Okanagan Nature Nut: What good are mosquitos?

Ugh!! Mosquitoes! Hordes of them, buzzing in your ear and biting incessantly are a maddening nuisance. Not to mention the devastating health impacts caused by malaria, Zika and West Nile viruses, and other pathogens they can spread.

We typically view mosquitoes as bloodsuckers that do nothing but make our lives miserable. They actually pierce not bite, and fortunately it’s only the females that seek our blood to nourish their eggs. However, mosquitoes do have important ecological functions in our ecosystem that are overlooked. It revolves around their interactions with plants and wildlife. There are about 3,500 mosquito species, and many do not bite humans or any other animal.

Mosquitoes are important pollinators and wildlife food. They pollinate plants while consuming the sugar and nutrients of plant nectar. In high elevations and in the Arctic, plants benefit from the vast hordes of nectar-hungry mosquitoes for pollination during their short growing season.

Mosquito pollination is far more common than we realize. It’s hard to see since mosquitoes usually visit flowers near or after dusk and human presence disturbs mosquitoes from nearby flowers. So, nutrient-cycling by mosquitoes for plant growth and other ecosystem functions remains unstudied.

And mosquitoes are important in the natural food chain. Mosquito larvae consume microorganisms such as algae and microbes that decompose decaying plant material. Baby fish (minnows) and adults gobble up wriggling larvae. Then birds, bats, frogs and other insects eat the remaining flying adult mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that are eaten and excreted then decompose, turning the microbes they consumed into nutrients for plants, completing another important ecological function.

Mosquito larvae survive in freshwater habitats from temporary snow-melt pools to ponds and lakes, wherever water collects such as in bird baths, discarded cans, bottles, tires and even the insides of pitcher plants and between the leaves of rainforest plants.

Indiscriminate mass elimination of mosquitoes would impact everything from pollination to natural food webs. In a world of collapsing ecosystems and declining pollinator populations, we need all of the help we can get. This includes acknowledging the secret lives of mosquitoes and more sophisticated mosquito control strategies that protect their ecosystem functions.

So, we can help by taking personal responsibility to avoid mosquitos by wearing loose clothing, using nontoxic insect repellents and avoiding scented soaps, shampoos, etc. when in mosquito infested areas. Also not overwatering lawns, screening rain barrels and tidying up or disposing of water-collecting garbage and junk around our homes and recreation areas.

Does this make you happier? Are you willing to help the mosquitoes?

Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook.

Part 2 on the ‘fascinating night guardians’

The Okanagan’s low to mid elevation ecosystems have the greatest variety and population of bats in all of Canada because of its warm climate and diversity of terrain. Our warm summer nights allow young bats to fatten up while insect prey is abundant before hibernation.

Of the 15 B.C. bat species, these 14 species live in the Okanagan (*endangered or threatened):

· big brown bat (rptesicus fuscus)

· hoary bat (lasiurus cinereus)

· silver-haired bat (lasionycteris noctivagans)

· Yuma myotis (myotis yumanensis)

· Californian myotis (myotis californicus)

· little brown myotis (myotis lucifugus)

· long-legged myotis (myotis volans)

· Townsend’s big-eared bat * (corynorhinus townsendii a.k.a. plecotus townsendii)

· western long-eared myotis (myotis evotis)

· fringed myotis * (myotis thysanodes)

· western red bat (lasiurus blossevillii)

· spotted bat * (euderma maculatum)

· western small-footed myotis (myotis ciliolabrum)

· pallid bat * (antrozous pallidus)

Myotis means mouse-eared and these are our smaller, brown fur bats.

Bats are ecologically important for controlling insect populations. Yet despite their importance to our ecosystems, there’s more misinformation than fact, and more fear than respect for these fascinating night guardians. We need to appreciate them.

Here’s some amazing bat facts:

– Even though bats look like flying mice, they are more closely related to humans than they are to rodents.

– Bats are the longest living (20-40 years) and slowest reproducing small mammals on Earth.

– Like humans, young bats loose their baby, or milk, teeth before their adult teeth grow in.

