Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I don't know where I am, but I like it...

Eagle Butte -- I'm not sure what's where, but I love this sign. © SB

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada: Propped in the sand before the final climb up to 70 Mile Butte, there is a wonderfully rustic sign.

Reading it at first, I thought I must be standing on Eagle Butte — but maps in the GNP Visitors' Guide indicate Eagle Butte is some distance north.

The arrows on this sign are also intriguing. What lies 0.7 km in one direction, and 8.8 km in another?

The posts stood beside Yarrow plants, and a feet away, Prairie Roses grew in barren-looking sand, and I didn't care where I was, or what this sign meant, beyond the obvious: You are now in the land of buttes, dry grasses and erosion surrendered ranches in the wild old West. 

I wish all Parks Canada signs were so evocative. I hope this one is not replaced with a cold metal plate.

What is this? A sign high on the climb up Grasslands' 70 Mile Butte, so called because it's visible from at least 70 miles away. 
Location: Grasslands National Park. 
Photo Date: July 27, 2011. 


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anvil Cloud at Sunset: Regina, SK

Anvil Cloud at Sunset, Saskatchewan - photo by Shelley Banks
The setting sun lights the top of an anvil cloud © SB

Tonight, a stunning anvil cloud hovered over the north end of Regina, late evening until after sunset... and beyond?

These whirling cumulonimbus clouds can grow into ferocious single cell thunderstorms, the clouds that storm chasers love to follow. 

It's humid tonight, and at 10:14 p.m., Environment Canada was still calling a severe thunderstorm watch for the city, so this one may be growing or others may be moving in.


Killdeer Landing on Boggy Creek, SK

Condie Nature Refuge: This lovely orange-backed Killdeer sailed in front of my camera Sunday, and I caught a few clear shots before trying a different setting, which immediately merged to washed out blur. Bad mistake. I'm still figuring out the optimal points for focus and light... 

These pictures were taken on the south side of Boggy Creek, from the Hillside Trail, at about noon — which is likely obvious from the tight shadow.

(I'm identifying this bird as a Killdeer because of its shape, size, banded neck, head markings and orange back... Other suggestions welcome!)  

Soaring down to the beach, orange back bright © SB

First one foot, and then the other © SB

All's calm and quiet now © SB 

What is this? A Killdeer, a fairly common prairie bird. 
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, near Regina, SK.
Photo Date: August 28, 2011. 


Monday, August 29, 2011

Wascana Creek Polluted and at Risk?

Pelicans in foamy Wascana Creek - photo by Shelley Banks
Pelicans in weird June foam,
Wascana Creek, 2011 c SB
Regina, Saskatchewan: A creek running through the centre of the city sounds idyllic — until you realize that the creek in your city may be an effluent-dominated ecosystem, and in winter, treated sewage effluent may make up almost 100% of its stream flow. 

From peaceful to perturbing in one easy headline. And the headlines have been flowing all afternoon.
To be fair — if that's the right word in this context — the major pollution starts at our local sewage treatment plant, west of Regina, and flows from there downstream, away from the city. So the part of the creek that's in the city itself is not sewage-laden.

But whether it's what many of us would call clean is an entirely different matter.

The pictures above and below show a group of pelicans, just west of the Albert Street weir earlier this year. It was the first day of summer and the City had just opened the weir under the Albert Street Bridge to release high flood water from Wascana Lake.The result? The water quickly churned into huge curds and billows of foam that engulfed the feeding pelicans.

Pelicans in foamy Wascana Creek - photo by Shelley Banks
A cluster of six pelicans swim through foam -- I've highlighted two.  
At that time, I wondered what created this foam, and whether this foam — and the water it thrashed from — was safe.

Today, I asked Peter Leavitt, a biologist at the University of Regina who studies water quality, those questions.

