My First Volunteer Day for EALT

In early-March I had a fun and rewarding experience on my first day volunteering with the Edmonton and Area Land Trust.

It all started at the end of February when our bright and bubbly Outreach Coordinator, Steph, sent out the e-mail of volunteer opportunities for March.  Aha, they are looking for volunteers to clean out bird nest boxes among the other activities!  And one of the properties at which it is required is Glory Hills, not too far from me!  I immediately fired off an e-mail to our oh-so-efficient Project Coordinator, Rebecca, saying “Pick Me!  Pick Me!” to do the nest box clean-out at Glory Hills.  And so she did!

If you know Rebecca, you know she has this volunteer coordination stuff down to an art and a science.  So she had me well armed with a map of the property showing the locations of the 15 songbird boxes, 2 waterfowl boxes and 2 owl boxes and advice that gloves would be a good idea given the sometimes icky stuff found inside nest boxes and that snowshoes would probably be required to navigate the still considerable depth of snow on the property.

On a crisp, bright early-March morning, I was at the entry gate on the southeast corner of the Glory Hills property, which is so very easy to find compliments of our friend Google Maps and bonus!  paved roads right to the driveway of the property.  A nice gravel area off the road so parking is easy and safe.  A very well built pedestrian gateway so no climbing fences or opening gates to get into the property.  I’m there early enough the temperature is just at the freezing mark, the sky is cloudless and the wind calm; so the promise is for a beautiful, warm, Alberta spring day.  Things are definitely looking good.

And so the day unfolded.  Of the 15 songbird boxes, I found 4 had no signs of activity, 7 had some twigs in them but no nest was built, and 4 had been used for nesting.  The most interesting had one unhatched egg still in it.

The owl boxes were too high for me to open.  One had no indication of use, the other had grass and other undetermined materials stuff right up to and overflowing from the entry hole.  It’s a mystery!

Of the two waterfowl boxes, one had not been used at all and the other had a nest of grass and shredded bark and a good sized nest cavity, although no feathers were present.

Along the trail from the parking lot to the lake, I noticed an open area had been well used as a bedding ground for moose within the last few days.

One of the songbird boxes had an interesting and unexpected feature – a dessert dish sitting on top of it.  Another mystery! It had been used for nesting (the box, not the dish!), with some of the nest materials being yellow fibreglass insulation!

This box also happened to be alongside a groomed cross-country ski trail which was well used.  By the deer too!

The highlight of my day occurred as I was opening one of the waterfowl boxes.  A cross country skier came along the trail, noticed the strange looking critter in the bush and fought her way through the willows to see if it really was a Sasquatch.  Nope, just me.  She introduced herself as Patty, who lived just to the north of the property.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable chat about the property and the many wonderful features of it and its inhabitants. I mentioned the odd circumstance of the owl box overflowing with grass, etc.  Last summer as she was passing the box, a squirrel popped his head out of it, so that likely explained that mystery.  After we exchanged e-mail addresses and she continued on with her skiing exercise, I thought what a knowledgeable and delightful lady!

After I cleaned out the last box on the trail east of the lake and made my way to the top of the hill, my belly was telling me it was lunch time.  A nice little open areahad a downed tree laying horizontally at just picnic bench height so a lazy half hour was spent sitting in the warm sun enjoying lunch and a couple of cups of hot coffee. Life is good!

Rather than backtracking, I continued to follow the trail (well, ok I followed the seismic ribbons marking the trail as it hadn’t been used over the winter) along the top of the hill to the east fence line then turned south to follow that back to the parking area.  Old trees and barb wire fences sometimes are not compatible and so, along the way, I had to remove a tree that had fallen over the fence line.

Mid-afternoon brought me back to my vehicle in the parking area and my first adventure with EALT to a close.  I was excited to have seen a lot of fresh rabbit, deer and moose tracks, although disappointed they weren’t so fresh that the critters were still in them.  But with the wheezing and gasping of an old, out-of-shape guy plodding along on snowshoes, they had ample time to duck out of sight or even move to the next county before they would have been seen.  It was fun to have a couple of chickadees follow along with me occasionally.  The bright sun, calm wind and the +80 temperature made for lots of fresh air and a fabulous day.

What an exhilarating day and a wonderful experience for the first time volunteering for EALT!  No question that I will be sending Rebecca more “Pick Me” e-mails as volunteer opportunities are presented for the Glory Hills and other EALT properties.  If you want to work with some great people, see some fabulous natural areas and accomplish some rewarding activities that are going to benefit the environment and wildlife habitat long term, join up!  You will be glad you did.

By Jamie McQuarrie, EALT Volunteer

Jamie is a retired Forest Ranger, Forest Protection Officer and Manager, who worked with the Alberta Forest Service.