– Bats are very clean animals, and groom themselves almost constantly (when not eating or sleeping).

– Our bats have small eyes but are not blind. Their eyesight is good and they have excellent echolocation so they do not become entangled in human hair.

– A single little brown myotis can eat up to 600 mosquitoes/hour. And a nursing mother can eat more than her body weight nightly (up to 4,500 insects).

– Little brown myotis heart rate reduces to 10 beats/minute (from 100-200 beats/min resting or 1,000 beats/min flying) and can take one breath/hr while hibernating.

– Our bats can squeeze into tiny crevices like behind pieces of bark to roost.

– Bat droppings (guano) in caves support whole ecosystems of unique organisms including bacteria useful in detoxifying wastes, improving detergents, and producing gasohol and antibiotics.

– The pallid bat is immune to the stings of the scorpions and centipedes upon which it feeds.

– Moths sometimes plummet to the ground when they hear the echolocation calls of bats in an attempt to escape.

If you’re curious about bats read Bats of British Columbia by David Nagorsen et al, 2022. This totally updated book is full of interesting information with numerous amazing colour photos throughout of bats close up and in action, and describes each bat species. Our library has it.

If you have bats check out bcbats.ca for details on safely removing bats from your house and properly placing bat boxes for them to move into. They’ll keep mosquitoes down in your yard. Bat houses provide places for roosting and raising young, replacing the dwindling natural sites available to them. Installing bat houses can help build valuable bat species populations that eat crop and forest damaging insects.

Watching bats

On hot summer days: roosting under eaves or bridges, in crevices in cliffs, trees, buildings, in umbrellas and shrubs.

At dusk: catching insects above lakes, ponds, large puddles, slow moving creeks and rivers.

Leaving bat boxes and maternity colonies alone.

Major threats to bats

Habitat destruction – especially forests, wetlands and wildlife trees (snags).

Vehicle collisions, domestic cats, pesticides, night sound pollution (road traffic, mining, etc), bat exterminations, wind turbines, solid mine closures, disease (white-nose syndrome), and now climate change.

Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook.

Okanagan Nature Nut Narrows in on Bats

It’s bat season in B.C. They’ve migrated back to B.C. or left their hibernaculas to forage for insects. Most females have babies now.

There are more than 1,400 known bat species worldwide (most in tropical and subtropical areas) living on every continent (except Antarctica) in every type of habitat from desert to forest. That’s just about a quarter of all mammal species.

The largest fruit-eating bats (also known as flying foxes) of Asia, Africa and Australia are the size of cats with two meter wingspans. The world’s smallest mammal is the rare bumblebee bat of Thailand which weighs about as much as a dime.

Our B.C. bats are all insectivores and some of the smallest bats in the world. Most of these bats would fit in the palm of your hand and weigh about seven loonies. They use echolocation to find and catch flying insects and occasionally glean other invertebrates like spiders, scorpions, millipedes, etc. The little brown myotis is B.C.’s most common and well-studied urban bat.

Bats are the only group of flying mammals and are strictly nocturnal foraging for food at night.

Their order name chiroptera means hand-wing.

Their amazingly strong wings are double-layered thin membranes of durable skin stretched from their arms, hands and elongated fingers down across their legs and to the tail. They can hover, fly fast and remarkably manoeuvre. A clawed thumb, at the top of each wing, helps bats climb up trees, cliffs, walls, etc. Bats’ legs, knees and feet with long clawed toes are backwards for hanging upside-down, grooming, and along with the tail, supports flight and catching flying prey and young when born.

While flying, bats emit multiple quick, high-frequency, ultrasonic echolocation pulses of air to zero onto insects and navigate at night. The airwaves hit the insect and echo back. They speed up their pulses as they close in on their prey. To understand this – hold your hand a few inches from your mouth and say “P.” You can feel the air pulse, but can’t hear the echo.

Bats big ears help hear sounds such as the echoes of their pulses, fluttering of moth wings, movement of insects in air or on vegetation, and other bats. So how do bats catch flying insects when their hands are wings? They swiftly scoop them up with their tail membrane or a wing into their mouth, bite, then chew quickly. Sometimes this causes them to tumble down for a bit.

