Sunday, April 7, 2013

Is Spring Ever Coming?

Canada Geese Feeding

We took a drive today out toward Elk Island Park and surrounding countryside to see any new bird arrivals. We found Canada geese by the thousands scattered in farmers fields searching through newly exposed stubble hoping to find some wheat left over from last fall. Their honking and gabbling (is that a word?) was deafening as if it was my fault that pickings are sparse. Plenty of ducks scrounged along side the geese to little avail. The snow is still fairly deep in most places and there is also a very firm crust on top to keep them at bay. That crust is firm enough to keep the geese from their meal but not firm enough to support a pussy willow hunter. My boots were full of snow but the wife was happy to get her wild bouquet.

Wild Boar Hiding

A little further down the road, I spotted a couple wild pigs. They were enclosed in a pretty stout fence surrounding a thick willow patch. I managed to refill my boots trying to get a picture of the wild boar who was lounging in a willow thicket, hoping that I couldn't see him.

Bison Bull Grazing in Deep Snow
In the park itself we came upon a lone bull bison shovelling for his feed with that massive skull. When his head no longer worked so well the front hooves were put to use. He looked to be in pretty good shape after the long winter, but this is where they have lived and thrived for thousands of years. I was talking to a park employee the other day who told me that the park just sent several bison to Siberia to try to repopulate that region. There were at one time the Steppe Buffalo which were hunted to extinction. This is the second load of bison to be sent over.

Frosty Bison

A snow squall swirled through the park as we motored along. A lone bison followed the trail of many, delayed by a tree on which it paused to scratch its back.
These bison are large animals, the big bulls weighing close to 2000 lbs. They are surprisingly agile and quick on their feet. We should give them a reasonable right-of-way or they can do some damage to you or your vehicle.

Snow Squall Bison

Bird life in the park is very sparse at this time of year. A lone raven is all I spotted today.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

3 Days in Florida

Limpkin and White Ibis

I now can see why northern people like to migrate like the birds to the warmer climes of the southern USA or beyond. I was in Florida for only 3 or 4 days in the first week of February where it was in the high 70s and low 80s. At home, we left behind -25 with a wind chill. Florida was beautiful even if I had to work for 8 hours of each day. I still had a couple hours per day to bird watch and just wander around enjoying the sunshine and scenery. I managed to put more than 30 new birds on my list ranging from herons, Ibis, warblers and cardinals as well as a couple new hawks. I found a Limpkin and a wood stork which can be quite tough to find. I saw a turtle, or rather a turtle head poking out of a water run. Almost got a photo but too slow. I even found a crocodile that was trying to sneak up to a little blue heron. Much too obvious for that heron to fall for. I was once again amazed with a great blue heron whose eyes were too big for his gullet. He had a fish as large as his belly that would have to go through his beak and down that long skinny neck before arriving at the gizzard. The fish was not only large but seemed to be quite bristly with fins and teeth. Florida was also winter home to several species that we have here which I saw. Mallards, yellow-rumped warblers and hooded mergansers all winter in this area.

Little Blue Heron and Crocodile

Next year if I go back, I will spend a few days after our training session and rent a car for some touring. I have always had on my bucket list a drive to the end of the Florida Keys. I would also like to take a look in the everglades, ride and air boat and swim with the manatees. There are also several species of birds that I would like to see but need to go to their particular habitat to find.
The one complaint I had for the trip was a screaming child on the plane. I did manage to control myself but it was intolerable. A couple travelling with 2 kids about 4 and 2 years old who had no control. The youngest one cried for 4 of the 5 hours of the flight from Toronto including the delay of over an hour on the ground waiting to get de-iced. This family were sitting right in front of me. There are times for a good swat on the ass and that would have given that kid a reason at least to cry. Next time I fly I will be equipped with ear muffs and a water pistol.
Eyes are Bigger Than His Gullet

I should mention that the reason for my trip was to see and play with all the new John Deere lines of machinery that I sell. Several new models of lawn mowers, gators and utility tractors are out this year. We also got to drive and compare with some competitors machines. We have them all beat, hands down.

