Saturday, March 30, 2013

Signs of Spring

It's good to see the geese returning - a sign of spring even if we are still surrounded by snow!

signs of spring

signs of spring

I can't resist the water going over the weir, even if I have photographed it numerous times.
water over the weir

Not my usual kind of subject - someone hung this christmas ornament on a tree by the river.
fairies in the woods

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Still Winter

I wish I was posting more spring-like photographs, but the fact is, it's still winter in Saskatoon. Hopefully that will change soon.

The sun on the frost and mist was too pretty not to try to capture yesterday on my way to work. I'd deliberately underdressed since it's been getting warm later in the day, but that turned out to be a mistake when I dawdled taking pictures. Despite officially being spring, it was -20c first thing, which makes for cold hands!

(click to view photos)

Shooting into the sun with the G12, it's hard to know what you're getting. I just shoot a variety of subjects and angles and hope something turns out and has the feel I'm after. I think a few of these came out ok. I continue to try to follow the advice that if color isn't adding anything, then make it black and white. The problem is I really like color! So the shots I convert to black and white are usually ones that are close to monochrome to start with.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Springtime for Solar Power

Saturday I finally cleared the snow and ice off the solar panels on the roof. We've been away travelling for seven weeks so there was quite an accumulation. Thankfully, it's late enough in the spring that the sun is getting higher and warmer, and once I started uncovering the black panels, the snow and ice on them started to melt.

The solar electrical panels made it to 4 kW - 80% of their theoretical 5 kW output. Sunday was a full sunny day of generation and accumulated about 23 kWh. Considering the best days last summer were around 25 kWh, that's pretty good. One of the advantages of this time of year is that there are no leaves on the trees to shade the panels.

The solar hot water panels were especially iced up and partly in the shade so I wasn't expecting too much from them, but soon after clearing the snow I heard the pump kick in and they reached 60c - impressive considering it was still -7c outside.

It's been a bad winter for solar power - either it was cloudy, or the panels were covered in snow! Hopefully things are looking up now.

[Photos thanks to Shelley]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Photo Notes

Osprey launch
Osprey launching from a tree (click to view larger)

It was quite frustrating trying to take photographs of birds during our kayak trip on the Suwannee river. The forest was quite thick so it was hard to get a good view. And if a bird was in sight, then as soon as I would pull my camera out and go to take a picture, it would fly away. The worst were the Great Blue Herons - instead of just flying away, they would just move ahead a few hundred yards so you could repeat the frustrating process multiple times! (Eventually I did manage to get a few shots of them, like this and this.) There were kingfishers and northern cardinals around that I would have loved to capture but they were too elusive.

On top of that, the kayak is always moving, and if there is a strong current, you can drift past before you have a chance to take a picture.

When I took this I was actually trying to get a picture of the osprey sitting on a branch.  But just as I went to press the shutter it launched into the air.

In this case, by pure luck, it worked out really well - the spread wings reaching for the air make a much better shot than a static bird on a branch.

It was also fairly early in the morning so the light was quite nice and warm, and the sky wasn't overpoweringly bright, but there was still enough light for a reasonably fast shutter speed.

You can tell in this shot from a few seconds later that it was keeping an eye on me.

As usual, it isn't as sharp as I'd like but given the circumstances I was lucky to get the shot at all. Often when I try to catch a bird in motion the camera can't focus fast enough and refuses to fire at all. And it was good enough (for me) to print at a reasonable size.

See also: other print posts

Train Trip - Food & Stats

Shelley wrote a couple of good summary posts on places we ate and the stats on our train trip.

Eating and Drinking Our Way Around the U.S.

By the Numbers

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Kudos to the Prius

Would our Prius start? That was the big question when we returned after six weeks to the long term parking at the Minot airport. At this point, the last thing we wanted was car trouble.

I got into the frozen car, pressed the power button, and it started instantly, with no more trouble than if it had just been left overnight.

That's pretty good considering it was -30c when we left it, and -20c when we got back, with likely similar temperatures in between. Six weeks is a long time to sit in those kinds of temperatures. It's also not a new car anymore, it's seven years old, with 125,000 km on it.

Thanks Toyota!

Sunday, March 17, 2013


We hadn't planned ahead to go to the Chicago aquarium, but I couldn't resist. And I was glad we went - it was one of the better aquariums we visited. I can believe it's one of the most visited aquariums in the U.S. - it was very busy. (This trip was probably a bit of an aquarium overdose for Shelley but she was a good sport about it.)