Like bears, in our temperate climate bats may hibernate for more than seven months if left undisturbed. Their normal 38C body temperature can drop to a few degrees above zero. They arouse a few times during hibernation to stretch and move, but can starve if awakened too many times during the winter causing them to lose insulating fat before spring. Their brown body fat keeps them from freezing and they use it to warm their bodies up in about 30 minutes.

Adult females over one year old mate in the fall and store sperm in their uterus while hibernating, then fly off to maternity colonies with other females in spring. Gestation is 7-10 weeks. Most of our bats give birth in June or July to only a single pup.

Baby bats are born helpless, furless and blind, but are big – about 30 per cent mom’s size, and they grow rapidly. Mom nurses her baby who holds on while she’s roosting. No dads are around. There’s a huge mortality rate among weaned young making bats very vulnerable to extinction. Insecticide use is especially harmful to bats.

You can watch bats in action and help with the provincial count at two local events this week. Allan Brooks Nature Centre hosts a limited bat workshop and count Thursday, 7-10 p.m., sign up at abnc.ca. Fintry Provincial Park is also hosting a bat count Saturday, June 11, 8-10:15 p.m., contact [email protected]

Or if you have bats on your property, count them and call 1-855-922-2287 or visit bcbats.ca.

Participants help count bats as they fly out of their roost for the night to hunt insects. The data collected is used for bat conservation.

Part 2 with amazing bat facts coming soon.

Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook.

Fewer butterflies colour the Okanagan

They are some of the most delightfully coloured signs of spring. Some people say butterflies are like flying flowers.

These important pollinators live in almost every habitat from wetlands and bogs, to woodlands and forests, grasslands and meadows, and even deserts and mountains. Butterflies flow through four different interesting metamorphic stages from egg, to caterpillar (larvae), to chrysalis (pupae) and finally adult butterfly. Different species have different timelines to these stages. Some species can remain dormant in their pupal or egg stages to survive winters while other butterflies migrate.

Female butterflies lay eggs on specific food plants on which their caterpillar larvae will feed. Some species lay eggs singly, others in batches. Many females produce between one hundred to two hundred eggs.

Then, in their larval caterpillar stage they grow spending practically all of their time searching for and eating plant leaves.

Many species have long caterpillar life stages. Some are especially lovely and interesting. Many caterpillars defend themselves by camouflaging or freezing to resemble sticks or branches.

Some rear up waving their front ends with snake-like eyespots. Other caterpillars resemble bird droppings.

And some caterpillars have hairs and bristles for protection while others form dense aggregations. Caterpillars are most baby birds first foods, so please don’t poison them!Once fully developed, the caterpillar pupates into a chrysalis. When metamorphosis is complete, the pupal skin splits, the adult climbs out, and after its wings have expanded and dried, it flies off as a butterfly. Butterflies in their adult stage can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species.

Butterflies suck up flower nectar through their elongated tubular proboscis mouthpart that can be coiled up when not in use and expanded when needed to feed by sucking or sipping. Flower nectar provides sugars for energy. Butterflies don’t carry as much pollen load as bees, but they can carry pollen over greater distances. Many species maintain territories and actively chase other species or individuals that may stray into them. Butterflies also sip water, salty liquids and dissolved minerals from wet sand or dirt which are vital for reproduction. Occasionally butterflies land on people, attracted to the salt in human sweat.

Butterfly wings are covered in minute irreplaceable scales that create the wings’ vibrant colours and markings. These scales can easily rub off. So never pick up a butterfly by its delicate wings. Butterflies can only fly when their body temperature is above 27 °C. When it is cool, they expose their wings to the sunlight to heat themselves up. Basking is common in the cooler summer morning hours. Most early spring and alpine species have dark wings to help gather more heat. If their body temperature reaches 40 °C, they can position themselves with folded wings edgewise to the sun.

