I had my first 2015 visit to the Opal Natural Area on Thursday, a favorite area of mine due to the diverse habitats: jack pine forest with open areas of kinnikinnick and reindeer moss, groves of aspen, a few ponds and black spruce fens. A forest fire swept through the area in
2008 2010, and it has been interesting following the ‘rebirth’ of this area over the last few years.
What I was expecting to find on this morning trip was Prairie Crocus, and I was not disappointed. I could see clusters of still unopened blooms scattered across open areas, among the golden grass and the green leaves of kinnikinnick. Most were still on the shady side of a sandy ridge, ready to open when the sun was higher overhead.
Moving to the crest of the ridge, I can look out over the pond to the black spruce fen, just visible in the background of the trees.
As the day warmed up, the first insects I came across were juvenile Speckled Rangeland Grasshoppers (Arphia conspersa) that overwinter in the active stage. I captured two and photographed them on the new ultra-portable MYN rig that I developed over winter. Before, all my white background images were taken in a plain white bowl or tray, however, the MYN style differs by actually lighting the white background from behind, creating a bright white backdrop that eliminates all shadows. I’ll share information on the rig later, as this first field test showed that changes will be needed.
Immediately after photographing the grasshoppers I noticed a lot of activity along the edge of the trail ahead of me. Many small bees were flying very low to the ground. Occasionally a mating pair would land, and there would be a scuffle of bees in the vicinity as other males scrambled to join in. They were always actively moving, so I had to settle with only photographing the mating pairs.
I observed one or two bees entering holes at the path edge, but they would emerge again very quickly. I searched carefully to see if I could find any bees just beginning to emerge for the first time, but to no avail.
Other bugs were also present. A large metallic blue wasp was exploring the trail edge but would not let me get near. Not long after a fresh-looking tiger beetle flew off just as I spotted it, not to be found again. Surprisingly, not a single butterfly was seen. However, in the heat of the day (about +13 C), returning to the car, the sun on the sandy ridge did make the sleepy crocus blooms open, providing a pleasing end to the day.
The Opal Natural Area suffers from the fault of many Alberta ‘protected’ areas, in that damage by ATVs as well as litter and scattered shotgun casings show how limited the protection really.
Added to this is the nearby mineral extraction plant that drones on throughout the day, but otherwise this area is a still a special place to visit for naturalists living in the Edmonton area.