A new partnership between Calgary Municipal Land Corporation and Nature Calgary has resulted a bird watching program in the East Village. St. Patrick’s Island is natural space in the middle of downtown and the partnership allows for tours involving some of the island’s natural inhabitants as well as increasing safety in the area.
On Friday morning, a group of birdwatchers set off crossing the Bow River into a forested area on St. Patrick’s Island, right in the heart of downtown Calgary.
“We see everything from beavers, coyotes and deer as well as osprey and great horned owls, and then all the migrants that are passing through as well,” said Matt Wallace, a biologist and a director with Nature Calgary.
He’s leading bird watching tours on the island as part of a new partnership with Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) which, years ago, transformed St. Patrick’s Island from sketchy to family friendly.
“For many years St Patrick’s Island was kind of an unknown and underutilized space in the heart of the Bow River,” said Emma Stevens, CMLC director of communications.
The bird watching program not only allows people to get better acquainted with urban wildlife but also aims to increase safety by drawing more people into the space.
“One of our mandates in re-developing the Rivers District is creating infrastructure and public spaces that bring programming, vibrancy and amenities to the community. It’s always better for safety and the perception of safety to have people out and about and that’s why we program the island and East Village so much,” Stevens said.
Wallace said it’s important to get people out enjoying the island and all the wildlife that can be seen there.
“This is a very underrepresented hotspot for nature within our city. It’s right in the downtown core. It has access to three wildlife corridors down Nose creek, the Elbow River and the Bow River. “It’s a really amazing place and you never know what you’re going to find,” Wallace said.
One of finishing touches on the renovated island was the addition of the 23-metre-tall art installation called Bloom, which is made up six street lights, three legs, a polyhedron and a foundation.
As soon as it went up, a family of osprey called it home, making for some great bird watching opportunities.
“Ospreys only eat fish, so they always nest near a healthy water body with a healthy fish stock and they like tall structures and this just happens to be one that’s right over top of the river,” Wallace said, adding that the raptors return every year within a few days of April 15.
Stevens said some of the redevelopment of St Patrick’s Island enabled native species to thrive.
Native plant species like dogwood, balsam poplar and willows were planted to make the island’s ecosystems more resilient and stable, and some of the channels on the island were returned to their natural state to enable flows of water that create excellent fish habitats. Around 30 species of birds can be spotted on the island right now.
There will be 12 tours running from March to October.
Details about the tours can be found on the East Village website.
The five dollar registration fee is being donated to Nature Calgary.
CMLC was incorporated in 2007 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Calgary to implement and execute the Rivers District Community Revitalization Plan.