It is nice to go for a tour but is always great to get back home.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Tree Hunting

One of the pleasures of the season for our family is getting out into the bush to look for a Christmas Tree. This event seems to be the official start to our winter season celebration. This year we were a bit earlier than usual because the younger generation has taken over, They like to set their tree up at least a couple weeks before Christmas. I preferred to do it a couple days before the celebration. Yesterday we left home before the late sun even began to show some sign of getting up. By the time we drove the two hour to Michael and Ann's home the light was just about as bright as it was going to get today. It barely climbed above the tree tops before settling back down for a long winter night. We drove another hour to the forest that had been replanted after being logged off, and replanted, maybe 15 years ago. The lodgepole pine grows very thick, too thick to be healthy so it really doesn't hurt to cut a few down, we call it thinning, something Mother Nature does on her own in her own time. We even try to cut the tree at least a couple or three feet above the ground and the pine tree will continue to grow.

Michael with too big a saw with his tree choice

Erica and Friend Riley

The first thing we do after scouting the location is to gather some dry fire wood and build a bonfire. It was about -12 so was not too cold but there is a comfort in a campfire. It is the central gathering spot for everyone to warm chilled fingers and toes.
We all spread out, scouting our choice of trees. Some people prefer White Spruce but I have always been partial to the bushy pine tree. The men went first, then the women to make the final approval. The quads towed the sleigh full of kids down the cutline to the chosen tree. Everyone has a say and an opportunity to protest before the final tree is picked and cut down, after all, we all have to live with it in our home for the next month or so. 
Once the tree is picked we all head back to the campfire for a celebratory glass of rum and eggnog and a meal, today consisting of rice and meatballs with beans and wieners roasted on sticks. Kids all get juice or pop and whatever they choose to munch on. Pretty soon, as the sun quickly slips behind the tree tops we start packing up for the journey home. Chilly fingers get warmed over the dying campfire, rosy cheeks and frosted toes are all part of a winter day in the bush laughing, family and friends, joy, tales and memories.

Beer, friends, campfire and laughs

Young Pine Forest
 Merry Christmas to everyone. We look forward to the rest of the holiday season with anticipation of more family time, fun, food, a bit to drink, a Christmas to remember for our selves, but most of all for our kids and grand

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Naturalist Scientists

Many organizations such as large aquariums, zoos, wildlife foundations and government agencies rely upon citizen scientists to monitor and maintain wild areas. With modest kit such as binoculars, cameras, notebooks, trail cameras, GPS and maps, guide books and checklists, we can watch and note the things we see wherever we wander. Because transportation by boats and vehicles is so expensive, many professional researchers rely upon knowledgeable naturalists and tour guides, who are wandering around anyways, to pass on any sightings of certain critters that they see. Along the west coast of North America, for example, there are several interested agencies that rely upon whale watching companies and tour operators to monitor and identify the cetaceans they see daily.
Humpback Tail Markings are Unique to Each Individual
The Vancouver aquarium has been doing fantastic work with photo ids of orca and humpback whales as well as monitoring populations of dolphins and sea lions. Many of the whale watching companies know some of the orca populations as well as their own families and notice when a member is missing from the clan. Whale watchers get caught up in the excitement of the research as they become more aware of the challenges that the oceanic creatures live with daily. With awareness and education come empathy and a willingness to help by spreading their new found knowledge to their own friends and families which often leads to monetary donations and a change of attitudes and habits, then, assisting the threatened environment. The Center of Whale Research, Fisheries and Oceans Canada Cetacean Research Program and B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network monitor all whales, dolphins and porpoise along the B.C. coast line through a network of guides, naturalists, tour companies, commercial and sports fishermen and commercial shipping companies. There are e-mail contacts and phone numbers to report to if you see something of interest or to just report where you are seeing which species of whales. One season, in a period of about one month, I reported four different dead creatures that my guests and I saw on our tours. These mortality's had already been spotted by scavenging eagles and gulls which lead to our discoveries.

