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We are fortunate to enjoy extensive green spaces within Camrose and in particular along the Stoney Creek Valley. With this greenspace comes the opportunity to share it with an abundance of wildlife, enhance biodiversity, and give us wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities. In Camrose and area, 51 of the 91 species of Alberta’s mammals have been, or are currently found. Some of these mammals prefer open spaces, some heavily treed areas and others the area surrounding the Stoney Creek. Some reside here permanently and some reside seasonally while others simply use the corridor to pass through to neighbouring natural areas or during seasonal migration.
History and changes
Many of the larger mammals, such as bison, various species in the deer family and other furbearers were heavily harvested in the late 1800s and early 1900s to the extent that some of these species were extirpated from the Camrose area. A number of these species, such as deer, coyotes, and foxes have naturally recovered more quickly. Wolves are recovering at a slower rate. Some species, such as bison and grizzly bears, may never come back. One factor in this lack of recovery may be habitat destruction and fragmentation through urbanization and agricultural development. Another factor is the human perception that some species are threats or pests.
Wildlife Conservation and Management Issues
The most important component of wildlife conservation is education about animals. People need to know how wildlife operate, what they eat, and appreciate them for the exquisite creatures they are. Managing animals in an urban setting can be a hard balancing act between maintaining biodiversity and habitat, and “overabundant” and “problem” wildlife. Problem animals are rare, but there are other public concerns. These challenges can help us understand the natural world and how people fit into it. Having such lovely greenspaces and corridors in our community is not just about having trees and some birds, but that a host of animals call those spaces home.
Here are some of the mammals you can watch and listen for in your walks, skis, rides or drives in the valley and area surrounding Camrose.
Rodents – the most populous mammal
Rodents make up the largest percentage of the mammals with 19 species making their homes here. They all live here year-round, using various methods of hibernation (a den, burrow or nest) to overwinter. Some are active year-round. The most visible rodent includes the Richardson’s ground squirrel and beaver but the smaller rodents are the most successful in terms of sheer numbers. Watch and listen for rustles in the bushes and tracks in the snow to observe these smaller rodents. Rodents feed the majority of the local carnivores, such as foxes, coyotes, badgers, and other members of the weasel family.
Porcupines and Muskrats
The porcupine is very common in the Camrose area. It prefers mixed forest, wooded riparian areas and willow-edged wetlands. The porcupine’s claim to fame are its quills, numbering up to 30,000, which it uses as a defense against predators. The quills detach easily from the tail when an animal attacks. They expand when they come in contact with body heat, and become buried deep in the attacker’s flesh, causing festering, and may cause serious injury or sometimes death. The porcupine is a relatively docile, slow moving, solitary animal that is mostly nocturnal. It is strictly herbivorous, and likes the tender bark of young trees using its large incisor teeth to strip the bark. With their sharp claws and thick padded feet with sandpaper-like soles, porcupine are adept climbers. They will often remain in one tree, even sleeping there, until they have stripped all the bark on the tree. Porcupine also eat leaves, buds and twigs.
Another rodent particularly suited to the Stoney Creek Valley is the muskrat. You will find them in Mirror Lake. Although they look like a small beaver they are actually an aquatic vole. The muskrat is 46-62 cm long weighing 0.8 to 1.6 kg, with long, shiny, reddish to black guard hairs with a brownish-grey undercoat. The tail is long (20-28 cm), hairless with black scales and more whip-like than that of a beaver. The hind feet are webbed, and claws are long and strong. Its name comes from the musky smell emitted during breeding season. Muskrat houses are built entirely of herbaceous vegetation such as cattails and rushes and have underwater entrances. These homes are important not only to the muskrats, but they make great nesting platforms for waterfowl. A muskrat can remain underwater for up to 15 minutes and in tha time swim the length of a football field.
Porcupine – Ken Roberts photo
The Rabbit Family
Two members of the rabbit family call Camrose home. The first is the Snowshoe Hare which prefers forested and shrubby areas. In summer the Snowshoe Hare is a rusty brown colour over most of its back with black ear tips. Adult feet are white, while juvenile feet are grey. In winter the outer parts of the fur turn white. As their name suggests, these hare have large hind feet which allow them to easily cross soft snow. Their summer diet consists of grasses, herbaceous plants, and brush. In winter they eat mostly buds, twigs and bark of woody trees and shrubs, especially young aspen saplings. The abundance of Snowshoe Hares follows a ten-year cycle that mirrors the cycle of the hare’s main predators, the Canadian Lynx and coyote.
The White-tailed Jackrabbit is the largest and most commonly encountered hare in the Camrose area. They prefer open grasslands and meadows but will enter open woodlands in winter for shelter. They are usually solitary animal although in winter you can find up to 50 gathered together. They often use the same rest area from day to day which is a help in viewing them.
Snowshoe Hare in summer – Ken Roberts
Although they look like a long-nosed mouse, a shrew is not a rodent. Most shrews have pointy snouts and streamlined bodies and they move quickly with rapid jerky movements. Many species eat at least their body weight each day and are in constant search of food. They use echolocation to find their way quickly through the cover they live in. They use their long flexible snout and sensitive whiskers to forage through detritus in search of insects. Its venom can paralyze its prey for days, allowing it to keep a food cache. Shrew emit an unpleasant musk smell that deters many predators. All shrews are insectivores, eating a variety of invertebrates. They themselves are food for a variety of predators such as foxes, coyotes, weasel, owls and hawks. Camrose is home to the Masked, Artic, Prairie, Dusky, Pygmy, and Water Shrew.
