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When I want a break from the world and just shut off for a little while, I love heading up to the South Saskatchewan River and exploring. There are two things that I am guaranteed. Number one, I can always find a quiet spot, with the exception of the occasional boat or all-terrain vehicle. Number two,  I will spot a different variety of wildlife during every visit.

Recently, I went to the River Hills with a mission. I wanted to start exploring some of the birding trails marked along the valley. Perhaps it is settling into a slower pace of life, or maybe just the appreciation of rare opportunities that piqued my interest this time. Regardless, I have be told that a knowledgeable and patient bird watcher may locate up to over 200 species on the six birding trail viewing destinations located in the area.

Great Blue Heron

Being a newbie to the notion of birding I thought I would start big and make my way to a nesting colony of Great Blue Herons.

As I looked across the river banks to an island located near Estuary I could spot the nests high in the cottonwood poplars. Apparently this location is one of only 130 colonies in the province. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single Great Blue Heron.

However, I am curious whether or not the colony hasn’t moved.  As I looked to the East from my vantage point perched atop the old train bridge … I spotted this guy …

A bald eagle.

He is much easier to see with the binoculars than with my camera lens. Although I didn’t get to see what I ventured out for I was still pleased with this find.

How to get there:

There are six different birding sites highlighted alongside the South Saskatchewan River near the Alberta Border. The Great Blue Heron colony is the the most western of the locations and is located near the ghost town of Estuary and the Estuary Hutterite Colony. To get there you must be comfortable driving on gravel roads.

Starting at Leader take the North Road Allowance, shortly out of town this will become gravel. Follow the signage to turn onto Grid 635 toward the Estuary Ferry. As soon as you turn you will see this sign.

As you drive over the hill take your first left. You will see a sign marking Estuary Rd.   If you miss your turn you will end up at the Estuary Ferry Crossing.

Once you reach the Estuary Hutterite colony you will transition into dirt roads and eventually drive on the old track bed until you reach the viewing destination. Just remember this simple rule, whenever you hit a fork in the road keep to the left.

Old Railway Track bed

Good to know:  When you can see the old train bridge, get out and walk, if you keep driving until you reach the dirt barricade you will have to back out since there is nowhere to turn around. When you are leaving, just follow track bad. Once you Can see the Estuary Colony slip off the track bed onto the road and it is smooth sailing to your next destination. To get a map to the other birding sites stop in at the Leader Tourism Caboose.

The Estuary Colony will tour visitors. Just call 628-4116 and let them know you are interested in a visit. You will be provided with a tour guide who will show you around and answer questions.

When not to visit: If there has recently been heavy rainfall the dirt road between the Estuary Colony and the access onto the old train bed may be difficult. You can also call the Colony, see the number above, and ask how the roads are in the area.

Gotta go? You are on your own. Stand our Squat (whichever your preference is). Just listen first to make sure there aren’t any recreational vehicles touring through the area.