Pelicans!

pelicans, lake isle, albertaWe were out at the cabin again this weekend. We glanced out to the lake just at the right moment to see two pelicans gliding by. We always think it is such a treat when we come across them as they are so different.

A cropped in image of the pelican.

A cropped in image of the pelican.

The next day we were out and I noticed my husband was driving a rather odd route to our destination. I asked him where we were going, and he said he wanted to take a quick look to see if the pelicans were still around. We stopped at the part of the lake where we expected to see the birds, but not a single pelican was on the water. Then, by chance, we looked up to see pelican after pelican flying overhead. What a sight!

pelicans in flight

 

Lake Isle – After the Rain

Lake Isle, Alberta

Our mid-week get away let us experience a windy and soaking rain storm. Once the storm moved to the east we were left with stunning colors and wildlife popping out all over. In addition to many types of birds, we also managed to see a muskrat, two deer and a fox….all in a matter of a few minutes. We were thrilled to see the fox, unfortunately he was quicker than the camera!

muskratmuskratLake Isle, Albertadeer

11:40pm and still light in the sky at Lake Isle, Alberta

11:40pm and still light in the sky at Lake Isle, Alberta

Special Siting

red necked grebe

We had an unusual opportunity to go up to the cabin, in the evening, mid-week. Our cabin is on Lake Isle, about 45 minutes west of Edmonton , Alberta. An opportunity like this almost never happens, but it is great when it does. This area is so quiet when it isn’t the weekend, no boats on the lake, almost non-existent traffic, very few people out and about. When we first arrived we were fortunate to see a blue heron flying overhead and pelicans flapping in the distance over the lake.

As the evening went on we decided to stay the night at the cabin instead of heading home late, and thought an evening drive would be nice. On our drive we spotted this pair of birds, my son tells me that the are Red Necked Grebes.

red necked grebeAs we watched the activity around the nest from our car, we noticed one bird stayed close to the nest either sitting on the eggs or what appeared to be checking on the eggs. The other bird was constantly swimming back and forth collecting bits of plants and adding them to the nest.

red necked grebeI was thrilled when I looked at the images and saw that the eggs were actually visible in the pictures. I can honestly say I only have one other set of pictures with eggs in a nest  so this is pretty exciting for me.

red necked grebeThe opportunity to watch such activity never would have happened on a busy lake of roaring boats and loud beach goers, luckily our little lake is quiet and allows us a glimpse of the natural world.

red necked grebered necked grebered necked grebered necked grebered necked grebe

A Tour Through Lac Ste. Anne County Alberta

This should be a different style post for all my readers. I haven’t done anything journalistic on this blog before, however I have to admit it is an interesting way to shoot so it is possible many more of these styles of posts will be popping up in the future.

We were out at our cabin in Lac Ste. Anne  County (Alberta, Canada) on the weekend. With recent events in the area I thought taking a tour through the county might be a good idea. It has been a while since I had been out to see any of the developments in the County, and I wanted to see if my memory had recorded the situation accurately.

View over Lac Ste. Anne from the pubic beach at the town of Alberta Beach. Sunday June 2, 2013.

View over Lac Ste. Anne from the pubic beach at the town of Alberta Beach. Sunday June 2, 2013.

We decided to head toward the Alberta Beach area. Here we visited the development named “Windmill Harbour”. According to the County, Phase 1 was registered in 2009, which seems about right as the last time we were out there was about three years ago. It was as if time had stood still. We were greeted by welcoming open gates and a sign promising “new ownership”. I have heard rumours of the past of this development, but that really isn’t that important to this post, what is important is what we witnessed this day at the site. My husband, always one to be interested in real estate, decided to call the number. “Ring….ring…..ring………” No answer. No machine. Nothing.

So we progress in to see a closed Sales Office. This is Sunday afternoon. This is cabin country. This is when deals are made. If you are selling recreational property Saturday and Sunday are the days you make the sales….trust me…we own a couple of rec. properties.

