On the Road: Pelicans out as southern Alberta grows greener

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I was actually supposed to be doing something else but I just had to go check on the pelicans.

I was out looking for things to do with farming, things like getting the land ready and seeding, for another project I’m working on and this was the first day where the weather was good enough — and I had the time — to go out and do anything. So I headed east toward Carseland to see what I could see.

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Which wasn’t all that much. The land was still pretty wet from rain a couple days before so the tractors were mostly idle. And, it looked like a lot of the fields had already been seeded. Makes sense. It is the middle of May, after all.

So using those two things as handy excuses, I decided to let the day roll on and hope all that lovely sunshine would dry things out enough to get the machinery working. In the meantime, I went to have a look at the pelicans.

A pelican has a stretch on the Bow River below the Carseland weir near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A pelican has a stretch on the Bow River below the Carseland weir near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

These guys never disappoint. Sitting still, swimming around, gliding just above the water or riding thermals high up in the air, they are magnificent. These ones today were mostly sleeping or preening as they stood on rocks below the Carseland weir but they still looked cool with their huge beaks ruffling their feathers and big orange feet clamped on the rocks.

A pair of them were chugging through the brownish foam below the weir looking for fish to fill their bill pouches while cormorants flew back and forth from the calm water above the diversion. There were pelicans up there, too, and Franklin’s gulls. Hundreds of Franklin’s gulls. They were feeding on swarms of what must have been mayflies or caddis coming off the river, twisting and twirling to catch the bugs as they flew or swimming along picking them off the surface.

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Pelicans preen on the Bow River below the Carseland weir near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Pelicans preen on the Bow River below the Carseland weir near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

There were mergansers and mallards and geese — there are always geese — joining in on the feast, too.

I spent an hour watching all the activity and would have stayed even longer but I was starting to feel a bit guilty. I had an obligation to look for some farming pictures whether I actually found any to shoot or not, so, reluctantly, I headed back out of the river valley to poke around the fields.

A Franklin's gull lands on the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A Franklin’s gull lands on the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

And I got lucky. Not too far away I found a gentleman filling the hopper of his air seeder so I pulled up to ask if he’d mind if I took a few pictures of him working and maybe fly my little drone over his rig once he got out into the field. He said sure, go right ahead, so I spent the next hour or so getting the pictures I needed.

That done, I rolled on to look for more as I headed back to town to edit and transmit what I had but didn’t really find much. Much farming, that is. There were deer along the road and a pair of little foxes by a den. And avocets, those lovely Creamsicle-hued birds, wading through a little slough right beside the road. With them were shoveller ducks and a few teal.

A young mule deer buck near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A young mule deer buck near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

The afternoon light was nice and the chorus frogs were singing up a storm but I really had to get back to town. As I drove along, though, I thought, if this looks nice right now, it will look even nicer first thing in the morning.

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Pictures done and sent, supper gobbled down, I set the alarm for 5 a.m. and went to bed.

Young foxes by their den west of Carseland, Ab., on Monday, May 13, 2024.
Young foxes by their den west of Carseland, Ab., on Monday, May 13, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

And it rained.

While I was sleeping a front had moved in and dumped a bunch of rain and it was still misting down as I looked out my front door. That lovely sunrise light I was hoping for obviously wasn’t going to happen but, since I was up anyway, I grabbed my gear and headed for the truck.

Avocets forage in a rainwater pond just after sunrise near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Avocets forage in a rainwater pond just after sunrise near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

The rain quit by the time I hit the edge of the city but the clouds lingered and the sunrise, rather than being the glorious burst of gold I had anticipated, was more of a brightening of shades of blue. The avocets I’d seen the day before weren’t at the same pond but I found more of them at another patch of water closer to Dalemead. They still looked pretty as they probed the mud for worms and other tidbits but not quite what I had in mind.

Field work was at a standstill, of course. Tractors and seeders stood idle while flocks of Franklin’s gulls wandered the wet fields looking for breakfast. Meanwhile, the day’s traffic started to move. The sounds of vehicles passing and even planes flying overhead mixed with their cries.

