Coyotes & Songbirds

Winter Morning Ride

Winter bike commuting can be a very fine thing. If you were to head down to Mill Creek and conceal yourself in a snowdrift, and patiently wait, peaking out with a periscope, you just might spot me happily cycling past while whistling a jaunty tune or singing a song. On the other hand, you might not want to do that as the warble of this winter cyclist is often off-key. Despite the pleasures of commuting, it’s nice to actually get out for a purely recreational ride sometimes. On Saturday morning I finally managed to do this for this for the first time in a month.

The weather forecast had showed that Saturday was likely going to be the last of day of our two week long unseasonable thaw. We’ve had temperatures as high as +8°C when the normal temperature range for this time of year is between -18°C and -8°C. Knowing this gave me the necessary motivation to set my alarm for early Saturday morning. More importantly, it gave me the motivation to not press the snooze button a dozen times, ultimately ignoring the alarm, sleeping in and then annoying everyone around me by bemoaning the missed cycling opportunity. Shortly before dawn, I was out on the ravine bike and happily zooming down Kinnaird Ravine.

The thaw-freeze cycle has added a slick, icy crust to the boot-tromped, hard-packed snow on the trail. It’s probably treacherous to walk on, but it didn’t bother me much as I did my very best to let the studded tires do all the work. I did travel a bit slower than I normally would. I headed along the north side of the river towards the Capilano pedestrian bridge.

Winter Morning Ride

As I approached the bridge, I could hear some coyotes yipping somewhere ahead. Peering down the river, I thought I could see some shapes moving about on the ice. I rushed onward to get a better view. From the bridge I could see two coyotes scampering around on the river, chasing each other playfully. This was the high point of the ride, and I stopped to watch for a good 15 minutes, breaking out the thermos of tea as well. I tried to take a picture of the animals, but they were a fair distance away, and my rugged little point-and-shoot camera has wretched zoom ability.

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs.  National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Yes, those little black dots on the ice are coyotes. With effort, you can almost make out that they have legs. National geographic photography awards, here I come!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

Also visible from the bridge, and equally majestic, was the Goldbar wastewater treatment facility that looked to be flaring off an excess of methane. Ah, the poetry of urban life!

On the South side of the bridge, I headed back upstream and into some trails with a bit more climbing. There were a few comic moments along this segment. At a couple of spots I spun out and stalled out on a steep, icy climb and had to put my feet down…but it was too icy to walk or even stand easily. In the past I have been reduced to crawling to the side of the trail dragging my bike along. Today I was close enough to the crests to stand and lock the breaks, then use the bike as an anchor, shuffle ahead a few inches, then gingerly slide the bike ahead and repeat the process. Sheer cycling elegance, that’s my style.

Winter Morning Ride

Morning Winter Ride

Down in the riverside trails there was plenty of evidence of our recent unusually windy day. I will forgo my usual sneering at what Edmontonians think qualifies as a windstorm, and admit that it actually was pretty gusty that day.

Winter Morning Ride

Hmmm...should I bunny hop this obsatcle, shoulder my bike cyclocross style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

Hmmm…should I bunny hop this obstacle, shoulder my bike cyclocross-style and hurdle it, or just heroically slink around it.

As I was rolling along the path below the golf course, I startled a flock of little songbirds that flew up into the branches of a decrepit old tree and then started crying out a storm of protest at my intrusion. Suddenly suffering from an attack of a sort of digitally induced neo-pavlovian conditioning, I emulated a certain Langholm blogger and got out my camera and attempted to take a photo of the little birds. It turns out that this was actually really difficult to accomplish; the little creatures were in constant motion and my camera is at its worst in low light conditions. Once they decided I wasn’t some sort of bird-eating Sasquatch, they returned to feasting on the frost-wizened berries on the little stand of rowan trees. I found their choice of food to be a dubious one. The local rowan, or American mountain ash is, I think, the same species of tree that we call dogberry back on the east coast. Folks back there make a country wine using these berries. I’ve never yet had a drink of the stuff that I would describe as pleasant, though it certainly “does the job”.

Winter Morning RideAfter this, little of note happened during the ride (other than, ya know, exuberant enjoyment of the beautiful river valley trails and warm weather). I eventually headed back up out of the valley to city street level and headed off to Bikeworks to squeeze in some time at the shop before my family was up and about. The streets were a swampy slurry of water and slush covering lunar ridges of ice. Perfect conditions for creating roadway chaos when the temperature drops.

Winter Morning Ride

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from  +6°C to -16°C.

Twenty-four hours after taking this picture the temperature had plummeted from +6°C to -16°C.

