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Nature fun takes wing at Big Lake this week

Photo lessons and nature guardians available
BIG BLACK CROAK — A common grackle gives a whole-bodied croak at Beaumaris Lake just outside of St. Albert, April 30, 2023. Grackles are known for their iridescent dark purple heads and striking eyes. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

Can’t tell a coot from a chicken? Beginning birders can flock down to Big Lake this Thursday for some free lessons on birdwatching.

The Big Lake Environment Support Society (BLESS) is offering its first-ever Birding for Beginners course this Aug. 17 at Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park.

The course is an extension of the BLESS Summer Nature Program, which has traditionally focused on youth education, said senior nature interpreter Loreena Nieuwenhout. The program is doing a test-run of adult-orientated sessions in response to public interest.

“Sometimes it feels daunting for people to get into a new hobby,” Nieuwenhout said.

Nieuwenhout said this course will show people how to find and identify common birds around St. Albert with the help of binoculars and the Merlin Bird ID app, which can identify birds based on their looks and sounds.

Nieuwenhout said there have been plenty of mallards and a few yellow-headed blackbirds at Big Lake in recent weeks, as well as a pair of osprey. Many other species will show up in the coming weeks as birds start their fall migration.

“It’s a good time to start getting into birding,” she said.

Nieuwenhout said the birding course starts at 7 p.m. Some 25 slots are available. She asked guests to click the “Birding for Beginners Course” link at to register.

Guardians of nature

The all-natural fun continues at Big Lake next week as Nature Alberta wraps up its Family Nature Nights series with a free outdoor festival.

About 150 people are expected to be at the John E. Poole Wetland boardwalk in Lois Hole Park on Aug. 23 for Nature Alberta’s last Family Nature Night of 2023.

Throughout this summer, Nature Alberta has been organizing free educational events in Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton to give youths hands-on experience with the natural world, said Nature Kids co-ordinator Kethu Menendis. Previous events have seen youths learn to plant trees, wrangle slippery fish, and identify the elusive Franklin’s ground squirrel.

This final nature night is more of a festival and will feature nine stewardship groups instead of the usual four, Menendis said. Youths will get to study water bugs, meet interesting amphibians, and play traditional Indigenous games as they explore the boardwalk and learn how they can become “Guardians of Nature” (the theme for the event). They will also get a passport. Youths that fill their passports with stamps from all nine groups will get a free pair of binoculars (while supplies last).

BLESS is taking part in this event and will be teaching guests about bird conservation, Nieuwenhout said. Guests can help protect birds by putting decals on windows to stop birds from smacking into them and keeping cats (which are major bird predators) indoors.

“A big thing is to turn all your lights off at night,” she said, as nighttime lighting can confuse migratory birds.

The Family Nature Night event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. rain or shine. Visit for details.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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