Q: What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
A: You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo …..
No, I haven’t lost the plot. It may be the last weekend of August and after nearly 2.5 months off school an element of hysteria has set in. I can safely say that everyone’s had a lovely break, but are now ready to return to their studies. Whilst we’ve still got over a week to go before this happens, I’ve been on the search for somewhere to visit as a day excursion – and get some of the kids’ surplus energy burnt off. I was instructed that this had to involve a picnic, an element of walking (albeit the kids plea was that this ‘wasn’t too much’), and lots of animals to spot and seek out…
So, my chosen destination was Elk Island National Park. We’ve never ventured anywhere to the east of Edmonton, and this is just 35km outside the city, taking just under an hour door to door, to get there. It’s one of 43 national parks and park reserves in Canada and also Canada’s only fully fenced in national park, home to North America’s largest land mammal; the wood bison. In fact, the wood bison is on the threatened species list with numbers having diminished to extremely low levels, and the park has been one of the most influential organisations in re-establishing bison not only in Western Canada and the US, but has contributed to growing bison herds all over the world.
The park was originally founded in 1906 as a wildlife refuge for the preservation of elk herds in the area, and since then, has grown to be a wildlife sanctuary for bison, moose, elk, white tail and mule deer, beaver, porcupine, Canadian lynx and other small animals. It is home and a migratory stopover to 250 species of birds, including pelicans, great blue herons, a large assortment of ducks, and birds of prey … bald eagles, great horned owls and osprey. After the African Serengeti, Elk Island has the 2nd highest population density of grazing animals in the world. Bet you didn’t know that!
Most of them however, were elusive in their absence today. We toured the park, took the instructions from the park wardens on where to go to spot the herds, but alas, all we saw was one huge male bison having a relax in the sun (see above!).
That said, we did spot lots of beaver dams – minus the beavers themselves …..
… and we also saw 5 pelicans – which we weren’t expecting so this was a bonus!
The views across the lakes were fantastic, and at 75 square miles, the park has ample enough space to accommodate those that venture this way. It wasn’t busy in the slightest – but I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything in Canada which can be classed as ‘busy’ the way it is back home in the UK.
Lots of different trails to explore, all of varying distances and across assorted terrains. We took a 3.5km walk on the Beaver Trail which was through woodland and along tracks which saw us back at the truck in just under an hour. We need to venture back, as there are longer treks – some 16.5km in length which will take you further into the park and present a much higher chance viewing animals and wildlife living there – but obviously, take a longer duration in time to complete. The best time to visit being early in the morning or at dusk – not at mid-day when all my brood had eventually got themselves dressed, organised and finally ready to get out of the door!
Most interesting, is that the park is also home to Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve – one of only 7 dark sky preserves in Canada, and dedicated to maintaining dark skies. In fact, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada use the site to observe the night sky, and the public is also welcome to attend – as long as ‘night sky etiquette’ is strictly observed. I can just imagine trying to get my husband to abide by this – I’ll have more chance getting the kids to do as they’re told! That said, I’m frequently receiving nightly alerts informing me of the chances of seeing the ‘Northern Lights’ in the Edmonton area, so given the Dark Sky Preserve is so close to us (in relative terms), we’ll go for a night viewing of the sky at some point and hopefully, spot in full colour, the Northern Lights. Let’s hope. I’ll let you know how we get on!
So, one week left before school resumes. The challenge is on for the final week. Start the stop-watch ……