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South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip: Day 4

Day 4: Clear, calm and fantastic Hoodoo country!

“We had a full windless day, allowing us to travel with ease.  The high overcast from dawn until late afternoon kept the solar intensity at a reasonable level, making most of our time on the river a bit chilly, enough to wear a light jacket.

A singing Brown thrasher sat on an exposed perch looking very handsome when I emerged from the tent early today.  A female Common merganser announced her low fly-over too, doubling back for a closer inspection of our camp.  A mule deer appeared across the river on the high horizon, as I prepared breakfast. Her huge ears gave away her species.

Once on the river, the current took over, and transported us in to more and more spectacular badlands.  We had arrived!  A Golden eagle perched on a bentonite pinnacle high above, and just lower down to the right hung the bird’s nest.  We couldn’t see any chicks, but the nest was likely very deep.  Several mule and white-tailed deer were seen either resting or feeding as we quietly passed by.  And finally, we spotted a female elk, which appeared in a small valley from a grove of small cottonwoods.  She quickly disappeared up the valley.  One of the estimated 70,000 elk that live here!

I conducted a Herald newspaper interview via satellite phone on a very calm stretch of water once we had passed into the block of military land on the right side of the river.  Until now, the reserve was only on the left. The interview was for the upcoming TV showing of the Kilimanjaro climb, scheduled to air province-wide on June 23, 2015.

I also did my 2 weekly CBC radio shows with Calgary and Edmonton, as we floated quietly and Dee steered a bit from the bow. It was lucky that we were in a windless spell.

The famous “Rapid Narrows” were easily navigated on the right side, but Dee hopped out to lighten the front-end load, making any rock hits that much less of an issue.  At the downstream end of the rough water, we set up camp with a spectacular view of the badlands across the river, including “Murphy’s Horn”, a distinctive hoodoo formation.  Cedar waxwings were fly-catching as we enjoyed our river view for our late afternoon tea time.

We plan on spending two nights here, giving us time to explore “Bull Springs Coulee”, part of “Prairie Coulees Provincial Natural Area”.

Kilometres today: 37, and we dubbed this camp ‘Murphy’s Horn Camp’”



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CBC The Homestretch: Brian Keating on Nighthawks

Naturalist, Brian Keating, talks about seeing nighthawks during his recent trip down the South Saskatchewan River.

Nesting nighthawk SOuth Sask 2015-thumb-550x412-401773

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South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip: Day 3

Day 3: Perfect camp locations under ancient cottonwood trees:

“Mist was rising from the river as I prepared breakfast of French toast with real maple syrup.

On the river by 8:30 with gusting winds unfortunately coming out of the North, so we had a big day ahead of us.  A lone coyote was spotted hunting beside the river just after we passed the boundary to CFB Suffield, the military reserve, and 5 mule deer were counted as we paddled.  The day’s wildlife highlight, however, was an eyrie with 5 almost fully grown Prairie Falcons.  One of the adults passed overhead nicely giving us a look at his black armpits, a diagnostic feature.

The clouds built all day, and several were showering off in the distance, but we never got any rain.  And the meandering river gave us periodic breaks from the relentless North wind.  When it was time to make camp, thick sandbar willows prevented any easy access to what appeared to be good riparian forest.  Finally we came across a lovely grove of cottonwoods, and upon inspection, Baltimore oriole and House wren songs greeted us. Every landing on shore meant finding rocks, in order to avoid the fine, gummy mud which threatened to suck off our boots at every step! The bentonite soil deposited at the shoreline turns in to “gumbo” and is a nasty, messy challenge!

Our tent sat perfectly under an old cottonwood, and our kitchen area was beside another gnarled tree that must be one of the 300 year old trees our guide book talks about.  We had a command view to the river, and our camp was somewhat protected from the persistent wind.

I climbed to the height of land behind our camp, and found a small chunk of fossil wood and some superb sandstone boulders festooned with red lichen.  4 buck mule deer in velvet were spooked by my surprise appearance on the ridge above where they rested, and later I spotted a doe.

Kilometres today: 33 (73 km canoed out of a total 166 km to our end point), we dubbed this camp ‘Ancient Cottonwood Camp.’”

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South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip: Day 2

Day 2: Their first camp morning:

“At first light, probably around 5 AM, the dawn chorus was intense.  A perfect, quiet and chilly morning in ideal riparian forest allowed the bird songs to absolutely fill the air.  Breakfast was enjoyed on our “porch”, the sun warming our bodies and the surrounding air.  A lone pelican drifted into view, taking off from being startled by our proximity, even though we sat motionless.  A white-tailed deer tiptoed in the forest behind us.

