November 14, 2012

The Snoring Hummingbird

Male amethyst-throated Sunangel in Ecuador.  Photo by Patty McGann

Last night we were listening to “As it Happens” on CBC, and their sound of the day was – are you ready for this? – a snoring hummingbird! Today, we found out a a bit more about the story behind the sounds.  It was a female Amethyst-throated Sunangel, native to the northern Andes in South America.  It had been captured by biology researchers who wanted to study the bird's oxygen uptake while it slept.

Many hummingbird species go into torpor overnight as a way to preserve energy, especially if they live in cold places.  The rufous hummingbird, which shows up in the Canadian Rockies for the summer, is a torpor specialist, and the Sunangel lives high enough in the Andes that it needs this strategy too.  These hummingbirds drop their heart rate, body temperature and their respiratory rate to get through the night.  But now you can add to the list at least one species that snores!

And by the way, the bird was released back into the wild the next morning.

November 2, 2012

Skating Season

Our summer hiking season ended in September and we were away for much of October and now, having returned from a beautiful eastern fall, we are anxiously awaiting skating season:  our chance to glide over entire ponds and lakes, unimpeded.

It isn't guaranteed.  To have a skating season, we need the right combination of cold temperatures and no snow.  We've only been able to skate on the full body of Lake Louise in about five or six of the 20 years we've lived here.  And sometimes only for one day!

Skating on a frozen mountain lake is an amazing experience.  If you are lucky the ice will be very smooth, and almost always there are gorgeous star-like crystals sticking up.  Patterns in the ice catch your eye - waves, bubbles, cracks.

Joel will skate on ice that is only three inches thick, but Nadine prefers something closer to six inches!  This Banff National Park video will give you a flavour for the speed, the sounds and the crisp, cold air.