Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Return from Haida Gwaii

Once our time in Haida Gwaii was finished, we headed home. We chose to return via Vancouver and the island - ferry to Prince Rupert, ferry to Port Hardy, drive to Nanaimo, ferry to Horseshoe Bay. We stopped overnight in Port Hardy, Nanaimo, and Vancouver.

My father used to joke that Canada's scenery was just "rocks, fir trees, and water", or in the case of my beloved mountains, "rocks, fir trees, and snow". From the ferry it was more like "clouds, fir trees, and water". Despite the "simple" recurring ingredients, it's still beautiful scenery.

I think the little hummingbird (see photo) had hit the window of our Nanaimo hotel. We found it lying on the sidewalk. I picked it up so it wouldn't get stepped on. After a few minutes it flew off my hand but only made it a few feet to the flower bed. When we went by later it was gone. I hope that means it recovered. I wish I could have taken some photos when it was perched on my hand in the sun. Such beautiful little birds.

My sister Clare drove up from Victoria with her friend Vera and we had a great supper together at the Nest Bistro in Nanaimo.

In Vancouver we stayed at the Lonsdale Quay Hotel since it had easy access from Horseshoe Bay and to the #1 highway out of town. It was a good place for a short stop. We wandered around the market and enjoyed the view of the water. It has easy access to downtown via the Seabus - Shelley went over in the evening to meet her niece. I met up with an old friend for supper at the next door Pier 7.

The drive home was, as usual, more tedious than the drive out. We took the #3 Crowsnest highway for a change, overnighting in Castlegar and Lethbridge. We stopped briefly at the Creston Wildlife Area on the way by.

(click to view 21 photos)
tree reflections

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Haida Gwaii part 2

After our hike we stayed overnight in Masset. We were surprised to find most of the accommodation was full, but we eventually found a nice B&B. We could have camped but after 3 nights of camping we were ready for showers.

We visited the Delkatla Nature Sanctuary centre and checked out the bird watching towers. We didn't see too much but it's a nice area.

The next day we made our way back to Skidegate ready for the ferry back to Prince Rupert the following day. We stopped at Port Clements to hike the golden spruce trail, and to check out another bird watching tower. Shelley spotted some sandhill cranes in the distance and after trying a few spots along the road we got fairly close to them, although even with the big lens, they were still fairly small.

We had booked to stay at Jag's Beanstalk but the reservation was made for the wrong day. However, they kindly found us another place to stay so everything was fine. They even let us hang out in the coffee shop (and use the wifi) after closing while we waited for the other place to be available. (The owner of the other cabin turned out to be the photographer who had taken the reflection photos displayed in the coffee shop in Masset.)

There were two Townsend's warblers (photo below) hopping around in a tree. It was a challenge to photograph them but I managed a couple of decent shots. This is the big lens at work again.

The barn swallows had a nest on the B&B where we stayed. When we arrived in the evening there were four of the young in the nest and another one on the railing. In the morning they'd all left the nest and were perched in various nearby spots. They were pretty cute.

(click to view 21 photos)
Townsend's warbler

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Haida Gwaii hike

We wanted to do some hiking in Haida Gwaii and decided to do a 35 km route that combined 10 km of forest and 25 km of beach on the North-East tip of Graham Island near Masset. We drove up to Masset, had lunch at the Sunrise Cafe and then picked up coffee at The Ground Gallery & Coffee House. (where there was a great display of reflection photographs)

By the time we drove to the trail head at Tow Hill and packed, it was 3 pm when we started hiking. The 10 km of the Cape Fife trail across the peninsula to the coast took us about 3 hours. It was wonderful through the temperate rain forest of moss covered trees. There's a hut at the end that's free to use and was in good shape, but we had brought our tent and set it up overlooking the beach.

I'd read that there isn't a beach anywhere that doesn't have garbage washing up on it. It's bad enough to hear that, but to see the reality is worse. Here we were in one of the remote corners of the world, and you couldn't go ten steps along the shore without seeing plastic garbage. It's still a beautiful place, but it's sad.

