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Caribou Program Fieldwork 2021: The Jewel of the North

Solène Williams, Nikki Beaudoin, and Jesse Shirton

After five refreshing days off, the caribou crew was ready to start their fourth adventure: the Slave Lake/Red Earth Creek shift.

Once again, we did not know much about the roads or camping areas for this region. We were lucky enough to book the last two remaining sites at the Marten River Campground outside of Slave Lake and even luckier to share one of their sites with two researchers from the U of A ACE Lab. After staying in our cohort all summer, it was lovely to engage with others as the Alberta COVID-19 regulations had been lifted. The university researchers filled the crew in on the road conditions, different vegetation in the area, and other camp sites before heading out the next day. They had a similar sampling procedure and were studying the role of peatlands in maintaining climate refugia for boreal plant species.

Nikki holding a small pike
Caption: 
An absolute hog of a pike.

Slave Lake proved to be an excellent area to fish right from shore, despite the sandy and shallow beach we were situated at. Christian caught a large pike which we enjoyed for dinner, plus around 20 other pike and walleye that were under the size limit. Even Nikki—the fishing newbie—caught her first ever fish under Christian’s guidance: a pike in the North Senex river.

Christian holding a large pike
Caption: 
Better luck next time, Christian!

Along with fishing, the crew looked for sundews, a carnivorous plant species that catches bugs with its sticky hairs. Memorable wildlife included a young woodchuck, sandhill cranes, a wolf, and multiple lynx seen pouncing for rodents in the road ditches.

Jesse looking at plants

Sundews and other small flowers
Caption: 
Sundews lurking below the flowers

Solène’s birthday occurred during the shift and the crew wanted to surprise her with something special. While some distracted her with an evening at the beach playing in the large waves formed by strong westerly winds, others set up a drive in movie theatre for later that night. The gang had borrowed a projector from work and draped a bed sheet over one of the trailers for the screen. The film selection had to be perfect as well, and we decided Austin Powers fit the bill. Everyone piled into the back of a pickup filled with cushions and had a groovy night!

Janine and Christian with cardboard signs that say The Sun Drive In.
Caption: 
Ushers greet the VIP at The Sun Drive In

Halfway through the shift, the crew relocated to Red Earth Creek and set up camp at Guy’s Place – a trailer campground located closer to the rest of the sites. As a perk, Guy hooked us up with his fresh garden veggies that were second only to Leonie’s veggie patch back in Hinton. Another bonus of Guy’s Place was the Golden Retriever that occasionally passed through the campground brightening the days of the dog-deprived crew.

The shift did not go off completely without a hitch however. One evening, we noticed one of the truck’s tires was looking a little flat. A single tiny screw in the road had wedged its way through the tire’s rubber. Talk about being screwed over! The thick tires were too tough to patch even with the best efforts of the crew’s largest member, Isaiah. A long drive was in store for the crew to get all the way back to Hinton on the spare, and luckily no more screws were spotted.

Upon arriving back in Hinton, Cam and Leonie, the crew’s bosses hosted a lovely dinner of steaks and home-grown veggies as the COVID-19 restrictions had eased. The crew was delighted to once again take advantage of Cam’s generosity and drink all his beer. 

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