Here's what he had to say about the water, the foam and the studies:
The foam is not likely to be directly toxic to the birds.  It arises because there are very very high levels of phosphorus and dissolved organic matter in the water.  Think of this as a grass stain on clothes and the detergent.  When you mix the two together (in a washer, or in the lake as water passes under Albert St), you produce foam. 
Today's study is not directly related to the foam or the birds - the authors studied the water quality upstream of the City (which would be similar to the site where the birds are located), and downsteam of the wastewater plant outfall (processed sewage), which is North and West of the City. 
They found potentially toxic levels of nitrogen in many seasons (which might harm the birds) at that second location, as well as antibiotics and other personal health care products which are released into the creek from wastewater.  Birds would also be at risk from toxic cyanobacterial blooms which occur in downstream lakes (for example Pasqua) as a result of the City pollution.  
Thus, the water flowing through the city of Regina is cleaner than the water that flows downstream away from us, where the levels of various elements including nitrogen were extremely high. And one problem with high nitrogen, as Leavitt told the LeaderPost, is that with increasing levels,  "Not only do we get more algae, the algae we get are more toxic."

But nitrogen, ammonia, and phosphates aren't the only things Regina is washing downstream.

The studies also found that pharmaceuticals and personal care products were always present in the water, and this mixture included antibiotics, analgesics, antiinflammatories, a lipid regulator, metabolites of caffeine, cocaine and nicotine, and an insect repellent, as well as "ibuprofen, naproxen, gemfibrozil, triclosan, erythromycin, trimethoprim, and sulfamethoxazole at concentrations that may present a risk to aquatic organisms."

So the pelicans were likely safe when I saw them submerged in foam back in June — as long as they stayed east of the sewage treatment plant. Good news, I guess, although somehow, it's difficult to feel particularly happy about any of this...


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Damselflies: Condie Nature Refuge

Bluet Damselfly -- with startling grin.  © SB 

Condie Nature Refuge, near Regina, Saskatchewan: Damselflies are the tiny dancers of the Dragonfly world, so slight that my camera — even the new DSLR — struggles to find a still, solid point at the centre of their world on which to focus. Only two or three centimetres long, with a wingspan about the same, damselflies' needle-like abdomens must measure a few millimetres at most. (Not that I could catch one of these delicate creatures to try that — I have enough trouble trying to capture their image!

The first damselfly, at the top of this post, was stunning, a light shimmering turquoise blue, based on which, I've decided it must be a Bluet... Of course, nothing's easy for the non-biologist, and as it turns out, there are many different kinds of Bluets. Close-up shots of rear male appendages are apparently helpful for identification, but that takes photography to a whole new level.  

Take a minute to click to enlarge that Bluet — is it just me, or does its face bear a strange resemblance to the scary grins of the little creatures in the Gremlins horror movies of the 1980s/90s?

Continuing with the blue theme, the next two damselflies have bulging blue eyes — the first looked very opaque, while the second reflected a darker translucence. Again, these are tiny insects — shorter than the top two joints on my little finger, and I have very small hands.  

Damselfly, Boggy Creek, Condie Nature Refuge © SB

Damselfly, Condie Nature Refuge, Saskatchewan © SB

The final damselfly was paler, with a slightly brown cast overall, and very easy-to-see reddish spots at the top and end of its wings, similar to the damselfly immediately above.
Damselfly clinging to Thistle stalk © SB
All photos can be clicked to enlarge — and if you do, you'll see the amazing hairs on this last tiny guy's legs...

What are these? Damselflies — which look like tiny dragonflies, but are a slightly different species. 
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, about 12 km north of Regina.
Photo Date: August 27 & 28, 2011.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

White-tailed deer: Condie Nature Refuge

Warily watching... © SB 

Condie Nature Refuge, Regina, Saskatchewan: A young, still spotted, white-tailed deer watched as I drove through Condie today, its large tail a banner as it ran to the shelter of trees and then back across the field to the lower land beside the creek.  

The tail is certainly a marker for these deer; it's so different from the mule deer we saw at Grasslands National Park.

White-tailed deer at Condie Nature Refuge © SB 

What is this? A young white-tailed deer. 
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, near Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo Date: August 27, 2011. 


Monday, August 15, 2011

Cabbage White Butterfly on Canada Thistle

Cabbage White on Canada Thistle, Regina, SK © SB

The most abundant butterflies in our Regina, SK (Canada) neighbourhood this summer are Cabbage Whites, fluttering through the grass and garden.

Especially the garden. These delicate-looking butterflies love vegetable gardens. As the Government of Canada says of Cabbage Whites on its Canadian Biodiversity website:
"Its bright white colour and fondness for gardens make it one of the butterflies familiar to anyone even mildly interested in nature."
We're not trying to grow cabbages this year — or other Brassicas  — and we're not growing thistles, either. This photograph was taken beside a public path/parkway along Wascana Creek a few days ago.  