The next day we hiked the 10 km up the East coast to the end of Rose Spit, the NE corner of the island, and around onto North Beach. We'd known there wasn't much fresh water on this route, but there were several creeks on the map, and this is a rain forest, so we assumed we'd find something. We couldn't find any sign of the creek on the east coast so we kept going around the spit aiming for the creek shown on the north coast. But we couldn't find it either. We'd only started with about 2.5 litres each and we were down to about a litre each. We could have hiked out the last 8 km to the car, but decided we'd rather spend one last night on the beach, even if it did mean rationing our water.

Unfortunately, this part of the beach is frequented by ATV's and trucks - mostly people crabbing. They didn't bother us, but it did spoil the wilderness feel.

The next morning it only took a couple of hour back to the car. On the drive back we passed the Moon over Naikoon Bakery and it was open! We'd assumed it would be closed on a Sunday, but apparently they're open 7 days a week. It was a cool drizzly morning, but the shop was toasty from all the baking and the cinnamon buns were fresh out of the oven (and very tasty).

The bakery is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but it turned out to be a popular spot, both with locals and tourists. By the time we left the first batch of cinnamon buns was almost gone and another batch was in the oven.

I discovered a copy of Observations from Off the Grid on the table and ended up reading half of this wonderful book of poetry while we sat there. The poems were about travel with quite a few from Guatemala. I'll have to track down a copy so I can finish reading it.

Overall, this was a great hike - recommended.

(click to view 31 photos)
North Beach & Tow Hill

See also: my other posts and the collection of photos from this trip, and Shelley's post

Haida Gwaii part 1

We took the ferry from Prince Rupert to Skidegate, Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte islands). It's about a 7 hour trip with much of it across open water with no land in site. We didn't luck out with any orca or whale sightings unfortunately. But we had a nice calm crossing, and it gave me time to process some of the photos I've been taking.

We booked at the Sea Raven Motel in Queen Charlotte City for the first night since we arrived fairly late and weren't sure what the weather would be like for camping. It turned out to be a good choice because one of the few decent restaurants, the Ocean View, was right next door.

The next morning we discovered Jag's Beanstalk on the outskirts of Skidegate. Definitely recommended - good coffee, baking, breakfasts, and ocean views. (They also have rooms for rent.)

The Haida Heritage Center is another recommended stop - nice museum and nice totem poles.

In the afternoon we rented kayaks and went for a paddle. It was a bit rough so we got a workout, but it was great to get out on the water. We had a little trouble finding someone to rent from. We ended up at Queen Charlotte Adventures.

The next night we spent beside the beach at the Queen Charlotte City campground (small, but nice).

(click to view 19 photos)
totem poles

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Prince Rupert eagles

Our ferry from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwai didn't leave till 1pm so after breakfast we went for a walk on McClymont Park Trail. We started at the ocean end of it, which happened to be at the inlet where I'd taken photos of the eagles from the bridge. There were eagles by the water again but they flew away. As we were walking along the trail I happened to look up and there was an eagle in the tree over our heads. There was nothing to brace against, and on top of that I was shooting almost straight up, but amazingly I still got some good results. The photo below is one of them. If you zoom in on the original you can even see the reflection of the forest in the eye.

A few minutes later we came across several adult eagles sitting in a tree. There were also several more juveniles chasing each other, squawking and crashing around in the trees. One of the challenges was getting the correct exposure for the white heads in the sun versus the dark body and shady foliage. I ended up shooting on manual for some of them.

Of course, when a kingfisher flew by and landed down stream in the shade I wasted a few shots before remembering to switch back to automatic exposure. Even with the big lens it was still too far away to get a good shot and as soon as I started to move closer it flew away. Some day I'll get a decent close up of these guys!

When we walked back to the inlet there were eagles down by the water again.

Occasionally you see bald eagles in Saskatchewan, but not very often. So at first we were excited when we saw them. But then we saw more and more, and soon it stopped being a big event. However, they are still magnificent birds. And the challenge changed from just getting any eagle photo to getting "good" ones.

