There are times when the need for combining exercise, birding and enjoying the surprises nature brings surfaces. This is inevitably the case in September, when the morning temperatures are cool and its freshness invigorates both body and soul. Rusty Red is emptied, the back seat is converted cargo space: The helmet, cycling gloves and “Rockhopper”, my mountain bike, are loaded.
Thirteen miles later, parked at Ralph Klein Environmental Park, gear is unloaded, my backpack is stocked with a camera, a notepad, iced tea, a tire pump and a spare tire tube. Sunglasses and cycling gloves are on and the canal trail beckons, right after picking a few tiny pears from a park tree to munch on while riding.
In minutes, heading north through Shepard, crossing the railway tracks and into an industrial part of Calgary, the Western Irrigation District canal comes into view. Turning west, the bicycle tires are now on the asphalt covered north side of the path that follows the canal, leading to the section of the river, where Bow River water enters the irrigation system. Both sides of the canal are dotted with industrial buildings and trailer truck storage lots. The railway tracks are busy with trains heading east, loaded with C-cans and grain cars. It can be noisy at times when the train engines and truck traffic crossing the overpasses combine into a roar.
Then silence. Cycling slowly, listening and looking for waterfowl, waterbirds, shorebirds, perching birds and corvids, I am in my immediate “heaven”. Greater Yellow Legs tip teapot-like, foraging along the canal edge. Small groups of Mallards and Common Goldeneye, well aware of my presence, move upstream and away from the canal banks. European Starlings emit a variety of sounds, flying from a favourite treetop then across the canal to perch on power poles. A pair of Double Crested Cormorants, most wary indeed, explode into a running takeoff on the canal, fleeing my impending presence. They circle about, finding a safe spot in the opposite direction of the Rockhopper.
The Glenmore Inn is in sight. I know I have ridden about 10 miles, but have the urge to continue on. Crossing a canal bridge, heading upstream, I hope to see a Hooded Merganser, my goal for this ride. Rank odours, strong enough to make a skunk flee in panic, emanate from two industrial buildings, so increasing the cycling speed becomes a priority. Tucked on the north side of the canal within the trees are makeshift shelters of homeless individuals. Rounding a corner, three small waterfowl floating downstream are visible in the clear water. Mission accomplished. Hooded Mergansers!
The relaxing, joyous and peaceful return Ralph Klein Park extends the pleasure of the four hour adventure. Looking at my written bird list, 23 species have shared a moment of their lives. A mule deer buck has offered a mildly interested glance while grazing. Mind and body are at rest. Memories are made. Good weather is forecast. A return cycle awaits.