A variety of plants and animals live in the harsh conditions of the Alberta badlands. Several parks give visitors an opportunity to see the strange rock formations and large red rocks laying on the sandy soil. These parks also give visitors the opportunity to observe the wildlife and to enjoy close-up views of the plants that call the badlands home.
Alberta's badlands primarily consist of large, unusual-looking rock formations, also known as hoodoos, eroded away by wind and water. The area also features bedrock from which huge, spherical, red sandstone concretions eroded. The large rocks look somewhat misplaced on the barren terrain. The underlying rock formations contain extensive dinosaur fossil fields in some areas. While much of the terrain appears dry and treeless, areas near creeks and streams offer enough moisture for a variety of plants and trees to grow.
The warm, dry weather makes the badlands a great home for smaller creatures such as rattlesnakes, short-horned lizards and scorpions. Winter brings snow while spring brings refreshing, much-needed moisture to aid spring-blooming plants that flower in May and June.
The dry, desertlike habitat plays host to a variety of wildlife, including rock wrens that make their nests in crevices in the canyon walls. Meadow larks use low-lying grass and plants to hide their nests on the ground. The area's reptiles, including the previously mentioned rattlesnakes, short-horned lizards and scorpions, use holes in the badlands to keep cool from the sun's hot rays. The short grasses and winding streams offer jackrabbits, pronghorn and mule deer valuable food and water resources. The areas above the badlands offer a wealth of spring flowers, including prairie crocus and yellow umbrella plants. The area also offers a home to the Richardson's ground squirrel.
During the spring and fall migrations, waterfowl stop in the area for rest and food before flying to farther destinations. In the winter, snow buntings and common redpolls migrate to the area and make it their home. Bluebirds, western kingbirds, yellow-breasted chats and Say's phoebes move back to the area each spring to nest and raise their young.
A visit to Dinosaur Provincial Park offers a way to see the badlands. Formations of late cretaceous fossils, including dinosaur and reptile bones and footprints, also exist in this park. A visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum Field Station, located in the park, helps visitors learn about the fossils. The Cottonwood Flats trail allows visitors to spot Swainson's hawks, golden eagles and prairie falcons. The Badlands Trail takes visitors through rock formations and onto the grassy prairie, where more birds and wildlife may be seen. Another place to get a close-up view of the badlands and its wildlife is Red Rock Coulee Natural Area. It contains a wealth of the large red stone concretions as well as grasslands sporting plants such as sagebrush, gumbo primrose and prickly pear cactus.
- Photo Credit mule deer with velvet buds image by PHOTOFLY from Fotolia.com
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