April 16, 2017

A Sesquicentennial Challenge

2017 marks Canada's 150th birthday. And since everybody loves big round numbers, we'd wager that right now, a whole bunch of Canadians are trying to come up with bucket lists involving the number 150.

And Banff is getting in on the action.  Yesterday marked the first of the Banff Community Bird Walks, held every year from mid-April to mid-June.  The goal with this year's walks is to tally up 150 bird species.

It's our sesquicentennial challenge! (That's the fancypants way to say 150, by the way)

photo courtesy of Amar Athwal

The walks take place on Saturdays and Mondays at 8:15 a.m. and run until June 12. The meeting place is on Sundance Road near its intersection with Cave Avenue in Banff.  The area has wetlands, forest, a horse stable, and grasslands, so the birding is really good.  Some people come for half an hour and keeners sometimes stay until the early afternoon.

We've been to some of the walks ourselves (on one of them, we saw the “grand slam” of Banff's swallow species – all six of them – sitting on a single telephone line near Warner's Stables), and they are a lot of fun.  There's great volunteers who make walk participants feel welcome, spot species, help with bird identification, and share their books & equipment.

photo courtesy of the Banff Community Bird Walk

So join in a walk, and see if you can't contribute to the 150!

ps: one of the participants on most walks is Amar Athwal, who takes great photos of the birds.  His weekly "Moments" emails are superb, and we recommend you sign up by sending an email to warmlight@gmail.com.  Or, check out Amar’s website.

April 12, 2017

What is Your Home... River?

What is home?  Many an ecologist would argue that what really counts is your watershed - your "home river". It's a logical boundary to use for land management, and the water in your watershed is crucial to life and livelihoods.

Our home river is the Bow, and we live a mere 30 minutes from its headwaters. Last fall we had the opportunity to learn about its deepest nature.

We attended a talk by Dr. Richard Hauer on gravel-bed rivers in the mountain west. In a recently published paper, he and colleagues have documented and explained how important these kinds of rivers are to wildlife and ecosystems here.

We've been using this story on our snowshoe trips, as we travel beside and on the Bow River.
Nadine & Jun along the beautiful Bow River
It's the first time scientists have put this big picture story together, and it really is big news, big enough to have been covered by the New York Times.  The article summarizes nicely:

"Melting snow and groundwater flow down the channel; this is what we think of as a “river.” But underground, far more water is moving slowly through a labyrinthine network of cobbles, gravel and sand that make up the entire valley bottom. [our emphasis]

This deeply buried habitat is far more important and far more productive than thought. The matrix of gravel and sand cleans the water, filtering organic material and freeing up nitrogen and phosphorous embedded in the gravel.

These natural fertilizers spread across the valley bottom, a shot of adrenaline that nourishes plants in the flood plain such as willows and aspen, which in turn draw birds and beavers, elk and caribou. The plant-eaters attract predators like wolves and grizzly bears."

We've always known that rivers were movement corridors and hotbeds of biodiversity, but now we can see the bigger picture: the smallest sediments and the largest carnivores are tightly connected.

These days, we look at our "home river" with different eyes.