SEASON’S SIGNATURES

from KJ Finley

The Bufflehead – Heerman’s Gull phenogram

bufflehead-phenogram-2016_2

Phenology is the root of natural history and our base instincts, if we are so attuned. How to predict when and where a biological event will occur, is essential to survival.

Phenology was the rage in Darwin’s time, but it has been all but expunged from our lexicon, as natural history became fragmented by disciplines. Recently it is enjoying a comeback, under the banner of citizen-science, in the new age of the Anthropocene.

Buffleheads (Bucephala albeloa) have been around for half a million years, since the late Pleistocene, and their predecessor B. fossilis, for two million years or so, since the late Pliocene. Along the way they took up an inextricable relationship with a desert, ground-feeding, ant-eating woodpecker. Like the Gilded Flicker or Gila Woodpeckers nesting in Saguarros and in soft Cottonwood Poplars along desert streams. These evolved into a Northern Flicker, strongly associated with the northern softwoods, especially aspen. These became our western red-shafted and eastern yellow shafted forms, split by Wisconsian ice sheets, and re-joined along the opening corridor following the “Yellowhead route” of the jetstreams.

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Bufflehead Arrivals 2015-16

submitted by KJ Finley
The latest phenological chart of autumn arrivals shows that the second wave was highest in magnitude, peaking on November 17th, concommitant with a spell of warm weather on the prairies, when the farmers were able to salvage a bit more of their crops, after an early snowfall. This “signature” contrasts sharply with last year’s early “El Nino” peak. Since my data were not plugged into a current meteorlogical model, I did not attempt to forecast this amplitude shift.
Winter has returned to Palliser’s Triangle with a broad dusting of snow along the hypotenuse, bringing welcome cover, and an isotopic  signature of its North Pacific origins.
Yesterday’s EOSDIS imagery reveals the trajectory of the jet stream and the cloud cover that defines the Triangle, with its artificial base on the 49th parallel. The northern wall of Trumplandia.
weather-1
The last clear image of Big Quill Lake, site of the Great Bufflehead Crash of Nov 4th 1940, was on November 18th, which shows it giving off vapour in “cloud streets” that follow the trajectory of the crash.
weather-2
From 1956 to 1991, when freeze-up observations were made at Big Quill Lake, the end of freeze-up averaged November 13th. With satellite records over the past five years, freeze-up has averaged November 24th (i.e. starting now).
2016
The Buffleheads have settled in for winter.