Our morning paddle was in still air under a perfect prairie sky, dotted with summer clouds.  American goldfinches chittering made a continual auditory backdrop, as did Least flycatchers, Rock wrens, Bank and Tree swallows.  I was scanning a ridge in the near distance, and spotted a coyote sniffing in some bushes.  Within moments he had noticed us, and when he ran, two more appeared.  They scampered with ease up the steep prairie sage-covered cliffs, disappearing in moments. Three Turkey vultures passed overhead, following the escarpment and no doubt getting a lift from the up-drafts, and a bald eagle was observed being dive-bombed by a Red-tailed hawk.  Ring-necked pheasants called now and again.

We took a hiking break mid-morning, and spent half an hour exploring the complex terrain.  Small cliffs appeared to have separated recently from the native prairie, eroded by the river.  Ridges of prickly-pear cactus were abundant, but one ball cactus (Mammalaria) was seen flowering in amongst the thick prairie grass.

Our camp was perched looking across at some excellent badlands, an indication of what was to come. We set up under some towering cottonwoods.

In the grasslands behind us, we found a bird nest on the ground (pipit?) with 5 little eggs under a sage bush, Lark sparrow and a male Lazuli bunting singing!!!

Kilometres today: 23.  We called this camp ‘Lazuli Camp.’”

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South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip: Day 1

Brian and his wife, Dee, recently returned from an 8-day canoe trip into some of the best hoodoo landscapes anywhere, on the South Saskatchewan River in southern Alberta.  Over the next week, we will post portions of Brian’s journal that he wrote each evening, on the river.  Enjoy! 

Day 1: On their first day they got ‘pummeled’ by hail:

“Above us stacked weird pillows of purple clouds, and behind us crept evil, black, wind-blown fingers. We had maybe 15 minutes to find a place where we could pull out and rapidly set up some kind of shelter.

We had left Medicine Hat 1.5 hours earlier under clear, calm conditions. Yellow warblers called from the river’s edge, and Warbling vireos from the forest.  Kingbirds, both Eastern and Western, lined the river, perched on prominent sticks, and Least flycatchers were non-stop “chebek’ing”.  Huge flocks of Ring-billed and California gulls rested on gravel bars, and Mourning doves called almost continually. Western Meadowlarks were occasionally heard as were Baltimore orioles.

Leaving the last houses behind us at 1.5 hours into the paddle, we looked to the west where a black amoeba cloud formation indicated we were about to get hit by a severe thunderstorm!

On a muddy bank, we scrambled to disgorge the canoe, rapidly carrying all our gear to higher ground.  Dee spread out our huge tarpaulin over the assembled gear, I tied the now empty canoe to a log, we used some 40 kg of water in our various jugs to hold everything down, and we got under the tarp and sitting on our chairs just when all hell broke loose!

Hail, some the size of marbles, pelted us, and combined with a ferocious wind, the rain came.  The noise under the tarpaulin was terrific. Somehow we stayed dry, holding our tarp down over our legs, the water sheeting off.  After an hour, the rain stopped.  I peered out to see solid blue sky to the west!

When the wind died sufficiently, we reloaded the canoe and headed downstream for another hour in the diminishing evening light.  More deer were spotted riverside.

We finally found a grove of trees that promised to catch the east sun in the morning.  To the sound of Common Nighthawks doing their buzzing breeding flights, we set up our camp.  After a beer and some sherry, while beaver paddled just offshore and kingbirds put on a dramatic display of song and flight, we enjoyed some Thai satay beef freeze-dried food. The setting sun cast a red light through our trees, illuminating the camp perfectly.”

Kilometres canoed today: 17 km. We dubbed this camp ‘Storm Camp.’”

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CBC The Homestretch: Brian Keating’s South Saskatchewan River Canoe Trip

This week, Brian Keating returned from a week long canoe trip on the South Saskatchewan river. He shares stories from his trip on the CBC Homestretch:

Brian Keating standing beside hoodoo South Sask River 2015 Northern scorpion South Sask River 2015 South Sask River valley view 2015

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CBC The Homestretch: Brian Keating on Grizzly Bears

Brian Keating tells the Homestretch about a grizzly-watching trip he embarked on last week.

Photo credit: Joe Chowaniec

Bald eagle seen on Grizzly trip June 2015 Joe Chowaniec photo Grizzly bear seen on Grizzly trip June 2015 Joe Chowaniec photo Harbour seal seen on Grizzly trip June 2015 Joe Chowaniec photo


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Join Brian on a Sea of Cortez Adventure

This January, join Brian Keating and Civilized Adventure owner, Denell Falk, on a Sea of Cortez Adventure! Some of the highlights experienced on this magnificent 8 day journey include an exciting search for humpback whales, snorkelling through vibrant reefs, watching for whales and dolphins and witnessing the spectacular gathering of Monarch Butterflies.

For more information visit 


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CBC The Homestretch: Brian Keating on Bird Banding

This week on the Homestretch, Brian shares about an unusual experience with a banded bird. 

Dead Red-breasted nuthatch June 3, 2015


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City TV: Brian Keating on the Galapagos Islands

Swimming with sharks and other beautiful creatures!  Join Brian on a recent live City TV video journey on land & water featuring his recent journey to the Galapagos:
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