11 August 2015 found me admiring the great Cottonwoods at the Bleriot Ferry Campground, northwest of Drumheller, Alberta. The campsite is over-bowered by Eckenwalder Cottonwoods mixed with some Populus balsamifera, (our familiar Boreal Balsam Cottonwoods), both of them growing to more than a metre in diameter.
A distant view of the sunlit banks of the Red Deer River peeks through the downswept Cottonwood boughs, and the deeply furrowed, corky gray bark of the trunk beside me communicates somehow, like a living wall.
The trunks of the spreading tree I've painted, surrounded by the gravelled campground, are 54 & 95 cm DBH (diameter at breast height). Fred has measured the largest of both species in this riverside campsite. The largest Eckenwalder is 121 cm DBH and the largest Balsam is 140 cm DBH.
We heard a lot of harsh Nighthawk beenting as I painted, standing with my easel set up on a picnic table. The noise was apparently coming from the campground Cottonwoods. The mystery seemed to be resolved by the hypothesis that fledged Nighthawk young wait in trees for boluses of food from their parents. A flying bird was seen only episodically when calls seemed to come from the air. Several times birds were seen flying toward and apparently entering the trees, but we never actually saw the young. There was a fair amount of Nighthawk wing "booming" in the air, especially while Fred was walking about with head raised, and pen and notebook poised.
We first noticed these wonderful trees at our Buffalo Campground last summer: Cottonwoods with deltoid (triangular) leaves, but with deeply creased bark, and down-arching branches like an open-grown Elm. Then when we traveled 63 km east to the South Saskatchewan River at Hwy 41, the deltoides Cottonwoods were the "ordinary Ontario sort."
At a plant identification party after we got home, Owen Clarkin identified our fallen twig specimens from last year's Buffalo camp as Populus deltoides SUBSPECIES:monilifera, the Eckenwalder Plains Cottonwood, and here we find them again. When yesterday we moved 11.8 km southeast to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, we found the "ordinary Ontario sort." It's striking that we've seemed to see either one kind of these deltoides Cottonwoods or the other at our camps - but we haven't been to enough sites or looked at the variation closely enough to say whether they're intergrading as subspecies are expected to, or are really distinct species-like "kinds."
Dear supporters and patrons of my art,
This 8 x 8 inch original oil painting "Red Deer River Cottonwoods" is at the "That's Empressive Gallery" in Empress, Alberta, and is available for $400. If you would like to purchase it, please e-mail Pat Donaldson or phone 403-565-0009