(click to view 7 photos)
bald eagle

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Prince Rupert

We stayed at Eagle Bluff B&B in Prince Rupert. We chose it mostly because of the location - right on the water. We had a great room - that's the door and window to our room just to the left of the restaurant. The Cow Bay Cafe next door was excellent as well (reservations are a good idea). And I could indulge my fondness for reflection photos :-)

(click to view 13 photos)
Eagle Bluff B&B and Cow Bay Cafe

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Prince Rupert - Butze Rapids trail

Butze Rapids is a nice 5 km trail near Prince Rupert (6 km east) with good forest and shore. The rapids are a narrow point where the tides rush through. The tides around Prince Rupert are roughly 20 feet!

(click to view 7 photos)

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Prince Rupert early morning walk

Since we actually stayed in one place for more than one night I could get up early (6 am) and go for a walk. It was very foggy by the water. I found a bridge overlooking an inlet and I was thinking it would make a good vantage point to photograph an eagle, when voila, there was an eagle, and several more down by the water. I could brace the long lens on the railing, but it was a small bridge so I had to wait for the cars to pass since they shook the whole bridge.

(click to view 15 photos)
Bald eagle

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dinner with eagle and lens (and Shelley)

Our first night in Prince Rupert we walked up the hill to the Crest Hotel for supper. I took my camera and brand new telephoto lens with me, just in case.

We had a great corner table looking over the bay and shortly after we had sat down I realized there was a bald eagle on a crane down by the water. At first I wasn't going to get my camera out but eventually I couldn't resist. I took a few shots through the window and then moved out to the deck. I'm afraid Shelley (and my food) got somewhat ignored!

A bit later (halfway though salad) the eagle left its perch and flew up to land in the tree much closer to us. Out came the camera again. These shots were a bit better.  He flew away again, but during dessert he showed up back at the original spot. And then flew up to the tree. And from there to a tree on the other side of the hotel where I got a few last shots.

(click to view 4 photos)
Bald eagle

Tech Notes

Obviously, I finally took the plunge and bought a bigger lens - a Sigma 150 to 500mm. I've resisted for a long time, not wanting the size and weight and having to change lenses. But much as I like my small Tamron 18 to 250mm, it just isn't quite long enough for birds and other wildlife. (Note: The K5ii has a 1.5 crop factor so the Tamron is equivalent to 27-375 and the Sigma 225-750)

Originally I put the Pentax 300mm f4 and a 1.4 teleconverter on order. But then I found out that autofocus doesn't work with teleconverters on the K5ii. I'm not prepared to manually focus so I scrapped that idea. I looked around for other options and found the Sigma. It gets mostly good reviews, especially in terms of value for money. It's not cheap, but you could easily pay ten times as much for an equivalent "pro" lens. It's not a fast (bright) lens at f5-6.3, but that's the same as the 18-250. You can mostly get around that with the ability to shoot at high ISO.

Don's in Saskatoon didn't have the Sigma in stock, so I emailed McBain's in Edmonton and they had it. I knew it was big, but I was still a little shocked when I first saw it. Zoomed out to 500mm, with the lens hood on, it's long!

Tamron 18-250
Sigma 150-500
Sigma 150-500 at 500 with lens hood
I took a few test shots with my camera in the store. It seemed to autofocus well, and even hand held at 500mm I could still get some reasonably sharp images. The lens has built in optical image stabilization in addition to the image stabilization built into the camera. I was afraid I'd be forced to use a tripod to get decently sharp shots, but with a little creative use of trees and railings for support it's not bad.

So far I've been pretty happy with it. I wouldn't have been able to get these eagle shots with the old lens.

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Prince Rupert Sunken Garden flowers

The afternoon when we arrived in Prince Rupert we wandered around town. The sunken garden in front of the court house was lovely.

