Monday, September 03, 2012

Bird Sightings on the Red Deer River

This August I had an excellent opportunity to do birdwatching while kayaking in a new place! Here's a google map I made using the SPOT messages I sent while on the Red Deer River.
The first day of four I spent on the river, though the direction of flow was generally heading south from Content Bridge there were several bends in its direction. If I stopped paddling, the current would gradually turn the kayak sideways. I turned round during the late afternoon to look back upstream at the approaching weather front. Over the river, an osprey was soaring and turning. I’m pretty darned sure it was an osprey (Pandion halietus) because its white underside and dark wings were visible against the sky. And as I was watching, it stooped suddenly and plunged down to the river. If it caught a fish, then the fish was too small for me to see without my glasses as the osprey flew away. This was the only time I nearly fell out of my kayak, as I was leaning back to watch the osprey and was abruptly reminded about balance and so on just before tipping.
This photo of an osprey is from the National Geographic website.
A little later, I heard thunder rumbling and turned round again to look at the weather approaching from the north-west. It was thunder, and lightning flashed in the clouds. There was rain falling from a cloud that should take about half an hour to reach me. It was time to find a place to set up camp for the night! Luckily, there was a nice level place above the river shore just at that bend of the river. I pulled up onto the shore, walked across the level ground to another rise, calling out to the cabin that stood there. The fire pit smelled like a fire had been burning yesterday. But no one came out of the cabin. With no one around for me to ask permission, I resolved to  camp here above the high water mark and try to leave no trace.
Quickly, I set up Lila’s tent close to the trees and put my gear inside. Then I moved the kayak higher on the bank and rolled it upside-down. The nearest tree to tie the kayak to was sixty feet away, by the tent. It took using both the throw bag rope and my stern line, but I got that boat tied down! Strong gusts of wind are common and can easily roll a boat around. There were no gusts of wind that night, just lightning, thunder, and rain for the early evening.
Wikipedia had this great photo of an American white pelican like I saw.
On the evening of the second day, I saw a pelican. An American white pelican, or Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, according to the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. Astonishing! A bird that’s as long from beak to tail as I am tall – well, an inch shorter, but wow! It’s as long as the Mute Swans that we see swimming and nesting in Portage Inlet. At 108 inches of wingspan, a white pelican has wings that are getting close to twice as wide as its length. It flies more quietly than a duck, with great swoops of its wings like a heron. The next morning, it flew past my camp again on its way downriver past Tolman Bridge.

This photo is from the Wikipedia page on cinnamon teal ducks.

The third day, there were ducks galore between Tolman Bridge and Morrin Bridge. Several small ducks looked like cinnamon teal ducks, little round bobbing things that get deftly out of the way when a paddler comes near. They weren’t crowded or in flocks like at Cadboro Bay… these seemed to be living here for the summer and spread out thinly here in the Badlands. 

This was the stretch of the river most isolated from humans, and there were few trees except the scrubby willows where the banks were lower. Some of the bluffs were almost like cliffs, and there were holes like those where cliff swallows or purple martins like to nest. Some holes were bigger, and set apart or entirely alone. Could a few of these holes held Wood duck nests? I’m guessing that some of these bigger holes held owls or maybe bats, though I saw neither. By the time the evenings were dark enough for owls or bats to come out, I was tucked away inside the tent and only came out to feed the mosquitoes. Any reports that mosquitoes are endangered species are not to be believed. This summer I was a participant in a Blood Donor Drive for mosquitoes and gave at least two units of whole blood... one tiny bite at a time.
It's amazing how many bird listings there are in Wikipedia!
On the fourth day there were no birds visible in the foggy morning. A beaver slapped the water, but I couldn’t see him or any birds. Back to bed with a Dick Francis novel and a granola bar. When the fog lifted I got packed up and on the water. I couldn’t identify the few birds visible from the river that day, as they were small dark blurs that didn’t hang around. There were more nesting holes in the bluffs, though, so I’m guessing these were swallows. Was sad not to see any magpies, as they’re pretty and smart birds common in farmland in Central Alberta. Maybe next time.

1 comment:

  1. Can vouch for Paula doing her part to feed the mosquitos - she looked like she had chicken pox by the end of the trip!! As for beavers, the most interesting encounter was the day after she got off the river: we went to find a spot in the river to swim, and beaver jumped out at us. Apparently we were trying to swim in his territory. We beat a hasty retreat, sent many apologies, and went to the splash park instead!