Monday, November 28, 2016

A Week in SE Alberta

I got back last night from a week in southeast Alberta.  Alyssa is working on contract in Medicine Hat and while late November isn't prime for wildlife viewing in that part of the continent, we had a fun time exploring a few local natural areas.

Home, home on the range, where the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus)...

...and the Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana) play.  The deer became a regular site pretty quick.  The pronghorn were an unexpected treat just outside of Cypress Hills.

Coyotes are somewhat common and scanning the open rolling terrain yielded a half dozen or so sightings throughout the 2 days at Cypress Hills.

Rose hips
Lupine getting an ambitious start on 2017.

Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) is one of the dominant conifers.
If you dig hard you can find goodies like Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)!
American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis), score!
...and it's preferred habitat 'round these parts.
 Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a common groundcover plant among the conifer stands.

The next two photos give an appreciation of how Cypress Hills became an island untouched by glaciation which created the stark contrast with the bare shortgrass prairie that extends for thousands of miles around at lower elevations. 

The Sweetgrass Hills of Montana are visible in the distance.  I didn't venture too far off the trail here as a truck with an Elk hunting permit was parked at the cul-de-sac.  Apparently this location is the highest elevation in Canada between the Rockies and Newfoundland.

We took a (more) scenic route back to Medicine Hat via Eagle Butte on the west side of the park.  I was curious about checking out historic Margaret's Church so we stopped in.  The "Beware of Dog" sign gave way to a pooch that would lick your face to death.  The stained glass in the church was well-tied to the surroundings showcasing Meadowlark and Sunflower among other flora and fauna.

Spending a day in Medicine Hat I decided to check out Police Point; a City park with an extensive trail system but comprising a large swath of grassland and Cottonwood floodplain.
A favourite grass, Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
A not-so-favourite grass, the agressive invasive Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum).  This species along with Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) are widespread invaders of native grassland in the area and where introduced as forage for livestock.  Once they take hold they suppress and out-compete prairie vegetation.

Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
 I believe this downy-leaved milkweed is Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).

Sand Reedgrass (Calamovilfa longifolia)
The stout, woody shrub Silver Sagebrush (Artemesia cana) is widespread and abundant.  The only Prairie Rattlesnake I've ever seen was tucked under the shelter of one of these in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan.

The following morning I drive south to Red Rock Coulee.  The spherical reddish sandstone concretions give the site it's name with a couple hundred of these strange features emerging from the eroding bearpaw shale within which they sit.  A couple of locals told me the place was rife with rattlesnakes in the summer and they were surprised when I said I'd have to come back in season!
Colourful lichens on the concretions.
A few botanical finds could be had including patches of the showy prairie wildflower Great Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) in the bottom right of this photo.

The rocky peak had a nice patch of Starvation Prickly-pear (Opuntia polycantha), other cactus species occur in Alberta but this is the species of Opuntia common to this area.

On our way to Calgary for the weekend we stopped by the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller.  I had never been and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon after a 2.5 hour drive up from Medicine Hat.  A few shots below...

This Tyrannosaurus rex is nicknamed 'Black Beauty' for the dark tone of the bones which was a result of manganese in the water during fossilization.  It's in the classic 'death pose' with the head and legs pulled back.
Gumweed (Grindellia squarrosa) hanging on to the last few petals.
 The landscape in and around Drumheller is quite something to see.  The stratified sediments of varying colours of brown, beige and red comprising an extensive network of mostly bare, eroding hills that flank the Red Deer River.