When resting, butterflies usually fold up their four wings holding them up above their bodies displaying their cryptic-colour wing undersides to safely camouflage. Butterflies are diurnal with club-tipped antennas with sensory receptors that detect odours and feel wind. (Their subtle coloured moth cousins are nocturnal with feathery antennas.) Taste receptors are located on their feet. Butterflies have good colour vision and most are sensitive to ultraviolet light. Some butterflies can hear and some species make clicking sounds.

There are over 18,000 species worldwide with about 750 different butterflies in North America. The trick to identifying butterflies is to learn the basic different groups by their size, wing shape, colour and markings. The family names often resemble their characteristics; Swallow Tails, Whites, Sulphurs, Coppers, Blues, Crescents, Checkerspots, Anglewings, Hairstreaks, Skippers and more. Get to know some of the common butterflies in your area and how to attract them to your yard. If you’d like to help endangered species, this is a great place to start!

Declining butterfly populations is consistent with the rapidly decreasing insect populations around the world right now. Many butterfly habitats are being destroyed by urban and industrial development. And butterflies, their caterpillars, and food sources are being poisoned with insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, etc.

Their natural predators include ants, spiders, wasps and birds.

Our outstanding local entomologist, Ward Strong says, “The main thing about butterflies I’ve noticed over the last 25 years is the huge decline in both numbers and species. We still commonly see swallowtails, mourning cloaks, and blues, but rarely find checkerspots, coppers, anglewings, fritillaries, etc and more.” How sad! But we can reverse this trend if we want. You can help them by simply establishing habitat in your own backyard!

Attract our native butterflies into your yard by growing the appropriate native plants for their food and shelter. Certain plants have evolved and co-exist with our native butterflies. The Allan Brooks Nature Centre has a handy checklist of North Okanagan butterflies with their habitats and appearance months. They also have Milkweed seeds vital for Monarchs. Join the Butterflies in My Backyard (BIMBY) project at davidsuzuki.org/bimby

And we are so fortunate to have a marvellously useful field guide, Butterflies of British Columbia, by award-winning science writer and naturalist John Acorn. It includes very handy quick-at-a-glance references to B.C.’s butterfly groups with spectacular illustrations, dazzling colour photos, distinguishing butterfly features, geographic ranges, behaviour and preferred food plants. Our library has copies to help get you started.

Some of our common local butterflies:

•Mourning Cloaks – often first seen spring butterflies

•Western Spring Azure – our first “blue” to flutter around

•Pine White

•Western Tiger Swallowtail – often mistaken for Monarchs. Swallowtails have yellow and black wings with a “tail” sticking out from each wing.

•Painted Lady – migrate over long distances

•Red Admiral

•Clouded Sulphur – common yellow butterflies – maybe the origin of “butterfly”

•Desert Orange Tip – chrysalis for several years

 

Roseanne Van Ee

Get Outdoors! And mingle with the microbes

Microbes are amazing! Too small to see with the naked eye, they are nature’s life forms observed through a microscope.

Throughout human history, we never knew that microbes (short for microorganisms) existed until quite recently.

There’s microscopic animals, plants, fungi, viruses, protists, archaea and unfathomable amounts of bacteria species. Their only signs were through fermentation, decomposition, illness or damage.

We tend to call them germs or bugs. But learning about them changes both our view of nature and our sense of how we survive with them.

These minuscule creatures invented life, so as a result they exist with every living thing. They are the natural essence of life in soil, water, plants, animals including us, even in rain and more!

They began and evolved life on Earth and are still evolving.

Everything alive has a microbiome or multiple microbiomes (a biome is a group of organisms living in a similar place such as a tropical rainforest, arctic tundra, Okanagan Valley, etc. and in each of us). All life is connected by microorganisms.

And microbes link the living/biotic organisms and nonliving/abiotic parts of biomes.

How much do you know about the essential, integral and amazing organisms that rule life on Earth? And I don’t mean humans! It’s the innumerable minute things that really count.

We’re a walking community of microbes as are all other animals.

Plants, soil, water and air have microbe communities too. There are exceedingly more microbiotic organisms than all other life species on Earth.

Couples, families and even communities share their microbes from shed skin cells, hair, breath, coughs, sneezes and even farts. This is our aura composed of millions of microscopic particles.

