Saturday, July 3, 2021

Press(ing) On : The Forks to Westdale

When we set out this morning into the bright sunshine the day was already warm.  We made our way through downtown Winnipeg, along sidewalks busy with people heading to work, going for a jog, or looking for breakfast.  As we walked past the legislative buildings a friendly lady named Amber stopped her car in the middle of the traffic to ask us where we were hiking and to wish us well on our journey.  Her encouragement was a lovely way to begin our third season on the Trans Canada Trail!


We soon picked up the forested gravel path along the Assiniboine River, and began heading west.  After a very short distance we began following the bike route signs, which directed us through a lovely old neighborhood with interesting houses set back on deep, well-landscaped properties.  The sidewalk was shaded by huge, mature trees that provided lovely shade. 



As we meandered along the familiar route, which we had previously hiked last fall en route to the airport, we passed lots of people out jogging, pushing their babies and toddlers in strollers, and walking their dogs.  

The local secondary school was celebrating a graduation, adding additional life and energy to the neighborhood.  Everyone smiled as we passed, and quite a few children surreptitiously asked their parents about our carts.  We chatted to two ladies about our hike, and they ended up offering us water refills and more kind words.  We cannot express how much we appreciated these simple interactions and the outpouring of good will after living for so many long months in the shadow of the online world.

Eventually we left the shaded neighborhood behind and followed a paved cycling trail through an open grassy park and up to a very narrow pedestrian bridge that crossed the Assiniboine River.  The narrow walkway was busy, but we managed to stop and watch Barn and Tree Swallows performing their aerial acrobatics as they searched for insects to feed their hungry nestlings, and to watch a family of Common Mergansers swimming in the wide, shallow, muddy looking water below.



As we continued along the winding Wellington Crescent we threaded our way through construction as we passed more large homes on treed and landscaped properties, one of which had a very creative and colourful Little Free Library outside it.  As we passed under the highway overpass we enjoyed seeing colourful street art, some of which featured birds! A little farther along we spotted a beautiful family of Wood Ducks lined up on a log in the river beside us. 

Next the parkway took us through Assiniboine Park, which was full of people out enjoying the beautiful hot summer's day. This 450 ha city park opened in 1909, and 400 ha are landscaped in the English garden style.  The park also includes the 280 ha Assiniboine Forest, the Assiniboine Park Zoo, the Assiniboine Park Conservatory, the historic Assiniboine Park Pavilion, formal and informal gardens, a sculpture garden, a miniature railway, an outdoor theatre for performing arts, and numerous other attractions.

The paved bike path took us through open grassy areas, and along shady treed corridors running beside the river.  The songs of Red-eyed Vireos, America Redstarts, and Yellow Warblers filled the air.  We watched a pair of Chipping Sparrows feeding a family of noisy fledglings in the shrubs beside the trail.  Black-capped Chickadees delivered large loads of juicy caterpillars to a cavity full of nestlings.  Hairy Woodpecker fledglings complained loudly from the canopy, spurring their exhausted parents on in their quest to provide a steady stream of grub.  One of the birding highlights for us was watching a flock of Chimney Swifts circling at high speed above a wooden 'chimney' constructed especially for them to nest in. 

We made a stop at the Park Cafe, located beside the beautiful Riley Family Duck Pond, near the entrance to the English Garden.  We sat in the shade and gratefully enjoyed a cold ice cream while watching a pair of Mallards lazily paddling around the pond.

After this much appreciated break we continued on through the park, eventually emerging in another quiet, peaceful, neighborhood.  We followed the residential road as it would along the beside the river, until we came to another underpass.  We stopped for a few moments to watch a large colony of Cliff Swallows busily foraging above the river and returning to their rows of densely packed nests on the under side of the bridge.  The noise and activity were mesmerizing.  As we sat there we spotted three deer foraging just beyond the bridge.  Sean went to photograph them, and they proceeded to strike a series of adorable poses, looking as though they were kissing. 


The paved bike trail took us through Tom Chester Park next.  This open, grassy park featured a small landscaped pond in the middle, which was full of Red-winged Blackbirds.  Many of the males were engaged in very vocal and serious disputes, and they seemed to be showing off their impressive red shoulder patches to the best of their abilities.

After this park the trail wound through another residential neighborhood.  Many of the roads had quite a bit of traffic and no sidewalks.  There was no trail signage or other route markers, and it felt rather like we were wandering aimlessly through the subdivisions of Winnipeg.  This is not a new experience - the Trans Canada Trail often has us weaving through neighborhoods at the edges of capital cities, and so far, we've found them to be very similar to one another.


The one interesting thing about this section was the deer who were randomly wandering around and sitting in people's front yards.  Some people have plastic deer as lawn ornaments, and others seem to have the real thing!


By early afternoon the skies had clouded over and it was beginning to spit rain.  We had planned a short first day, intending to go back and bird the Assiniboine Forest after dropping our things off at a motel. In reality, after 17 km we were bushed.  It turns out that after eight months of sitting at a desk, followed by two weeks of an almost entirely stationary existence, our bodies were in no fit state to cover a respectable distance in 32° C temperatures.  Just as the skies opened up we reached a motel at the edge of Winnipeg, and decided to call it a day.

After taking a shower and washing our laundry in the sink the weather had cleared up a little, and we decided to take a walk to the nearby Van Roon Prairie Garden.  As we walked down the rail trail to the park we passed a row of 100 saplings which were apparently planted in honour of CN Rail's 100th anniversary.  When we arrived at the park we found several benches and various trees, shrubs, and prairie grasses planted throughout.  As we sat there enjoying the scenery we spotted a group of five American White Pelicans flying by overhead.  A definite wildlife highlight was seeing a thirteen-lined ground squirrel poking its head out of its burrow.  These amazing looking rodents, with their intricate stripes and spots, might be as common here as Eastern Chipmunks are in Ontario, but this was the first one we've ever seen, and we think they are fantastic!


As we enjoyed this small creature the rain began once again, this time in earnest.  We headed back to shelter, feeling highly optimistic about the birds and wildlife awaiting us in the prairies. 

2 comments:

  1. Glad you are on your way! I love reading your adventures and wildlife sightings. I didn't know about those cute ground squirrels.

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  2. May each of your days be as lovely as this! (I will work hard over the next few days to catch up with your adventures).

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