At a closer look we see the sidewalk is shattered with no attempt for repair, trim is off the mobile used as a sales office and the development’s mail box has been thrown behind the mobile home. My observation is perhaps this development isn’t exactly up and running, even though it has been three years since I last drove past its gates.

I look down the deserted streets that are framed with flat bulldozed land. The land is decorated with weeds, poop and surveying flags. A lonely rusted fire hydrant stands at one end of a street with a suburban dream. An unfinished show home greets us with a ramshackle wooden walkway and a dumpster. My husband surmises as to what the fate of the show home was, he is in the construction industry. My observation is it isn’t finished. It isn’t open. It is as if NOTHING has changed in three years. Everything in nature was flattened for this “Florida-style” design. Habitat didn’t matter.

One person involved with a development just to the east of Windmill Harbour informed me that “birds will nest anywhere” and that he was the one with “logic”; apparently his deserted (kind of ) inland fake beach wasn’t attracting customers on this June afternoon….yet another well thought out development. I guess this is a consistent way that developers think, “birds will nest anywhere”, after all they have all the right in the world to annihilate the natural world in the pursuit of a fast buck. But my perception from this afternoon is the “fast buck” is perhaps not happening. Ringing out phone lines, closed sales offices, partially finished show homes (after 3 years!) and no sign of an actual customer’s home being built (again after 3 years) is not the sign of a development that is working. Was it really worth destroying the landscape and the natural world for this?

It’s funny, the first time we ever drove past this sign I knew the place would never make it. There was no way they were going to sell the lots. This is cabin country. People own out here to escape suburbia, to escape parking lots, to escape home owners associations, to escape a cookie cutter lifestyle. People in cabin country are there to watch nature, sit on a deck, listen to the birds, watch the stars and perhaps get away with wearing the ugliest t-shirt they own. I can not imagine what these developers are thinking. They have no clue of the market or why people are out in this area. They think “build and they will come”, but in Lac Ste. Anne County it isn’t exactly working out in favor of the developer. The fancy proposals and all their “tip toe through the tulips” wording really doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day it isn’t what people want. People don’t want the developments; it isn’t what this neck of the woods is about.

We have to ask ourselves, “Was is really worth destroying nature to end up with empty streets, bulldozed fields, a broken Sales Office, shattered sidewalks, a half-finished show home and a rusted fire hydrant?” But this is development here in Lac Ste. Anne County where my lovely little cabin is.

End of the road.

End of the road.

We decided to carry on to the town of Alberta Beach which is just minutes away from the Windmill Harbour development. Again it has probably been about 3 years since visiting the town even though it is reasonably close to our cabin. Alberta Beach fell off our radar a few years ago when we decided to do a walk or hike each weekend we were at the cabin. Walking or hiking just doesn’t happen in our county so we head to Parkland County, Pembina Provincial Park, or even as far as Edson, Hinton or Jasper. We love to hit the trail and our children love interpretive walks so we try to find places to go that keep everyone happy.

Alberta Beach was a shock. Everything was for sale……..cabins, land, businesses, buildings. Sign after sign after sign. It summed up the economic activity in the area. It summed up that money wasn’t being spent. It really made me wonder ” Why is the County allowing huge amounts of natural land to be ripped up when it is obvious to anyone who walks down the main road of Alberta Beach that there is no money to be spent here?” Senseless. If people aren’t buying a coffee, people aren’t going to buy a luxury gated community home. It was so obvious.

The town was empty. Sunday June 2nd, 2013, middle of the afternoon. One lady sat on a bench  at the far end of the grassy public beach area, otherwise the whole area was deserted. The pier that I remember walking with my children no longer exists. Gone. Quiet. Empty. Sad. Confusing to think how anyone, developer or County, thought a development in this area could ever work. Well it didn’t….and the wildlife paid for such poorly made decisions.

My true highlight of the afternoon was the mini golf course at Alberta Beach. Perhaps it is the photographer in me, but there was something so enchanting yet sad about the mini golf course. Over grown. Speckled with weeds. Clearly no customers, no money, no hope. Why again are they building developments that are going to die in a place where no money is being spent?