And we are connected to everything by microbial life. They are in and all around us. We hardly perceive the connections, yet we depend on them constantly.

Mitochondria archaea – the remnants of ancient bacteria inside our cells – coverts the oxygen we breathe into energy. We exhale CO2 – the byproduct of burning that oxygen. Plants take in CO2 and through photosynthesis exhale oxygen.

What an amazing cycle of life on Earth! Other microbes inside us break down and deliver nutrients, provide defences against pathogenic microbes, boost our immune system and clean us out.

Seventy per cent of Earth’s surface is water and 15 per cent is barren land. The remaining 10 per cent is soil that sustains plants and land animals.

Soil is alive with microbes. It’s composed of living and dying organisms especially microbes – that’s the smell of soil.

Without microbes, soil is sand, clay, silt or rock. Soil is loaded with microbes! One handful of soil contains 50-100 times more microorganisms than people on Earth. And it’s a complex food web decomposing material from the surface and in ground and feeding each other.

Guess what happens when we use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.–the nemesis of conventional industrial farming vs. organic farming.

We need to be careful not to disrupt the macrobiotic partnerships.

Panda or Polar Bear extinction may not destroy us, but loss of a foundational microbe in the soil could ruin our lives.

The water cycle moves microscopic bits of pollution through warer, air and soil. But we rely on clean air and water for our health, so we must understand the connections between what we do and how it affects our environment including all the microorganisms we can’t see.

My favourite microbe books are: Microbia by Eugenia Bone and Gut Garden by Katie Brosnan. Our library has both.

Greek lesson: Micro means small, bio means life.

Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook.

Get Outdoors! And build brown fat

Get Outdoors

Did you know that people have brown fat? I didn’t — until recently. I knew that bears, squirrels, winter birds and other wildlife do to survive the cold — but people?

Brown fat (AKA brown adipose tissue) helps maintain your body temperature when you get too cold. It’s the same fat that bears have to stay warm when they hibernate and then gives them energy to rewarm out of hibernation. Brown fat works the same way for mammals, like squirrels, that go into torpor (a mini-hibernation) when it’s dangerously cold.

Brown fat acts as a built-in heater. Human babies are born with brown fat on their upper backs. You lose most of it as you get older and then form a shiver response to cold temperatures. Although you lose most of your brown fat as you grow, you may hold on to some of it. Some adults have small amounts of brown fat around the shoulders, neck, collarbone, kidneys and spinal cord. Lean people typically have more brown fat than overweight people. Women also tend to have more than men.

You also have another type of fat — white fat which is different. White fat builds up when you take in extra calories storing it to use when you don’t get enough energy from food. It’s made of big droplets of lipids, or fatty acids. Most of the fat in your body is white fat; typically stored in your thighs, hips and waistline. Too much white fat in your belly can raise your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

But, cells in brown fat are packed with iron-rich mitochondria giving brown fat its colour. They take in nutrients like sugar and white fat and break them down to make energy. Brown fat stores more energy in a smaller space than white fat does. When your body gets cold it signals the mitochondria to start churning out energy. This creates the warmth that helps you maintain your body temperature. It creates heat without shivering and burns calories. Brown fat may decrease obesity and some metabolic problems.

All people have some “constitutive” brown fat which they’re born with. There’s also “recruitable” brown fat formed under the right circumstances. Here’s how:

Turn the temperature down and go for winter walks

Exposing yourself to cool and even cold temperatures may help recruit brown fat. Just two hours of exposure each day to temperatures around 19 degrees Celsius may be enough to gain recruitable brown fat. Consider taking a cold shower or bath. During winter, turn the thermostat down a few degrees in your home and go outside in cold weather to cool down.

Eat well

Brown fat burns calories and helps you stay leaner and healthier. A well-balanced diet of healthy unprocessed foods certainly helps too.

Exercise

Exercise may signal hormones that create brown fat. Exercise fights obesity, keeps the cardiovascular system running strong and has so many other health benefits. Do a minimum of one of the following every week:

• 150 minutes of moderate activity, such as walking

• 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as cross country skiing

Sleep Naked

So they say. Keeping cool at night helps recruit brown fat.

