Red Deer River Sandbars (oil on canvas 10 x 20 in.)

4 October 2014 finds me on a long, wood-plank bridge over the Red Deer River, 16.3 kilometres upstream of the Transcanada Pipeline crossing. The bridge is just north of a tiny place named Buffalo, near a smallish oil drilling operation, a couple of hours north of Medicine Hat, Alberta.  I am, again, enjoying sandbars, looking downriver with the prairie wind and the afternoon sun both at my back. I'm
sitting on my painting caddy, with the palette snugged safely between my feet and the creosote-oozing wooden curb so that the wind doesn't blow it away, and my canvas is propped against the top edge of the curb and held between my knees. The bridge has its north end  beside a grove of tall, arching Plains Cottonwoods which shelters our campsite, and it crosses the broad Red Deer River on three big cement piers with a plank bed and four spans of steel girders, all the way over to the velvety golden prairie hills along the south shore.

As Fred and I first walked across the bridge from the campsite, we looked over the west-side railing to a large sand bar directly below, and saw Moose tracks! They first appeared directly beneath the bridge, where the Moose had apparently emerged from the river, and crossed the centre of the large oval sand bar, sinking a few centimetres with each step, to stop at the western edge, then turn back and disappear across firmer sand. There were also many large, four-toed Heron tracks patterning the ripply sand. 

We are fortunate to be at the Red Deer River during Coryxid fall migration! These small Water Boatmen have been flying from prairie ponds and arriving at the banks of this big river by the millions!

The first photo shows a pile of them netted up by Fred and dumped on the wet bank so that I could take a picture as they righted themselves and crawled back toward the water.

The second photo shows the dark line underwater along the bank, that looks like moss, but it's ALL Coryxids! There is a concentration of them just off our campsite where a little eddy gives them some protection from the current. 

While I was painting, Fred watched thousands of them fly down to the narrow strip of damp clay along the waters edge below steep clay bluffs, and creep into the water. When I returned to camp with my partially finished painting as the sun was setting, Fred invited me to the edge of the bluff to see what he had found. Ripple rings were forming on the surface of the water as if it were raining close along shore. These were made by the newly arrived Water Boatmen as they popped up again for air.

The Coryxids which winter in this big high energy and low temperature river are relatively safe from predators because it is not swarming with other kinds of life. So it is a good hibernating place for aquatic insects. Fred also found a Giant Water Bug in a scoop of floating drifted twigs and bark bits. It would have flown here from a pond (slough) as well. 

Prairie sloughs are naturally fish-free, and burgeon with aquatic invertebrates in the spring and summer, abundant food for migrating and resident waterfowl and shorebirds. I remember the graceful Avocets I so admired while we were doing fieldwork for "Canadian Nature Notebook" 38 years ago, skimming the water with their narrow up-curved bills, and now I see where a large part of their diet spends the winter! 

The loss of these myriads after an oil spill probably isn't included in the formal reckoning of the consequences of such an event.

Dear supporters and patrons of my art,

This 10 x 20 inch oil painting is available, framed, for $575 from Art Etc at the Art Gallery of Burlington.   
For more information, contact Rhonda Bullock,
Art Sales and Rental Coordinator, (905) 632-7796 #301

Sales of my paintings support our research and conservation work,


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