Ellis Bird Farm, southeast of Lacombe, was a hub of activity on Monday as the centre opened for the season.
Visitors to the bird sanctuary set foot in the brand new visitor centre for the first time. The bright red building was constructed last year and has been used for gathering and teaching over the past few months, but Monday was the first day it opened officially to the public.
“We are open for the season,” explained Myrna Pearman, Ellis Bird Farm site services manager.
The new centre boasts large windows, many displays that have incorporated local refurbished wood and a gift shop.
The older building that previously housed the visitor centre is still in use but will be treated as a self-guided facility and for workshops.
The opening day celebration began at 11 a.m. with musical entertainment and coffee. At 1 p.m. a dedication ceremony was held for Jim Boyd, from Bashaw, who donated three large purple martin birdhouses to the farm.
At 2 p.m. visitors returned again to the new visitor centre to learn about the two Owls named Ellie and Albert, and their offspring, that have called the farm home for the past two years.
Pearman explained the centre has documented the owls’ activities and has placed a webcam near the nest allowing virtual visitors from all over the world to watch the owls’ progress.
“We didn’t think they would hatch, but they did,” she said about the two babies Wilma and Windy. This season the owl family even had to weather a snowstorm in May.
Pearman also told the guests the inspiration behind the new visitor centre lies on the wings of a purple martin.
In 2012, the centre was able to track one of the purple martins from Alberta down to Brazil. Named Amelia, the bird left the farm on Aug. 24th and after a whirlwind trip, returned on April 24th, covering the large return distance in a mere 21 days.
“She flew 600 kilometres a day,” said Pearman. “It’s just incredible.”
Amelia was the first tracked bird to come back to Alberta and after she returned, Pearman shared the inspirational story with the farm’s neighbour across the road, ME Global, who wanted to assist in building the new visitor centre.
“We have lots and lots of donations and lots of volunteer time,” said Pearman.
On Tuesday, the numerous summer students started work at the farm in preparation for the nearly constant stream of students and visitors alike for the season.
Upcoming 2015 events at the farm include Father’s Day Hikes on June 21st, the popular Blue Bird Festival on July 11th, a medicinal plant walk on July 19th, the bug jamboree on Aug. 8th and closing day on Sept. 7th.
For more information, contact 403-885-4777 or visit www.ellisbirdfarm.ca.