Harbour Porpoise Mort
 I took photos, notes as to GPS locations, time, date, suspected species, suspected causes of death and any other details we noticed. These notes and photos were then E-mailed to the fisheries and oceans office for investigation. They can then monitor the area to see what may be causing the sudden spike in mortality's. Without our eyes in the field it could be months if ever before they knew there was a problem if there was and were able to respond.

As we were touring an isolated region of the coast one spring we stopped by a large, exposed, rocky islet near the mouth of Knight Inlet. It was covered with gulls who became very agitated as I slowly motored past. I noticed several gulls nesting so paused to take some photos as I had never seen gulls nests before. I took a few notes including GPS location of where we were at. I sent the information into the B.C. Breeding Bird Atlas headquarters.

Glaucous Winged Gulls with some possible Western Gull Cross breeding
 This created quite a stir as they had not heard of this breeding gull colony before. I ended up taking a doctor of bird on a tour through this region where we discovered a pigeon guillemot breeding cliff as well a confirming my observation and noticing some black oyster catchers also breeding here. I am an observer for the breeding bird atlas monitoring one 10 mile square in a remote section Knight Inlet for the past 4 years. Even though the gull colony was outside of my square, I was able to help provide very accurate information to this valuable project.

Incidentally, I created quite the stir when I reported a Eurasian Collared Dove, band tailed pigeon and an American Redstart in my square. Once again the Doctor of bird showed up to confirm my amateur sightings. While there he was also able to confirm a couple other unexpected birds for this region. These sightings were the beginning of a long relationship with the doctor as he ended up coming out annually to put on a bird watching course for all the guides at our lodge. He was also able to add several more species to my list which I could not hear or identify.
To find bird watching clubs in you area, “Google” that. After I moved to Alberta, I googled nature clubs and found scores of them located in every region of the province. Various nature clubs watch, educate new birders and count birds, monitor nests and nest boxes. Other clubs monitor the skies at night watching northern lights, stars, planets, shooting stars and satellites. A big part of what some clubs and naturalists do is rescue wounded or stuck animals. Hundreds of birds fly into man made obstacles or are hit by vehicles. Some of them can be saved if found in time and taken for appropriate care. Many baby mammals are found every year lost or abandoned by mothers and taken to shelters to be cared for. Mountainair Avian Rescue Society, Hope for Wildlife and Northern Lights Animal Rescue are just three valuable groups of overworked, under appreciated and under paid people who genuinely care for our hurt wildlife. All these groups rehabilitate and restore to health, if possible, and release back into the wild, healthy animals and birds. There is unimaginable joy that helps to compensate the hard workers and volunteers when they are able to release back to the freedom of the wilderness a creature that they have healed.

Norman Carr Safaris, whom I visited in Zambia, rescued a baby elephant from a mud hole right below their headquarters last summer. They noticed a concerned mother elephant pacing back and forth on the mudflat nearby and upon investigation saw the baby mired so it could not get free. Several of the guides and staff gathered ropes and shovels, then braved mother’s wrath to finally dig and pull the baby elephant free of the mud to rejoin its worried mom. These same guides are on constant watch for poaching in the South Luangwa National Park. They have spotted and helped to rescue hundreds of animals that had been hurt or trapped in cruel snares. If found in time these animals are tranquillized, the snare removed and wounds are treated.

Remember the U-tube sensation last year of the tour group who rescued a humpback whale that was entangled in a fisherman’s net. After the whale was freed from the clutches of certain death, it put on an exuberant show of breeches, tail and flipper splashes of thanks. Think of the feelings and emotions of the rescuers when they went to bed that evening knowing the freedom granted to that magnificent whale.

It is sometimes suggested that we may be interfering with Mother Nature’s grand design by rescuing wounded or trapped animals. That baby elephant was rescued before the hyena or other predators could get to it, thereby depriving them of their meal. Sometimes we humans do show some compassion and cannot stand by while a helpless little creature wails and cries for help as its helpless mother looks on in horror. Other times we are the indirect perpetrators of the horror, e.g. the net.