Brown fat research

Researchers know that brown fat burns calories and may help control blood sugar, improve insulin levels and may also help remove fats from blood. Most brown fat studies have been done on mice. More research is needed on people.

Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook

Get Outdoors!: and get tracking

Mouse tracks cross Snowshoe Hare tracks. (Roseanne Van Ee photo)Tracking is an exciting and marvellous way to discover wildlife in their natural environment.

And snow is ideal for tracking; a record is impressed wherever wildlife move, hunt, feed, rest or sleep. Snow also reveals and highlights wildlife signs such as climbing scars, rubs and scratches on trees.

Look for scent-marks (pee), scats (poop) and feeding signs like clipped conifer cones, gnawed seeds and nipped-off vegetation. These are all tracking signs.

Tracking is primarily following footprints in a line. They reveal how slow or fast an animal is travelling, what it’s doing or thinking and where it’s going and why.

Just remember: wildlife find their own food, water, shelter and need space; that’s what makes them wild.

Experience the wild winter wonderland, and observe and inspect wildlife signs while snowshoeing. February is the best time to track as the winter days warm and lengthen.

By then the snow is usually nicely settled for easier snowshoeing and new snowfalls show off tracks clearly. Fluffy or melting snow distorts tracks.

Most wildlife avoids deep, fluffy snow that’s too difficult to travel through.

Like us, wildlife prefers to follow pathways making travel much easier.

Head up to Silver Star or Sovereign’s trails for great tracking experiences and see if you can identify the wildlife tracks. Morning treks might reveal a host of nocturnal travellers.

For help, ask a naturalist, hunter or nature-loving friend about wildlife in the area. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a book, pamphlet or website featuring the wildlife.

Check the library or online for a good winter wildlife field guide. Write a list of wildlife for the area. This helps keep it fresh in your mind and a quick reference.

Then head out to explore and watch for signs. A whole new world of discovery will open up to you. Find something you want a photograph? Place your hand, finger or a coin next to the track, scat or sign to show its size.

Stop, look and listen. Move slowly and keep your eyes open, ears cocked and even sniff. Notice disturbances like digs and holes in the snow or feeding signs.

Listen for branches snapping, scratching or anything unusual.

Look up, down and under, then take a closer look. Slow down and double-check. Be curious. When you see a sign, ask: What is this? What happened here? What could it be? Why? Where did it go? Wake up your instincts. We’ve been living with wildlife for millennia. If you suspect something, check it out.

Birds generally feel safe being seen. And often their nests in trees or shrubs are obvious.

But other wildlife either camouflage or hide from people, are nocturnal or are scarce. They may be hiding in the snow, on the other side of a tree, etc. Stay still and you may see them come out.

Look for subnivean (under snow) entry holes beside tree trunks or near bent over, snow-covered shrubs which look like bumps on the undulating snowy landscape. And realize there’s a whole busy community thriving in tunnels and pockets under your trail. Of course, you can’t see the subnivean environment, so while snowshoeing let your eyes sweep over the snowy landscape looking for holes.

These are the wildlife passages into the subnivean habitat. Imagine the world underneath. If it’s warm enough, stay still for a few minutes. You may be lucky enough to catch the hidden comings and goings. Good luck! Have fun being a wildlife detective!

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

Get Outdoors! And protect our snow

Silver Star’s snow and valley inversion at sunset. Eventually, that snow turns into water. (Roseanne Van Ee photo)

Ninety per cent of our water comes from frozen water vapour as snow. And water is amazing! It continually morphs into liquid, solid ice, vapour, rain and frozen, crystalline snow. This makes snow part of the great never-ending water cycle. Think of the rivers, streams, lakes, groundwater, rain, vapour and snow as an ongoing water cycle circulatory system. All our water eternally circulates in a closed-loop system between our atmosphere, earth’s soil and everything alive within. Water is vital to all life on Earth, and in the Okanagan snow is a critical link in that system. We eventually drink our snow as water.

