Scene 12: Ross Creek Coulee
This expansive view shows interesting features when you look down, as well as up. Below the asphalt trail in front of you, lie a variety of easily-eroded sandy and gravelly soils. This ecosystem is easily disturbed, so to protect it, please do not venture off the trail. This Scenic View includes the vistas of the Ross Creek Natural Park.
The loose soil was formed by the advance, retreat, and melt-back of glacial ice thousands of years ago. It now supports a variety of native grassland plant species, including a much-cherished hillside filled with prairie crocus. For a few days each year these unobtrusive plants suddenly produce an explosion of small purple blossoms – a sure sign that winter is past. Springs and streams along the valley bank are home to the endangered leopard frog. Birds such as the Yellow Breasted Chat, Grey Catbird, and Spotted Towhee can be found in these woody, riparian areas.
Each day, many trains wind through this valley on the main line of Canadian Pacific Rail. Looking out, you can see the grain terminal in the nearby village of Dunmore, and on a clear day, you can see the outline of the Cypress Hills on the south-east horizon.
A. Nature’s Way to Care for Water Bodies
Called Riparian Areas, these “wetlands” are critically important to help store and keep our water clean. Woody and other deep rooted plants such as tall sedges, rushes, and Cattails help bind the soil so it does not erode into the water body. The riparian area as a whole helps trap and filter pollutants that may otherwise go into our rivers, lakes, and creeks (such as Ross Creek).
B. Chat Anyone?
You might not see this bird but in the spring you may hear a jazz symphony of whistles, cackles, chuckles, and gurgles in and around riparian areas. These sounds may be the call of the male Yellow Breasted Chat who is expressing an interest in a “chat” with a potential partner.
C. Ears of Earth
Springing through the snow and listening for summer, the Prairie Crocus provides a splash of bluish to purple colour amongst dormant grass and shrub hillsides. These native plants provide an early source of food (nectar) for bees and other insects.
D. The Rock Eaters
These painted-looking rocks of orange, yellows, white, and green are actually colonies of plants called lichens (algae and fungus) that release acids into the rock, and over geologic time, help break the rock into soil. This process takes many thousands of years. We can learn from these very patient creatures.
E. Ross Creek Natural Park
Offering significant small to large patches of native grasslands and riparian areas, this park can provide countless hours of recreation enjoyment whether riding a bike, birding, or just relaxing.