(click to view 8 photos)

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Ancient Forest

Intrigued by the name, we pulled into the "Ancient Forest". It turned out to be a recently constructed boardwalk trail through a stand of old Western Redcedars, possibly as much as 2000 years old. (They're hard to date because the center of the old trees is normally rotten or hollow.) If you're driving by and you have the time it's well worth the stop. (Assuming you like big trees.) It's about 36 km west of McBride. (where there's a good coffee shop and gallery in the train station at the end of main street)

(click to view 12 photos)
ancient Western redcedar

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bear Pause

A black bear ran across the highway in front of us. Like true tourists we stopped to watch. I scrambled to grab my camera from the back seat, although I fully expected the bear to be long gone by the time I was ready. Surprisingly, she stopped behind a bush and stood up on her back legs to look at us. Then she came around the bush into the open, still looking at us.

Black bear
(click to view larger)

Then we spotted the two cubs on the other side of the road, with us in between. We were safe enough in the car, but momma obviously wanted to be reunited with her cubs. We reversed slowly and as soon as there was room she ran back across the road. Of course, by this time the cubs had decided to climb a tree. Momma bear disappeared into the bush and the cubs soon followed.

Black bear

See also: other posts and the collection of photos from this trip.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Nodding Thistle

There are some big patches of Nodding thistle just south of the 42nd Street bridge, on the East side of the river. I've seen these before, but not in such large numbers. As far as I know this ground hasn't been recently disturbed. Maybe it's just the wetter conditions that triggered it.

They are an invasive species, often classified as a noxious weed. But they're also quite colourful. They're related to sunflowers and it seems like you can see some resemblance in the flowers. I didn't do too well at capturing the way a large area of them looks. It's quite a sight.

(click to view larger)
Nodding thistle

Nodding thistle

Nodding thistle

Nodding thistle

Nodding thistle

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Back alley beauty

As I came up the alley on my way back from a run I noticed these flowers growing "wild" and came back with my camera. Anyone know what they are?

(click to view larger)

I didn't notice the mosquito sitting on the petal between the two flowers till I had the photo on the computer. I did notice the ones that were biting me!


They were almost as pretty from the back.

And I couldn't resist another bee shot. Notice the bright yellow pollen on the back legs.


Monday, July 08, 2013

Print of the Week

Diamond-back terrapin
(click to view larger)

This is a Diamondback terrapin at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, one of the stops on our train trip around the USA. As in most aquariums it was pretty dark. This shot was taken at 250mm (375mm equivalent and full zoom on my Tamron 18-250). I used 1/500 to counter camera shake with the long telephoto. This required ISO 6400, a speed that would have been impossible not long ago. Even on the K5ii I try to stay lower than this, but in this case it worked ok. There is some noise if you look closely at the original, but after reduction in Lightroom it's not really visible even in a 13x19 print. I turned the sharpening up on the print to offset the softness from the noise reduction.

The turtle was in an exhibit that was open, i.e. no dirty glass between us, which I'm sure helped get a good shot. I was also able to rest my elbows on the railing to help steady the camera.

I was lucky to get the eye in focus - that's generally what you want with wildlife photos. And there's even a catchlight in the eye (more luck since I had no control over the lighting).

I like the expression, and the reflection in the still water. I could have turned the water black, but I like the patterns, even if it does distract from the turtle slightly.

I wish I had left a little more room on the right. I blame it on too many years of my father telling me to "fill the frame". That used to be important, especially when you shot slides, but now that cameras have plenty of pixels and cropping is easy it's better to play it safe and leave a little spare around the edges.

I realize I have quite a few shots, like this one, that I think of as animal "portraits". Fairly direct, nothing fancy, fairly close up - a lot like you'd shoot a portrait of a person. Many of them were taken in zoos or aquariums. I prefer photographing animals in nature, but it's a lot harder to get shots like this in the wild. I got quite a few turtle photographs on our kayak trip in Florida, but not closeups like this.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

What's wrong with this picture?

This is taken from the walkway on the railroad bridge, looking down on Spadina. On the left you can see the end of the new trail that parallels 33rd Street.

I think it's great that the city is building more trails. But it bugs me every time I go by here. (Ask Shelley, she has to listen to my recurring rants!)

There is no crosswalk!