We live in a majorly snow-dominated watershed — high elevation lakes and forests release snowmelt into our valley. Creeks runoff mostly April to July and peak in the valley bottom lakes May to June. Hydrologists measure the depth and weight of snow throughout winter at high elevation snow survey points in undisturbed snow patches to determine the year’s water availability.

But our upper watersheds, mostly on crown land, get multiple uses; forestry, cattle grazing, recreation and mining. These are managed to minimize impacts on snow which eventually affects water quality. It’s critically important to keep animal and human wastes and sediment out of water. Clean water needs less expensive water treatment. So, during winter, stay on established trails and roads for human safety, to prevent erosion and to protect our water supply. Use the toilet before going out to enjoy the snow, pack out your garbage and minimize pollution. Maintain the quality and quantity of snow.

Snow can be powdery light if dry, or tediously heavy when wet. Snowflakes drift down from the sky at two to six km/hr, or faster if windy. They are clear crystals, like sugar and salt, that appears white as it piles up.

Where the climate is cold enough for year-to-year accumulation, a glacier may form. Otherwise, snow typically melts in the spring running off into watershed streams and recharging groundwater. Unlike many other parts of Canada, just a few centimetres of snow settles in Vernon. It can come and go through winter.

Then just a half-hour drive uphill, two to three meters of snow settles throughout the winter. Vernon’s single largest water source, BX Creek, starts on Silver Star Mountain. Some runoff settles in Swan Lake then flows through BX Creek into Vernon Creek then into Okanagan Lake then through the Columbia River out to the Pacific Ocean between Washington and Oregon. Interestingly, snow on the east side of Silver Star flows down Vance or Putnam Creeks, through the Shuswap to the Thompson and Fraser Rivers and out to the Pacific through Vancouver.

More of our water comes from snow than from rain in the Okanagan.

More water evaporates from our Okanagan lakes during our hot, dry summers than is replaced by rain or snow; so our lakes are receding.

Amazing that so little snow settles in Vernon when one of the snowiest places on Earth is only a couple hours away in the mountains around Revelstoke. Rogers Pass gets the highest annual snowfall of all highways in the world; about 8.7 m/year. The record is twice that. And the steeper the terrain, the greater the likelihood of avalanches. That’s the reason for the series of highway snowsheds. Higher up on Mt. Copeland, about 20 km northwest of Revelstoke, holds the Canadian record of 24.5 m. Now that’s a lot of snow! Eventually, its runoff generates hydroelectric power giving us some of the lowest electricity rates.

So please take care of our snow — it’s our water!

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

Get Outdoors! And go for a walk

For us, November is the transition from fall to winter. It can make us lazy. Animals either migrate, hibernate or insulate to survive winter’s onslaught. We’re animals too; so if you’re not migrating to warmer climates – don’t hibernate – insulate and get outside for a walk!

Preferably breathe in fresh, clean air on a park trail or forest path with a friend. Absorb those health-giving aromatic and volatile oils exuded from trees — that’s forest bathing.

Brisk walking is the easiest, most basic and effective exercise. All you need is 30 minutes per day to promote weight control and total health fitness. You can break it down into three 10 minute sessions or so. Walking helps fend off most of our modern diseases and ailments. It helps prevent or control obesity and depression — the top two causes of chronic diseases today.

Get this!: Walking helps prevent and/or cures heart disease, most cancers, stroke, diabetes, heart attacks, anxiety, back pain, high blood pressure, abdominal fat, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, colds, high cholesterol, headaches, menstrual cramps, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, hearing loss, impotence, prostate growth, gout, glaucoma, gallstones, constipation, eases emphysema, regulates BMs, and much, much more. Walking boosts the immune system, regulates serotonin and dopamine, and releases endorphins.

Walking can greatly assist in recovering from injuries. I’m living proof! Even with plates and pins around my ankles and hip replacements I graduated from a wheelchair to a walker, and with the help of a wonderful physiotherapist, to hiking poles in less than two years. I can dance again, too.

Vitamin D, from 15 minutes of sunshine, helps avert osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, hip fractures, cavities, PMS, and colon and prostate cancers. Sunlight can remedy insomnia, fatigue, depression and asthma.

