Journal archives for December 2019

December 19, 2019

Muskrat Lodge

Muskrats are an important player in wetland ecosystems. Their influence on vegetative structure can affect invertebrate communities as well as bird abundance and diversity. Muskrats are a food source for a number of animals like mink, coyotes and eagles. Muskrats can also serve as indicators of ecosystem health by responding  to various toxins and chemicals that commonly degrade aquatic habitats.

As wetland loss becomes more prevalent, the maintenance of functioning wetlands and aquatic systems like in the Columbia Valley become even more important. So conserving viable Muskrat populations may be critical. 
Parks Canada use Muskrats numbers to measure wetland health - researchers simply calculate Muskrat populations by counting their lodges. See research

Posted on December 19, 2019 04:13 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 1 comment | Leave a comment

December 25, 2019

Pygmy Water-lily

On July 14 2004 a new location for Pygmy Waterlily, Nymphaea tetragona, was discovered in the Columbia wetlands near Brisco, BC.  The new record is the most southerly for British Columbia. This circumboreal lily is blue listed in BC and is rare over most of its range except in Alaska. The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia states that it is found in lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams in the lowland and montane zones.  E-Flora BC shows the previous known distribution of Nymphaea tetragona in British Columbia. The ones in central BC are just north of Prince George approximately 700 km north of this new observation.

Posted on December 25, 2019 00:59 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 05, 2019

Northern Long-toed Salamander

This dark grey salamander sports an irregular green or yellowish stripe along the middle of the back. It is named for the long fourth toe on their hind legs.

One of the neatest things about the salamanders is that they can regenerate body parts. So if a leg or tail is removed by a predator, the salamander can simply grow it back! However, most predators have learned to leave salamanders alone because when disturbed they secrete a distasteful poison from glands on their back and tail.

When it comes to vehicles, salamanders don’t fare so well. Studies in Waterton Lakes National Park showed that vehicles were killing between 10% to 41% of the salamander population attempting to cross roads. So Parks Canada responded by installing tunnels under the road to provide a relatively safe passage between the salamanders’ over-wintering habitat and their breeding areas. It worked - Salamander deaths from vehicle traffic in Waterton was reduced to 0.6% and 1.6% of the population.

Posted on December 05, 2019 04:57 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment


Some ungulates like Bighorn Sheep are ruminants. Meaning they have a rumen or a false stomach that allows them to gather large amounts of food quickly, especially when they are in the open and more susceptible to predators. Then later they can retire to safer areas to rechew and digest their food.

The rumen is also like a fermentation vat containing millions of microorganisms that help digest the fibrous grasses and shrubs.

The one side effect of ruminating is that the fermentation produces enormous quantities of gas which the sheep get rid of by belching. So next time you see a bighorn chewing its cud listen closely for burps.

Posted on December 05, 2019 05:11 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

The golden-mantled ground squirrel was surveyed as part of Kootenay National Park's biophysical inventory back in the early 1980s, and was described at that time as widespread but uncommon in the park.

There is a perception, however, that this species is common and consequently few people have bothered keeping written records of its occurrence over the years since then. An interesting question, 30 years later, is whether the golden-mantled ground squirrel still occurs in all the same places it did in the 1980s. That inventory showed that golden-mantled ground squirrels occurred at Radium Hot Springs (pools), near the summit of Kindersley-Sinclair Trail, Mt. Wardle, Marble Canyon, and several sites above tree-line in Helmet and Ochre Creeks. These days, the place where golden-mantled ground squirrels are most frequently seen is probably the Stanley Glacier trail, where they are seen in close association with marmots and pikas.

Habitat in the park is described as rough, rocky, or broken ground, usually in mid to high elevations, but occasionally in rocky areas at low elevation. Surprisingly little is known about the timing of breeding and reproduction in golden-mantled ground squirrels in British Columbia. In other areas of western North America, mating occurs in April or early May, shortly after emergence from hibernation, and litters averaging 5 young are produced in May or June. Animals of all ages remain inconspicuous in the spring until the young have emerged, consequently most observations are from late June through early September. Hibernation likely begins sometime in late August or September. The latest date one of these squirrels has been recorded in Kootenay, Yoho, or Banff appears to be an observation from September 26, 2011 at Lake Agnes near Lake Louise.