We left Alberta Beach shaking our heads. A completely stalled development that appeared to my eye to be abandoned. A town for sale with no customers. A feeling that it will be at least another 3 years before we roam in this direction again. I wanted to see the development Windmill Harbour. I wanted to see if my memory had recorded it properly. My memory had clearly been wearing rose-coloured glasses. The way the development had wasted the landscape and then seemed to abandon all they had done was astonishing. Why start a project when the money in the area to spend is clearly not there? Senseless.

HWY 633

HWY 633

We carried on out of town and hit Highway 633, the road that runs almost directly from our cabin. I wasn’t expecting it, but we came across another development. (Okay I really wasn’t expecting it as my husband had to do a quick and fancy flip around turn when I shouted “Did you see that?……….STOP!!!” We have very different driving styles, but that is a whole different post, but I will say the score is equal when it comes to receiving out portrait in the mail.)

 

We stop in front of the sign and it says “Alberta Beach Estates”. We see bulldozed land, weeds, a pile of junk, a funky light post, a farm gate, a billboard and a show home located just next to Highway 633. The billboard shows a picture of a lake even though we are a considerable distance from the Lac Ste. Anne; the development is right on the side of the highway. No trees, no bushes, flat bald bulldozed land.

My husband can’t resist the temptation and instantly starts dialing on his iPhone. He is greeted by “Hello”. Nothing indicates he has reached “Alberta Beach Estates”, just “Hello”. My husband asks about details regarding the development, all he is given is that they will be “city sized lots with no overhead power lines”. No lot size is given. No price. No offer of a package of information. No request to get my husband’s details. Puzzling. At the end of the very quick conversation my husband is told the lots will be ready in August or September. That is in as little as 9 weeks. Wow. Surveying done and all utilities in, in as little as 9 weeks. I am amazed. It took six weeks to have a sub-floor, laminate and trim put in my basement, so I am stunned by the time frame. However my gut feeling isn’t so good. If people will not buy lots on a lake, why would they buy them right off Hwy 633? Why was this development given permission? More bulldozed land and another potentially bust development.

I am sure you are at this point thinking “What a weird way to spend a Sunday.”. You see there is a development proposed for our little cabin area so I wanted to do some research and see what success developments have had in Lac Ste. Anne County.

On May 16th, 2013 Lac Ste. Anne County sent a letter to us with a very brief description of the proposed development. The below map was also sent to us.

map from the county blogI knew that development on a natural lake was a bad idea, however I will just link you to my Western Grebe post if you want to get up to speed on that portion of the story.

However at around 1 a.m. on Friday May 31st, I was snooping around the County website where I stumbled across this detailed map of the development, plus all the details of the development.

island view resort map blogThere is a slight difference. None of the property owners (except for 3) that I spoke to had any idea of what was going on. Out of the three that knew, one was a real estate agent, one was selling their house with the agent I just mentioned, and one was a fellow that I could only describe as being explosively angry over the whole development. He was, shall we say , very, very unimpressed with the proposal.

Now I am not sure if you can see a slight difference between the two maps. I’ll give a quick outline. The top map shows three red dots. The detailed map shows 448 RV sites, 1.5 km of habitat ripped out, all dropped on the door step of the Summer Village of Southview , Alberta.

Now do you want to hear the punchline…………SOUTHVIEW WASN’T NOTIFIED. Convenient loophole to sneak something through…possibly…..but Southview wasn’t told because they are a “summer village” and not “county”. It doesn’t matter that they will be able to stand at the towns edge and see the RV park, hear the RV park, have their traffic diverted because of the RV park, have  taxes go up because of the RV park (sewer lagoon and roads, infrastructure is a real concern), plus a whole list of other issues.

Now at this point I must declare I don’t own in Southview, but I am appalled that this community was not notified of what was proposed for their doorstep.

I am going to provide a quick visual version of the proposal:

Field to be destroyed and turned into an RV parking lot.

