About three weeks ago I spent an amazing eight days on the prairies in a nice little place called Lockport Manitoba. Now, I had been to the city of Winnipeg in the past on business and did not care for the swarms of homeless who came out of recessed doorways in groups and surrounded me and frightened me so I had no desire to go anywhere in that province ever again. Lesson one which should not need to be said: Don’t judge people or a place based on one experience.
Then my dearest friends relocated to Lockport to be closer to family and friends so a little reluctantly I boarded a Westjet and headed out. Lockport itself and its surrounding beauty will have to wait for another time because today is about the beach. An easy drive my second day took us to Grand Beach Manitoba.
Now in my experience, Canada does not have a lot of Caribbean comparable beaches, and certainly none that stretch for miles of white sand and dunes. Shallows extend quite far into the lake making it an ideal playground for families, young people, and seniors. The second lesson is pretty closely tied to the first: If you haven’t been somewhere don’t assume it doesn’t exist. Funny thing is that mountains, rivers and prairies often depict Canada in photos but I can’t remember ever seeing a beach quite like this one.
Grand Beach is fresh water of course, so no, there was no pounding surf. It lies on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg which is the sixth largest lake in Canada at 9,465 square miles. The first five comprise of three Great Lakes, Huron, Erie, and Superior, and the other two are in the NWT (Northwest Territories), and are called Great Bear and Great Slave Lake.
I never have considered myself an ornithologist as I can pretty well only identify Blue Jays, Red Winged Blackbirds, Robins, and Sparrows. Oh and Hummingbirds. But darned if I didn’t learn a couple more things that enriched the experience. Lesson three: Birds are incredibly interesting especially when seen in their natural habitat.
PIPING PLOVERS (charadrius melodus) are an endangered species of bird protected on Grand Beach. They are a small sandy colored sparrow sized bird that nests and feeds along coastal sand and gravel. (Just as an aside there are two more things I learned – Manitobans – uh Manitobians – people in Manitoba take their wild life and food markets very seriously – but that’s another story.)
AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS (pelicanus erythrorohynchos). Go figure. If I was on a game show like Jeopardy and my fortune depended on my knowledge of Pelicans in Canada I would be going home in a sorry state. This spectacular aquatic bird breeds in the North American interior and migrates south each year. Including its long huge beak it can be between 50 – 70 inches in length and has a wing span of 95 - 120 inches. Is that amazing or what? Its bill is flat on top with a large throat sac that allows it to scoop fish out of the water. Now that is what I call ‘fast food’.
Our Pelicans are both smart and naughty. They are smart enough that in shallow water they form a line or a semicircle and corral fish. The naughty part is that they suffer from Kleptoparasitism which means they steal food from other birds. Thieves they are. Their victims can be other Pelicans, Gulls, or Cormorants. Wikipedia reports that at least on one occassion the victim was a great Blue Heron who lost its treasure mid-flight.
Now some of you are shaking your heads and saying you knew all this but it was new and exciting for me and here is the last lesson: Just because I am old(er) and at times feel like I have the wisdom of Methusala never ever assume that there is nothing I can’t continue to learn and that learning is still exciting.
Now before I dash off to find out what the heck a Cormorant is I will leave you with a wee limerick my father liked to recite to us as children written by Edward Lear.
A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I’m darned if I know how the hellican!