Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary

Directions to Clifford E. Lee SanctuaryThe Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary has been designated as one of Alberta's "Special Places". One of the many "Watchable Wildlife" sites in Alberta, it harbours a variety of marsh and plant life, birds and animals and is an ideal location for a nature walk on a pleasant day. Leaving Edmonton on Highway 16 east (to Jasper), turn south (left) onto Highway 60 (to Devon) and drive 13.2 km, turn right onto Woodbend Road and drive 1.6 km. Turn south (left) on Range Road 264 and proceed 1.4 km, turn right into the sanctuary parking area, where you may be greeted by red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds calling from the bulrushes around the marshes on both sides of the road. Click here for a printable trail map of the sanctuary (179 KB).

A meandering boardwalk and a series of connecting trails wind their way through marshes, sand hills, meadows and aspen and pine woods which are home to a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects, and pond life. This wide variety of habitats in a relatively small and compact area ensures an equally wide variety of wildlife. The year-round residents are primarily mammals such as snow-shoe hares, deer, coyotes, beaver, and muskrats -- spring and fall are the best times to see the more than 100 species of birds that frequent this sanctuary. From May to August, the sanctuary is bright with wild flowers, each to their own season.

Ring-necked Pheasant

This ring-necked pheasant was spotted in the long grass adjoining the road just south of the parking area and he assumed that if he froze in place, he couldn't be seen (probable genesis of the phrase "bird brain"). Black terns swoop and dive over the marshes and sloughs chasing insects. Mosquitos abound in the spring and summer, pursued by hundreds of blue darner dragonflies - each dragonfly can (and hopefully does) eat 133 mosquitos a day!

Late April will find the Canada geese already leading goslings onto the open water from the hay bales scattered throughout the marshes as nesting sites, while the many varieties of ducks, mergansers, teals, grebes and, of course, coots, are just arriving. Spring makes identification of the many varieties of water birds relatively easy, since they are all wearing their "courtin' clothes" (breeding plumage). Tree swallows are arguing over the ownership of the nesting boxes in the marsh between the viewing platforms, and wood ducks are staking out their territory around the nest boxes provided for their use. Northern harriers, broad-winged and red-tail hawks are occasionally seen wheeling overhead, looking for lunch.

Red-winged blackbird overlooking the marsh
Male red-winged blackbirds display their plumage to their dowdy mates, while yellow-headed blackbirds look for the ideal habitat. The red-wings like anything that is relatively near to water, but the yellow-heads insist on nesting within the confines of a marsh. Marsh wrens are heard more than seen, but their ball-shaped nests on the many bullrushes can sometimes be spotted.

The calls of black-capped chickadees, the drumming of ruffed grouse, and the hollow echos of feeding downy and hairy woodpeckers in the aspen forest are music to the ears accompanying any walk along the trails. There are black-oil sunflower and suet feeders at the trail intersection that connects the Aspen Ridge, and Pine Knoll/Woodland Flower trails with the Boardwalk Loop. Chickadees abound in this spot. With much patience, sitting on the bench by the crossroads, perhaps one can be enticed to take sunflower seeds from your hand!

With a car, access to this site is easy - its only about 3/4 of an hour from Edmonton. The trails and the boardwalk are level, and can be relatively easily navigated even by the out-of-shape and the disabled. The shortest loop is across the boardwalk from the parking lot, turning right at the boardwalk fork, then taking the Aspen Ridge Trail cutoff from the Boardwalk Loop, through the crossroads to return to the parking area (1.7 km.). The full Boardwalk loop is approximately 3 kilometers, and, if the Pine Knoll loop is added, returning to the crossroads and back to the main parking lot, then the loop expands to 5.2 km. The longest walk without repeating any territory includes the full Boardwalk Loop, then cutting over to the Pine Knoll loop and finishing on the  Woodland Flower Trail, returning along Range Road 264 to the main parking area (about 6.1 km.). It's all pretty easy walking, flat with wide, well-maintained trails.  However, the eastern/northern portion of the Boardwalk Loop suffers from a dearth of benches. Only the most westerly of the viewing platforms contains any seating. The meadow trail on the western/southern part of the Boardwalk Loop has three benches, relatively closely spaced.

The Alberta Fish and Wildlife Service has posted many interpretive signboards at various points along the trails and boardwalks to help in identifiying the flora and fauna.