Tag Archives: spring

Spruce Woods Park Spring 2015

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Reid Dickie

I made my first foray to my favourite park over the last two days. The Assiniboine River is staying within its banks in the park. I saw no flooding anywhere at Spruce Woods. Further upstream there is some typical flooding of low lying areas around Brandon but the park is dry.

The south facing slopes are dotted with shy purple crocuses these days. I saw flocks of blackbirds along the road and even a few raptors have returned.

IMG_2294The big change in Spruce Woods Park is a reconfiguration of the hiking trail to Spirit Sands. Heavy equipment was cutting a swath through the bush around the trailhead when I was there yesterday. I asked the operator what was happening. Apparently the route the horse-drawn wagon rides take cuts close to the river bank and there is significant erosion so the wagon trail has to be rerouted. It was a surprise to see the pristine area around the trailhead broken and busted up to create the new route. The picture above shows the junction where the trail to the punch bowl goes left, the dunes trail right.

Subsequently the hiking trail to Spirit Sands has been redesigned starting with a new set ofIMG_2295 stairs that takes you straight to the top of a tall dune a little to the east of the original trail. The picture on the right shows the new structure. Though rather vague on the ground, the new trail is marked with direction signs. I only hiked the first few hundred yards of the new trail so I’m not sure where or whether it rejoins the original trail. The bit I hiked felt more strenuous than the original route. I’ll report fully on the new design when I hike the trail, hopefully next week.

The view below is from the top of the new stairway looking down on the buildings at the trailhead with a glimpse of the Assiniboine at the top of the picture.

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Other trails in the park appear to be open and in good condition. I couldn’t tell if the lower campground and day use areas will be open or not this summer. The park office is still located at the upper campground and yurts area.

On Monday there were no cars in the Spirit Sands parking lot, yesterday there were four when I arrived. It’s still $5 daily to use the park facilities. The 2015 annual park passes are available now, $40 for the year. MLCC locations now sell the annual passes. IMG_2292

The first activity at Spruce Woods Park happens on April 25. The poster above about the Seton hike appears on the bulletin board at the trailhead. Carberry has a museum devoted to Ernest Thompson Seton and his work in the area. Check out The Seton Centre for more on the man. Carberry is 28 kms north of Spruce Woods Park on Hwy #5.

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Filed under Day Tripping, Earth Phenomena, Flood, Museum, Natural Places, Parks

Yosemite’s Frazil Ice

Amazing earth phenomenon that occurs in many American parks each spring – frazil ice!

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Filed under Earth Phenomena, Flood, Natural Places, Roadside Attractions

Cedar Waxwings in Brandon

          It was a strange April day in Manitoba: temperatures around 30 degrees C and clear blue skies all weekend long.  I was staying with my cousin, Duncan, in the east end of Brandon. On the day I arrived, Duncan pointed out an ornamental cherry tree in his neighbour’s backyard that was loaded with shriveled red cherries. Unfit for human consumption, the cherries are a delicacy of certain birds that, according to Duncan, each spring swarm the tree and feast on the cherries, now sweetened by winter’s freezing and thawing.

            The next morning, as if induced by my cousin’s comment, the tree was alive with cedar waxwings. Famished from their long migration, the waxwings cover the tree and the ground below, ravenously eating the cherries. A flock of birds flies up from the ground into the branches and the ones from the tree swarm to the ground, excited birds, appetites whetted, blissful on a hot strange spring day.

 

            The air was vibrating with the shrill keening of the waxwings. Several large still-bare nearby trees were decorated with more cedar waxwings waiting to feed, hundreds of birds in all. Flock after flock dined at the cherry tree.

            Several curious species – robins, blue jays and starlings – arrived to see what all the commotion was about. These birds prefer feeders and worms to cherries but waxwing enthusiasm was contagious.  The feeding frenzy went on most of the morning then the flock was gone, the air still, quiet, hot.

            In a few weeks, the cherry tree will be smothered in tiny white and pink blossoms that perfume the air with a sweet smell. By then subsequent flocks will have stripped all the cherries from the tree.

            Cedar waxwings have the ability to digest a variety of berries, some of which are poisonous to humans. Gorging themselves for hours, waxwings have been known to get a little drunk if the berries have fermented.

            A sleek, beautiful creature, cedar waxwings are strikingly identifiable: the brown topnotch crest and breast with grey wings and tail, the yellow wash over the belly, the dark eye mask and throat marking, the yellow tail tip and the distinctive waxy red drops on the wings with give the birds their name. The females are somewhat plainer. Cedar waxwings are one of the few birds whose numbers are increasing in North America.

            Coniferous trees are favoured places to build their sling nests. Chicks are born late to ensure a supply of berries and bugs for their growth. I remember seeing waxwings as a kid in western Manitoba. Apparently they abound in Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg but I haven’t seen one in our neighbourhood for years. The last time I saw one was a few years ago at Last Mountain Lake in Saskatchewan. I was camping next to the bird sanctuary and saw a nesting pair.

            What a hopeful sign it was to see a huge flock of excited birds so eager to fulfill their biological imperative. I had begun to wonder if there were large flocks of any birds remaining. It was good to see an old friend return with such vigor.

 August 6/02

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