During my high school reunion, one of the Saturday activities available was a walking tour in the river valley. I thought I should see how much I didn’t know about my home town. The area where the center is located played an important role in my youth as it very close to where my parents had their business for almost 60 years. I spent a lot of time in the vicinity. The Helen Schuler Nature Center is in a nature reserve in the river valley of the Old Man River in Lethbridge, Alberta. The nature reserve has three unique ecosystems in this 196-acre park: the prairie, the coulees and the floodplain.
For those unfamiliar with the local terminology, coulees are the steep-sided, v-shaped valleys found along the river throughout Lethbridge. They were formed when the last glaciers retreated from the area. Since that time, the coulees have been eroded by water and wind and serve as a sanctuary for wildlife as well as home to hundreds of native plant species.
The center offers guided walking tours that are interesting and educational, with programs available for all ages. This was my very first visit to the Helen Schuler Nature Center and I learned a number of intriguing things. For example, I learned something about trees.
The Oldman River valley, from Brocket to Lethbridge, is unique. (These places are about 43 miles or 70 kilometers apart.) This is the only place in the world where these three species interbreed to produce hybrids! Hybrid forests support a wider variety of insect and bird species. In order to survive during times of drought, cottonwood trees can cut circulation to specific limbs, in order to conserve water. Those limbs die, but the tree is able to survive. Wow am I glad that people don’t have to do that! A mature female tree can produce up to 55 pounds of seeds each year. Considering that they are released in cotton fluff that weighs next to nothing and blows all over, you can imagine how much fluff is released each summer. If you live near cottonwoods, that fluff is almost everywhere.
I also learned that porcupines are abundant in the area, and that they spend a lot of time in those cottonwood trees. They are excellent climbers, using sharp, curved claws that easily grab into the course, rutted bark of the cottonwoods. Porcupines also have very course bristle-like hair on the underside of their tails. This helps to prevent the porcupines from slipping down as they are climbing as the bristles catch against the bark.
We didn’t see any porcupines, but this is what they look like. (photo from Wikipedia.)
The nature center surrounds the base of the High Level Bridge, which is a Lethbridge icon than never fails to draw appreciative comments from me – no matter how many times I see it! It is so beautiful. Some of my favorite photos showcase my newest obsession – rust.
Another fascinating tidbit that I have to share is my discovery that Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed plant, which happens to grow here. Butterfly picture courtesy of Monarch Butterfly website. (yes, these beauties have their own website.)
I had never seen a milkweed plant before, or perhaps never in bloom. Either way, I was taken with the beauty of the flowers.Here are my photos of the milkweed plant, a partly opened flower and an open bloom.
Isn’t this just incredible? And to think that the butterflies travel from Alberta to Mexico – talk about determination. Of course only the fourth generation of monarchs born in September and October make the trip, but check out their website for all the details.
I thought I had shared all the good things I learned but I forgot this fabulous caterpillar that I found. (I only wish I’d had my macro lens and SLR camera with me. I did some research and found his family info on the internet. I proudly present the caterpillar of the Spurge Hawkmoth. The moth is not that attractive, but I think this little bug is one of the most amazing things I have seen in weeks, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing things lately. How do you like him? (Actually not sure of how to determine sex on caterpillars, so forgive me if I’m wrong on that point.)
I hope you appreciate that I’ve spent hours doing the post for a nature walk that only lasted about 90 minutes. I really enjoyed it, perhaps you can tell?