Birkebeiner Trails in the Summer: Wanisan Hike

Western Peewee
Copyright  allaboutbirds.org

It was longer than some WTA hikes, with a total distance of 12 km, but our team was seriously svelte and eager to take on a million mosquitoes. Sprayed with a plethora of chemical repellents (claiming only to be disagreeable to bugs), and further armed with mosquito nets, we began our adventure. It wasn’t long before Jerry found some flowers that he did not know, so he picked them for later identification.

As we walked along we were pleased to learn that our new recruit, Robert Scriba, was a bit of a birder. When we rested at the Wanisan Stopover, he alerted us to the proprietor of the cabin, a Western Peewee.

Ruddy Duck
Copyright Paul Higgins

 

Farther on we stopped at the Wanisan Lake Lookout, where he called our attention to a Ruddy Duck.

 

And as we elegantly navigated the boardwalks alongside a beaver pond, he pointed out an adorable family of Blue-winged Teals. It’s always a treat to have someone in the group who can teach some of us more about our natural world.

Teal ducks
Copyright Myrna Bradshaw

 

We were fortunate to time our lunch exactly when the rain came. We were sheltered in the very cabin where Darlene and David are stationed every winter while volunteering at the WTA Aid Station during the Birkebeiner.

By the time lunch was over and Jerry identified his flowers as Fringed Loosestrife, Agrimony and Yellow Rattle, the rain had relented.

Fringed Loosestrife
Fringed Loosestrife Copyright minnesotaseasons.com
agrimony-_www.lancing-nature.bn15.net
Agrimony Copyright Ray Hamblett

 

Yellow Rattle
Yellow Rattle Copyright Wild Flowers Kingdom

 

The hike back seemed fast, as it usually does. But we did have time for an impromptu boot camp featuring the classic quackgrass-between-your-thumbs whistle. Vivian was the champion and intends to keep practicing. Her son Marco was very proud! She thanks all her professional coaches. We’ll assess her progress on another hike.


Jerry later commented: The vegetation had grown rapidly. But the clearing done by the trail maintenance crew made walking much easier.

In the long stretches of trail the sunlit interludes revealed bright red sprigs of fireweed. The pretty, fragrant dogbane shrubs around the high lip of a beaver pond were amazing.

Elsewhere along the trail we found other plants in yellow flower but had to check our books to identify them.  Coots, blue-winged teal and ruddy ducks and other waterfowl were on the ponds. A few harmless garter snakes escaped the trail as we passed by. There were signs of recent beaver work along the trail and deer tracks in the muddy spots.

As you can see in the photo (below) we had to protect ourselves from mosquitoes—Nature’s indicator that we still have a somewhat pristine environment.

Wanisan Hikers

 

Blackfoot Staging Area

When Irene steps up to lead a hike she has a huge following. She is a hiker’s magnet. Thirty-one hikers, from Edmonton, Wetaskiwin, Camrose and points in between met up at the Blackfoot Staging Area under cloudy skies after a week of near-constant precipitation. The minute we stepped out of our cars and took in our first breath, we experienced the rich, earthy aromatherapy that always follows a good rain. A great start.beaver lodge

The Blackfoot Recreation Area has over 170 kilometers of trails and four developed staging areas (one of which is the Waskahegan Staging Area—no relation to us). Some trails are for certain activities only while others are shared trails.

We brought our rain gear, but it was not needed as the clouds kindly chose only to shield us from the sun. We appreciated the crisp, fresh air as we hiked along lush, well-marked trails with names like Whitetail, Buck-Run and Muskrat.lungwort

Although we trekked mostly on trails for hikers only, near the end we briefly shared a trail with a considerable posse on horseback, which kept an eye on us from a respectful distance.swallowtail butterfly

Irene offered us two hike distances to choose from, and on both paths, hikers experienced a cascade of greenery—from the aspen canopy above to the middle tier of dense hazelnut bushes, sweet scented wild Alberta rose, and blooming red osier dogwood, to the ground floor that was carpeted with creeping dogwood (bunchberry), elegant meadow rue, globe flowered sarsaparilla, Solomon’s Seal, vetches (both purple and cream coloured), beardtongue and brilliant blue lungwort (who names these plants??).

Canada toadAlso seen were many ducks enjoying the wetlands, swallowtail butterflies darting about, and frogs hopping everywhere.

Most memorable was the evidence of a beaver’s handiwork on the felling of a huge, expansive and formidable balsam poplar. The beaver must have spent days gnawing on the trunk from all sides before the mighty tree finally toppled. It must have been a little disappointed that the massive project did not fall cleanly to the ground, but instead became stuck as branches tangled in neighbouring trees.

Anyway, this super-hero-class beaver has a lot of work gnawed out for itself this summer. Speculative massive construction projects are obviously being considered in the Blackfoot Recreation Area.

Group May 28, 2016 hike

East Battle River Valley, “Rest and Be Thankful,” and Were We Thankful!

East Battle River

Under David’s leadership and sunny skies, 19 intrepid hikers, from New Norway, Camrose, New Sarepta and Edmonton, traversed the challenging Easternmost hike of the meandering Battle River.

Although we had to trek up and down gully after gully, the views of the river valley were spectacular. When we rested for lunch on “Rest and be Thankful” hill, we were indeed thankful —and rested— as long as our leader (who forgot his lunch) allowed.

We imagined the Grand Trunk Railway trestle bridge that once spanned the entire valley, we admired the red tail hawks riding the wind currents and ignored the plentiful seagulls squawking overhead.

Rest and Be Thankful

At lunch Elizabeth, aka Madame Butterfly, recognized the rasping, cricket-like sound of a Clay Warbler and the group pointed out several Cabbage Butterflies, a Mourning Cloak or two and a Swallow Tail Butterfly.

The musky-sweet scent of blooming Silver or Wolf Willow was distinct but not overpowering, as it can be. Other distinctive native Alberta flora caught our eye:  Three Flowered Avens or Old Man Whiskers, Heart Leaved Alexanders, False Toad Flax, lots of Saskatoon still in bloom as was the Chokecherry, Gooseberry and several types of currants. Also identified was Silverweed, Buffalo Bean or Golden Bean, Mouse-eared Chickweed and most spectacularly, Shooting Stars.

Hikers at East Battle River

Further, we saw evidence of early spring blooms on the Crocuses and some Prickly Pear Cactus came along for a ride on some of the hiker’s socks. There was no sign of the Milkweed that was planted along the route by previous irreverent WTA hikers (who will not be named).

When we looked back over the valley as we finished our hike, five sleek bay horses suddenly appeared at the top of the ridge to show us that they knew we were in their pasture and to thank us for the rare entertainment that we brought to the East Battle River Valley.