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An avocet snags a worm in a rainwater pond just after sunrise near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
An avocet snags a worm in a rainwater pond just after sunrise near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

I could see plenty of green in the fields that had been seeded, raindrops glistening on the short green leaves that had sprouted. Lying in the mud photographing them, I thought the farmer I’d photographed the day before must be pretty happy about this well-timed bit of moisture. His feed barley would be getting off to a good start.

Raindrops on newly sprouted grain near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Raindrops on newly sprouted grain near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

By 7 a.m., the early morning light was about as bright as it was going to get so I headed back down to the Carseland weir to check on the pelicans again. Near the river, I passed a blue heron standing still in a side channel and a flock of blackbirds and grackles that flew swiftly by.

A blue heron stands in a side channel of the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A blue heron stands in a side channel of the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

The pelicans were still on the rocks where they had been the day before but now they were also upstream from the weir, clustered around a flood-borne tree snagged on a submerged gravel bar. The water in the river had risen a bit overnight, the spring runoff season just getting started, and it was beginning to run through the bankside grass.

Pelicans and cormorants relax on the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Pelicans and cormorants relax on the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Behind the pelicans the cottonwoods on the islands were really starting to get green while the saskatoons on the edge of the riverine forest were opening up their blooms. A pair of mule deer wandered across the road in front of me and one stopped to nibble on the new leaves that were popping out everywhere.

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A mule deer munches on leaves along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A mule deer munches on leaves along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Birdsong filled the air. Robins, starlings and redwing blackbirds were the main chorus but in between I could hear song sparrows and maybe a yellow warbler. And chickadees. And flickers. And ravens and crows. A redtail hawk flew by, screee-ing as it went.

The day was getting brighter now and as I looked eastward, the sun began to push its way past the clouds. Soon the waxy new poplar leaves were backlit and bright. Across the river in Wyndham-Carseland Park, the sun was shining brightly through the tall, freshly-leaved cottonwoods and among the cattails along the cutoff meanders.

A clay-coloured sparrow sings along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A clay-coloured sparrow sings along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Down the road from there I found a clay-coloured sparrow singing its buzzy, insect-like song and, back the other direction, one of what seemed like a hundred song sparrows singing its more melodious tune from a fence wire.

A song sparrow greets the morning near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A song sparrow greets the morning near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

The last of the big clouds moved off as I stopped to grab a picture of a Swainson’s hawk perched on a post and by the time I hit the river valley again another 10 km further upstream from the weir, the sun was shining brightly.

A Swainson's hawk waits out the last of the morning shower near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A Swainson’s hawk waits out the last of the morning shower near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

It backlit the yellow buffalo beans clinging to the steep slope along the road and sparkled on the still-wet spines of the prickly pear cactus. There were vetches starting to bloom and chokecherry blossoms about to open up.

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Buffalo beans on a cliffside along the Bow River near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Buffalo beans on a cliffside along the Bow River near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia
Prickly pear cactus on a cliffside along the Bow River near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Prickly pear cactus on a cliffside along the Bow River near Dalemead, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

But best of all were the cottonwoods.

The sun backlit them against the shadows on the far side of the river and all those new leaves just glowed. There were deer down in the valley nibbling on the fresh green grass and birds singing everywhere.

New green leaves in the morning sun along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
New green leaves in the morning sun along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

And there were pelicans.

Not as many as down by the weir but they were here, too, flying along the river valley and idling on the points of islands. Cormorants flew by and an eagle passed overhead. And could that be a turkey vulture? Too far to really tell but, yeah, I’m pretty sure it was. Love those guys.

A cormorant flies along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
A cormorant flies along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

The sun was starting to get high overhead and soon the light would begin to get harsh so I started heading back to town. There was still work to be done on my other project and a bit of a deadline was coming up but I watched for farm work as I drove.

Nope, still a bit too wet. Which wasn’t a bad thing. Once the seed gets in the ground, that moisture will speed germination and the warm sun will get things growing fast.

Shiny new poplar leaves along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Shiny new poplar leaves along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Yep, another southern Alberta springtime on the road to summer, green leaves dancing in the warm breeze, birds singing, grain growing. And big white pelicans paddling on the Bow.

So much to enjoy.

But for now, I had to head on home.

Saskatoon blossom along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Saskatoon blossom along the Bow River near Carseland, Ab., on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. Mike Drew/Postmedia

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