Field to be destroyed and turned into a 448 unit RV parking lot.

Trees to be removed for a sandy beach and marina.

Trees to be removed for a sandy beach and marina.

Shoreline and vegetation slated for destruction upon proposal approval.

Shoreline and vegetation slated for destruction upon proposal approval.

The development's vision is beach to the left and RV parking lot to the right.

The development’s vision is beach to the left and RV parking lot to the right.

The road in to the proposed resort, also "Phase 1" which amounts to an RV parking lot right next to the highway.

The road in to the proposed resort, also “Phase 1” which amounts to an RV parking lot right next to
Highway 633.

Protecting their investment but not the environment.

Protecting their investment but not the environment.

I look at all this beautiful landscape, the life filled habitats, and the rural fields that define this part of the world and realize we are facing Lac Ste. Anne County making one more bad mistake by allowing another failing development to proceed. The County will give permission, the bulldozers will destroy, everything will be gone, and then the developers will discover that they have no customers and that the project is over budget. Here will be yet another space resembling Windmill Harbour. Seriously, if Windmill Harbour thought they could have bailed themselves out by changing the vision and going the RV park route they would have. But they haven’t.

This is cabin country. This is not a resort. We do not have sandy beaches like Mexico or Florida or California here. We have a natural lake. I am tired of developers sitting in their little offices looking at Google Earth for an untouched lake to destroy….yes, the word is “develop”. I am sorry, our lake, Lake Isle, is nicely “developed” already. It is developed with habitats that support 100’s of species. It is a scummy, slimey, smelly, weedy lake and it is fabulous for wildlife. Wildlife and nature is why ALL of us own in this area.

Developers, the first thing anyone does when they start a business is they IDENTIFY THEIR MARKET. None of you are doing it. None of you get it. You will go bust. It is proven, look at all the photographic evidence above, and I barely touched the county.

Now I am going to pass on a little F.Y.I. to any developers (or smart assed real estate people) that come across this blog post. The people who own and will invest out here love nature, love quiet, don’t want to be regulated, often have been coming generation after generation. If they want to stay in an RV they park it in a friend’s or family member’s driveway, because being out here is about family, friends and the experience. They are not going to park their RV in something that resembles a Walmart parking lot. Everything the Island View development states in their proposal is completely against what the people who own and invest in the area stand for.

The water welcomes all swimmers.

The water welcomes all swimmers.

I met some wonderful people this weekend and I wanted to share some of the most memorable comments:

“Ewwwwww the water is so gross, I wouldn’t swim in that!”

“The blue-green algae should be back pretty quick…shouldn’t it?

“Remember the e-coli scare.” (fond recollections)

“It was so cool the year we had the total fish-kill, the mother bird brought the dead fish up on my lawn so the babies could eat. It was soooooo sweet!”

and my all time favorite (love this one!!!!!!!)

“Remember when all the cow shit washed into the lake! They’ve fixed it now……………….I think.”

The Western Grebe – Saving A Nesting Ground

Ever have one of those weeks when opening up your mailbox changes the whole course of the week?

We had just been away for the long weekend. Just like most people, one of the first things you do once you get home from being away is to open your mailbox and go through the mail.  The stack of mail went like this: junk mail, junk mail, junk mail, thick envelope from Lac Ste. Anne County (Alberta, Canada), junk mail……..”wait, what was that thick envelope about?” was the first think to run through my head (followed by putting the junk mail in the recycle bin). We open up the envelope only to be greeted with bad news (thick envelopes are never good news), a resort development was being proposed for a location minutes away from our cabin on Lake Isle, Alberta. Even worse, it is proposed for an area along the shoreline where there are always a huge number of nesting birds. This resort would annihilate the nesting grounds.

