Nature Notes for Mount Macpherson Trails
We share the Mount Macpherson trails with many other creatures. Keeping an eye on the snow, I almost always see tracks of snowshoe hare, marten, and coyote. I frequently see tracks of moose, squirrel, and once, tracks of a wolverine.
The smallest track maker is the shrew, the world’s smallest mammal. I would not be able to discern these tiny tracks other than when I get to watch them run along the trail or over my skis. Shrews are dark grey, about the size of a ping pong ball, with a pointy nose. They spend most of the winter under the snow eating insects, larvae, and seeds.
I often see spiders on the snow. Most insects would freeze solid at temperatures below zero, but these particular spiders have the ability to make a glycol-based antifreeze, like that in your car’s radiator, to replace the water that would normally be found in their cells. However, minus four degrees Celsius is their limit. Before the temperature drops to minus four, the spiders return to beneath the snow pack via the openings created by trees. The insulating nature of snow keeps the temperatures at ground level close to zero.
Due to a bumper cone crop this summer, we are being visited this winter by flocks of tree-seed eating birds, mostly redpolls. There was a record number of these birds this year on the local Christmas Bird Count. Before New Year’s Day some flocks seen along our trails had hundreds of individuals. Most of them have moved on now, but you can still see some places where the remaining birds have fed marked by the litter of tree seeds on the snow. Cedar and birch seeds seem the preferred food.
Not as numerous, but with us every year, are the chickadees, nuthatches, and kinglets, which can be heard chirping in the higher branches. They can often be detected if you wait quietly. If you want to be able to identify what you are hearing, the Friends of Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier sell a CD of local bird sounds.
Again during Christmas week, the ravens were busy vocalizing and flying back and forth from somewhere to the south of the trail system. Likely, there is a carcass that they are eating. A common scenario in a heavy snowfall winter such as this one is that a moose may be walking on the highway at night because its easier traveling . It is struck by a vehicle and then limps a distance into the bush where it perishes from the injury, thus providing a bonanza for scavengers; ravens, jays, coyotes, marten, wolverines, weasels, and other smaller creatures.