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  • Chestermere Lake is a birding treasure

    Chestermere-Lake-A-Birding-Treasure-Sora-Rail

    In making a decision to move to southern Alberta three years ago, one feature Elaine and I looked for was a community that had a body of water that likely attracted birds and waterfowl. After having lived in Cold Lake for almost twenty years, water had become a part of our bird watching environment. Luckily we found Chestermere Lake, nestled comfortably within a beautiful community, providing not only recreational opportunities, but also a home for a vast number of bird species to appreciate and to photograph.

    Over the spring, summer and early fall of 2021, we thought regular observations of birding life that we would record on the ebird.org website, would tell the story of how valuable Chestermere Lake is for waterfowl and birds. Beginning on April 5th to October 6th, essentially 6 months, I enjoyed my 54 walks along the lake. Starting in The Cove, a leisurely stroll might take me as far as “Dog Beach” or when more ambitious, walk completely around the north section of the lake, taking time to check the small pond at Founder’s Point when heading home. Not to be missed of course, is the the storm water pond tucked nicely in the northwest corner of area that is surrounded by the paved walking paths.

    The value of having a notable water body for waterfowl and birds cannot be understated. Over the course of the six months, it is amazing how many different species of birds make Chestermere Lake a stopover location or in many cases, a home to raise a new generation of fliers. With the changing of the seasons, the number of species one sees certainly varies, with the spring and fall migrations providing the widest variety of opportunity. In exploring the ebird.org website, no less than 176 different species of birds and waterfowl have been spotted and recorded as being at Chestermere Lake, with some sightings dating as far back as 1982. To date, Elaine and I have seen 91 different species in our bird watching adventures in Chestermere and we are always looking for a surprise bird.

    Of immeasurable value are the cattail and reed beds that envelop the north canal, the storm pond, and the western shore of the northern half of the lake. These locations provide nesting sites for both birds and wildfowl – some we can easily see, such as the red-winged blackbird and yellow-headed blackbird. These two species in the hundreds, construct nests just above water level, out of our sight and safe from predators. In some secrecy various waterfowl make homes in the cattails and reeds as well. Rarely seen is the sora rail, a tiny, unusual looking creature. The storm pond and west side of the lake were homes to a number of sora rails this year. Horned grebes, coots, mallards and blue-winged teals create families as well in those hidden places. A small, really chatty homeowner in the cattails is the marsh wren, rarely seen, unless it is curious as to your presence. The cattails and reeds also provide hiding places for sleeping at night. During my early morning walks, it was not unusual to see ducks and coots emerge from hiding and move into view.

    Aside from the waterfowl making grand use of the shoreline, birds in great variety rely on the lake for food as well as locations to perch and rest. Merlins, a small falcon species, recognized by their distinctive screech when perched on rooftops along the lake, nab dragonflies, damselflies and other insects to feed their young. At times sizable flocks of tree swallows, some barn swallows and purple martins, pursue hatches of midges and caddis flies just above the waves. At Cove Beach, the trees hold small surprises, such as yellow rumped warblers,house finches, American goldfinches and ruby- crowned kinglets, each searching for insects to consume. At ground level you may be fortunate enough to see a beautiful northern flicker digging for larvae in the grass. Our “regular” birds, the House Sparrows, European Starlings, Ring-Billed Gulls, Black-Billed Magpies and Rock Pigeons add to the movement, energy and awareness of feathered life around the lake.

    The small pond near the Brightpath Daycare location is home to blue-winged teals, mallards, blackbirds and at times, smaller songbirds. Founder’s Point pond is well guarded by the red-winged blackbird couples that raise their young in that location. Ducks including teals, redheads and canvasbacks have made stops in the pond as well. When the exit canal connecting Chestermere Lake to McElroy Slough is low, it becomes a food source for shorebirds like the Greater Yellow Legs.

    Chestermere Lake is truly a gem for birdwatchers. With our current drought drying up large numbers of the shallower sloughs in the region, the lake is more valuable as an environmental shelter and home. The lake north of Highway 1A, provides a good habitat for both waterfowl and birds, especially with homeowners and the City of Chestermere having trees and shrubs for cover for many species. Bird feeders for song birds, blue jays and chickadees add to our avian diversity. Aside from birding, the dog park provides anyone who likes dogs, a haven for seeing different breeds and enjoying their company. The Covid-19 free exercise for anyone, be it on bicycle or on foot is beneficial for both physical and mental well-being. One also has a great opportunity to meet many wonderful people from Chestermere. For birds, people and pets Chestermere Lake serves as a fine location to call home.