Common Merganser and her chicks
 I was once quietly watching a mother merganser leading her trail of chicks searching for food. I had a small skiff of guests and we all marveled at this sight so close when I noticed a bald eagle sitting in a tree top nearby watching the food parade in front of it. We were all creatures of the earth; the watchers, the prey and the predator, when the predator, did what predators are supposed to do, suddenly glided down toward its next meal. Deadly armament lowered, wings flared, intense concentration and sudden panic from mother merganser. I had my camera up and focused upon the line of chicks ready to finally get the big money shot. Perfect, until a compassionate human mother in the front of my skiff leaped up, and waving her arms and legs, yelling at the predatory eagle at the top of her lungs in a foreign language in no uncertain terms to leave those chicks alone. You could see the shocked look on the eagles face as it suddenly braked in mid swoop about six feet above the scampering ducks, hovered for a couple of seconds then flew back to its roost. I think I was as shocked as the eagle was for the same reasons. That concerned woman calmly sat back down muttering, “Not the babies, you go catch a fishy!”

As interested people who love the wilderness of our back yards, bird feeders, city parks, national parks or vast wilderness, we can all be citizen scientists. We do not have to have formal education to be Dr. Bird or Dr. Bear to be very helpful. We can report a poacher, put a camera up on a game trail,

Grizzly Adjusting the Trail Camera to his Liking

and do Christmas bird counts, feeder counts throughout the seasons, monitor bird nests when we find them either informally on our own for our own interest or join clubs and organizations to help provide detailed and reliable records for groups such as Breeding Bird Atlases.

Curious Saw Whet Owl in a nest box

We can join in May Bird counts, Raptor Nest surveys, Nocturnal Owl surveys, eagle watches, bear den watches, night sky watchers or whatever you may feel comfortable doing and with the time you have available. This is also a great way to get kids involved so they may also become naturalist scientists. Become involved by volunteering at rescue shelters or by assisting Junior Forest Wardens, Scouting or Brownie clubs, or just take your kids or grand children for a walk in the park.

Breaching Humpback Whale

At the end of the day you will feel as if you had just rescued a whale.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Elk Island National Park

Within 1/2 hour drive east of Edmonton lies a small National Park, cut in half by the Trans Canada Highway 16. Thousands of vehicles pass through this completely fenced park daily, their drivers scarcely noticing anything other than the odd Bison inside the fence. I finally took the plunge yesterday and stopped in to see what might be in the fence. I paid a small entrance fee and drove inside the north half. Bison roamed freely along the roadside, grazing on the mature grasses. I was watching one small herd a few hundred meters off and failed to see a large herd that crossed behind my vehicle. Missed that shot. Beaver have been busy cutting a few short Aspen trees across the road from their dam and lodge, storing food for the coming freeze up. It was a beautiful fall day, clear skies, warm wind and still a few golden leaves hanging tenaciously onto the tops of white paper birch and trembling aspen trees. A clear, dark blue sky, made even deeper by the polarizing filter in front of my Nikon lens, helped highlight the brilliance of the pure white birch trees. A little further on I came to a typical prairie land pothole lake, surrounded by reeds and cattails. The lake is dotted with small, white spruce covered islands. These spruce have been protected from frequent wildfires that keep the rest of the park covered with stunted aspen, birch, poplar and willow. The fires help control the trees from overtaking the grassy meadows needed to feed the wild ungulates such as bison, elk, deer and moose.
I sat quietly with a fellow photographer on a hillside overlooking one of the many small lakes as the sunset in front of us. Geese, cranes and trumpeter swans were calling to their cousins as they arrived from the surrounding fields of grain to the safety of the lake before darkness fell. Coyotes yelped in the forest behind us as the speed birds, blue winged teal, whirred in overhead as if late for a family meal. Several muskrats veeed the watery mirror beneath the darkening clouds, highlighted by the last sun rays peeking through the brushy island cover. All colors tried their best to add to the beauty of the evening. What better surroundings could one sit in to become rejuvenated for the coming week trials of the human kind. A small glimpse of lightning far to the west, following the darkening skyline foretold the late season thunderstorm soon to arrive. Time to head for distant cover and the rainy drive

