Earlier this week I had the privilege and pleasure of accompanying fifty grade 7 students from the Calgary Science School as they headed into the field to collect some baseline observations prior to the reintroduction of beavers to the Pine Creek watershed at the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area.
The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area is located just southwest of Calgary and consists of 4800 acres of aspen forest and grassland habitats. A portion of the conservation area is open to the general public, with access controlled via an online booking system and subject to a $2/person fee. Day use fees provide access to approximately 20 km of hiking trails, including two self-guided interpretive walks. The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area also offers a range of education programs to school and community groups, summer day camps and other programming. Current program details, including fees, can be found here.
Over a period of several years, the project will demonstrate the role of beavers in improving ecosystem health through the provision of healthy wetlands. The Cows and Fish organization has produced a video that imparts more background information – Beavers: Love ’em, Hate ’em on YouTube. An Okotoks newspaper article on the plan to re-introduce beavers along Pine Creek reports that although the MD of Foothills supports the idea, there are concerns about beavers migrating outside of the conservation over the long term.
Members of the Miistakis Institute instructed half of the students on how to assess the mix of vegetation currently growing in proximity to a small man-made reservoir along the Pine Creek. In addition using a portable grid to survey vegetation at specified locations, students took several photographs of the current shape of the reservoir, water level and vegetation using the iPads assigned to them through the Calgary Science School’s 1:1 technology program. Cows and Fish personnel led the other group of students as they undertook an inventory of riparian plants currently growing downstream of the reservoir. Both sets of observations will help create a baseline picture of the area before beavers are reintroduced to the area in July. The hope is that the students will return while in grades 8 and 9, to make further observations that will help document the effects of the reintroduced beavers.
In addition to helping with the photo record of existing vegetation, I tried my hand at photographing some of the birds, insects, animals and wildflowers at the Cross Conservation Area. I spotted hawks, red-winged blackbirds, tree swallows and other birds; also lacewings, lots of different spiders, bees, wasps and ladybugs. Two white-tailed deer made their way across the rolling hills. Our background music for the day was a chorus of frogs and bird song. Here are my best critter shots…