Although the cold weather and frequent snowstorms have made it feel like spring has been delayed, the earth is starting to awaken! With the full glory of spring soon bursting forth, now is the time to get outside to enjoy the many beautiful local natural areas in Central Alberta.
This month, I’d like to recommend three areas northeast of Red Deer, in the Bashaw area.
Three rural areas to explore in April:
This dramatic 318-acre site consists of wetland, grassland and native Aspen Parkland habitat. There are no maintained trails, but an oil well road provides access deep into the property. From the oilwell site, follow a trail to the southeast, which leads to a very high hill, affording good views in all directions. Navigation assistance is recommended to explore the rest of the property.
To access, go west of Bashaw on Highway 605 for 7 km and watch for large sign on the south side of the road. Park to the side of the oil well access approach.
Partners: Ducks Unlimited Canada https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=115
Windsor Lake is a beautiful little pond that is perfect for quiet wildlife watching, canoeing and kayaking. Despite its small size and being surrounded by farmland, it supports a surprising diversity of wildlife, including an active beaver colony as well as a wide variety of shorebirds (including White-faced Ibis) and waterfowl. It is an ACA stocked pond and has a well-provisioned day use area, including a boat launch, outhouse, picnic tables and garbage bins.
To access, go west of Bashaw on Highway 605 for 8 km, north on RR 223 for 1.1 km, then east into the site.
Partners: Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Environment and Parks, Camrose County https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=1
This 118-acre site consists of native Aspen Parkland interspersed with small wetlands. There is a road along the south edge of the property which provides access. Follow game trails to explore the rest of the property. Navigation assistance recommended.
To access, go west of Bashaw on Highway 605 for 9.6 km, north on RR 224 for about 1 km. Watch for sign on east side of the road. Park to the side of the approach.
Partners: Alberta Conservation Association, Alberta Environment and Parks
With spring just around the corner, March is a good month to continue exploring some of the beautiful natural areas in Central Alberta while the ground is still frozen. Areas that are too boggy or otherwise inaccessible during the warmer months of the year can still be enjoyably explored. As always, take all necessary safety precautions, especially along waterways. Spring looks like it will be early this year, so water may be running and/or the ice may be thinning earlier than usual.
If you don’t already have a copy of the Central Alberta Birding Trail Guide, I recommend you pick up a hard copy at Kerry Wood Nature Centre or check out the online version at https://birdingtrailsalberta.com. With spring just around the corner, now is a good time to start planning your spring outings. Of course, we also recommend checking out this website to find out about the many natural and protected areas are in your neighbourhood. Exploring our own backyard is a good way to reduce the cost of traveling AND enjoy the beautiful natural areas that we have here in central Alberta.
Three rural properties to explore in March:
Cow Lake – there are two Cow Lake Natural Areas, which together cover a combined area of 968 acres. The largest block is located along the north end of Cow Lake and is accessible from the main day use area/boat launch off Highway 752 west of Rocky Mountain House. There are no maintained trails, but access is fairly easy during the winter directly from the frozen lake. Three oil well sites, several cutlines and other old trails can also be used to park/explore this large tract of white spruce-dominated boreal forest.
The other block is very interesting, with several ridges, two small wetlands, a creek along the northeast corner, large aspen forests, large tracts of black spruce-tamarack forest, and a large low-lying area through the middle with a small creek and several abandoned but very large, impressive beaver dams. To access this block, take Twp Rd 384 west of the Cow Lake Store, then angle northwest until the road joins Twp Rd 385. Go west on Twp Rd to RR 85, which heads south to a dead end, then swings west again, ending at a large well site. We parked near the well site and then snowshoed along the small creek bed to the north edge of the property. However, during the spring, summer and fall, a better access point is at the north edge of the property. Park along RR 85 (marked by where the bush starts) and follow the north fenceline/ridge to the east, which will end near the abandoned beaverdams. The poplar and spruce-tamarack forests can be safely explored, but be especially careful along the creek, lowlands and around the beaver dams, even during the winter.
Mitchell Lake – this 46-acre site is located within Mitchell Lake Provincial Recreation Area. It is aerated during the winter and is a popular fishing spot. It has a parking lot and outhouses. It is aerated during the winter, so take the necessary precautions.
To access, go south on Highway 22, turn west on Twp Rd 380/375A, then south on RR 80.
Ironside Pond – this 34-acre site is a good spot if you’d like to explore an interesting frozen boreal forest lake and surrounding wetland. It is aerated in the winter, so take the necessary precautions. Otters have been observed around this pond (see pic of otter tracks below). There are two access points, one from a wellsite on the east side and the other, on the west side, which has a parking lot and a well-marked trail leading down to the pond.
To access follow directions to Mitchell Lake (above) but turn north instead of south at RR 80. Follow the signs.
A local snowshoe enthusiast, Bob Diewold, leads weekend snowshoe trips to local protected areas. If you are interested in joining in, please contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Top- Hummer; Centre-Kinvig; Bottom-Bulka)
February, despite the lengthening hours of daylight and being the shortest month of the year, is still locked in the full clutches of Old Man Winter. We have enjoyed a respite from the cold during this recent warm spell, but spring is still many weeks away.
While the recent snowmelt has spoiled most trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, I have been taking advantage of the lack of snow by exploring some of the beautiful protected areas in Central Alberta, especially those east of Red Deer, on foot. Be sure to wear cleats, as many of the trails and game trails are now very icy.
Three Rural Properties to Explore in February:
1. Kinvig – this 615-acre property is located east of Elnora. It is a beautiful full section of rolling aspen parkland intermixed with wetlands and small lakes. Go east of Elnora on Twp Rd 352, then south on RR 274 on the east or RR 275 on the west. There are oil wells on both sides that provide parking and access. Do not block the entrances. This is an open access property, so no permission is required to access it. Several high hills provide views in all directions.
