During my visit to Edmonton, there were two places I was hoping to go birding: Elk Island National Park and the John E. Poole Wetland in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. My sister’s new place was only a 15-minute drive from Lois Hole PP, and as she isn’t a birder, I decided to forego the long drive to Elk Island in order to visit the much smaller wetland twice. We did one morning visit for birds and an afternoon visit for bugs, which worked out perfectly with her schedule.
The wetland is adjacent to Big Lake in St. Albert, a globally recognized Important Bird Area which provides habitat for thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds during both migration and the breeding season. The 350-metre long boardwalk crosses through the marsh, with sections of open water among the dense cattails to provide windows into the wetland. My mother, stepfather and I visited the wetland in early July 2018 on a gray, breezy day where the highlights included Eared Grebe, three Sora calling, a Wilson’s Snipe calling, four Black Terns, five Common Yellowthroats, and an assortment of waterfowl, including Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck – two ducks we only see during migration in Ottawa.
September is not the best month to find a great variety of insects in most of Canada, but the weather in Edmonton was still warm enough that I saw four butterfly species, five dragonfly species, and two damselfly species. There were quite a few individuals flying, too, so there was no shortage of insects to photograph whenever I went out. The best spots were the gravel path that runs along the edge of the urban forest and the vegetation around Lake Crystallina. The day I’d visited the large lake to photograph the three Swainson’s Hawks was too cold and windy for many insects to be out, but I suspect due to the untouched wilderness surrounding it – no manicured lawns there! – it would be even more productive for bugs, especially in June or July when insects are at the height of diversity. The last site I’d visited was Poplar Lake, another protected storm water pond on the other side of 82nd Street in Klarvatten. My sister dropped me off there to check it out on our way home one afternoon, however, I soon discovered that the pond was entirely fenced with no trails or access to the wetland whatsoever. This was too bad because I always saw lots of waterfowl on the pond, and I was hoping to find a good spot for shorebirds and grebes.
On September 18th I flew to Edmonton to visit my sister for a few days. Alberta is not a new province for me; my family had lived on an acreage outside of Ardrossan, which is east of Edmonton and Sherwood Park, for seven years from 1989 to 1996. As I was just teenager at the time, enduring all the drama and angst of high school, I had had no interest in nature back then – which is really too bad, as we’d lived on a small lot with a forest behind our house and a slough (a vegetated pond) across the road. When my parents and I moved back in 1996 – they to southern Ontario, via Tweed, and me and my fiancé to Ottawa – my sister remained behind, although it wasn’t until 2012 when I returned to attend her wedding.
Below is a list of all the species I identified on my trip. Lifers are shown in bold. I am not including the dowitcher I saw at Astotin Lake, the hummingbird I saw at my sister’s hotel on the day of her wedding, or the scaup species I saw in Calgary. I am, however, including the possible Crimson-ringed Whiteface and the emerald (Somatochlora) species I saw in Hinton for reasons that are purely arbitrary (which are mainly that I don’t like adding “spuhs” to my bird lists, though I don’t mind for my other lists).
Altogether I saw 74 bird species, 14 mammals, 13 butterfly species and 11 dragonfly species…not bad at all for the end of July!
This is just to let my loyal readers know that after returning from a 10-day holiday in Alberta a few days ago, I’m back and beginning to blog again! I still have a couple of entries to post from before I went away and hope to get those up soon so I can share my stories and photos from Elk Island and Jasper National Parks with you! I will be back-dating my entries for a while until I can catch up.
In the meantime, here’s something to whet your appetite:
After leaving the Valley of the Five Lakes, Doran and I drove south until we reached the turnoff for Athabasca Falls. Although my family had visited these falls when I was a kid, I didn’t remember them at all; it would be like seeing them for the first time. The falls are only 23 metres high, but the large volume of water that funnels into the waterfall makes the Athabasca Falls one of the most powerful falls in the mountain parks. The Athabasca River, which is fed by the Columbia Glacier about 70 kilometres south, thunders into a narrow gorge, where the quartzite and limestone walls have been worn away and potholes have been created by the force of the rushing water.
Our last two full days in Jasper were busy with family. My sister’s wedding was on Saturday, and most of the guests were arriving Friday. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. on Friday to the sound of something walking on the roof and several crows and a magpie squawking loudly. The footsteps sounded heavier than the Red Squirrels I’d seen sitting up there, so I decided to get up and investigate. It was already growing light, but when I went outside to check I didn’t see anything. A moment later I heard the crows rush off and land in a nearby tree. I followed, and was startled to see a young Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree right about eye level!
On Thursday afternoon we visited another famous Jasper mountain, Mount Edith Cavell. The snow-covered, craggy peak of this mountain dominates the skyline south of the town of Jasper, and it is about a 45-minute drive from the townsite. It is reached by taking Highway 93A to Cavell Road, and following Cavell Road twelve kilometers to the parking lot at the end. Cavell Road is narrow and has sharp turns and tight switchbacks that are unsuitable for trailers and large motor-homes, which should be left in a parking area at the beginning of the road. While it wasn’t quite a “white-knuckle” ride up the mountain to the parking lot, the road was steep enough and narrow enough to make me uneasy. There were no shoulders….the white line at the edge of the pavement was all that separated the road from the rocky slope on one side and the vegetation on the other.
The next morning was mostly sunny and clear, so Doran and I decided to take the Jasper Tramway up to the top of Whistler’s Mountain. The Jasper Tramway is the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada and takes visitors from an altitude of 1304 metres (4279 ft) above sea level to 2277 metres (7472 ft) above sea level in about seven minutes. On a clear day a 360° view of six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, the Athabasca river, the Jasper town-site, and Mount Robson in nearby British Columbia is possible. It costs $30.95 per adult, or $35.00 with breakfast included, so we paid the extra money to have breakfast at the Treeline Restaurant in the upper station.