Posted on December 05, 2019 05:27 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 23, 2019


Osprey nesting in this region return from their wintering areas around mid-April when the valley lakes are free of ice. Some early arrival dates include April 3 at Columbia Lake and April 6 at Golden, BC. The first few weeks after arrival Osprey are involved in pre-nesting activities like courtship flights, nest building and refurbishing. Egg laying begins as early as the last week in April and as late as mid June, but most clutches are laid between May 15 and 22. Incubation is about 38 days and young begin to hatch in early June. Young remain in the nest between 44 to 59 days with most young fledging in August.

Posted on December 23, 2019 15:56 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 17, 2019

Animal Licks

Mountain goats risk their lives for a mouthful of dirt. Every May the goats leave the safety of the Mount Wardle, British Columbia, cliffs and travel down trough the trees to the highway. They risk being killed by predators or even a car in order to reach the clay banks. It is not completely certain what attracts the goats to this area, perhaps the area is a place used for social gatherings. The most likely explanation for the use of the “Lick” is a mineral deficient diet.

A number of years ago to determine what minerals the goats lacked we set up a soil ‘Cafeteria”. This allowed the animals to choose from a large variety of mineral- impregnated soils. The test showed that calcium and copper were the most sought after minerals. The females and kids were likely attracted to the calcium since this mineral is needed for milk production and bone growth. The need for cooper may be related to the growth of new hair after shedding their winter coats.

Goats aren’t the only animals to eat dirt. In the spring and early summer, Bighorn Sheep lick the clay banks around Radium Hot Springs,BC. Elk, Mule Deer and sometimes Moose can be seen in the early mornings and evenings at a lick near the Simpson River, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia

For more info
Also message me and I'll email you report "Absorption and Excretion by Mountain Goats of Minerals Found in Natural Licks" by Wayne McCrory, 1967

Posted on December 17, 2019 19:18 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Eating Dirt

Many hoofed animals use natural mineral licks in the spring and early summer. Most deer species prefer wet licks like the one near Settlers road. While bighorn sheep and mountain goats tend to use dry licks like the one at Mount Wardle in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia.

David Shackleton in his book Hoofed Mammals of British Columbia said "Mineral licks are important for ungulates. In western North America, licks are high in magnesium and calcium and to a lesser degree in sodium salts. Ungulates are thought to use licks to maintain mineral balance. This is especially important during spring because growing plants are rich in potassium, a mineral readily absorbed by ruminants. Their bodies respond to this by trying to eliminate excess potassium, but in the process also excrete magnesium which causes their normally low reserves of this element to drop to critical levels. Acute magnesium deficiency associate with eating lush vegetation is called grass tetany in domestic livestock, and may occur in wild species as well. By using natural licks, wild ruminants may be able to increase their magnesium intake and thus restore their reserves of this vital element. Calcium consumed at the same time is also valuable for milk production in lactating female, bone development in young growing animals and antler growth in deer"

So now you know why ungulates eat dirt!

Posted on December 17, 2019 19:34 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 24, 2019

Northern Pygmy Owl

As its name suggests, the Northern Pygmy Owl is Canada’s smallest owl, about the size of a pop can and weighs only 70 grams. But despite their small size, they are quite fierce, and will attack prey several times their own size. There are even cases where pygmy owls have killed domestic chickens. 

This tiny owl is active during the day. They prefer the edges of open coniferous forest or mixed woodlands and they regularly perch on tops of trees - so that is a good place to look for them. In a few months they will be “hooting” their high-pitched too-too-too territorial call and by April they will have sought out an old woodpecker cavities for nesting.

Posted on December 24, 2019 16:04 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment