Saturday, June 02, 2007

Owls In The Tipple

Tucked away in southeastern Alberta's vast prairie lies one of the province's most fascinating landscapes-The Badlands. Of course we all know about the badlands most interesting attractions-the wealth of Dinosaur fossils that has spawned a entire tourism industry based on these prehistoric creatures. However on this day I had travelled to the Drumheller Valley planning on visiting a coal mine dating back to a time when coal was king. Coal was not hard to discover in the Drumheller Valley as it showed up in black strips in the badlands. Coal had been used for years in the valley, but the beginning of the coal rush was started by Sam Drumheller in the area that now bares his name. Once the railway arrived the people poured in first by the hundreds and then by the thousands.Between 1911 and 1979, 139 mines were registered in the Drumheller Valley. The beginning of the end was the Leduc oil strike of 1948. After this natural gas became the fuel of choice for home heating in western Canada.

The Atlas Coal Mine in East Coulee is the only remaining mine in the valley today and has been restored as a historical site. My visit to this very interesting coal mine should have happened some time ago, as I have driven past many times but never made the stop before today. The Atlas Coal Mine Historical Site is one of the most complete coal mining museums in Canada. The tipple in my photo that towers 8 stories into the sky is one of the best surviving examples in Canada.

I had been told at the visitors center to be on the lookout for a nest of baby Great Horned Owls that were located at the top of the tipple. I received this tip from Chelsea who was giving guided tours on this day although I had passed up on the personal tour ( thanks for the tip on the owls Chelsea). I wanted her to take me up a out of bounds area to get closer to the owls, but she was firm in her refusal as there was a issue with the condition of the walkways up into the tipple (Don't ask how I got these owl photos).

The nest containing the owls was located in a area of the tipple that towered almost the full 8 stories of the tipple. I did not observe the adults during my quest to capture these baby owls with my camera. I initially spotted one of the owls as it peered over the large beam that supported the nest. I finally was able to access a location that gave me a better shot of the nest with my persistence paying off with a second owl visible. There actually are three baby owls in the nest but on this day I was only able to get a photo of these two baby owls. As you can tell by their expressions, they found me quite boring to look at.

This photo of the tipple shown here is where I observed the owls nest. It is located in the right handed upper corner of the open area that frames the blue sky beyond the tipple. After all the photos of the owls were captured, I continued my self guided exploration of the site. Actually you should take the guided tour as there is a overwhelming amount of information to decipher at ever turn. As I wandered around this historical mine site, I found it fascinating that at one time East Coulee supported a population of 3800, a direct result of mines like the Atlas to a ghost town with a population of 180.

When the Atlas #4 mine shipped its last load of coal in 1979, the coal years of Drumheller was over.

On a final note, I first observed this building high up on the slopes above the tipple and thinking it was a house that someone had lived in, I shot a variation of photos with some of my captures showing this building. I finally got the answer while having a conversation with several other visitors from the Edmonton area. Chelsea our tour guide on this day informed us that it was not a house as we first thought but the Blacksmith shop located very near the mine entrance. To bad as it looks like a cool location for a summer cottage with great views up and down the Drumheller Valley.

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