Every year, in early May, Mother Nature puts on a fabulous floral display. Fields of blooming arrow-leaved balsamroot paint our hillsides with gold.
These showy members of the sunflower family thrive on the warm dry hillsides around Kamloops. The name describes the shape of the silvery colored leaves, which are covered in dense felt-like hairs, and the woody taproot that exudes a balsam pitch aroma.
Interior native people used this plant as an important food source. They ate the young leaves raw or steamed, and even smoked them like tobacco.
The taproots were eaten roasted or steamed and hung to dry for storage and later use. Flour was made out of the small sunflower seeds.
Animals, such as deer and sheep, also graze the arrow-leaved balsamroot throughout the year.
The sunny hillside along Highway 5 as you drive to Rayleigh is liberally dotted with these showy plants in the first couple of weeks of May. For a closer view of arrow-leaved balsamroot, enjoy a beautiful walk along the trail from the mouth of Paul Lake to the top of Gibraltar Rock. With a hillside of sunflowers and a spectacular vista of Paul Lake, this is a great way to enjoy natural wonders close to home.
Signs of spring are everywhere. The bird world is humming with activity. Wildflowers are starting to bloom. Snakes have been spotted sunning themselves after the long cold winter. One must also be cautious when out walking in our local grasslands as the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick (Dermacentor andersoni ) has been making its yearly spring appearance.
Even with the variable weather of late, bird migration activity has been strong with nesting activity in full swing. Snow Geese have shown up more often than usual this spring. Ospreys and Bald Eagles have been spotted nesting. Golden Eagles have even been seen by some Kamloops Naturalist Club members. The yearly influx of songbirds and warblers has been somewhat slow or perhaps some species may have just passed us by this year.
Gerry Hewitt recently experienced what he described as a spectacular sight at Separation Lake. He saw 70 Sandhill Cranes on the lake's edge. The sight of a big flight of Sandhill Cranes is impressive indeed and we in the Kamloops area are fortunateto view thisspecial eventtwice a year, during the spring, April migration and in September for the fall.
Cranes are large with a long neck, legs and bill, and generally nest in wet areas. They lay two eggs but only one chick survives as a rule. During migration they are known to follow traditional routes and stop at established locations during the night. They generally travel in "V" formation and use thermal updrafts to gain elevation. Sandhill Cranes are smaller than the endangered Whooping Crane.
For those keen photographers now might be the time to get your camera out and start photographing some of our local wildflowers. Places to look for wildflowers could include: Lac du Bois/McQueen Lake, Nisconlith Lake Provincial Park and Sun Peaks.
Have you observed other signs of spring? We welcome your questions and observations about nature in and around Kamloops. Go online to www.ocis.net/davids.index.html, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for answers from club experts in the next Nature Kamloops column.
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