Most of these ailments and diseases are a result of our indoor, sedentary, overeating, chemical-rich lifestyle. Regular exercise, healthy diet and good relationships are the key to a better disease-free life. Walking is a great way to start. Convinced? Check out Vernon’s Ribbons of Green website for the best list and maps of our trails.

We’re lucky to have so many year-round accessible trails and Silver Star on our doorstep. Good on you (literally) if you can get up the hill to enjoy cross country skiing or snowshoeing starting this November. I fondly remember the exhilarating feeling of swishing through those first November snowfalls on skate skis. Talk about endorphins!

Need buddies to walk with? Check out the North Okanagan Naturalist Club and Vernon Outdoors Club websites. Or search for Vernon hiking groups on Facebook. Of course, wear a brimmed hat, sunglasses and cover up with sunscreen or cotton sleeves and pants during strong sunlight hours and seasons. You can observe and enjoy nature while walking, too.

German forester, Peter Wohlleben, has written some of my favourite nature books on trees, animals, weather, etc. He’s interested in “reclaiming our sensitivity to nature and reawakening our powers of observation that have been buried under the clutter of modernity. When we use our senses at full capacity, we access the wealth of thrilling and calming experiences waiting for us just outside our back doors, in nature… The world seems to expand when we’re able to appreciate it in all its diversity. I hope you find many new discoveries when you’re out and about.”

So — bundle up, get outdoors and enjoy walking!

 

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.

Get Outdoors!: Revel in the beauty of autumn leaf colours

 

During the spring and summer, chlorophyll in tree leaves absorbs sunlight to transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates such as sugars and starch for tree energy and growth.

Carbon is digested into the tree and oxygen is released from the leaves. Isn’t it amazing that plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, and animals do the opposite? We should be incredibly grateful for this balance on Earth.

Water and nutrients flow up from the roots into the leaf veins. This food-making process, called photosynthesis, takes place in the numerous leaf cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green colour.

Along with the green leaves’ pigment are yellow, orange and red pigments; the same pigments that colour our foods; yellow xanthophyll (as in corn and golden aspen leaves), orange carotenes (as in carrots and mountain ash leaves) and red anthocyanin (as in cherries and red sumac leaves). Most of the year these colours are masked in the leaves by the great amounts of chlorophyll’s green pigment.

But in the fall, after a dry summer, when daylight hours shorten, tree leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll (green colour) stops being produced and fades away allowing the other colour pigments (mainly yellow, orange, and red) in the leaves to show off their brilliant autumn splendour.

Deciduous trees and shrubs shed their solar panels to hibernate through winter and take a break from photosynthesizing. The stems of the leaves weaken (without food) and the leaves fall from the trees blown by the wind or pelted by rain.

But what about the needle-like leaves of pines, fir, spruce and hemlock, or scale-like leaves of cedar and juniper – our evergreens? These hardy trees leaves have less surface area and have a waxy coating, plus they produce a type of antifreeze that stops the chlorophyll from drying up. Their needles or scales stay on the trees during winter and keep their green colour. An exception is our Western Larches. Their soft, unwaxed needles turn golden and fall – they’re deciduous (and coniferous).

The best time to enjoy autumn’s sun-kissed, brilliant colours is on a clear, dry, cool day. One of my favourite autumn colour-viewing spots in Vernon is on Rocky Ridge at Turtle Mountain on a sunny, late afternoon. Lumby’s Salmon Trail, just below the highway, is wonderful to hike in shimmering fall colour. So is Mission Creek in Kelowna’s Springfield Park.

I like to collect a small basket of autumn leaves to decorate my home‘s entry. My kids and I played a fall game when we went hiking; each of us tried to be the first person to shout “fall” when a leaf fell from a tree.

Enjoy the colour; it only occurs for a brief period each fall.

And remember — when you see those yellow, orange and red pigments — they’ve been there all along, and autumn is their time to shine.

This article is written for the Vernon Morning Star by Roseanne Van Ee. Roseanne enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Discover exciting and adventurous natural events, best trails, and wild places. Follow her on Facebook for more.