Monthly Archives: August 2018

Another Day Birdwatching

How I spent my Sunday Morning getting involved in

“The International Shorebird Survey (ISS) in Manitoba – an Encouraging Start”

“Many readers will recall two excellent reports from Sabina and Lynnea, describing a workshop we attended in May. The Workshop was organised by Manomet, NCC, Environment and Climate Change Canada, BSC, and ourselves, and was hosted by NCC at their Jiggin’s Bluff property in the Oak Lake and Plum Lakes IBA. It also included a trip to Whitewater Lake IBA. Our ultimate goal was to establish the International Shorebird Survey (ISS) in Manitoba, and this blog covers the first ever shorebird surveys delivered as part of this program.”

 

Taking part required getting up at 5:00am to drive to the rendezvous point. Anyone who knows me knows just how difficult that is for me. But we did it and it was great!

IMG_3449

Tornado Damage to Our Bog.

My husband and I bought a quarter section of land in 2001. We are environmentalists, I like to think the real kind, who are into habitat preservation and so with that in mind we bought 152 acres of original unbroken prairie and promptly put it into a conservation agreement. Our quarter is adjacent to the remnants of the former town of Silver Ridge. We have a bog in the property so we called it Silver Bog. One of the best things about Silver Bog was huge (for the prairies) trees. We had aspen that are among the biggest in the area and oaks over one hundred years old. The F4 Alonsa tornado of 2018, that was up to 800 metres wide, went right through our lovely bog. The trees were hit the hardest.tornado-alonsa

A few days after the tornado we went out to our bog and walked it to see the damage. It was devastating.

The first thing that struck my eye was that our once lovely old wood was gone.  Huge tracts where there were once dense trees were now just a few low bushes and broken tree trunks. There appeared to be a main track of damage and then a lesser but wider track around it. In the video of the tornado it looks like parts of the wall cloud came down low enough to almost create a secondary funnel around the first main one. The result is a crazy quilt of downed trees at random places even where most trees survived. And debris, everywhere, lots of debris.

The closer we got to the main track of damage the larger the debris became until we began to see whole tree trunks. These poor trees had been pulled up by the roots, had the root ball and dirt stripped off and all the leaves and branches removed. The closer to the main tract of the tornado, the bigger the debris and tossed, stripped, tree trunk.

And then we got to the main path of destruction and we couldn’t go on. Trees had been picked up and tossed and rearranged and piled up. It was impossible to pass because in some areas the trees were stacked 4-6 layers deep. Some were stripped like the logs we found tossed in the open field but many were simply plowed over by the winds and the flying logs and so were lying there dying on the ground.

We tried to make it to the end of property but it was just impassible. The hardest thing was the view where a single broken tree trunk was all that remained of a lovely grove of gorgeous living trees. I had often walked under these trees and there were individuals I missed. That was where the tree that had a huge nest used each year by a red tailed hawk family. Gone. There was the one with funny scar from another storm in a grove of exceptionally lovely aspen, gone. What hurt the most were the oaks. We had many lovely old oaks. We had often wondered how old they were because burr oak grow slowly. Now we could count the rings on the busted up trunks. 70+ year old oaks now kindling. One poor oak had somehow remained upright but was standing now with dead trees wrapped around its base, most of its branches removed and strips of bark hanging from it. We guess it was more than 70 years old. It is so damaged I doubt it will survive.

IMG_3398

Some of the trees were just torn from the ground and knocked over. In a way it made the view worse because these trees had their root ball and dirt and it emphasized how much had been ripped off the big logs.

IMG_3397

These were not small trees. I have a size 8 foot.

IMG_3396

And even the ground was marked. There were huge scrapes and swirls in the ground. I think some of these great logs were dragged over the ground before finally being dropped by the twister.

