Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park

This post was originally intended to be about Lac La Biche (the town) but Lac La Biche (the lake) ended up partially stealing the show. We've been down there a few times and are growing fond of the area. I had hoped to get some nice pictures but didn't have my camera with me until our last trip there this past weekend. And of course, on the day we headed down it was raining quite steadily. We took a quick detour later in the afternoon though to drive through Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park. It was still quite overcast but at least the rain was finished for the day. A lot of the interesting little places we've discovered up here in the area have been quite by accident. Usually it starts off with Lisa or I asking, "I wonder what's down this road," or "Let's take a drive over there and check things out." As always our curiosity was richly rewarded. The park was wonderfully decked out in fall colours and we look forward to returning in warmer weather to take advantage of the swimming and camping opportunities.

We didn't let this branch stop us from enjoying the fall colours. We were able to move it just enough and stomp down enough branches to be able to drive safely around it. I'm glad I let Lisa convince me to move the branch otherwise I wouldn't have been able to take all the subsequent pictures.

The beach area was quite nice. I wish we would have found it back when the weather was much more inviting for a swim. There were a lot of bushes around the beach area. I loved the fiery red colouration.

While it's hard to tell from the two following pictures the waves were really kicking up with all the high winds. Every time we've been past the lake we've seen white caps on it. The winds I'm sure are one reason why Lac La Biche is one of the last of Alberta's bigger lakes to freeze up in the fall.

We really can't wait to get back here in summer weather!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Whiskey Jack

I first saw this fine fellow outside the school late last week at the end of the work day. He caught my attention since most birds we've seen in the immediate vicinity of the house as of late have been either ravens or magpies. Not having a camera with me at the time, I had to rely on memory when I was able to look this bird up in my guidebook. Of course by then, several hours had passed and their were a few birds in my guide that I thought it resembled. My initial guesses were either a Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) or possibly a Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana). Between the two though, I felt the Northern Shrike was the more likely.

Turns out it was none of the above. I emailed a photo to Clare who pointed out that the bird is in actuality a Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadiensis) or Whiskey Jack. My guidebook points out that the Grey Jay can often be confused with the other two species I mentioned so my confusion is understandable at least.

And since I'm on the topic, we spotted a Red-Tailed Hawk during a weekend drive and Lisa pointed out a Spruce Grouse poking around in the long grass at the edge of our driveway a couple days back.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Black Billed Magpie

The one bird species that immediately capture our attention when we first arrived was the Black-Billed Magpie (Pica Pica). We simply don't have the birds back East. Slightly smaller than the Common Raven, they definitely catch the eye with their colours. It was also the first bird I was able to positively identify using my guidebook. We see a lot of them around the property and the area around the school. If I'm lucky, I can get the odd decent picture of them in the short grass before they head up into the trees. I took a number of pictures of them during my first week here. Often it was a hit or miss ordeal. This shot is a bit fuzzy but still the best of the bunch that I've taken so far. We look forward to seeing more of these year-round residents.

In addition to the Black-Billed Magpie and the ubiquitous Raven, we've also seen Canada Geese (Branta canadiensis), what I believe was a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and a variety of different sparrows, though they move way too fast for my eye distinguish individual species.

Local Wildlife

Other than the horses and a handful of deer last weekend, we haven't seen much major wildlife, though its not like I've made any special efforts lately to get outside and take a look around. I did manage to get a decent picture of this little fellow early yesterday morning while letting Hailey out for a nature call.

The only other squirrels I've seen so far have been around the garbage bins behind the school...when I didn't have a camera handy and up at the provincial park at Willow Lake...where they were just a little too quick up the tree. This is the land of deer, moose and bear so I look forward to a few pictures in the future. If last week's drive was any indication, this is a great time to spot creatures big and small along the highway to Ft. McMurray.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Picture I'd Love To Claim As My Own

...but can't. Lisa captured the evening sky just down the road while returning from a late afternoon drive.

Lisa - Are you jealous, hun?
Me - Yup.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

So Where Exactly Are You?

Before moving here I did up a post on my Nunavut blog about the new community here that I was moving to. At the time, I referred to the community here as Chard. The actual name is Janvier. The reason for my mistake was simply because the address of the school I work at is given as Chard on the school board's website. The name "Chard" also appears on the road atlas I bought prior to our drive out here. At the time I was under the impression that "Janvier" was the Dene reserve while "Chard" was the adjacent community. Throw in the fact that my house address is Janvier while my mailing address is actually Chard.

So what's the story here? Lisa filled me in on the details following conversations with a few people from the community. Given that she is on the phone at the moment, I'm going from memory here so any errors are of course my own. The real Chard is actually just an old railway stop located a few short kilometres down Highway 881. Individuals working in the bush as well as locals used the stop simply to get where they wanted to go. As a result the location found its way onto some Alberta road maps (or at least the ones we came across) but no real town developed there. The local Native population migrated the site of today's community as people started to build houses and some services were offered. Since "Janvier" is such a common surname* in this area of northeastern Alberta, the community took on the name of Janvier. Today, Janvier, with a population of 177 people (excluding the Reserve, which when included bumps us up to about 400), is part of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Here is the real Chard which Lisa found while on an exploratory drive around the area.

*Janvier is also a common surname in northwestern Saskatchewan, particularly in the La Loche area, where I used to teach prior to moving to Nunavut a few years ago.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Little Alberta Humour

Lisa pointed out this little addition to a sign along the road leading to town. And of course I couldn't resist getting a photo of it.