Other than the aquarium, we enjoyed wandering around Chicago and gawking at all the skyscrapers. The parks along the lake are nice and contain quite a lot of public art in addition to the "bean" (Cloud Gate) and the Gehry band shell (Pritzker Pavilion). We also visited REI (the U.S. equivalent to MEC) partly because we know someone who works there. Just by chance we went to the Starbucks at Rush and Oak, which turned out to be one of their flagship stores, with an upper level where they even serve wine! However the coffee was better at Intelligentsia. We enjoyed suppers at Mercat a la Planxa Tapas Restaurant and Trattoria No. 10. With all the big office towers, restaurants are very busy downtown at lunch, but we managed to find a nice quiet lunch at Terzo Piano in the Art Institute of Chicago. There are lots of museums, but that's not really our thing and the only one we went to was the Museum of Contemporary Photography, which is quite small but the current exhibit (Victoria Sambunaris) had some nice photos.

Although there wasn't any snow on the ground, temperatures were below freezing and we had to begin our acclimatization back to winter :-(

(click to view photos)
Rush & Oak Starbucks
Inside the Starbucks at Rush & Oak
See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Baltimore to Washington to Chicago

We had some time before our train, and it was raining, so we (at my instigation) spent a little more time at the Baltimore aquarium.

Then we had a little time in Washington to admire Union Station and the Capital Building.

And then Chicago and the "bean".

For no particular reason, all these photos were taken with my iPhone. I was curious how they'd turn out. Not as good as I'd like, not as bad as I'd feared. I still prefer my big camera, but as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. (I still tweaked them in Lightroom, but not so much latitude as with raw photos from the K5.)

(click to view photos)

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


After Charlottesville, we decided to stop in Baltimore. We ended up an hour behind schedule because of daylight savings, but it didn't matter because the train was five hours late! We decided not to wait and took the Greyhound bus instead.

One of the reasons for going to Baltimore was to check out the National Aquarium. It's definitely an impressive facility but I think we still like Monterey better (for its interactive child stuff and its strong environmental focus). Nevertheless, we enjoyed the Baltimore aquarium and it's certainly worth a visit if you're in the area. The dolphin show (one of their highlights) was closed due to renovations but I have mixed feelings about dolphins in captivity anyway. (I don't worry so much about fish!)

We also really liked the big Barnes and Noble in an old power plant building. Cool old building, nicely restored.

(click to view photos)
Diamond-back terrapin

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Charlottesville, Virginia

We enjoyed our visit to Charlottesville. We arrived just after a big snowstorm but the weather cleared and warmed up and was quite nice for us, despite the piles of snow! Lots of places in the country were still without power and several of the wineries we visited were making do with candles. In addition to the wineries we had hoped to do the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, but unfortunately the road was closed due to the snow (see the photo). But we still enjoyed exploring the backroads through the hills. (In a rented Prius.) We stayed at The Inn at 400 West High which was a lovely B&B (see the photo of the stained glass window in one of the bathrooms) and only a block from the pedestrian mall with lots of coffee shops and restaurants. This area is full of history - we had an interesting visit to Thomas Jefferson's house, Monticello (several photos). We also had a Dave Mathews theme - visiting his Blenheim Vineyards and eating at his Shebeen South African restaurant (and listening to some of his music while we drove around)

(click to view photos)
Blenheim Vineyards

See also Shelley's Charlottesville post and all my posts from this trip and all my photos from this trip

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Photos from Charleston, including at the South Carolina Aquarium:

(click to view photos)

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Adventure is life

"Adventure is life. It’s how we learn - when you’re a little child, adventure is feeling snow for the first time, or climbing a tree and seeing the world from an entirely new perspective. It’s exploration. As we get older our adventures change—maybe they become more sophisticated or more complex—but hopefully we never stop being curious, and we never stop exploring."

Felix Baumgartner
National Geographic 2013 People's Choice Adventurer of the Year

from the National Geographic Adventure Blog

Monday, March 04, 2013

A Puzzle

Pretty much every hotel I've stayed in has a card in the bathroom saying something like "Help save the environment. We'll only wash your towels if you throw them in the tub."

When I first encountered these cards I thought it was great. But I soon discovered that they were universally ignored, not by the guests, but by the cleaning staff. They always replace the towels, regardless of where you put them or hang them.

As you might imagine, this drives me crazy. First because I want to help save the environment and they won't let me. And second because I can't understand what is going on. Does management think the cards work? But how can they be universally ignorant of what's really happening? Or do they put out the cards in full awareness? But that makes no sense, unless it's all just a ploy to appear green?

I can imagine an explanation from the cleaning staffs perspective. They likely get judged by how the room looks when they are done. And used towels just don't look good. So they have likely learnt they get better evaluations by replacing the towels regardless.

Of course, this is just one small example of a bigger puzzle. Why don't these hotels take obvious steps to save the environment in ways that save them money? Leaky faucets, high flow shower heads, incandescent bulbs (instead of CFL or LED), excessive heating or cooling, disposable everything etc. Some hotels do deal with some of these things, but virtually none do a comprehensive job of it. I could understand it if was a straight expense, but all these things would save them money, and still they don't bother.

It bothers me especially because I know hotels are far from green and yet I still use them. So I feel guilty and I wish they'd at least try to do better.

Sunday, March 03, 2013


After our kayak trip we took the bus (about an hour) to Jacksonville, Florida. From here we could resume travelling by train.

