Friday, November 20, 2009


Mine this time.
I'm at the start of a new journey, back to the closest thing I have to a home.
I've been in Port Alberni for two years and nine months, and it's been a good stop in my life. I've worked in the news business for the same length of time and that's been a useful experience.

Now it's time for me to create a new life in Victoria doing work that is near and dear to me, writing and photographing the natural world. Plus whatever else is required to pay the bills.
I'm sharing this news because I think I will be away from the blog for awhile. 
Between here and Victoria I make a stop in the Okanagan for December to sell Christmas trees.
While I'm not a big fan of this commercial holiday, I have deep roots in Christmas trees.
I first worked a lot in Winnipeg nearly 20 years ago. The lot I'm going to run in Vernon, B.C. is one I opened 14 years ago. 
The trees are local Douglas fir grown in a land-sharing program with B.C. Hydro under their power lines.
I have worked on that farm in all seasons over many years. I have pruned lower branches and sheared the trees into conical shapes with long machetes. I have worked alone on the mountain and I have worked with merry crews harvesting. 
Some of the trees I will sell this year I may have first touched a decade ago.
I'm looking forward to this.

Then in January, it's on to Victoria.
In the meantime I may have stories to share. 
For certain I will return to my stories from this Island in the New Year.

Like the osprey, I have to fly.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Osprey games

One day, while watching the osprey nest in Nanaimo, I watched an episode between the two nestlings that got me thinking.

They were waiting the return of their parents, and the fish that would accompany them.
They cried constantly. Then lifted off the nest and chased each other.

One of the birds had this tangle of rope caught in her talons. 
The other chased aggressively.

It was like that mad hour in human homes before dinner time. When kids are out of control with hunger and it feels like it could turn murderous at any time.

This looked that way, but maybe it was simple play. Many mammals and birds are known to engage in play of some sort. As it is for the human animal, the young are practicing skills they will need to use when it's time to fend for themselves.

In the case of these osprey siblings, they flew at eachother and made dives and dodges to evade attack. The one without the rope in talons picked up a sturdy stick at one point and tried to drop it on its soaring nest mate below.

These birds, and their parents, would soon be leaving on a long trip to their wintering grounds in Mexico and the northern parts of South America. Besides the acrobatics, just working their flight muscles would seem to be a good idea before the journey.

Once the fish arrived, the pair returned immediately to the nest and didn't move again as a steady stream came in on the feet of their fishing guardians for the next half hour or so.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


I've been negligent with posts lately, but I'm not totally slacking.

The weather has turned to rain and wind, the osprey are gone. I'm less likely to be in the field getting new material but I am researching osprey migration.

There's a fair bit of information out there but not a lot specific to osprey from Vancouver Island. The short story is that most osprey from British Columbia winter anywhere from Idaho to Texas with the majority found in Mexico and El Slavador.

I'm sifting what I'm learning for the long version. Until then here's another shot from the Nanaimo group back in August.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Country raccoon

I'm used to seeing these guys in town. Either this is a young raccoon, or the forest version isn't as plump as their city kin.

I first thought that an old forest next to the ocean shore would be rich with food for such a scavenger. But maybe it doesn't measure up to the contents of dumpsters and compost bins in town.
Raccoons can live as long as 16 years in the wild. Most don't make it past their second year, when they become independent of their mother. 

After that, raccoons are solitary animals. They are also nocturnal, though this one had some business keeping it up during the day.

I love their hands. Little primate-style hands on a rodent (I read that they are more closely related to panda bears than anything, but still).  

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shore excursion

Port Alberni is situated up a long inlet from Barkley Sound and the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It's easy to forget about the ocean here, what with the mountains and big trees.

I took a hike to one of the places that allows me to visit the sea on a trail created by an old Canadian Pacific Railway line.

I glimpsed a sea lion that breathed so loudly, I first thought it was a whale. Didn't get a pic of its enormous back folding under the water.

Others, like this little song sparrow, came out from under the beach litter to investigate me. 

And I found little scenes in old iron that intrigued me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Things I know about osprey

It's been a busy time of bathroom renovating, working and planning for a big change. I haven't been out collecting material – didn't see any critters during the bathroom reno, which is a good thing.