IMG_3375IMG_3393IMG_3382IMG_3383

On the way out we saw one lovely sign that made me happy though. The settlers of this area cut down all the pine and spruce and tamaracks and Dick and I had been busy replanting baby trees in appropriate spots to restore the missing species. I was shaking and trying not to cry on the walk back to the truck and I spotted this tree. I planted this little tamarack 14 years ago. It had only been seven inches tall at the time. It was now taller than I was by a little bit. Because I was shaking the image is blurry. Behind it were a few undamaged trees.

IMG_3412

Our bog lies between two home quarters of our neighbours. By hitting our bog, their homes were spared. There were no cattle on our land when the tornado hit. We lost fences and trees. Trees will grow back, the land will recover and life will go on. This was the first time I ever walked our bog and did not see even one deer. The deer likely fled before the storm. They will be back. The Bog will flourish again. We did not lose a loved one to the whirlwind. We were lucky, very very lucky.

 

 

Alonsa Tornado Part Two – Aftermath

We woke up in the morning after the tornado hit our area. It was nice and sunny. The first thing we had to deal with was lack of power. I heated a kettle of water for coffee on the barbecue. After the coffee I felt awake enough to start dealing with things, we then got dressed, got the generator out and we hooked the trailer solar panel back up system to the house. That gave us enough power to get the modem up and running and to my delight we had internet. The first thing that came up was an email from two more sons asking if we were okay. I sent off reassuring messages.

IMG_3152

Dick then went to check on our neighbours at the store. The Chen family are new arrivals in Canada and we wanted to be sure they were okay. We ran our own generator long enough to get our fridge and freezer cold again and then we took it over to the store to help them. Frank Chen had recently taken over the store and he was worried about his frozen stock. It wasn’t long before another couple came by to check on them and they had a much bigger and more powerful generator. My poor little generator, perfect for powering our travel trailer, just did not have the power needed for the store. They set up their big monster and soon had all the freezers cooling again. Because the power was out, Frank had a lot of customers looking for ice and such.

IMG_3155

Once we were sure Frank and his family were okay we took our generator home and plugged in our own fridge and stove. My husband went over to the RM office which was a hive of activity coordinating emergency response and he came back with some stuff donated from the Chen’s store to make sandwiches for the volunteer fire department. Frank and Lily had to stay to run the busy store but their son Michael came to help. We made sandwiches and packed a lunch and headed off to Margaret Bruce Beach. We found only two firemen with the trucks keeping traffic slow passing the Hydro crews who were busy putting in new power lines and poles. One fireman wasn’t hungry but the other was delighted to have lunch and stuffed it down with many thanks.

IMG_3191 (1)

We left the hydro crews and the fire fighters to drive to Margaret Bruce Beach.

 

The damage was so disheartening. We all love Margaret Bruce Beach and for many of us it is like a second home in summer. Poor Crystal and Jimmy had just gotten the beach and campground back on its feet and fully repaired with a lot of work after the flood seven years ago. Now all their work had been blown away in minutes. Crystal told me the campground had been full for the long weekend. She said no one was hurt but afterwards people were wandering around in shock with minor cuts and bruises. It was a miracle no one was dead. Because folks were busy relaxing on a Friday night and radio isn’t great and cell phones service was gone, most people did not get the warning until they noticed others running around, jumping in their vehicles and leaving while shouting about the tornado. Many had as their only warning, the actual sight of the monster coming at them. Now they were sitting beside their destroyed campers and wrecked vehicles in shock. My husband was wandering about with Michael and his box of sandwiches looking for more firemen. He encountered one woman just wandering about utterly distraught and still in shock. Not knowing what else to do, he handed her a sandwich and she calmed right down and began eating it. A group of people also acting kind of shocked were sitting next to an upturned trailer.

“We have nothing to eat,” one woman said.

“We are here to help the people who have been hurt in the storm, not tornado tourists,” my husband said.

“That’s my trailer,” she replied, indicating one that was upside down. “All our food was all in the trailer.”

The rest of the sandwiches ended up feeding them. As she ate she said “I didn’t realize how hungry we were. Thank you so much!”

