I think I’ll forego the plants and mammals series I had planned, and instead share an occasional entry on the topic. Today’s photographs were taken near the same site as this photograph. I had returned to that area in early October to perhaps make similar photographs of the to-me intriguing palette of colours, but the leaves had not yet changed enough. While returning to the vehicle, I also decided to check an antler I noted the previous year in the nearby forest, and that’s when I stumbled upon this American red squirrel midden I had missed seeing before.
Despite frequenting a forest inhabited by American red squirrels when growing up, I don’t recall ever having encountered a squirrel midden before–if I had, certainly not one of this size. Constructed almost entirely of the cones and cone pieces of white spruce, this midden measured approximately 4m x 3m (13ft x 10ft), with a depth at the centre certainly exceeding 30cm (1ft.). It actually took me a minute or so to figure out the origin of this huge pile of cones (despite the obvious burrows), and I even recall looking up to see if the trees here were particularly laden with cones. Eventually, however, I was chided by the midden’s proprietor and the obvious was revealed to me.
As squirrels go, this one was relatively uninterested in scolding me for being nearby. Instead, it continued to gather more food for the winter. I had one opportunity to photograph the squirrel beside the midden, but it was too quick for me; the next chance to photograph the squirrel occurred a half-hour later, shared above with it showing off its cone-gathering skills.
Picea glauca, or white spruce, is native to northern North America, one of a only a few tree species native to every province and territory in Canada. Its range extends southwards into the northern USA (and is also found in Alaska). Other common names include Canadian spruce, skunk spruce, and cat spruce, the latter two names referring to the unpleasant odour often associated with the plants.
Rodent middens, when they include a diversity of plant species, are helpful for palaeoecologists to understand the changes in plant communities over time. A recent article: Diaz, FP. et al., 2011. Rodent middens reveal episodic, long-distance plant colonizations across the hyperarid Atacama Desert over the last 34,000 years. Journal of Biogeography. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02617.x .
And, using that as a segue from Jasper to the Atacama Desert, I also thought I’d share a link forwarded to me this weekend: (Nov. 15 edit: apparently the next link only works if you have a Google Account, but you can find the story online if you search for the article title) Desert in bloom: colors explode in Chile’s Atacama (additional photographs of the Atacama by Gerhard Hüdepohl).