Wednesday, 21 May 2014

East Central Alberta Tour Birds and Wildlife

Last weekend we took a tour to the St. Paul, Alberta region of east central Alberta. Our tour was exploratory searching for what ever we could find. It is a region rich in bird life, east European settlements and earlier fur trade and native peoples history. The route we chose wandered along highway 15 east of Ft. Saskatchewan then north and east of Mundare toward St. Paul. The area is a combination of Parkland converted to agriculture and oil fields. It is rolly terrain draining into the North Saskatchewan River system which will eventually drain into the Atlantic Ocean through Hudson Bay. It is dotted by pothole puddles of various sizes, depths and shapes full of life. Every puddle has a pair of ducks or geese floating or resting, hip shot, with head tucked under shady wing for a mid afternoon snooze. Sometimes there are many species in the same pool.
Semi-Palmated Plover
I saw in one pool that we paused beside a pair of American Avocets, a first for me, then as I struggled to handhold my camera for some shots, I spotted a pair of Plovers scurrying along the sandy shoreline. I could not identify which plover they might be so when I got home I sent photos to the Edmonton Nature Club for confirmation. As always, members were sure to help ID Semi-palmated Plovers, another first. Thank you ENC. Also in the same pond were several Canada Geese, Lesser Scaup, canvasback, nesting blue winged teal, mallards, northern shovellers, red-winged blackbirds, crows and magpies. Frogs croaked in the foreground as traffic roared past with little notice to the natural wonders so near.
We paused to try out a new camp stove at a small lake campsite. Burgers, potatoes, carrots and onions broiled on the griddle because I did not put together our new portable bar-b-que. It will be ready for the next trip.
Roadside lunch
Food was still delicious even with the added protein flying around us. Coffee was special with a wee dram of Baileys. We enjoyed a flyby of 3 small common terns and a pair of common loons floated and dove their hunting way past the beach. We were serenaded by little brown jobs of at least three different species, all to quick for me to get my camera lined up for identifier shots at least. I really struggle with these little but enjoyable birds. They are busy, colourful songsters working hard to maintain contact with each other, protecting territory and feeding themselves and their babies. After hot cherry and blueberry pie. I burned my tongue because I couldn't swish it around inside my mouth quick enough and couldn't suck in cold air faster and was too polite to spit it out in front of my laughing, dainty eating wife. Sure tasted good though and with a few gulps of cold water, no great damage was done.
I have always enjoyed the rolling countryside such as this that we drove through. We followed the breaks of the river and crossed several small or large drainage valleys as well as assorted forest lands. Jack pine, spruce mixed with stunted prairie aspen and scattered birch and willow as well as assorted caragana and Manitoba maple shelter belts all provide valuable shelter from wind, blizzard and sun for many species of birds and animals. Bright green leaves and buds are just emerging so have not hidden all the hawks, crows and magpie nests nestled into heavy tree crotches and limbs. The occasional head peers over the nest rim or a solitary mate stands attentive vigil on a nearby lofty perch, ready to repel any invaders. At one lookout above the river we noticed a very large, woody nest that suddenly expelled a bald eagle. It's shrill cry echoed across the river to where we stood watching as it traded spots with its mate.
I notice this year that there seem to be many northern shovellers. Maybe I just did not notice before but I am seeing them in almost every pothole puddle. I will have to get more opinions from wiser folk.
We even spotted a solitary snow goose standing a couple hundred yards from the road. It did not move while we watched so do not know if it was okay. It stood on alert watching us as we were not a normal passing vehicle. Birds are very sensitive to their surroundings so a vehicle that stops when all others roar past all day, is something to pay attention to.
Big Sky, Big Land
We stayed for the night at Vermilion then headed south and west toward home. Stopped for several bird sightings then paused for a look at a prairie dog colony. We saw two kinds of dogs, the first was the common gopher and the second was thirteen lined ground squirrel another first for me. A little further down the road was a large hawk carrying one ground squirrel meal off to a fence post. It flew on as I slowed down for a photo.
It was time to head for home so off we went. It was a very full day of touring with many highlights to remember. No matter were we travel in this region there is life amidst the farms, oilfields and settlements

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