It was a very small thing to be able to do in the midst of such horrific damage but it felt good. Lesson learned. Before you go tornado damage site-seeing, pack food to distribute. Don’t just arrive and then gawk. Hand out sandwiches. People in shock don’t think to eat and if you can hand them a sandwich they immediately feel better.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From there we left to go check on the ranch of our friends. We could see the terrible damage on the way out. I said some silent prayers as we passed a place where we had heard one man had died. Again we were struck hard by the power of nature. Tornados are such strange and silly things in addition to killing people. The tornado picked up some 90 big round bales and left hay everywhere. The hay ended up hanging on power lines that were not knocked down and the twine was found wrapped around all kinds of things. And course there was lots of the ubiquitous chucks of steel roofing and smashed grain bins and insulation decorating ruined trees.

Our rancher friends were fine, a little shaken but fine. Their trampoline was hung in the trees and their shed was gone. They mourned a litter of kittens scattered about. The mother had found a couple and was still out looking for the rest. I hope she found them. They had been really worried about their horses but they located them, wandering, but unharmed. The pasture our neighbours had been about to move their cattle into was now a giant pick-up-sticks game. They were wondering how to feed them. They had also been fixing up their home and they had no siding on it yet. My husband remarked how it was amazing the tornado had taken all the siding off the house without damaging it. It took a moment for the joke to register but then the poor fellow started laughing and had trouble stopping. The hydro people arrived just then to reconnect their power and we got out of the way and headed home.

We arrived home to find the power was back on. Hydro guys were in the store getting food. Frank and Lily had a very busy day. The next part felt sort of silly because we were missed and not part of the real damage, but we also got interviewed by local press.

The rest of the day was spent walking about in a weird kind of shock. We wandered about talking to folks we knew and everyone had a story to share. Folks were now talking about the poor man who died in the storm. The sense of shock started wearing off and I felt exhausted and fed up and I wanted to just go to bed and curl up and sleep. Instead I started nervous cleaning. At one point I walked around outside and checked my little yellow house I love so much and I felt so very lucky it was still standing. I didn’t sleep well. The night before I had told myself to go to sleep in order to wake refreshed to be ready to deal with things and I did just that. Crisis over, now my brain was processing it and I dreamt all night of black clouds, swirling white funnels and damage and the horror of the people whose lives had been so badly hurt by this thing. We woke the next morning to rain, a lovely, really much needed downpour.  I could not stop watching the clouds, watching. It was nothing but rain but I couldn’t stop watching.

 

 

 

Alonsa Tornado Part One – Our own near miss.

It began while we were sitting outside enjoying the cool breeze in the heavy damp heat we had been experiencing. I was lying on my hammock and my husband had moved a chair nearby so we could sit and read. We could see and hear a storm was forming up to the southwest. I checked the radar using my WIFI connection via my kindle but there nothing awful was on radar so I wasn’t particularly worried.

Tornado

I would later learn the storm formed outside of radar range because the Fox Warren doppler radar station is down for renovations. This leaves a blind spot right where this storm was. I soon could tell we were going to get a bad storm so we moved the truck into the garage. It was building fast. There was a lot of thunder and it had that “hail is coming” look you get to know on living on the prairie. We moved back inside and were soon absorbed in our writing.

It was our dog Misty barking who first caught my attention again. I was writing and she leaped up and barked her full dog alert at me. I paused listened and heard the ping of large hail and in the distance near continuous thunder roaring. We went and looked outside and there were several scattered chunks of hail about 2 cm in diameters. Misty was still pacing underfoot occasionally giving us a nudge and making little anxious whining noises. One chunk of hail landed right near our back door so I reached my arm out and grabbed it even though there was a lot of lightning and thunder. Wow that is one big chunk of ice, I thought, thinking to take a picture and telephone Environment Canada to let them know. I recall thinking, hm continuous thunder. Roaring. That is a bad storm. As it turned out Environment Canada were way ahead of me. Tornado warnings were already coming over radio and television and by cell phone all over the province. Of course we live in an area where cell phone service was never great and after Bell-MTS did some “upgrades” last May cell phone service completely vanished over most of our area.