Lake Isle, Alberta

Lake Isle, Alberta

After getting over the initial reaction of anger we decided to attempt to do something. After a bit of research we discovered Lake Isle is a nesting area for the Western Grebe. The Western Grebe has been listed as an “at risk” species and is showing declining numbers. Research we have read indicates Alberta only has 6 to 10 lakes where the Western Grebe actually nest and breed, so losing the breeding ground would significantly impact the survival of the species of the Western Grebe. Research also indicates that Alberta is home to 10-19% of the WORLD’S population of the Western Grebe, so protecting this bird and its nesting grounds is very important.

I have spent the last two days writing email after email to environmental and conservation groups, individuals involved in the environment, government offices and politicians in hopes of raising awareness in the importance of protecting the shoreline. I am hoping that if I can raise a very vocal community in support of protecting the habitat that the Lac Ste. Anne County will see that the habitat of an “at risk” species is more important than an RV Park with rumoured quadding trails.

Once this habitat is gone it is gone FOREVER. Once the species is gone, it too is gone FOREVER.

I feel it is so important to show the importance of this natural area rather than take the easy way out, stay quiet and watch it bulldozed.

If any readers are interested in speaking up as to the importance of protecting the nesting grounds please feel free to email me for further information. We need a loud voice to fight the bulldozers, RV’s and quads.

For those interested, the file numbers for the proposal are:

Files: 06REDST2012 & 07REDST2012

If you wish to contact Lac Ste. Anne County (Alberta, Canada) with regards to the proposal, I have listed the contacts below. ALL WRITTEN CONCERNS MUST BE SUBMITTED BY JUNE 6TH, 2013.

Contact
Mr. Matthew Ferris
Planning & Development Manager
780-785-3411
mferris@gov.lacsteanne.ab.ca

Ms. Diane Burtnick
Development Officer
780-785-3411
dburtnick@gov.lacsteanne.ab.ca

Any help we can get in keeping this natural area intact is greatly appreciated.

Busy as a Beaver

beaver, lake isle, albertaOn the weekend we stopped by the lake access at Silver Sands, located on Lake Isle. As I walked to the water’s edge I noticed a lot of activity with a couple of muskrats; they were swimming around, climbing on logs and nibbling on things. I decided to go grab my camera from the vehicle hoping to capture a few muskrat shots. When I returned there was not a single muskrat in sight, however in their place was a beaver.

beaver, lake isle, albertaThe beaver cruised back and forth, and even tried to scare us away by flicking and splashing his tail. After quite a long time the beaver eventually grew bored with our presence and swam off into the distance.

beaver, lake isle, albertaWildlife encounters are always interesting and memorable.

Springtime at the Cabin

Amazingly spring has finally arrived after many, many, many months of winter and snow. It’s fabulous to be out and about shooting in the sunshine. ( Of course I don’t have a lot of choice thanks to a “little” water damage and the following insurance claim, but rumour has it I’ll hopefully be back to some studio shooting in about 2 weeks, but be prepared for a lot of location posts in the meantime….anyways, moan over and back to the post!) Our cabin, and its surrounding area, gives us the opportunity to experience rural life and all its joys and quirks.

view from the club house

Springtime at the cabin is wet….very wet. The image above is taken from our children’s club house at the back of the property. Our lot sits two to three feet higher than the adjacent land, and in the spring we joke about having a lakefront property (without “lakefront” taxes!) as the lot behind us fills with water, right to the fenceline. With the springtime “water feature” we also are treated to a lot of wildlife including birds, deer and frogs….lots of very, very loud frogs. The frogs are so loud this time of year that you can hear them croaking away while inside the cabin with all the doors and windows shut, and this goes on all day and night. We often go out at night just to listen to the show of frogs croaking, birds tweeting and coyotes howling in the distance; it is quite the experience.

spring sunset

While the wildlife is an upside to the wet conditions, the downside is also that there is a lot of ground water and groundwater fills up our septic holding tank overly fast. We are on a septic holding tank, rather than a field, as we are about 100 meters from the lake, so it is a pump-out system (fascinating dinner time conversation! LOL!) This time of year it can mean pump out after pump out. We suspect a crack in the tank, we also suspect if we dig down to repair it we will be opening an ugly “can of worms”, so we’ve decided to take the sensible approach and ignore the situation and pump it out more often.

