Sunday, July 4, 2021

Heros Live Here : Westdale to Beaudry Provincial Park

Although today had a completely unexpected ending, it began normally enough, when we set off into a warm sunny morning to slack pack out to Beaudry Provincial Park.  This popular park is located down a 10.7 km spur of the Trans Canada Trail, which is not something we would typically explore as part of our through hike, but it was described as one of Winnipeg's birding hotspots, so we decided to take the detour to check it out as we build our bodies up to do longer days.  It certainly didn't disappoint!


We made our way along the sidewalks of a quiet subdivision until we reached the Harte Trail, which is a 6.5 km long rail trail that runs through a narrow strip of natural habitat between the subdivisions of Winnipeg.  It follows the old rail bed of the Harte Line, which was the first section of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway built in Western Canada in 1894.  The trail is cared for by volunteers, and it is beautifully maintained, with benches, information signs, and swallow nesting boxes scattered along it.  In several sections tree saplings encased in wire mesh protectors lined the walkway, and will one day turn it into a shady promenade. 


We followed this beautiful and well-used trail between two rows of homes until we came to the Trans Canada Highway.  Here we were dismayed to discover that there was no under or overpass!  We had to climb up a steep embankment and then dash across four lanes of traffic, climbing onto a raised grassy median in the middle of the busy highway.  Both times we made this hazardous crossing there were several cyclists and other walkers making it with us, leading us to think that a trail extension to the nearby road underpass, or a pedestrian tunnel or overpass would be a very worthwhile investment in this section of trail!


On the far side of the highway we continued west on the Headingly Grand Trunk Rail Trail.  This 10 km trail follows an abandoned section of CN railway that was originally built by the Grand Trunk Railway and used until 1972.  It was our first taste of walking and birding in the prairies this year, and we soon realized this will be a learning experience.


There is no way to adequately describe the vastness of the landscape, which left us feeling like we wanted to look in all directions at once.  We could hear the buzzy calls of birds in the grass and soy fields on either side of us, but they seemed to disappear into all that space, and we weren't used to looking for everything so close to the ground.  At first we felt like there were no clues where to look for the birds - there was no shrub or tree whose branches we could search, and when there was, the birds didn't perch on the tops or edges of taller vegetation as forest birds often do.  Birding grasslands evidently requires a whole new skillset!

As we trekked along under the blazing sun we frequently heard the wistful sound of train whistles in the distance, and we watched as seemingly endless lines of railway carriages moved sedately across the landscape.  The outlines of the carriages were blurred by the heat shimmering above the striped fields, and something about the trains seemed to be beckoning us to jump aboard and head west. 



As we passed underneath a hydro corridor we paused to watch several pairs of Tree Swallows feeding young in wooden nest boxes kindly installed for their use.  A Clay-coloured Sparrow sang its buzzy song from a shrub nearby, with a second one answering a few meters down the trail.  In the rows of taller grasses and cattails between the fields the raucous calls of Red-winged Blackbirds rang out.  Overhead a kettle of about 20 American White Pelicans seemed to sparkle as it circled out of sight against a bright blue sky.


One surprise we got while walking through this intensively farmed landscape was the abundance and diversity of butterflies and dragonflies that flew back and forth above the trail.  Patches of milkweed grew along the sides of the pathway in many places, and there were a lot of monarch butterflies flitting among them and mating in midair above the fields. Small white butterflies and tiny black, orange, and white ones also graced many of the wildflowers along the edges of the rail trail.





As we took a break on a lovely shady bench alongside a golf course, a White-tailed Deer wandered across the path.  It was one of about a dozen we spotted today.  We watched Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinches moving about in the shrubs, and a pair of Yellow Warblers feeding fledglings nearby.  A White-breasted Nuthatch moved stealthily up the trunk of an oak tree.  As we sat watching our feathered companions, a cyclist stopped and asked if we were ornithologists, and  if we could tell her how the birds were faring this year in light of the drought and severe weather.  She told us she'd seen a Wild Turkey nearby, and was concerned for the local bird populations.  Although we had little comfort or insight to share, we were greatly heartened to hear her concern, especially as a resident of this intensively farmed landscape, which is home to many of Canada's threatened and endangered bird species.


After crossing several concessions and passing along the edge of several neighborhoods and the golf course we came to Beaudry Provincial Park.  This 950 ha park features 120 ha of tallgrass prairie at its heart, as well as plenty of riparian woodland habitat which includes some of the largest basswood, cottonwood, and maple trees in the area.  Trails wind throughout the park along the meandering Assiniboine River, offering fantastic opportunities to view species like Bobolinks, Vesper Sparrows, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Brewer's Blackbirds, to name just a few.