I walked inside and handed the chunk hail to my husband and started hunting up my camera and I turned around to see him pop the ice into his mouth. So much for that picture.  I looked out the window instead and I now understand the expression “My heart stopped”. A large rotating wall cloud structure like so many pictures and videos I have seen was visible. More large hail pinged. I got a message from my neighbour by Facebook just then saying we had a tornado warning. (She had been watching TV.) I checked the Environment Canada website and sure enough where only 30 minutes before there had been nothing at all, now there was a really ominous looking radar structure and the tornado warning.

“Tornado warning! It looks to be coming right at us! We need to get into the basement now!” I shouted.

We ran around closing up windows and Dick shouted back I should get a picture. I got one and it scared me so bad I forgot all about getting any more and I just worried about getting into our basement shelter. It’s a probably one of the crappiest pictures I have ever taken.

IMG_3117

I was literally going down the basement stairs when the telephone landline rang and it was our daughter calling from Winnipeg to warn us. My husband was behind me and he answered it and said “We’re going down into the shelter now!” and then hung up on her. Misty, who normally doesn’t like going into the basement followed us without a hitch and then sat quietly nearby watching us, panting hard, her eyes huge. The cat soon followed us and found his own spot in the back corner of the shelter.  We hid in the basement listening to the roar. We lost power. The roaring got a bit louder then it faded.

“Missed us,” I said.

“That was close,” my husband replied.

We went upstairs. This was the view.

IMG_3119

These clouds were huge, filling the sky, rotating and rolling. Later on, I would see a video from a different angle and realized these were the boundary clouds of the wall cloud with the actual tornado below our view. This video was taken while the tornado was crossing our own quarter section near Silver Ridge. Meanwhile one of our sons called via the landline to make sure we were safe. I also called my daughter back to let her know we were fine.

tornado2

Check out the lower left to see the same columns. The whole video is linked below.

I think we were all kind of in shock. I went to check on my neighbour and we stood outside watching the monster clouds roll and commenting on them and just watching the spectacle. It was obvious it was bad. We began to worry about our other neighbours outside of town. One young couple hopped into their truck to run and check on a nearby family and were soon back. I was thinking of following but we’re older people and not much use in that kind of an emergency. Better to let the young people handle it. They soon reported the neighbour’s shed was gone and most of his windbreak was down but his house was okay.

Not long after that more people began arriving in town in their trucks all excited. A tornado had hit “The Ridge” (Silver Ridge) and taken out the old Graham house. Now that abandoned house had been an eyesore for a while so my initial thought was that it was actually a good thing. It wasn’t. Not long after that we heard that it was heading for the Margaret Bruce Beach campground. We walked over to the local restaurant. People were sharing pictures and videos. And then the really bad indicator happened. A call on their landline to one of the men changed everything. It wasn’t exciting fun anymore. Caback Way had been directly hit and there were houses down and people were trapped and hurt. The man, a volunteer firefighter, was running outside. We could see the volunteer firemen racing into town and gathering. Soon the trucks were hightailing it out of town sirens blaring.

During the initial shock and sharing, one of our neighbours, David Mozdzen, arrived and he was sharing this picture on his cell phone. Other people had their own pictures to share.

tornado-alonsa

We spent a long time talking to people and watching the sky trying to decide what do. I did not want to be one of those idiots who goes tornado sightseeing into the midst of other peoples’ anguish and misery. Nor did I want to get in the way of the first responders. Eventually, we did decide to drive to our own property to check for damage. The Graham house across highway 50 from our quarter was indeed rubble. While we looked at that, an ambulance sped past. We could see the space the tornado had just made through our line of tree. We started to drive towards Margaret Bruce Beach but as we neared Caback’s Way we could see fire trucks and police car lights. We decided help was there and it was more likely we’d get in the way than be any help so we turned around and headed home. I was strangely calm at this point. We decided since the power was out we would just go to sleep and in the morning get up and deal with things refreshed. And we did just that.