As if water to the fenceline and groundwater weren’t enough, we also have water hookups to deal with in the spring. We are on a water haul system so springtime means getting our huge tank filled up and then hooking up the pump system. Some years everything goes together well and others…..well it doesn’t. This year there were no fewer than 4 leaks for my husband to solve, but he did it. He may have been soaking wet from head to toe by the end of the experience, and there may have been one significant water explosion, but he did it. Running water a fabulous thing.

first flower of springWith such a long winter it is taking a little while for things to start growing at the cabin. We’ve been raking leaves, planting bulbs and plotting where to build grow boxes and plant more trees. We are always planting trees or building decks it seems. The one little flower in the picture above was the only thing in bloom on our whole property. One tiny little flower. Hopefully this coming weekend we will see a few more signs of growth.

bird on lake isleThe lake has finally thawed a bit in spots. The birds are happily splashing around and making a lot of noise. Our lake is a pretty quiet lake so we tend to get a lot of birds; they nest among the tall grass along the edge plus there are many tiny islands that are perfect for our feathered friends. On years when the lake is high, little channels are created through the tall grass areas where the birds live. The water is usually just deep enough to gently float a canoe or kayak through the channels; here we like to sit quietly and watch the birds from just a few feet away.

birds on lake isle

Springtime at the cabin is filled with days spent outside exploring and doing projects, food cooked on the barbecue, and evenings in front of the fire……..plus a whole lot of water and mud!

Cabin Fever

The cabin

Living in reasonably northern climate, we have already had about 19 weeks socked in with snow. By this time of year a lot of people are getting a bit antsy….okay a more accurate word might be grumpy…from being stuck inside. A term often used to describe this is “cabin fever”. “Cabin fever” took on a new meaning for our family this weekend, the weather was shaping up to be good, so we had the idea to go check on the cabin and see how it was faring through the winter. Our cabin is not winterized, we are on old-school wood heat, so we tend to use it mostly May to October with the odd year starting in late March if we are feeling particularly rugged. Knowing that we had a month, or two, or three, before the first cabin weekend of the year we thought it would be fun to look in on the cabin and go for a little snowshoe outing as well.

Country Road

The drive was a beautiful 215 km back-road drive. Environment Canada was promising a temperature of +1 Celsius with no windchill at our destination, which is pretty much tropical for Alberta in February. A little over half way we noticed the wind was starting to blow, but we still had hope. By the time we hit the cabin it was definitely not +1 Celsius and it was blowing a gale. Snowshoeing was not going to happen.

The Cabin

The cabin was all nicely tucked to bed for the winter just as we had left it months before. We had evidence of visitors (mice……yes children, this is why we don’t eat in our bedrooms!), luckily that is my husband’s department. Everything around the cabin was firmly frozen.

View from the yard.

My favorite trees at the cabin. They have been painted and sketched many times.

My favorite trees at the cabin. They have been painted and sketched many times.

Despite the cold and the wind, this rural area was quite picturesque. Blue skies. Sunshine. I did a little tour of our yard taking a few pictures to remember the cabin in winter, and made a few mental notes for where I want to plant more trees. One can never have too many trees.

The frozen lake.

From the cabin we did a very quick walk to the lake.

Snowman at the lake.Frozen lake.

 

The lake was frozen and quiet except for a lone snowmobiler. Over the lake was a fabulous sky.

Winter sky.

We put our cabin back to bed for winter, locked it up and waved goodbye. We have a tradition of everyone saying “Goodbye cabin!” every time we leave it.

Winter view.

Snowshoeing may not have happened this time, but the drive did provide the added bonus that I had time to finish mitts for my youngest and a hat for my oldest child while my husband navigated the roads.

Thimbless mitts.

Thumbless mitts.

knit hat

It was nice to check on our little cabin. It might be a few more months before it is warm enough to stay there, but I can spend the next little while planning all the projects that will keep us busy throughout the coming summer.