Still thinking about osprey though. Here's a list of osprey facts that came off the top of my head.

They have no near relatives. They are somewhere between a falcon and an eagle. Latin name Pandion haliaetus.

People call them fish hawks. They eat fish only.

Females are bigger than males because they defend the nest from predators like bald eagles.

They have what's called a nictitating membrane on the eyes that protects them when they dive into the water head first.

They dive in head first but come out with fish in their talons. (Would love to see the underwater roll).

They shake like a dog when they exit the water.

There used to be colonies of 200 to 300 nests in parts of eastern North America before DDT reduced their numbers.

They don't seem bothered by human activity and often nest in the open, in busy ports and urban areas.

They are one of the most cosmopolitan species of bird, living around the world on fresh and salt water.

North American osprey winter from Mexico south to Northern Argentina. There are some year-round residents in parts of the Southern U.S.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Raven's dinner

Spent four glorious days on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Camped at Surf Junction and spent warm sunny days on the beach.

Late one afternoon a hake, deep sea fish, came up with the surf on Long Beach. Two people tried to coax the battered fish back out to sea, but it was done for. The body was rubbed raw and the fish didn't have the strength to struggle past the breakers to the deep.

Who knows what kind of day the fish had to wind up dying in the last of the sun.
Turned out to be a good day for a raven who spotted the fish and came in for closer observation. After a bounced landing on the sand a test prod with the beak elicited a full body flip and the raven took to the air again.

I puzzled over that. Surely the fish was weak enough for the bird to take. Couldn't the raven finish the job with its sturdy beak or did it not like its meal that fresh?

I returned to wave gazing and watched a woman try to send the fish into the water with her feet, then her hands for as long as ten minutes before she gave up.

I remembered being on commercial fishing boats as an observer and seeing tonnes of this species shovelled into the ocean dead, treated like garbage and realized that had made me see them in that way. As a worthless fish that didn't really matter. I liked that other people made no such judgement of the worthiness of this fish for their aid.

Then I thought about the raven. What about its free meal.

That train of thought ended as the bird returned, this time with a partner. The fish rescuers were further down the beach and the pair moved in for the kill.

I have read before of ravens sharing meals like this. Partly they need the help to rip and carry but it also seems to be an I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine arrangement. Not always between related birds either.

They ripped the fish into chunks and flew into the trees with their bounty.

I trundled down to the water's edge to see what was left. 

The raven had plucked and eye, but left it. The head remained with what seemed like a lot of body still attached to it.

Wasteful ravens, I said. 

A few minutes later one of them flapped back in and swooped up the last piece of hake.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The great blue

This heron looks fabulous but the photo at left hides the story.
The bird has sores on many places on its body. In this pose the long feathers hide them, but a close up of the foot tells the tale.
Also when the feathers are blown back there are areas on the body where it looks like there are open sores.
I don't know what this is. Many birds molt, and change over their feathers at this time of year, but that's not what it looks like.
This heron hangs out at a marina in Nanaimo, near industry and heavy recreation use. 
Herons seem to have adapted well to living amongst humans. They are seen everywhere on the B.C. coast, but they are listed as a species at risk both provincially and federally.  

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Empty nest

I returned on Saturday to an empty nest.

I scanned around until I located one of the young osprey sitting on the line of a ship docked at the port.
It cried a bit then flew off in the direction of the fishing grounds just over a small rise where the river pours into the sea.

I packed it up and went to see what the family was up to on the other side and it was like a different world.

At low tide, pools of water glittered on the mud flats. Rather than concrete and metal of the nest site, it was all water and trees.

The location of the nest was pretty unpicturesque but the fishing grounds were gorgeous and situated in such a way that I thought the parents could keep an eye on the nest while foraging.

If so, both male and female would be able to provision the chicks earlier in the season. The typical osprey nest sees the female standing guard against chick-eating predators for months while the male runs himself ragged feeding the whole family.

If this pair have found a way to do both at once, that would be a significant advantage. 

That would make an extremely interesting research project.

The fact that all four birds now spend time at the estuary means they may not be at the nest anymore. They are much more difficult to spot spread out over a large bay than sitting on top of a light standard. 

Soon they'll be headed south. Osprey I've watched previously depart in early September for their wintering grounds in central and south America.