Coyote Highway

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One of the fun things about winter is spotting tracks in the snow. While cycling home a week or so ago I spotted these tracks dotting the fractured icescape below the High Level Bridge. I think these are coyote tracks, maybe an animal moving in a diagonal trot. On several occasions, as recently as this past Friday, I’ve seen coyotes using the frozen river as a route through the city. The animal is sensibly traveling along the smoothest part. The downside to this is that is likely the thinnest ice.

Edmonton residents wanting to report a coyote sighting should visit the Edmonton Urban Coyote Project. The website also has tips on avoiding conflict with the animals.

Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

People, I have a serious blog jam that I need to break. My hard drive is so stuffed with photos from this summer that they’re oozing out the computer’s ports onto my desk. What a mess! To clear this up I’m resorting to a series of no frills photo blog-posts. Minimal text. Fear not, normally programmed wordy blathering will be resumed in short order.

This first post features  my July trip to Saskatchewan. Previously, I could barely claim to have seen any of the province. Our small convoy of motor vehicles hauled 8 people on a 9 hour drive to our neighbouring province. And,of course, we took some bikes.

Grain ‘n Trains. The modern grain elevators are less photogenic than the old wooden ones but you still can’t beat them as a prairie icon. I took a raft of photos on the drive out but I will spare you the majority as most of them were taken through bug smeared windows at highway speed.

Early on the first morning at the campground my daughter and I went for a walk. Two deer trotted past us about 10 feet away. My daughter was instantly charmed.

A few minutes later, while we were walking through a field of waist-high grass, a duck exploded from nearly under our feet.

My bike of choice for the expedition: the2008 Kona Jake. This cross bike is a good compromise between road bike and mountain bike making it a great all rounder. The trail you see it on here is a rough heavy equipment “road” that circled the campground. The Jake gobbled up the heavily rutted sandy track with no problems. There was one steep hill that was so much fun that I went down it three times. The only mishap was when the front wheel lodged  deep in a soft patch and I had a pleasant trip over the bars.But hey, that soft patch meant a soft landing too, so it was all good.

There was a big wind storm at the campground a few days before we arrived. A lot of big trees were blown down, one of them crushing a brand new RV (luckily unoccupied). By the time we were there they had the power restored and most of the storm damage cleaned up.

Cross carefully.

Another prairie staple. These pump-jacks liberally dot the framer’s fields.

The campground also had a golf course. I think that this is the clubhouse.

There was a certain practical approach to the maintenance of the putting green. I didn’t feel unduly worried that anyone was going to yell at me for riding my bike across the course.

There were a lot of these little cacti on the golf course.

Pelican over Antelope Lake.

I also took a few rides on the surrounding country roads. TheJake showed its versatility again as I easily explored both paved and unpaved roads. The 700cX35 Schwalbe Durano tires were great on both road surfaces. This road extended in a straight line to the horizon, exerting a mesmerizing effect compelling me to cycle endlessly forward. But then I’d have been late for supper.

Here we see another example of that Saskatchewan practical approach, this time as applied to roadway maintenance.

This antelope was standing by the roadside and fled into the field as I cycled closer. As I pedaled past, it retreated to the crest of the hill where it was joined by a few more antelope. They decided to follow me. First they’d run, then they would stop to watch me for a while, then they’d run along pacing me again, and so on. They clearly could not decide what the heck I was. This went on for a couple of kilometers before the novelty of my presence wore off. Cycling along with the company of the antelope may have been the highlight of the trip. All the creatures I encountered (including humans) exhibited the same bemusement at the approach of a cyclist. One herd of cows studiously ignored passing motor vehicles but turned as group to gape at me as I approached, eventually deciding to flee. Passing motorists did not flee but certainly did gape.

Urban Wildlife Report #1

The North Saskatchewan River runs that through Edmonton is a wildlife corridor . The river valley is an extensive and mostly continuous system of parks and trails and offers plenty of opportunities for spotting wildlife. Over the years I have seen deer, coyotes, falcons, beavers, muskrat, geese, a pelican, porcupines, rabbits and multitudes of songbirds. All of this in the center of a city of nearly 800,000 people. So far this year I haven’t spotted many critters although I have seen many signs. The rural boy in me is always happy to see creatures other than humans and their pets. For me the close proximity of the river valley is probably the single biggest quality of life feature of Edmonton.

There are beavers toiling away in the river. Once, while walking down by the water early in the morning I startled a beaver that was quite a distance from the water. It turns out that a beaver running for the river is not a graceful sight. I haven’t spotted one yet this year but as these pictures show they have been industrious.

The geese have been making themselves at home since their arrival. This one showed no concern at all as I cycled up behind it.