Top 10 nature hot spots in Edmonton
Edmonton downtown skyline (Photo by Pixabay)
Cities have traditionally been considered separate from nature. But recent studies have shown that cities can provide important habitats for some species, such as pollinators. Over 100 species at risk can be found in Canadian cities, and several are now almost restricted to these urban environments.
Nature and green spaces in cities also provide significant ecosystem services, including holding back flood waters, cooling the atmosphere and removing air pollution, and have significant economic value. Urban conservation is also important for connecting to nature the 80 per cent of Canadians who live in cities. Truly, these natural spaces are gems for many reasons.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has identified top 10 nature hot spots in Edmonton, based on suggestions from the public and information from a variety of sources and databases, including regional studies, Important Bird Areas, iNaturalist, eBird and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
Nationally and globally imperilled species and habitats, wildlife and ecological corridors can be found at these hot spots. Not only are these places important for wildlife, they are accessible to urban residents and help rekindle or enhance their bond with nature, contributing to the quality of life in our cities.
Edmonton is located within the Aspen Parkland, an ecological region that is almost entirely restricted to Canada. It has recently been identified as one of the most endangered forest ecosystems in the Americas. Despite that most of the natural cover in this region has been lost, significant sites can still be found in the city.
The central feature of the city’s natural heritage system is the North Saskatchewan River and its ravine system. Over a dozen nationally at-risk species have been identified, including plants and animals that are globally imperilled. The city includes a small part of Big Lake, an Important Bird Area of global significance because of the large numbers of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. Other nature hot spots boast large numbers of migrating birds while others are the result of habitat creation for water management. On-going efforts to conserve and restore these sites will continue to benefit many species, and have a significant and long-term impact on nature in the city.
These 10 nature hot spots were revealed on November 13 at NCC's NatureTalks speaker series event at Blatchford Air Hangar in Fort Edmonton Park.
Learn about Edmonton’s top 10 nature hot spots, below:
Big Lake at Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, AB (Photo by Saoster, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Straddling the western boundary of Edmonton, Big Lake includes open water, wetlands, mud flats and stands of mature aspen, birch and white spruce. A small 12-hectare (29.6-acre) section of this 1,421-hectare (3,511-acre) natural area is within the city. It has been designated as an Important Bird Area of global significance because of its large congregations of waterfowl and shorebirds. In 2005, the Lois Hole Provincial Park was created to help protect this important area. Over 160 bird species have been observed, including trumpeter swan, and the Big Lake Environment Support Society host an annual event to celebrate the spring migration.
Whitemud Ravine is a long, deep creek valley that extends from the southwest edge of the city through to the North Saskatchewan River, and extends to the Mactaggart Sanctuary. The natural area is more than 225 hectares (556 acres) and the ravine is over 60 metres deep in some places. This site contains the highest diversity of plants and animals in the city, providing habitat for over 150 species of resident and migrating birds. There are reports of the sparrow’s-egg lady’s slipper, a rare plant that has been assessed as vulnerable on the International Union of Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
North Saskatchewan River
North Saskatchewan River Valley, AB (Photo by Winterforce Media, CC0 1.0)
The North Saskatchewan River connects Edmonton to the Rocky Mountains in the west and to Lake Winnipeg in the east. The river provides important habitat to many species of waterfowl, waterbirds and shorebirds. The endangered Saskatchewan-Nelson River population of lake sturgeon has been making a comeback as the water quality of the river has improved; this species can now be found in Edmonton.
River Valley Park System
The River Valley Park System is a 7,400-hectare (18,285-acre) network of connected natural areas along the North Saskatchewan River and its associated ravines. It links and integrates many of the other nature hot spots in the city and provides a buffer to the river. The system provides connectivity for wildlife moving along the valley and a natural corridor through the city.
Hermitage Park is one of Edmonton’s birding hot spots, with 175 species having been recorded. Flocks of hundreds of waterfowl and songbirds have been observed in a single day. The park features many habitats, including ponds, wetlands and forests. It also includes the Kennedale Wetland, a large, constructed wetland that provides water filtration to urban run-off and habitat for wildlife.
Big Island is a core area in Edmonton’s natural heritage system along the river. It has direct ecological connections to the Enoch First Nations Reserve located just outside of the city. This 30-hectare (74-acre) site includes wetlands, forests and open areas. There is a proposal to incorporate Big Island and some surrounding areas into a provincial park. Restoration of Big Island could enhance its ecological function as both a core and linkage area.
William Hawrelak Park
Long-tailed duck (Photo by Paul Reeves)
William Hawrelak Park was built on a former gravel pit, but now is one of Edmonton’s birding hot spots. Located along the river, this large urban park includes an artificial lake. Over 150 different birds have been seen here, including horned grebe and long-tailed duck.
Moran Lake, a wetland natural area in northeast Edmonton, is in the largely undeveloped Horseshoe Hills planning area. The 90-hectare (222-acre) shallow lake and associated wetland is owned by the province and supports many species of resident and migratory birds.
Beaumaris Lake is located in the northern section of the city and is completely artificial. Built in 1977 as a stormwater management facility built, it is now a birding hot spot surrounded by development. Over 160 different species have been observed, including American white pelican and flocks of waterfowl with hundreds of individuals.
Kinokamau Lake has been identified as the most important wetland in Edmonton by Ducks Unlimited Canada. The 56-hectare (138-acre) lake incudes shallow open water and marsh and is surrounded by shrub thickets and aspen woodland. The lake has the city’s largest populations of wood frogs and striped chorus frogs, and over 50 species of breeding birds.
To learn more about NatureTalks and to register for upcoming NatureTalks events, click here.