.

Snow fleas and ring for size

This closer view shows the antennae and the 3 pairs of legs. One larger springtail, toward the bottom centre, even shows the furcula. You can see more detailed closeups here.

Snow fleas

I’m not sure why the springtails congregated in such huge numbers. A winter love fest?

Lots of snow fleas

I watched these amazing little critters over several days. When the temperature dropped, they disappeared. But perhaps they’ll return with the next chinook.


Snow fleas / Springtails   Hypogastrura nivicola (?)

Advertisements

The Ice Garden

It was a quirk of light. Without it I would have missed the tiny ice garden on my window.

Among the little plants I spotted fern trees, maple leaves, thistle heads, shrubs and grass, perhaps an elm or maybe a beech. The biggest is less than a centimetre, not even half an inch.

The garden is growing on the outer pane of a double-paned window, facing north onto snow-draped spruce trees. Not sure when it took root — last night it was about -30C (-20F) so perhaps that was enough to sprout this grace and beauty.

Bumping up the blue levels on the photo created this fairyland effect.

Closed ‘Til Spring

Within this wooden box
Tree swallows built a home
Of grass and feathers

Formed a cup-shaped nest
To hold a clutch of pink-white eggs
Tended them in heat and chill

Watched as shells cracked and
Newborns struggled
To take their first deep drink of air

Through short summer months
They swept bugs up on the wing
Perfected their aerial acrobatics

Then as the sun shrank
They cast themselves south
And left behind an empty sky.

 

Fan-dango

Fandango:
1. a lively Spanish dance for two people, typically accompanied by castanets or tambourine; or,

2. a foolish or useless act or thing.

It started with a thump on the living room window. I knew the sound. Not good. Something had flown into the glass.

I grabbed the camera and went to look. I didn’t see anything at first, then suddenly a male grouse rounded the corner of the deck. He was in full display — his gorgeous blue-black ruff puffed up around his head, his eye combs bright red and his tail feathers fanned out like a peacock. A great idea in the summer when you’re hoping to attract a female’s eye. But in November? In. The. Snow?

He strutted across the deck and onto the ground beneath the window.

Male ruffed grouse

It must have been a female who hit the window. Perhaps to escape his unwanted attention. That’s when I saw the first feathers. I assumed she’s survived the impact as he kept moving along, his eye firmly on his target.

Male ruffed grouse

I caught sight of her for a brief moment, then she disappeared around the corner of the house. He followed …

Male ruffed grouse

… trailing her to the front of the house.

Male and female ruffed grouse

About then one of the four females sitting in the saskatoon bush flew low over their heads and into a spruce tree. The male, seeing fresh opportunity, forgot about the first female and went to check out the new prospect. Seeing her chance the first female departed the scene.

The new bird kept to her branch. She was not interested. He stayed below, Romeo to her Juliet.

Male and female ruffed grouse

As for the injured female? I saw her later beyond the end of the garden. I’m not sure how seriously she was hurt. Later I checked where she had struck the glass and found dozens of feathers.

Female ruffed grouse

Reflections confuse the birds. Although we’ve done what we can to bird-proof our windows, two female grouse died this summer when they flew into them. Thinking they have an escape route they hit hard glass instead.

Hopefully this one will survive.


Ruffed grouse   Bonasa umbellus

Hip, Hip, Hooray

Rose hip: The fruit of a rose.

Rose hips figure high on the foods-I-like-to-eat for ruffed grouse. They’re packed with vitamin C, fibre and lots of essential minerals.

About 6 grouse visit our yard so rose hips are becoming scarce. They picked the low-hanging ones early in the fall. Later they climbed into the rose bushes to eat them. But there are still some left.

The other day I was taking shots of grouse through the kitchen window. I watched as one female spotted a small hip dangling above her. Could she get it?

Seems so. 🙂

Ruffed grouse


Ruffed grouse  Bonasa umbellus