American White Pelicans in Prince Albert National Park
American White Pelican in flight above Prince Albert National Park, in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada.
After leaving Little Manitou Lake, Bob and I headed north to Prince Albert National Park still in the province of Saskatchewan. We promptly got settled in a cozy cabin in the Park. Despite it being only 64º Fahrenheit, Bob and I enjoyed a picnic on the deck of our cottage.
As I sat eating my sandwich, imagine my surprise when a huge Spotted Pine Sawyer landed nearby. We had been informed that these insects will inflict a nasty bite, so we exercised caution.
An earlier inquiry had us then heading off to explore our first trail in the Park, Waskesiu River Trail. At a length of only 2.5 kilometres, the trail promised to be an easy walk through boreal forest following along the Waskesiu River. We had high hopes of seeing some wildlife.
Greeting us near the parking lot of the trail was a very friendly Common Raven. I’m sure that it was looking for handouts.
To access the trail, a wooden pedestrian bridge spans the Waskesiu River from the parking lot to a grassy area complete with tables if anyone wants to rest or have a picnic.
Bob and I paused to appreciate the view of the Waskesiu River from the bridge before getting underway. The source of this river is the northeastern corner of Waskesiu Lake just north of the little hamlet within Prince Albert National Park where we had our accommodation.
Sections of the trail keep the gently flowing river within view. The setting was so peaceful.
Bob and I immediately started to take notice of some of the flora and fauna. A lovely little collection of Northern Bluebells wavered in the light breeze where they stood at the edge of the forest.
We were delighted to see a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail nectaring on some of the blossoms in a sunny glade.
The habitat was perfect for these butterflies given that one of the larval foods is aspen leaves. Over the course of the next couple of hours, Bob and I saw numerous individuals similarly getting nectar from the wildflowers.
The Waskesiu River Trail follows along the bank of the river until it enters into the aspen- and spruce-covered hills of the river valley.
We had a delightfully sunny day that warmed up substantially in the afternoon. The dappled shade and flickering shadows of the trees kept tricking our eyes as we scanned the woods for birds.
After a short distance, an opening in the trees revealed a patch of bright sunshine. A boardwalk traversed a particularly wet area.
The catchment area of Waskesiu River is vast and includes part of the Waskesiu Hills as well as Waskesiu and Kingsmere Lakes. The Waskesiu River is well fed with water.
The provision of a boardwalk protects a lot of the flora such as the Marsh Marigolds growing in one section of the wet woods.
About a half kilometre along, the trail begins to hug the Waskesiu River once again. Bob and I became very excited when we saw, in the distance, some white birds floating upstream.
Even more exciting was when some of them took flight towards us.
As the birds got closer, Bob and I could see that they were American White Pelicans. Although these birds are referred to as American, a good majority of the species actually breeds and raises its young in areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada.
Bob and I had already caught a glimpse of a couple of these Pelicans on Waskesiu Lake, but the enormity of their size had escaped us.
American White Pelicans are one of the largest birds in North America with a 9-foot wingspan. They rival Trumpeter Swans in size. As these individuals flew over our heads, a slight downdraft from their broad wings caressed my shoulders.
A series of elevated boardwalks conducts hikers out over the water of the Waskesiu River. That is where we found an interpretive sign that explains the significance of the river to the Native people.
For thousands of years, Waskesiu River provided the local tribes with food and a clear route for transportation. They often left an offering of tobacco or a feather on Old Man Rock, the home of the river’s spirits.
Northern Pike are common fish in the river, and as Bob and I had already observed, there was also ample waterfowl such as these Common Goldeneye Ducks that might have been hunted for sustenance. Waskesiu in the Cree language means “red deer” or “elk”, an indication of other possible game in the area.
With dragonflies dipping over the whispering reeds, and the water rippling at our feet, Bob and I were lulled into a state of total relaxation.
An American Bittern with slow steady beats glided easily across the sky above us.
The Waskesiu River Trail crosses to the opposing riverbank via the extensive layout of elevated boardwalks. We still had 2 kilometres of the trail to traverse.
As we crossed the river, a group of American Pelicans came into view where they hugged the shore in a quiet spot .
A little further upstream, other Pelicans were entering the water to join the fleet. There is a technique that the Pelicans use when fishing. They work together as a fleet to herd schools of fish into the shallows. The concentration of fish makes it easier for the Pelicans to scoop up a meal in their massive bills.
American White Pelicans use their pouched bills to scoop up a mouthful of fish. We were lucky to observe a number of the Pelicans actively feeding.
American White Pelicans prefer small fish about half their bill length. In shallow wetlands, the prey can consist of various species of minnows including suckers.
From the one observation deck, Bob photographed a large number of White Suckers such as this one floating above the rocky bottom of the river. This individual would be too large for an American White Pelican to consume, but younger versions of this species I’m sure were being caught.
It is a fallacy that American White Pelicans fly with a pouch full of fish. A Pelican lifts its bill to drain the water, and any prey remaining is swallowed right away. Ungainly and gregarious as these birds are on land, they are quite graceful in flight despite being among the heaviest of flying birds in the world.
The large webbed feet of the American White Pelicans make them adept at swimming, and they are used expertly for water-ski landings.
Bob and I were fascinated by the Pelicans and spent a good while observing and photographing them. We had seen this species of Pelican in southern locales where they winter, but this was a first seeing the species on its breeding grounds.
The feeding frenzy complete, the Pelicans moseyed on downstream allowing Bob and I to continue on the next leg of our hike.
Before entering into the deep shadows of the Black Spruce forest, a Mink hastily retreated from the river on a fallen log.
Reminding us a little bit of home was a sighting of a Canada Jay. We have occasion to see this species in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, during the winter months.
As we once again neared the entrance to the trail, the discovery of a small patch of Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper rounded out our observations for the afternoon.
Lady’s Slipper Orchids are native to North America and are found growing usually in moist forests, bogs or on riverbanks.
Owing to the slipper shape of these flowers led to their alternate name Moccasin Flower.
This blog post would not be complete without mentioning Bob’s glee when he found a hidden Geocache. He duly opened the little treasure, signed his name and returned it to the secret location! Our afternoon hike on the Waskesiu River Trail had been a delightful introduction to our next few days within Prince Albert National Park.
Frame To Frame – Bob and Jean