Partners: Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada. https://connect2nature.ca.
2. Hummer – Located northwest of Elnora, this is an interesting property to visit in the winter, as both the uplands as well as the lakes (the lake on the east side of the road is also on land owned by DU) can be easily explored. The steep hill across the north side of the property offers a dramatic view of the valley. Also of interest is that there is a large spring adjacent to the road which runs all winter. Minnows congregate in these springs and can easily viewed along the ditch. Access to this property is north off Highway 590 up RR 240. Watch for DU signage on the west side of the road; park in gateway. This is a fair-weather road that may not be regularly plowed.
Partners: Ducks Unlimited Canada
3. Bulka – This 476-acre site is located on the south side of Highway 590, just west of Highway 21. The property consists of a series of rolling aspen-dominated hills and wetlands. Although there are no official trails, old seismic cut lines make winter exploration easy. The hills are steep but the views from the hilltops are worth the effort. Park off the road by the ACA large sign.
Partners: Alberta Conservation Association, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Nature Conservancy of Canada
FINDING JOY IN JANUARY! January is a difficult time of year for many people. The bustle of the holiday season has come and gone, the dark and cold of winter still envelopes us, and the return to everyday realities can be challenging.
One of the best ways to cure the January blues is to enjoy nature! Getting outside and being immersed nature supports our physical, spiritual and mental well being, especially at this time of year. Even short walks around our neighbourhoods and through local parks can refresh and invigorate. Fortunately, those of us living in Central Alberta are lucky to have many natural and protected areas right at our own backdoor! There are about 170 different properties that await discovery, all within a one-hour drive of Red Deer!
There are many advantages to exploring these beautiful little pieces of paradise in the winter. There are no mosquitos, the areas are usually beautifully quiet, and frozen wetlands can be easily navigated on foot, skis or snowshoes. Although there are fewer bird species around in the winter, it is great fun to follow wildlife tracks and read nature stories in the snow.
How about spending some time in January checking out a few protected areas in the western boreal and mixed-wood forests? Depending on the weather and your level of fitness, they can all be explored in one day.
Three Rural Properties to Explore in January
1. Raven Ridge: This 300-acre site is located approximately 44 km west of Red Deer. The area is easily accessed from the south along Twp Rd 354 (do not block the lease road gate). The site is dominated by spruce and aspen with a large wetland along the southwest boundary. A network of locally maintained cross-country ski trails make exploring this site easy in any season (if you are walking or snowshoeing, please do not walk on the ski tracks). https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=171
2. Drake Conservation Site: This 133-acre site is located alongside Highway 54, approximately 14 km east of Caroline. It is located adjacent to the Porter property (see below). To access, park on the north side of the road, in the parking lot of the Raven Log Church and enter the property over a style. You can also park in a small parking lot at the end of Range Rd 44. The south entrance is usually inaccessible during the winter. The Raven River meanders (it remains open in spots, so be careful) through a mature mixed spruce and aspen forest. https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=165
3. Porter Conservation Site: This 155-acre site is located next to the Drake property (see above). There are three access points: one along Highway 54 and two along RR 45. It is similar to the Darke property, with spruce and aspen forests bisected by the Raven River meandering through 2 km of the site. on private property. https://www.albertadiscoverguide.com/site.cfm?grid=E3&number=170
Note: Be sure to bring maps, a GPS and/or have a mapping program on your phone. Travel with a partner, let others know of your plans, dress appropriately, be especially careful when walking on or near moving water, carry pepper spray (cougars, although unlikely to cause issues, are active in the winter) and follow relevant wilderness safety protocols. If possible, submit all your bird sightings to eBird. If you spot anything unusual or amiss, please email email@example.com
There are many other protected properties scattered throughout Central Alberta. They are itemized on this website, categorized by their distance from Red Deer. Enjoy!
IMAGE ABOVE: Shaye Hill, 2021 RDRN Naturalist In Residence enjoys a January ramble through the Drake and Porter properties. IMAGE BELOW: Jim Potter checks out the ice thickness on the Raven River. Caution is advised when walking on rivers and creeks.
DECOMPRESSING IN DECEMBER!
December is a hectic season, with joy, stress, excitement and pressure all jumbled into our already busy schedules. One of the most effective ways to decompress and be rejuvenated is to get out in nature. Fortunately for those of us living in Central Alberta, nature is literally at our doorstep. Walking trails thread through the City of Red Deer and surrounding smaller towns, the Great Trail links several communities, and there are many local rural protected properties that can be enjoyed.
There are a total of 169 protected properties within 100 km of Red Deer, all listed here on this website. We have chosen three that we feel will be especially interesting to explore in December. The Cliff and Mary Soper Natural area is readily accessible and has facilities (e.g., outhouses, walking trails, signage) while the other two are a bit more challenging.
Three Rural Properties to Explore in December
HABITAT STEWARD PROGRAM TO BE RELAUNCHED.
The Red Deer River Naturalists (RDRN) are pleased to announce that the Habitat Steward program is being relaunched. The Habitat Steward program, which was first implemented by RDRN in the late 1980s, recognizes landowners who conserve at least 2 Ha (5 acres) of wildlife habitat on their property. Under the program, Habitat Stewards receive a gate sign to recognize their efforts.
The Habitat Steward program seeks to both publicly acknowledge the efforts of private stewards to conserve habitat and to highlight the intrinsic value of habitat conservation on private lands. There are no legal obligations, access expectations or other requirements. Stewards who would rather not have a gate sign are still encouraged to join the program.
The 2021-2022 relaunch will encompass an area within 100 km of the City of Red Deer. Additional information and an application form will be posted soon.
For more information, please email Myrna Pearman at firstname.lastname@example.org.