We had bought tickets for Nature and Music - the Jacksonville Symphony playing while showing images from the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and we really enjoyed it. There were some great photographs and the music was a nice accompaniment.

Other than that, we didn't have a lot planned for Jacksonville. The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens caught our eye and it was a nice walk along the river to get to it. We normally don't get too excited about museums but the gardens were beautiful and the featured exhibit was Feast of Flowers by Jim Draper which was wonderful.

We also went through the trade show for the NANPA Summit and caught an interesting presentation on the restoration of the San Francisco wetlands.

(click to view photos)

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Way Down Upon the Suwannee River

(click to view photos)

From a distance the water looked black. Up close it was the color of strong tea - colored by tannin from  decaying leaves and vegetation. Along with all the Spanish moss hanging in the trees it gave the river a a feeling of mystery. With all the bird and insect sounds it felt a bit like being in the jungle, except without the nasty bugs and tropical diseases. (Although historically, Florida did have tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever, and global warming appears to be bringing them back.)

At the start of our trip the water was quite low and the river was quite small - narrow and shallow. They measure the water level relative to sea level and where we started it was about 50 feet. By the end of our trip it was over 60 feet and would probably peak about 65 feet i.e. an increase of 15 feet! This was due to all the rain both locally and in Georgia where the sources of the river are. The river grew as we paddled down, both due to tributaries joining and to the rise in water level. It was all good, but I think I liked the more intimate feel of the upper river. Another benefit was that there weren't any power boats when the river was smaller.

Due to the low water levels when we started we couldn't have started much further upstream. But when the water is higher you can start up in Georgia at the Okefenoke Swamp, the origin of the Suwannee. That would be fun. Lower down the river, closer to the ocean it's bigger and gets a lot more motorboat traffic. So although it would be neat to go all the way to the ocean, I don't think the paddling would be as nice.

As we launched the kayaks our outfitter pointed to the railroad bridge 20 feet above the water. "The water was up to there when it flooded last summer." You could tell how high it must have been by all the debris stranded up high in the branches of the trees.

It was still early in the spring and too cold for a lot of wildlife, but in the first hour we passed an alligator lying on a sandbank. I wonder if he was unhealthy since he looked scrawny and barely moved when I approached within a few feet. If it hadn't moved I would have wondered if he was dead. Later we passed another bigger one that behaved more as I'd expect, sliding into the water and disappearing as we approached.

We also saw a couple of beavers. I tend to associate beavers with the north, it's funny to think of them cohabiting with the alligators. There were lots of birds around but they were hard to spot in the forest. Often we could hear them but not see them. Great blue herons were common. There were a few cormorants and a few skittish ducks who took off as soon as they saw us.

Apart from the birds, the most common wildlife were the turtles. Once the sun was high enough we'd see them out on logs and rocks soaking up the warmth. There were some big ones with shells that looked well over a foot long. I'm not sure where the babies are - we didn't see anything smaller than about four inches. Most of them looked similar to the red-eared sliders we see as pets but with yellow "ears". We also saw a couple of soft shelled turtles.

It was off-season and mid week - we didn't see a single other kayak or canoe. Both the river camps we stayed were empty apart from us. We saw about one fishing boat per day. Even the houses along the river weren't too intrusive since they had to be well above the river to handle flooding. Much of this stretch of the river is a state park.

Considering the forecast was for 90% chance of rain for four out of five days of our trip we did pretty well for weather. Despite the forecast the first day was beautiful - no wind and mostly sunny. That changed that evening when thunderstorms and rain started and continued all night and all the next morning. We were thankful for the roofed shelter at the river camp. It slowed down at noon and we packed up and headed out, but the downpour resumed (accompanied by impressive lightning and thunder) and needless to say we got soaked. The rental kayaks had big cockpits and no spray skirts and we didn't even have rain pants (travelling light). We also only had our ultra-light Black Diamond First Light tent which is ok for rain showers but not extended downpours. But we had planned ahead and knew there were cabins to rent at our next stop. It was a bit of a cop out but we sure appreciated being able to get out of the rain and dry out our gear.

Overall we had a great trip. We only had rain the one day - the rest of the time the weather was beautiful. Since it was still winter / early spring some of the trees were still bare, but there was enough greenery around. Some of the trees were just starting to get their leaves and were a beautiful shade of bright green. The paddling was easy and the distances aren't excessive. The developed river camps with their shelters are great, but if you don't mind camping with no facilities you can camp just about anywhere along the river since it's mostly state park. There are also cabins for rent at a few spots. We spent two nights at river camps, one in a cabin, and one night just camping beside the river. There are boat launches at regular intervals along the river so you can start and finish at a variety of places.

American Canoe Adventures supplied us with our kayaks and transportation. They did a good job of looking after our needs.

See also: Shelley's photos and post: Kayaking the Suwannee River

See also: all the posts from this trip and all the photos from this trip