Life around the storm ponds

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Back a few days ago, before the winter weather started to rear its ugly head, I wandered down to our neighbourhood storm pond to see what was happening where there was still some moisture to keep things going.

The grass was crunchy under my feet and all the flowers had long since packed it up for the season, pounded by the 30 degree days and six weeks without rain that we experienced through the late summer. However, the cattails around the pond looked happy and the pond itself was surprisingly full. As I walked down to the edge, I noticed several waxwings hawking insects over the water. Late in the season, a number of pond insects emerge and fly up into the air to mate, before laying their eggs back in the water. There were also a couple of warblers flitting in the willows. There are around 40 different species of warbler in Alberta, most of them summering up in the Boreal Forest but if we are lucky we see them during their spring and fall migration.

Out in the pond, there were little flotillas of ducks, some busy feeding and others just sitting around looking bored. I identified one family of mallards with the ducklings still quite small. I suspect that they were probably a second brood and that mother had somehow lost her first family. Hopefully, a late fall will give them time to get themselves big and strong enough for the long flight south for the winter.

Further out in the middle of the pond was a small huddle of ruddy ducks, easily identified by their perky tails that stick straight up like the rear mast of a sailing ship. The noisy red winged blackbirds that have filled the cattails all summer are gone, presumably bothering someone else with their raucous squabbling. Okotoks is well endowed with storm water ponds, from the large open ponds that serve Drake Landing and The Air Ranch right over to the narrow wandering waterways near the new Baseball Diamond along Secondary Highway 547.

Throughout the spring and summer, they are all full of life and a source of interest to dog walkers and birders alike. They attract large numbers of migrating water birds from tundra swans to sandpipers. A surprising number of ducks join the Canada geese to take on the challenges of city life and build their nests in and around the ponds.

While the invasion of goldfish is certainly posing a serious threat to the Sheep River, their presence in a number of the ponds has attracted a number of interesting fish eaters that we have not seen before. On our pond we regularly get an osprey, quartering his way over the water and then suddenly diving down to grab a goldfish in his talons. He is in competition with a heron that stalks around in the shallow water, periodically spearing a fish with his long beak.

I have seen the occasional kingfisher and earlier this year we had a cormorant that had abandoned the Bow River and popped over to see what was cooking. Birds are not the only creatures attracted to the ponds. Most of them are inhabited by several muskrat families and this time of the year you can usually see them busily swimming around gathering up fodder for the winter. Occasionally I see the tracks of mink along the banks and I am not sure whether they are here for the goldfish or more likely to dine on a nice fat muskrat.

I am not sure which Town planner decided to build these ponds but he has done us all a favour, not only protecting the Sheep from surges of dirty storm water but also providing a wonderful addition to the natural history of Okotoks.

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