Here's another view. You can see that the stop sign for the cars is in a completely different spot from where the trail crosses. Cars have never had to deal with pedestrians and cyclists and skateboarders at this point, and there is absolutely nothing to warn them.

I believe the plan is to have a round-about here and no doubt there will eventually be a crosswalk. But this has been like this for six months. The city ploughed the snow off it all winter, so presumably they intend for it to be used.

They can do all the work of building the trail, paving it, putting in ramps, (to make it even easier for people to spill out onto the road), ploughing it in the winter, landscaping, and planting grass but no one thinks of putting up a crossing sign, or painting some lines on the road, or heaven forbid putting in speed bumps? It's a bit like the old joke about encouraging your kids to play on the freeway.

I guess they're waiting till the round-about is built. But you wouldn't leave a main automobile intersection uncontrolled for six months or a year until the stop lights went in. You'd put in temporary stop signs.

You can tell from the first picture that I'm avoiding the crossing by taking the railway bridge across the street - a much safer route. Except the plan is to stop people from crossing the road on the railway bridge. I'm not sure why. Probably partly pressure from the railroad, and partly to save the cost of maintaining the stairs on the west side of Spadina. The fact that the overhead crossing is much easier and safer for pedestrians obviously wasn't important.

This incident wouldn't bug me so much if it wasn't yet another symptom of how if you're not in an automobile you don't really count.

I think part of the problem is that the people involved think that their goal is to lay down a strip of asphalt. It seems to me the goal should be to provide better ways for  people to move around the city by a variety of means. Those strips of asphalt are just one piece of the puzzle.

We have a similar problem in the computer software business. Instead of thinking about how to help people accomplish their goals, we end up adding bells and whistles and features that are hard to use.

Also in the picture above notice the unofficial path worn in the grass by people trying to get to where they can cross at an actual stop sign. Presumably, even after the round-about, people (like me) will want to go north-west (where the dirt trail goes) as well as west to the new trail. Yet there appears to be no attempt to make a paved path here. I guess we can hope that will come with the roundabout, although I wouldn't count on it. That dirt path has been there for years.

It's this emphasis on adding bits of asphalt rather than helping people get around that leads to our disconnected trails that start and stop in the middle of nowhere and have inexplicable gaps. It's what leads to bicycle routes that end abruptly at signs that helpfully say "Bicycle route ends here". As if we can at that point dematerialize, or get back in a car (or preferably a big truck) like "normal" people. Or signs that show a cyclist going down the middle of a lane in front of a car. Have the people who put in those signs ever tried that? At best you get honked and cursed at. Or run off the road and your bicycle thrown in the ditch (a recent local incident).

I always wondered about these disconnected pieces of trail (highlighted below) until I looked at them on Google maps and it became obvious that they were designed, not for people, but to connect roads. I'm sure it made sense to a road designer. Even better, the roads don't even have sidewalks on the park side so you have to cross the road each time.

Even if the focus is on leisure use of the trails rather than us wackos who might actually want to commute by some means other than automobile, it still doesn't make sense to have disconnected trails with gaps (and no crosswalks).

I think another factor that leads to this is that the people that design and build these trails don't use them. Certainly some of the people that lobby for them are cyclists and walkers. But the guys that build them are far more likely to drive around in big trucks. They wouldn't dream of building a road that had a gap in the middle.

While I'm ranting, I'll also question why they had to rip up all the bushes and grass that have been on this hill for many years and required no tending? Presumably to plant a "prettier" lawn that will then require watering and mowing and fertilizer and weed killers. I guess we can only have a hint of wildness in an official "naturalized" park. What a culture, when we're not obsessing over our automobiles, we're obsessing over our lawns.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Flowers and Bugs

Around one of the public seating areas at Innovation Place (in the Atrium building) there's a thorny bush in a planter. When I've sat too close and been snagged by it I've wondered why they chose such a thorny plant. But when I walked by yesterday I noticed it had some flowers on it. Of course, I had to take some photos of them :-) When I looked at them closer, they looked a lot like bougainvillea. I didn't remember bougainvillea having thorns, but then again I usually just look at the flowers.