Monday, September 3, 2012

What is Environment

When and where I was raised in the bush country of Northern Alberta, there was no “environment.” Nature was all around us. It was something we used, argued with, fought, exploited, used and took for granted. We carved our homestead out of bush that had been burned over by a large forest fire several years earlier. We bulldozed and piled the aspen and willows into windrows to be burned. The stumps were turned over by large breaking plows and we worked hard picking roots and rocks so our small equipment could plant a crop of grain to be harvested in the fall for the cash needed to raise a large family. Moose and deer were plentiful and free for the hunt, so we ate them rather than our cows, pigs or chickens that were worth cash. Our spare time was spent on a nearby river where we hunted, fished and picked berries to store for the coming winter months. We used a net to catch many varieties of fish, not understanding that the prime netting areas were also probably prime spawning grounds. We kept all the fish, having no idea that we were keeping the older fish that were just old enough to begin to spawn. During these years the river ran cold and clean. Later, a large pulp mill was built on one of the larger tributaries and the river turned black from the sludge that was pumped from the mill into the river. Froth made it as far as our campsite sixty miles downstream and we could smell the mill waste in the water. Cows even quit drinking the river water. Fish began to die and the survivors were full of PCBs and authorities told us not to eat any that we caught.

We made a few trips each summer to a nearby Provincial Park where we fished for sport but more importantly for the table. Catch limits were very liberal in those years. The lake was large and we never thought that there was any chance that we could fish that lake out. Over time, farms encroached closer to the lake shoreline and the small creeks that drained the surrounding farmland became more and more loaded with chemical fertilizers that farmers applied to grow their crops. Now more algae and plants grew in the lake and as a result, the water warmed. Soon there were times in the summer when the water temperature rose higher than what the fish could live in. Oxygen became depleted and fish died by the tons. It is now a challenge to catch a fish in this beautiful lake.

We logged spruce timber from the large creeks close by to make lumber for sale or use for building our farm buildings. Now there were fewer trees to help contain the rainfall on the hillsides so the water ran off and carried logging debris into the water. Oxygen was used up trying to rot this woody matter and silt covered the gravel were fish needed to spawn.

Cows were also grazed on the hillsides of the creeks but they chewed off the native vegetation and dropped tons of manure into the creek water making it undrinkable. We trapped beaver from the creeks so no water was contained behind their dams. Over time we noticed fewer and fewer ducks and the creeks ran dry over the summer. The little trickle of water that always leaks from the beaver dam was no longer there providing nourishment for thirsty wildlife, so they moved on.

As farmers modernized they became more dependant upon fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Pesticides kill not only pests, but good insects as well. Honey bees, lady bugs and birds by the thousands die off each year. No longer does the song of the meadow lark echo over this farmland as it once did. The great Bald Eagle was just about extinct due to the chemical spray DDT causing their egg shells to be too thin and breaking before chicks could hatch.

A few years ago, oil was discovered in this area of Alberta. Now, there were roads and oil leases carved into the middle of fertile farmland. Pipelines and wove their invisible pathways under the fields and across rivers and streams carrying their liquid burdens to the refineries to be processed and transported to where we all can burn it in our cars and trucks. Natural gas was also found under the land so more roads and pipelines were needed. Flare stacks burned off excess pressure, production and poisons from underground. More people suffer from emphysema, asthma and cancers than ever in history in regions where oil and gas companies produce their liquid gold, however, the link is unproven. Anecdotal evidence is invalid when dealing with large corporations or governmental agencies who, really only have to provide some doubt to any environmental argument to be not guilty. The river pollution was also unprovable because we had no “numbers” from before the mill was put in.

