Getting to know the plants on the trail

Alberta Agriculture calls them range plants—”the native and introduced plant species” in the rangelands, including “grasses, sedges, forbs (e.g. weeds and flowers), shrubs and even trees.” In a recently updated report, the department explains that “[r]angelands provide an important source of forages for domestic and native animals as well as protection to the soil and watersheds.”

The report lists more than 250 species with their common names, latin names,  origin (native or introduced), “grazing response”, and forage value. Grazing response is the reaction a species has to continuous defoliation, i.e. grazing and damage from being trampled on.

Early blue violet
Early blue violet: junk food of the pasture?

We encounter range plants all the time on the Waskahegan Trail. To those of us who are plant lovers (and there are a lot of us) the report is fascinating reading. Did you know that the young leaves of the chokecherry are poisonous to the foraging animals? Or that the early blue violet, which looks so delicious, is nutritionally poor?

Lush, green and extraordinary: the North Hastings Hike

Early in the morning, the rain was pounding hard on the roads. For about two seconds we wondered would anyone show up? Well of course they will! Rainy days can have the best hiking conditions: not too hot, always refreshing, and you never know what you’re going to see.Into the woods...

We started on the trail with eight hikers, and were soon joined by a ninth, and after lunch, a tenth. The trail was lush and green, and the path was easy to walk, having been cleared and mown just three days ago.

While we were still in the woods, our guest, Anita, was quick to spot a white tailed deer–just meters away from us, on the other side of the fence.Around the slough

We came out and rounded the slough. Suddenly a chorus of sharp yipping, bright and sassy, rose up in the near distance. Birds? “A coyote family,” said Anita. “Babies greeting their mother.”

A few minutes later, I was leading us through the mown path of reeds. Suddenly I jumped. “A snake!” cried Anita, who was immediately behind me. “You almost stepped on a snake.” Sure enough, a garter snake was lying in the middle of path, absolutely still. We all agreed it was the longest snake we had ever seen in the wild.

Common garter snake

I told Anita she gets the award for being the day’s best animal spotter.

Our hike continued through the Allen Nature Trail. We ate our lunch in the yard of St. Margaret’s church. As we nibbled on our sandwiches, we looked up and watched as majestic white pelicans flew overhead.

After lunch we walked down to North Hastings Lake to investigate. No pelicans here, just plenty of ducks and an unusual flock of waterfowl we couldn’t identify.

Not a long walk by Waskahegan standards (only 8 km), but a day full of surprises.North Hastings hikers