To Melville And Back Again...
- To All My Snow-Bound Sask Birder Friends!
The past few days are a reminder of why we love living in this
province! One day sun, the next day who knows... Surely this cruel
joke by the God(s) is over now and we can get spring migration fully
As Mary Ann (and no doubt others) had her/their experience in the
storm, I thought I'd relate mine as well. On Wednesday afternoon, I
was called out for train 102 to Melville for 1515 hrs. While we
hadn't had much snow in S'toon yet, my Mom had called from Biggar on
Tuesday night, warning me of icy highway 14 and plenty of snow from
Asquith to Biggar. Fortunately, I was ready when the call came in and
gave myself some extra time for the drive out. While the road wasn't
too bad, the final 30 clicks from Perdue to Biggar were a bit of an
adventure to say the least. Thought I'd pop into Mom's for a minute
or two to let her know I'd made it and check and see if there was any
snow to shovel. She'd already cleared her driveway out however, so
that saved me a couple of minutes.
In the backyard were my first AM. ROBINS (8) of the year. They were
feeding on the numerous crabapples on the ground, along with what I
assumed to be the over-wintering male N. FLICKER. Four D.-E. JUNCO'S
were also present, as were a couple B.-C. CHICKADEES. I checked the
level of the feeder and off to the station I went. As it turned out,
I could have had a cup or three of coffee, as our train was still over
an hour west of Biggar. There was a late 9000 foot "speed" 104 ahead
of our guy (no pun intented!). It had been running all the way from
Edmonton into a stiff east wind and our 102 (two units and only 4400
feet) was stuck behind it. Cond. Bernie Johnson and yours truly never
left Biggar until nearly 1800. Not much was along the track by that
time. The usual PARTRIDGE (now mostly paired up), CROWS, RAVENS,
MAGPIES and small groups of HORNED LARKS. Many of the small sloughs
that had been open last week were frozen again, so the only waterfowl
seen were the odd bunch of CANADA GEESE.
CN does some funny things occasionally, and today would be no
exception. In spite of the two engines and short train, we barely
went 85 kms./hr. downhill into the stiff wind which was increasing as
the afternoon went on. But because we were short and light, they had
us head into Saskatoon to set off the trailing engine to save fuel.
By the time this fiasco was over (more delays as trains came and
another two left ahead of us) it was dark and we had only six hours to
make it to Melville. Train 104 was still leading the pack, and only
doing about 60 kms./hr. and we ended up not doing much better.
Finally, they sent out two taxis from Melville (the snow hadn't
started yet) and rescued the crew on 104 and us at Raymore as our
twelve hours had nearly expired. During our night travels no birds
flew across our headlight path. If they had, I'm sure they'd of been
going so fast with the wind, I wouldn't have been able to identify
them anyway! We arrived at our objective just before 0300.
When I awoke just before lunch, it was back to a winter wonderland.
At least 25 cms. of white stuff had gathered and it was still
snowing hard. We had a relatively short layover and were ordered for
train 115 for 1340 hrs. This is the hottest train going these days,
and usually it's a good trip home---rail from Mel. to S'toon, then
another crew takes the train onto Kindersley, and eventually Calgary.
We were a little aprehensive about the impending taxi ride from S'toon
to Biggar, but decided to cross that bridge when we came to it. After
some delay in Melville, we blasted off at 1455 with three brand new
units (nearly 18,000 horses!) and 8717 feet. We indeed were treated
like the Royal train and were in Saskatoon exactly four hours later.
Didn't see much for birds, as the storm raged around us but I did
manage to see a group of six AM. TREE SPARROWS at Raymore, a new year
bird. The only other things of note were 12 SHARP-TAILED GROUSE at
Tate siding and 3 MALLARDS on a bit of open water at Undora siding.
Plenty of CANADA'S and CROWS plus a few other goodies. There were
several large flocks of HORNED LARKS gathered near the rails as well,
making it seem like an early March trip.
Our taxi ride fears turned out to be mostly unfounded, as we had a
good driver (who I've had several times before over the years), and
the road wasn't any worse than the day before. By the time I turned
around in my vehicle to chase him home, the road conditions had
deteriorated somewhat. There were a couple of white-knuckle moments
between Biggar and Perdue, but nothing too serious and I arrived back
home shortly after 2200.
I'm on the same job this week, and head out again tomorrow afternoon.
Perhaps spring will arrive one of these days, and I can tell you all
about something other than Canada Geese and Crows!