The parking lot of this popular park was full of cars, and there were several families out enjoying very elaborate picnics at the shady riverside picnic tables.  We set off down the Wild Grape and Elm Trails, which meandered along the riverbank, leading us on under shady corridors of glowing green trees.  On either side of the well-marked and easy to navigate trail a lush carpet of ferns covered the forest floor, and green curtains of grapevines climbed into the treetops 12 m overhead.


We could hear Yellow Warblers, American Robins, Red-eyed Vireos, Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Wood-pewees, and Blue Jays calling in the forested canopy.  Periodic lookouts along the wide, slow-moving, mud-brown river showed us a family of Wood Ducks frantically scattering into midstream, a pair of Killdeer and a Spotted Sandpiper forging along the shore, a Baltimore Oriole taking a bath in the shallow water, and a solitary American White Pelican floating by midstream.  A little farther along we watched a flock of Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows foraging  for flying insects above the water.  Although we heard the mechanical calls of Bobolinks, and the distinctive songs of Eastern Meadowlarks in the tallgrass prairie, it was otherwise very quiet in the hot afternoon.





Reluctantly we left the cool shady riverbank behind, and headed back along the scorching rail trail.  As we left the park we spotted a Franklin's Gull, with it elegant black head and white eye ring circling overhead, and we took some time to watch, hear, and photograph a Savannah Sparrow in a trailside shrub.  Overall, it was a very interesting day of birding, and by the end of it we seemed to be slightly better at spotting birds in this new landscape.



As we headed back we met another lady who stopped to ask us if we were training to hike the Mantario Trail. We said no, although it is in Whiteshell Provincial Park, and we'd certainly like to one day.  We chatted about hiking for a bit before heading off, amazed once again at how friendly everyone is here in Manitoba.


By the time we had hiked back along the Headingley Rail Trail, crossed the busy highway again, and taken the Harte Trail back to the Westdale neighborhood we were hot, tired, thirsty, and thinking only of having a cold shower and a rest.  We had walked nearly 30 km, and were pretty self-absorbed.  As we rounded a corner we heard an odd hissing noise and then saw a man running at high speed down the street, being chased by a second person.  At first we thought it was teenagers harmlessly messing about, or people playing around, but we soon realized the second guy was pretty seriously hurt. 

It turned out that the young Chinese man had been attempting to sell his iPhone, and the individual who arrived to buy it from him had sprayed him full in the face with bear spray (which looks orange on someone who is sprayed) before stealing the phone and running away.  His entire face was red and swollen and he said it felt like he was on fire and he couldn't see.  I called 911 and requested police and ambulance assistance, as Sean used the water from our bottles and our neck buffs to try to help wash his eyes out.  I
n the time it took for the first responders to arrive, the lady who lived in the house we were in front of came to the rescue, turning on her garden those so he could wash off the mace, bringing out a pile of washcloths, a basin of water, dish soap, a bag of ice, a clean shirt, and constant reassurances.  The Winnipeg firefighters were the first to arrive and they were extremely nice and helpful, although it turns out all you can do if sprayed in the face with mace or bear spray is to wash it off and keep flushing your eyes. 

                                    (taken in an attempt to photograph assailant, cut for privacy) 

It was stunning that something so brutal could happen in a quiet neighborhood, literally right on Trans Canada Trail, and only seconds before we reached the spot.  Perhaps it was a simple robbery, but given the terrible anti-Asian sentiments that have arisen in the last year, it was impossible not to wonder if it was racially motivated.  It was an awful act, and the only consolation we can find is that while a single man attacked, eight people stepped forward without hesitation to help with kindness and generosity.  The only way to overcome evil is through compassion and love, and both the first responders and the many good people of that Winnipeg neighborhood in their rapid selfless responses are heroes. 

Tonight, as we wash the bear spray out of our own clothes and off our skin we can't help but wonder about the privilege that we undoubtedly have in being able to trek across Canada without the fears that others might experience on their own adventures or the prejudices that so many experience daily in right here in Canada.  Would such a trek be safely possible if we were Black? Asian?  Indigenous? Gay?  I would like to hope so, but we can never know.  Clearly there is still more to be done to ensure everyone is safe and knows they can wander our city streets and venture into nature in safety. 

An amazing day on the Trans Canada Trail, which has given us so many natural wonders, has also given us a great deal to reflect upon as well.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what an experience, helping the poor guy.
    But also WOW what magnificent pictures!

    ReplyDelete

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