They're selling small bougainvillea plants at the Farmers Market so I looked at their flowers for comparison and they seemed identical. And Wikipedia says they are thorny. I'm used to tropical bougainvillea having masses of flowers all over them, quite a contrast to the few solitary flowers on this plant, but we are in Saskatchewan. (As my father used to say, "Man should not live where bougainvillea will not grow." Somehow I don't think he would have counted these few house and summer plants.)

Once I had my camera out, I of course had to take more photos. Can someone tell me what this bush is? I like their bunches of little flowers.


Once I started taking photos of the flowers I realized there were quite a few insects on them. There were a number of these smaller bees (at least that's my guess). It was a little tricky to photograph them since they were constantly crawling around. Zooming in on the photos you can see the pollen accumulated on his back legs.


There were also a few bigger bumblebees around. There were even harder to photograph because they never landed for more than a few seconds.


I don't know what this next insect is. Possibly an ichneumon wasp. None of the pictures I found looked quite right but there are over 60,000 kinds. Maybe my father the entomologist would have known. (In his books Bernd Heinrich talks about ichneumon wasp because his father collected them.)

Ichneumon wasp ?


Walking through the building back to my office I stopped to take a few photos of these flowers.



Photo Notes
These were taken with the Canon G12. It does quite well on macro shots as long as you remember that it only focuses close when it's at wide angle. If you zoom at all, it can't focus as close. However, that means you can't blur the background as much because the wide angle gives a bigger depth of field. (As does the small sensor.) On the other hand, the bigger depth of field helps get your subject in focus. For these kinds of shots I don't miss the SLR view finder since I find it easier to compose with the screen. I did push the ISO a bit (200 outdoors, 400 indoors) on some of these shots (to get a faster shutter speed), but with the G12 I don't like to go much past 400 since the noise becomes quite noticeable.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

American Robin

When I went to the pond at Innovation Place today to eat my lunch there was an American Robin sitting on the back of a chair. I thought he would fly away as I approached, but he didn't. I walked by quite close, sat down at a nearby table, and got my lunch out. He still hadn't moved so I thought he might stay long enough for me to get my camera out. Surprisingly, he did.

As usual, I started by taking pictures from a distance and then gradually moving closer. The G12 I carry in my pack doesn't have a very good telephoto, but I got within three or four feet of him,.

I wondered if there was something wrong with him, especially because he looked a little scruffy. But shortly after I sat down again to eat my lunch he flew away. And zooming in on the photo, you can see he was holding a bug in its beak.

Robins are ubiquitous here in the summer, but I'm fond of all creatures, regardless of how common.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Monday, July 01, 2013

Hawk versus gopher

Biking home the other day I spotted a hawk in the grass at the top of Pest Hill. I stopped and slowly moved closer and saw it had a gopher. It didn't like me getting too close and it took off heavily and flew about 20 feet further away.

I thought if it couldn't fly too well with the gopher I might have time to zip home and get my camera. I backed away slowly and then biked down the back alley to our house. I dropped my bike in the yard, rushed inside and grabbed my camera, and ran back to the park.

Luckily it was still there, but it was also still nervous about me getting too close. I snapped a few shots from long distance.

Swainson's hawk
(click to view larger)

This is heavily cropped since I was still a long way away. But as soon as I started to move closer he took off. This time he didn't seem to have any trouble flying and he flew over Circle Drive.

Swainson's hawk flying away

I thought maybe he'd left the gopher and I searched where he'd been, but there was no sign of it. Later when I zoomed in on the photo I could see he was carrying it.

It's probably just as well he didn't hang around because I was getting eaten alive by the mosquitos in the long grass of the park!

From the coloring I'd guess it was a Swainson's hawk. They're also known as "locust hawks" because they eat a lot of insects, but they also catch gophers to feed their young. I wonder if it has a nest nearby. They're not the greatest photos, but I was glad I got enough to identify it.

I'm surprised he found a gopher in the park because the city regularly poisons them here :-( and I haven't seen any recently.

* I should be saying "ground squirrel" instead of "gopher" but everyone calls them gophers.