Last weekend our lab took a retreat to Algonquin Provincial Park, the oldest and one of the largest (> 7,500 sq. km.) Provincial Park in Canada.  After a 4 hour drive North from Toronto and we arrived at the Wildlife Research Station where we stayed in a delightful cabin adjacent to a lake. The lake, however, was completely frozen over and there was still about 2 m of snow! So while technically spring had begun, it was still pretty wintery up there. We spend nearly all the daylight hours snowshoeing around and naturalizing—the land was not exactly bustling with life but nature, as always, did not disappoint. Here are some photos of what we found.

20140328-8This was the first animal we found when we stepped out into the snow. An amazing phenomena! In some places our footsteps were quickly stained black with these little creatures.

20140328-7They are commonly referred to as snow fleas (Hypogastrura sp.), but they are not fleas of course, but rather Collembola, a group of arthropods sister to insects. Like most Collembola, they rocket away when disturbed using a spring loaded appendage (hence the common name springtails) on the undersides of their body called a furcula. They can survive on the snow, an impossible feat for most arthropods, partially because of a completely unique antifreeze protein which has been studied quite extensively.

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Lichens flourish in the winter extremes—many tree branches are covered in communities of multiple species.

20140329-37Fungi are of course always presento too, especially the hardened fruiting bodies of shelf fungi.

20140329-32We all went snowshoeing out across a frozen lake. Here in the foreground is a stump with what I assume are longhorn beetle exit holes, plus there are some familiar large mammals in the background.

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We made our way into the forest where there was some more life around:

20140329-35like this adorable little patch of moss on a tree branch,

20140329-34and this friendly grey jay. In winter gray jays seek out humans knowing they are a good source of easy food.  The nuts we threw on the ground were quickly snatched up and hid away for later.

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I got pretty into photographing the textures of tree bark—a great source of biologically rich colors and shapes in landscapes that can otherwise seem somewhat bleak. This is a paper birch (Betula papyrifera).

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I am pretty sure this is a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum).

20140329-38These are the exposed buds of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides).

Along our travels we saw signs of several other vertebrates including huge excavations in tree trunks from one of my all time favorite birds, pileated woodpecker, the food debris piles of squirrels, and the scat of wolves and moose. It is a bit of a haunting experience walking through a forest where you known wolves are prowling…

20140331 boreal chickadeeFinally, I saw a new bird species that I was super excited about. I was not able to get a photo so I made a drawing instead. It’s a boreal chickadee!

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