April 10, 2015

Fauna and Flora of the Prairies: Cows Included!

Last time I told you some stories about my time working on the Mattheis Ranch, in light of the conservation easement that was signed with Western Sky Land Trust. I shared a few pictures of some spectacular lightning strikes and some pretty prairie scenery, but this time I want to share some more of the flora and fauna I seen and couldn't resist capturing on digital film--when I happened to have the camera handy of course!

I failed to mention, though, that the Mattheis ranch had cattle. Yes, it certainly had cattle, because what would a ranch be without some animals, if not more traditionally some cows and calves?

There were two different herds on the ranch, and neither were owned by the University of Alberta, unlike the cattle on the Kinsella Research Ranch. The first herd I seen were of commercial Herefords with some Red Angus (a few black baldies too) and I think some Limousin or Simmental thrown in the woodpile somewhere, but not a whole lot of it. When I first came to the ranch the Hereford herd had cows that were still calving, and there were some cute little calves to see, like the one above and these two hooligans below.

No, these two rascals weren't supposed to be on the other side of the fence, but calves are notoriously curious, like these two, and its hard for even a rancher to get mad at them when you look at those faces!

The second herd was dominantly Angus. Nothing but black cows--with the occasional baldie--for as far as the pasture was big. One old girl did a pose for me.

These were actually a little more tamer and friendlier than the Hereford herds. One of my colleagues, who was another research assistant I was regularly partnered with, had zip zero clue or experience with cows, and of course being less than ten feet away from a full grown, 1200 pound black beef cow was certainly quite intimidating to her, especially when they were coming in from all sides thinking she had a treat or they were going to go out to fresh pasture, and she was on the short list for having to be the gate-opener. So, to her the cows were being a bit too friendly! I pretty much had to be the one to "guard" her and keep the cows back whilst helping her with the gate, and keep her calm too because she seemed to be (to me, anyway) on the verge of a nervous break-down in the midst of these large, lumbering beasts.

It never fails to amaze me how people can be easily intimidated by these animals. Growing up with cattle and being around these critters all my life, what is completely normal for me is a new and scary experience for someone who's never lived on a farm all their lives. And yet, I can understand their level of fear, seeing as I was the one who had been charged at by a steer when I was just a little girl, and had the daylights scared out of me when a Charolais bull decided to break free from his enclosure, also when I was very young. (Some time I'll expand more on these stories, and more, if I remember to do so!)

But now let's see some wildlife!

First, some Pronghorn antelope. Not true antelope, but the last remaining ungulates that are the fastest land mammals in North America, and had these speeds to out-run a now-extinct North American cheetah that was similar to the modern cheetah of Africa. To put it right, these pronghorn are almost like Africa's gazelles, except they're faster. And have no cheetah to fear, just wolves, bears, the occasional lion, and of course humans.

And later on in the season (about mid-June), I just popped over a veg sand dune and saw three pronghorn, which I'm glad I had my camera along for.

I also happened to see some deer on the ranch. Six bucks, with some nice racks (they were mule deer), and they still had their velvet on. Unfortunately, they were too fast for me to get my camera out in time. I did happen across a couple of sheds from one or two bucks. I've heard that the ranch also sees its fair share of moose and elk, but no luck in seeing them for me. No luck either in seeing any pronghorn babies, although several times some colleagues happened across one hiding in the grass. 

There were also a multitude of species of birds, and for all you bird lovers out there, have I got a host of pictures for you!

I'll start you off with the best picture I could get of a harrier. 

Some shovellers:

A yellow-headed blackbird just landing on a cattail:

Shoveller male and female pair:

Pair of Canada geese flying over:

Pintail duck showing the underside of its wings:

Two male shovellers having a bit of an argument over breeding rights:

Teal duck pair:

Beautiful mirror effects of a teal duck stretching its wings and the ripples it leaves after:

Female red-winged blackbird sitting on a fence post:

Black-necked sandpiper was chirping at me when I snapped these couple photos of him (or her):

A few shots of some yellow-headed black bird. The bird in the foreground of the second photo below is a female.

American coot making waves in the smooth water:

Killdeer watching both me and doing some foraging around the shores of the wetlands.

Pheasant (male) running like the Looney Toon's roadrunner! Those game birds can sure run! They actually are not native to Alberta, but they're wild and living on the ranch. They aren't posing a threat as an invasive species because their numbers are naturally managed by predators like coyotes, hawks, foxes, and owls. We tended to hear a lot more of them than actually see them.

An avocet standing in one of the salt marshes on the ranch.

Some sandpipers foraging for insects and other bugs.

Lovely sage grouse we were able to catch with our lenses. She was in the same area as where we commonly seen the pronghorn.

More to come!
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