Weeding for Wildlife

Yesterday, I volunteered with the Edmonton Area Land Trust (EALT) to help with a Weeding for Wildlife / Wind up the Wire event. We went to their Golden Ranches property, which is jointly managed by a number of organizations, including the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Path through the field

Weeding for Wildlife involves removing invasive plant species to stop them from taking over and to allow native species to thrive. We were focusing on removing some patches of tansy. The organization had already surveyed the area, so we knew where to go. It was just a matter of taking off any flower heads (to be bagged and removed from the site, to avoid spreading seeds) and then pulling the plants (roots and all, if possible). Wind up the Wire involves removing old barbed wire fences, which can block free wildlife movement. The staples/nails attaching the wire and the wire must be removed from the site because they are dangerous: wildlife can get tangled in the wire or cut on the rusty barbs. Neither job is particularly easy, but it’s really great being out of the city, in a natural habitat and doing something that makes a difference. Of interest to nerdy people, there were also two extra volunteers who are plant experts: they were identifying grasses and sedges to ensure a complete record of the plant species on the property.

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

I helped with the weeding, because I love plants and, frankly, I couldn’t remember if my tetanus was up to date or not (working with rusty barbed wire without up to date tetanus would be a mistake; I checked when I got home, and my shots are up to date). On the way to the first patches we wanted to tackle, we saw a doe, so we had to be careful to watch for a hiding fawn (the doe hides the fawn while she’s out foraging), as we don’t want to disturbed the wildlife. We didn’t see any fawn, but, while doing data collection in June, the EALT staff found a fawn; they took a quite picture, but left it undisturbed. Later, we walked to another patch of tansy on the other side of the property. It involved walking through tangled alfalfa and other flowers, which was really hard on the legs.

Alfalfa, and White / Dutch, purple and Sweet clovers

Alfalfa, and White / Dutch, purple and Sweet clovers

Frankly, I’m surprised that my legs aren’t really sore this morning. It’s a beautiful field, but it’s hard work trudging through it. Nonetheless, we got a fair amount of work done. We had to leave one cluster of tansy because we found a swallow nest with chicks. The whole point of this work is to support wildlife and native plants, so we always leave nests undisturbed, as much as possible.

Baby sparrows (we made sure they were left undisturbed)

Baby sparrows (we made sure they were left undisturbed)

It’s work, sometimes even hard work, but it’s so great getting out of the city (especially as I rarely leave the city because I don’t have a car) and spend sometime in natural areas. The projects are long term – the wire may be removed permanently, but plants spread so weeding will be a long term project. But, that’s ok because every bit we remove now is a little less, which means native species can thrive. And, in the meantime, look at all the amazing and beautiful things we saw: butterflies, flowers, and baby birds.

Greenish Blue Butterfly

Greenish Blue Butterfly (sitting on the developing tansy flower heads I wanted to bag – I had to give it a few gentle nudges before it was willing to fly off)

We also spent the day listening to bird calls and songs, including a Red-Tailed Hawk (who doesn’t love the sound of a hawk!), sparrows (I can’t remember which we heard, but it sounded a bit like Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed Sparrow – one of the other volunteers, a birder, explained the difference between their calls, but I don’t recall the details), etc. We even saw some adorable Bufflehead ducklings.

unknown butterfly

unknown butterfly

At the end of the day, I had a chance to visit a store that I didn’t even know existed until I looked up out meeting spot (we car pool to the sites): The Wildbird General Store. It’s an amazing little treasure, especially if you love birds. They have: seeds of all sorts; bird (and bat) houses; bird themed gifts; bird magazines, and books, CDs, and DVDs; birding gear (hats, binoculars, etc.). I’m not planning on becoming a birder any time soon, but I like the idea of being able to identify birds I see (especially if I get pictures of them and post them online), so I took the opportunity to ask for advice about bird books for beginners. I left with 2 bird books, a plant book, a pamphlet about a local nature group they thought I might be interested in, and a magazine they gave me as a gift “for stopping by”. If you have even the slightest interest in birds or want a bird friendly garden, I highly recommend you visit these guys!

Going to start working on learning some birds and local plants

These are the three books I bought. Lu recommended a couple of bird books, but I opted for these ones. And, this is supposed to be one of the better plant books for the area.

One last thing: The other people weeding were the EALT’s conservation coordinator, who is lovely and a great source of information, and a fellow volunteer who shared a lot of information, especially about butterflies. I’m grateful for her shared knowledge, because I knew essentially nothing about butterflies, but picked up just enough to have a better appreciation of them, not to mention enough knowledge to identify a few of the ones I took pictures of.

European Skipper?

European Skipper

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