September 2002

Upper Kananaskis Lake - Click to Learn More


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September is viewed as a slow time in the Rockies. The kids are back at school and the tourism traffic slows. Look behind the scenes though, and youíll see a flurry of activity. This is a frenzied time as animals try to put on a few more pounds before the first snows make feeding more difficult. Squirrels are rapidly storing cones and other food sources. Bears are beginning to look to roots and tubers as a source of high quality nutrition. The same plants that are being sought out as food sources are also storing the last bits of energy in their roots. In the case of tuber forming plants, this will form the basis of their early season energy next spring. The leaves of the aspen and poplar, along with the needles of the alpine larch are also beginning to change. The mountains only look quiet. September brings a sense of urgency that speeds up the preparation for winter.

Animal Clocks

Thereís never enough time! You rush about, scurrying to finish this task and tackle that chore, but you never seem to get everything finished. The good news is that youíre not alone. Time is the ruler by which we are all measured, including every plant, animal and bird that shares the mountain landscape with us. We measure time in days and weeks, but in the more natural sense, these arbitrary measurements mean little. Photoperiod, or the length of time that it is dark out, forms a key ecological time measurement. As the days get shorter, and the nights stretch out, many processes are triggered. These include the onset of fall colours, the changing colour of hares, weasels and ptarmigan, and even the onset of migration. Click to learn more

Fall Colours

Bring on the fall colours. Are you ready for a change? Thereís something about September that makes us yearn for the changing palette of autumn. Sure, itís always too short lived, but before long, the aspen and poplars begin to show signs of the golden colour hidden beneath the summer green. The fireweeds begin to turn a fiery red, and the alpine larch adds a splash of colour at treeline. This annual metamorphosis is an integral part of the plants preparation for winter. The green pigment, chlorophyll masks the reds and yellows during the summer growing season. With the onset of autumn, chlorophyll is no longer produced and these hidden pigments take centre stage. At the same time, a specialized layer of cells form at the base of the leaf. This weakens the leafís connection to the tree, making it easier to break loose. Itís only a matter of time before the leaf separates from the tree and falls to the ground. By this time, that special cell layer has already healed the scar. Click to learn more

Winter Coats

Colour change is not limited to the plant world. If you look carefully, the mountains are full of changing coats. The short-tailed weasel (ermine), long-tailed weasel and the least weasel, all trade in their summer coats for white. These white coats have been prized by trappers. Personally, I prefer how they look when still worn by the weasel! While these predators are turning coat, so are three important prey animals, the snowshoe hare and the white-tail and willow ptarmigan. Winter is a fickle season and it may come early one year and late the next. If an animalís timing is off, it may find itself with a snow-white coat that stands out starkly against the brown backdrop of autumn. Unfortunately for these individuals, they tend to attract a little too much attention. Timing is everything.

All material copyright Ward Cameron 2002