Of the nine species of bats in Alberta, five are found in the Battle River Valley and Camrose area. They are all in the evening bat family, active at dusk and often again just before dawn. Most eat flying insects, mosquitos, moths, beetles, flies and true bugs. Most bats prefer forested areas with nearby open patches for foraging. However, due to deforestation for agricultural use and urbanization, most bat species in Alberta have adapted to using old buildings, parks and other unnatural yet appropriate habitats. The Little Brown Bat is the most common bat in Alberta. It is found in the Camrose area along with the Northern Long-eared, Big Brown, Hoary, and Silver-haired bats. We noticed bats spending the day in the Rotary Pavilion during construction, prior to installing the pine ceiling.
The foul-smelling spray of a skunk is what comes to mind when we think of a skunk. The skunk is an omnivore, eating a combination of animal products and vegetation. It feeds on insects, carrion, small mammals and birds, bird eggs, herptiles (reptiles and amphibians), green vegetation, fruits and berries. The skunk's only regular predator is the Great Horned Owl. The skunk's preferred habitat is streamside woodlands, hardwood groves, open grassland and valleys. They are, however, highly adaptable to human habitats.
Weasels are small predators with long slender bodies and necks with short legs. They feed on small mammals. The most common weasels in the Camrose area are the Short-tailed Weasel or Ermine and the Least Weasel. The Long-tailed Weasel is a species of concern and has also been found around Camrose. All three of these local weasels turn white in the winter and are efficient hunters.
Another member of the weasel family found occasionally in the Camrose area is the mink.
The mink is highly aquatic and always found in forested areas next to water. Its fur remains the same colour year-round and was highly prized for garments.
The American Badger is the largest member of the weasel family in the Camrose area. The badger is squat, with long, grizzled, yellow-grey hair on its sides. There is a prominent, thin stripe running from the nose over the head to the shoulders. The cheeks are white; black “badges” are placed between the whitish cheeks and the short, rounded furry ears. The front claws are long and used for digging. They live in large burrowed dens and feed primarily on burrowing animals.
The Red Fox is well established in the Stoney Creek Valley. It prefers an open habitat interspersed with bushed areas. Red Foxes are the size of a smaller dog with vivid rusty or reddish-orange fur and a white chest and belly. During summer they are largely nocturnal. They are most often seen in winter when they hunt in the open.
Coyotes are warier of humans than foxes and are generally not found directly in Camrose but rather just outside the city. The coyote is about the size of a medium-sized dog and is the fastest runner of the dog family, reaching speeds of 40-50 km/hr.
The number of Gray Wolf in Alberta, including the Dried Meat Lake area, has been recovering. They are the largest member of the dog family and can resemble a German Shepherd. They hunt in packs and primarily feed on members of the deer family.
The Canadian Lynx
The Canadian Lynx was common in the Camrose area until the 1930s. It has been sighted more recently around Camrose. It's primarily a solitary animal found in forested areas. The lynx is more than twice the size of a house cat. Its long legs and paws are used for the pursuit and ambush of prey (primarily Snowshoe Hare). The long silvery-grey fur with hints of darker stripes covers the entire cat, with a black ruff around the neck and a short stubby tail.
Deer and Moose
Three species from the deer family are present in the Camrose area. Mule Deer are common in the valley and throughout Camrose and White-tailed Deer and Moose are found in the area. The mule deer frequents open areas and is bold and conspicuous.
Their summer diet consists of grasses and herbaceous plants. In winter their diet is made up of twigs and woody vegetation. The Mule Deer gets its name from its large ears. It has a white rump with a black-tipped tail and changes colour from tan in summer to dark grey in winter. Males develop heavy upswept antlers that are equally branched. Their bouncing gate allows them to move quickly and safely across obstructions.
White-tailed deer are the most abundant deer in Alberta and are found within the city and in the area surrounding Camrose. They appear similar to Mule Deer although they don’t have the white rump patch and have smaller ears and the males have unbranched antlers. They get their name from their white tails. They are reddish-brown in summer and greyish brown in winter.
The moose is the largest of the deer family in Alberta. Although there are no moose currently in the Camrose corridor, there are a number in the surrounding area.
Historically they were quite abundant and have come back somewhat. The shoulder height of the moose is about two meters with long legs. The moose has a short neck, large bulbous nose, and humped shoulders with shovel-like antlers on males. The fur is dark-brown to black. Moose frequent stream-sides and bushy areas with abundant woody plants.
Moose – Kim Boyco photo
Ken Roberts and Kim Boyco are both long-time members of the Rotary Club of Camrose.
Darcy and Lea Polny - The Polnys are graduates of the Alberta University of Arts. They worked as graphic designers for many years as Groundwater Communications while raising their family and now spend time creating fine art. Darcy has written and published two children’s books and won seven international fine art competitions for his watercolours. Lea paints in acrylics and volunteers her design and marketing abilities to support the Bailey Theatre.
Four Seasons Environmental Centre material – prepared in 2007 – spearheaded by Ken Duncan; research and writing by Glen Hvenegaard, Chad Winger, Susanna Bruneau, and Kim Macklin.