We were too busy and poor in the early years to worry about much other than the day to day survival of our families. We lived within three hundred miles of two world class national parks, Banff and Jasper, but we had never visited. These parks were for the rich people to visit, not for us. We saw pictures in our school library but never considered them too seriously. They were too beautiful for us to visit and too far away. Our “parks” were close by, and more available for the commoners to access. We did not even know anyone who had been to visit the National Parks, unless they were very wealthy or worldly. I was twenty years old and running free when I first saw Jasper National Park. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was difficult to comprehend the beauty of the place. Is it any wonder that it should be saved? As years flowed by, I have had the privilege of visiting many more of the parks in Canada and USA and now understand what they are about and what they yet could be. We do have to admire the foresight of people such as Teddy Roosevelt who proclaimed the first National Park, Yellowstone, breaking trail for many more saved areas. There is no doubt that they are usually beautiful and unique, but why do they stop where they do? Some of the country adjacent to the park boundary is also beautiful and unique. I know some of these areas have timber or mining potential so these properties have been left out to be sacrificed. The thing about parks that I see is their limiting borders for migrating or wandering wildlife. Just beyond the park boundary, the critters are fair game in season. I know hunters who hunt along ancient migration routes of sheep and elk just beyond the park border waiting for trophy animals to wander down from the high country to lower level wintering meadows. The human habitualized animals from the park do not understand the sudden barrage of deadly gunfire from formerly harmless humans.

Many animals such as the large predators like grizzly bears or wolves need huge range to survive within. They can be limited to resources by artificial, manmade boundaries. Denning sites, wintering grounds for prey, mating territories and various food resources often lie just outside protected park boundaries and inside legal hunting zones. Some animals such as grizzly bears or wolverine may require safe corridors linking wilderness parks together so they may wander freely in search of mates. Genealogical diversity is crucial to the long term survival of the grizzly species. Inbred grizzly bears are not healthy or viable.

Here in Western Canada, we now face an even greater threat upon the wilderness and wild lands. Our Athabasca Tar Sands region contains vast quantities of heavy oil which is currently being mined by several large corporations. As these mines expand, the companies would like more markets to send the crude to. China seems to be the most eager to receive the needed oil. In order to get it to China, a large pipeline has been proposed to cross half of Alberta and all the way across British Columbia to the port of Kitimat. This pipeline will cross the most rugged terrain on this continent, over and through mountains, under, across and over rivers, and through some major earthquake zones on the ring of fire of the western shoreline of North America. Then, as if this isn’t enough, the companies propose loading the bunker crude onto the worlds largest oil tankers and sending them through some of the most treacherous waters along the B.C. rugged west coast. Hidden rocks, narrow channels, high winds and waves, huge swell and the high probability of human carelessness and equipment failure all conspire to make another coastal oil spill inevitable. This spill could be ten times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil disaster from which the environment and local communities have still not recovered more than twenty years later.

Environmental impact hearings are just about to start on this project. Our federal government has limited the time line and the numbers of speakers at these hearings in the hopes that it will be approved quickly.

I have driven most of the route of the pipeline and wonder about how a company with dubious pipeline safety records would go about cleaning up a pipeline spill in any place along this pipe’s path. Large parts of the route are granite, muskeg, pristine lakes and huge rivers. In summertime it is some of the prettiest country you can drive through, in winter some of the harshest. Deep snow falls the closer you get to the coast, 10 to 30 feet often pile up in the forests. It can snow 2 feet over night around Terrace and Kitimat. How would you find the oil leak in the first place and then, how would you clean it up under all that snow? How could you boom the oil slick on any of the rivers in winter, let alone on the huge Skeena River? What happens when the expectant earth quake hits the coast line, rupturing the 36 inch oil pipe, then how do you get to the rupture on a broken road or rail lines? Is the risk worth all the money that can be made off this pipeline proposed by a large company with an already dubious record of pipeline maintenance and spill cleanup? Google “Enbridge Pipeline” and read a bit about this proposal and their record.

