A Canadian Tiger Swallowtail lights on a dandelion in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This provincial park provides a home to a variety of species of local wildlife. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)

Spending time in nature has many benefits, it promotes physical activity, and some studies show that spending more time outside can have positive mental health benefits.

Furthermore, over the last couple of years, students (and everyone) have been forced to spend more and more time indoors to avoid COVID.

With restrictions lifting, and more people being vaccinated against the virus, this summer may be the perfect time to engage with nature once more.

Southern Alberta has many interesting spots where it is possible to observe wildlife and experience nature just through taking a walk or a short drive.

Here are five places to consider visiting this summer to connect to your local environment.

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park

Just a twenty-minute drive from the town of Cochrane sits a treasure trove of Alberta nature just waiting to be explored in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.

The park is populated with several varieties of trees and plants, as well as streams and waterfalls, a shallow basin for wading; and lastly, the whole area is vibrantly inhabited with insects, birds, mammals and reptiles.

A day in this park will certainly include beautiful scenery and at least one run in with a wild creature, be it butterflies lighting amidst the wildflowers, or a muskrat feeding on the supple grasses and watercress which are so prevalent along the streambed.

The park is outfitted with clearly marked trails, a large parking lot and picnic area – everything required to spend several comfortable hours with the natural environment.

A Canadian Tiger Swallowtail lights on a dandelion in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This provincial park provides a home to a variety of species of local wildlife. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Plains Garter Snake slithers across a hiking path in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This provincial park provides a home to a variety of species of local wildlife. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Chipping Sparrow perches in a bush at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This provincial park provides a home to a variety of species of local wildlife . (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Satyr Angelwing Butterfly dries it’s wings after rain on the forest floor of Big Hill Springs Provincial Park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This provincial park provides a home to a variety of species of local wildlife. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Muskrat emerges from his home to eat grass after a heavy rainfall at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This provincial park provides a home to a variety of species of local wildlife. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
One of many waterfalls at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. This provincial park provides a home to a variety of species of local wildlife. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)

East Lake Regional Park

Located in the City of Airdrie, East Lake Regional Park is a somewhat unexpected place to find such a plethora of wildlife.

East Lake is a man-made lake within a city, surrounded by regular concrete pathways, yet, should one take a moment to observe it will yield an abundance of life.

Many species of water birds make their homes in this urban refuge every year. The reedy banks are home to dozens of creatures, a family of muskrats, a short-tailed weasel, and multiple species of ducks, as well as both Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds.

The park includes two docks overlooking the water which provide a perfect viewing area of the water’s occupants.

A visit to this park may include exciting sightings of baby ducklings, or a battle for territory between two blackbirds along the shore.

Also, maybe even a glimpse of the swift and bright coloured swallows who nest beneath one of the bridges.

Two male Mallard Ducks take a swim at East Lake Regional Park in Airdrie on Friday, May 13, 2022. Many birds and small mammals are drawn to this patch of open water within the city. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Common Grackle sits atop a fence at East Lake Regional Park in Airdrie on Friday, May 13, 2022. Many birds and small mammals are drawn to this patch of open water within the city. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A young Mallard Duckling takes a swim at East Lake Regional Park in Airdrie on Thursday, June 9, 2022. Many birds and small mammals are drawn to this patch of open water within the city. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A female Mallard duck and her duckling swim at East Lake Regional Park in Airdrie on Thursday, June 9, 2022. Many birds and small mammals are drawn to this patch of open water within the city. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)

Frank Lake Conservation Area

An hour drive from Calgary sits the Frank Lake conservation area, this amazing wetland hosts over 190 species of birds and is classified among Important Bird Areas Canada.

A popular place for local birders, a visit to Frank Lake would benefit photographers, nature artists and those who just want to learn more about what species of animals share the province.

It is easy to spot many interesting and rare birds which do not travel into the city, at this location.

There are interesting species of Water-birds here include Pelicans, Snow Geese, Ibis and American Avocets. Frank Lake provides the ideal bird-watching locale.

A White-faced Ibis strolls along the shore of Frank Lake on Sunday, April 24, 2022. The Frank Lake conservation area draws many species of birds every year. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
Pelicans take flight over Frank Lake on Sunday, April 24, 2022. The Frank Lake conservation area draws many species of birds every year. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
Four pelicans preen at Frank Lake on Sunday, April 24, 2022. The Frank Lake conservation area draws many species of birds every year. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)

Glenmore – Weaselhead Park

Glenmore Park is a recreation area located in Calgary, it has playgrounds, paths and even a splash park, yet, on the north side of the park is the Weaselhead Flats area.

While there is still a regular asphalt pathway in this part of the park, there is also the option to enter Jack-rabbit trail, a conglomerate of forest pathways which go through the trees as well as along the bank of the Glenmore reservoir.

Jack-rabbit Trail offers a perfect place for finding wildflowers, small mammals, insects and waterbirds.

“If observing nature is your goal, Weaselhead is the perfect spot for you,” said Severin Rudzik, a former SAIT student who lives nearby and regularly visits the area.

“Common Loons, Tundra Swans and Crossbills will keep birdwatchers busy while those looking for beavers can see them collecting wood for dams right from the bridge. There is even a bug hunt event happening (there) on June 25.”

A Common Goldeneye duck and her duckling swim along Glenmore Reservoir in Weaselhead Park – Glenmore in Calgary on Saturday, June 11, 2022. This park lends a home to many wild plants and animals within the city. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Common Chipmunk scurries in the underbrush in Weaselhead Park – Glenmore in Calgary on Saturday, June 11, 2022. This park lends a home to many wild plants and animals within the city. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Common Chipmunk eats on a rock beside the trail in Weaselhead Park – Glenmore in Calgary on Saturday, June 11, 2022. This park lends a home to many wild plants and animals within the city. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)

Inglewood Bird-Sanctuary

Along the banks of the Bow River sits the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, a conservation area for both local and migrating birds to rest and build their homes.

With a combined total of 638 reported species of birds, mammals and plants, the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary is any naturalist’s dream. The pathways are even and there are many benches where visitors may sit and take in the wildlife.

Being so close to water, while also being full of countless trees and bushes, this location can boast both interesting water-birds as well as those who live in the trees.

A trip to this sanctuary is a must for anyone wanting to get in touch with local wildlife.

A Common Merganser swims in The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary has had 270 species of birds visit it. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
Mule Deer take refuge in the wooded areas of The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. The sanctuary creates a safe space for local mammals as well as birds. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Starling perches on a branch at The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary has had 270 species of birds visit it. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
A Tree Swallow perches close to its nest at The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary has had 270 species of birds visit it. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)
Mule Deer take refuge in the wooded areas of The Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. The sanctuary creates a safe space for local mammals as well as birds. (Photo by Robin Contos/SAIT)

This summer is the perfect time for students to treat themselves to the great outdoors and get to know the fuzzy, scaled, and feathered friends we share our province with!

Robin Contos is a first-year journalism student who takes a keen interest in animals and the environment. Robin wants to be active in environmental journalism after they’ve finished school. You can follow them on Instagram: @red_robin_photography 

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