Location: Along Wascana Creek, Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo Date: August 15, 2011. 


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Big Bert: Saskatchewan's Giant Crocodile

Big Bert, the Carrot River Croc - photo montage by Shelley Banks
Big Bert, the Carrot River Croc, in the lobby
of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. © SB 

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada:  Twenty years ago, the fossil of a crocodile from the Cretaceous period was discovered in the Carrot River quarry in east-central Saskatchewan. This creature, identified as Terminonaris robusta, has been nicknamed Big Bert by paleontologists and others who've worked with him.

This giant marine predator lurked in Saskatchewan more that 92 million years ago, when the province was under a great inland sea. He was close to eight metres (25 feet) long and his skull alone was more than one metre long.

Big Bert was discovered by Saskatchewan paleontologist Tim Tokaryk (who also worked to uncover MO, the Ponteix Elasmosaurus / Plesiosaur), and his actual bones were collected by the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the Canadian Museum of Nature. At the time of discovery, Bert was the only one of his genus found in Canada.

Big Bert's replica is made of polymer, with wire and steel to build the bones, and screws and metal piping to hold them together. It's on display at the RSM in Regina, Saskatchewan, until mid-September, when it will join a travelling exhibit.

More information from the RSM about the discovery of Big Bert.

And yes, for the record, I do know that dinosaurs lived on land, and that Bert (Terminonaris robusta) and Mo (the Ponteix Plesiosaur / Elasmosaur) are not dinosaurs.... But dinosaurs have also been discovered in Saskatchewan...


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ponteix, Sask: Beware — Massive Sea Reptile

Mo, the Elasmosaur Plesiosaur from Ponteix, SK - photo by Shelley Banks
MO, the Elasmosaur Plesiosaur from Ponteix, Saskatchewan © SB

Ponteix, Saskatchewan, Canada:  This is dinosaur country. When the earth was younger, huge animals roamed (and swam across) what are now Saskatchewan's plains. They left rich deposits of fossils, which continue to be explored.

An Elasmosaurus — a kind of Plesiosaur, aka massive sea reptile from the Cretaceous period some 70 million years ago — was found near Ponteix in southwestern Saskatchewan almost 20 years ago. The find is commemorated by a replica at the junction of Highway 13 and the village access road.

The skull and flipper bones of the fossil were discovered in 1992; the next year, the rest of the body was found — except for the tail, which was dug up a year later. Overall, estimates say Mo was about 15 metres long. (His replica, made of iron bars and sheet metal, and covered with five cubic metres of concrete, is said to be closer to half that size — although from teeth to tail to me, I'd believe it was full size.)

Information sign about Mo, the Ponteix plesiosaur - photo by Shelley Banks
All about MO  © SB 
The sign beside the replica of this Plesiosaur gives some of the history:

"MO" the Ponteix Plesiosaur (Elasmosaur) / a sea reptile having lived 70 to 75 million years ago / reaching a length of 38 feet  / "MO" was originally found 6 km NE of Ponteix by Bob St. Cyr / Henri Liboiron confirmed the location / and with fellow paleontologist / Tim Tokaryk, quarried the site. / This reproduction project of the original Plesiosaur / site was initiated by Roland (Dick) Lemieux, / the architect is Larry Piché / and sponsor of the project is the / Ponteix Lions Club.

Virtual Museum Canada explains that St. Cyr was a high school student at the time, while Liboiron had a long history of research and excavations around the community.

More of Liboiron's finds are in the local Ponteix Museum — which (I am now serving notice to my partner in explorations) I plan to visit sometime soon.

Mo, the Ponteix SK Elasmosaur Plesiosaur - photomontage by Shelley Banks
MO, the Ponteix Elasmosaur Plesiosaur
What a wonderful world with massive, four-flippered 
swimming reptiles -- with such spiky teeth!    © SB 

And yes, for the record, I do know that dinosaurs lived on land, and that Mo and Big Bert, the Carrot River Croc at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (Terminonaris robusta) are therefore not dinosaurs.... But dinosaurs have also been discovered in Saskatchewan... 

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