Now consider passing the oil from the pipeline on to an oil tanker owned by whom? Where is it registered? Where is it insured? Who is responsible for the tanker and its load at any one time? What happens when the tanker can’t make the turn through a couple of the channels in the mouth of Douglas Channel? Who is supposed to clean up the spill? Who is going to pay the bill? What is going to happen to the already threatened Northern Resident Orca population that lives in this area when they are exposed to the crude oil slick from a ruptured oil tanker aground on the rocks? Sea birds, a recovering population of sea otters, humpback, grey, blue and minke whales as well as an already stressed salmon population are all under threat from an oil spill, not to mention the whole sea dynamic of plankton up through the food chain.

Now-a-days, there is an environment, I have learned. We are all part of an environment. A healthy environment is crucial to all of our survival and well being. We all share a part in keeping our environment safe. We are all apart of making sure that the land we use today is in great shape for our grand kids and theirs. Do we have to use it all up today, can there be nothing held in reserve for the future? Are humans the only species that matter? Don’t forget that to all other creatures, we humans are the enemy. We are the critters who are causing so much stress to everybody else. What do we think of when we see a bad human? That is what everything else is thinking of us now!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Old Time Harvest

I enjoyed spending a day at the Strathcona Vintage Tractor Association antique tractor pull and show this past weekend. It is an annual affair that pits tractors of various classes, according to weight, against each other in a pull off. Which tractor can pull the sled the furthest down the track? The tractor operators work as hard as their tractor to do the job. There are 6 classes of vintage tractors, all built before 1960. There were over 100 tractors at this years event, held at the clubs track at the site of the Bremner mansion which has been declared a historical monument by Strathcona County, This impressive home was built by a remittance man from Great Britain in the early 1900s. Now the county allows the SVTA to plant and harvest demonstration crops using the old fashioned technology of the day as a memorial to the hard work and inventiveness of our early pioneers. It is also amazing to see how machinery has advanced technologically since the turn of the twentieth century.
Deerland, the company I work for, donates the use of the track repair tractor, the tow back tractor and a 4 seater Gator to help the association with this event. Several hundred people wandered around the exhibits and cheered on the efforts of the historical tractor restorers as they coaxed their smoke bellowing steel steeds to maximum horsepower and traction.

On the opposite side of the field another group of machinery antiquity experts demonstrated a typical harvest using equipment built anywhere from 1900 through the 1950s. An "Oil Bath Rumley" tractor powered the threshing machine through a rack full of oat bundles. The long belt whispered and clacked its power effortlessly through the machine as the two man crew pitched the bundles into the throat of the grey monster. Out the other end blew the chaff and waste straw, once the guys turned the spout the right direction. The smaller spout carefully measured the clean seed oats into the 1950s model 2 ton GMC truck. Over in the fie
ld one John Deere model 70 towed the 12 foot Cockshut swather around and around the field of standing oats. At the other end of the field, going the opposite direction was a BR John Deere towing the 10 foot binder. I'd forgotten that the binder had to go counter-clockwise around the field as the bundles have to drop off on the stubble side. Once the group of 5 bundles are made, the binder operator drops them in the field where the stookers come along and stand them up by hand to cure and dry. I made about 40 stooks and that was enough already.
All in all, I think the participants enjoyed their days as much as the spectators did. There was plenty of advice flying around from some of the old timers who were standing around reminiscing.

On another note, a hailstorm blew through this area a few days ago. I stopped to look at the damage caused to a beautiful canola field. Most of the pods are laying on the ground after having been smashed open by the pounding hail.

Just next door is a field of peas that were laying on the ground ready for harvest. The combines had picked up over half of the crop and now it is swarmed by flocks of Canada Geese and ducks. The migrants lift off the North Saskatchewan River and numerous sloughs nearby to eat and gorge upon the peas lost by the combines. Geese grow quickly on this free, favorite, high protein fare. It seems that the struggles of the farmer are similar no matter the times or the areas where they live. Hail, drougth, wildlife, frost and machinery problems all work with or against the farmer of old and new. Only people of the farm can understand and empathise with the stewards of the land.