I may see them again, or I may have to wait until next spring.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Help in high places

I started eyeing up the big orange structure and assessing the many stairs on it just before Mark and his assistant wandered over. They were employees at the port-loading facility and I thought this might be the part where I was asked to leave.

I was dead wrong.

The pipes over my head had been rumbling and the two men were checking to make sure something came out the other end. They stopped and we chatted for a while. Mark told me the real name for the big orange thing – container crane – not as technical as I would have expected.

He suggested that would be a good place for me to be. I agreed and he gave me the number of the "guy that owns the thing." I couldn't imagine one guy could own anything of the sort. 

This crane must be over 30 metres in height. You can see it from just about anywhere on Nanaimo's waterfront.

I had written off the idea of gaining access as ridiculous, but the thing is, if you ask, people usually help you out. In fact, I didn't even ask. It's got something to do with the birds.

I took the number knowing it would be a weekday thing to set up. As I discovered the next day, there  might not be another week with the osprey.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The family tree

Ok, Ok I had it all wrong.
On return to the nest last weekend the situation quickly revealed the family's structure.

On arrival there were two osprey on the nest, crying incessantly. That makes them chicks but I never would have guessed it by size.

For some time they just sat waiting for their fish to be delivered.
At last they got off the nest and flew around chasing eachother in what could have been play or could have been a more sinister kind of sibling rivalry.

It's not uncommon in raptor nests for the stronger nestling to do away with the weaker, but that's much earlier on.

These two are pretty much full-grown and not likely to risk injuries from a battle with a nest mate.

As they flew, the rope-tangled talons came into view, meaning it's one of the young with the problem. But she's huge. I would never have believed that was this year's offspring if the parents didn't come along shortly thereafter.

Until then, the fledglings soared around taking pot shots at eachother but once they heard the call of a fish-bearing parent they rushed back to the nest.

From that point on it was a steady stream of what looked like perch brought over by both adults.

Five fish came in the 30 minutes I stood there watching. The adults were still out fishing when I left to get my dinner.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fruitful searches part IV

Back on the boat, editing photos, I could zoom in on the rope and got more concerned as it looked like it had been tight on the upper leg and rubbed feathers away and into the skin.

My instinct always is to leave well enough alone, but I didn't feel right knowing she could be in trouble and not consulting someone.

I ruled out the government agency. I pictured nets being dropped from a helicopter on an animal who can likely solve her own predicament.

I looked up the local rescue agencies. Rang one number, no answer. No surprise on a Saturday evening. I didn't leave a message.

Within ten minutes, Lorinne called me from Second Chance Wildlife Centre. I gave her a sketch of the situation.

"Is she flying?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah," I said
"Then that's it," she said.

They wouldn't attempt to catch a raptor on the wing. Whew, I liked that answer.

We talked for a while and she told me about a recent rescue of a juvenile osprey.

The bird had landed on the Gabriola ferry with the marks of an eagle attack. Lorinne retrieved the bird and immediately shipped it by floatplane to O.W.L. on the mainland in Delta, B.C.

She asked if I was around for another day as the bird would be back for release soon and would I like to be there?

Tough question, that part of me that doesn't agree with the interference goes against the other part that wants to be as near as possible to these birds and the part of me that believes that wildlife rescue, when done well, helps keep some populations going in a human-dominated landscape.

She said she'd call over to O.W.L. to find out when the release would happen.

It seemed the young male didn't know how to fish yet and they wouldn't free him until he did. There were training sessions going on with a pool and goldfish. Lorinne said osprey are hard to rehabilitate because they are fussy eaters.

As for the entangled female, O.W.L. reported that if she couldn't free herself, she would eventually get into trouble. They said her mate would feed her but eventually give up if she couldn't pull her weight.

Lorinne and I both wondered whether the rope had come from someone trying to catch her.

I gave her the nest location so she could monitor, or get people who work at the port facility to keep watch.

If she comes to ground exhausted or hurt, they will pick her up.

Looks like weekends in Nanaimo will be the new regime. I hope the rope is gone when I see her next.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fruitful searches part III

For the Duke Point trip, I had no map. I drove all around the industrial park and the ferry terminal on the little finger of land poking into Georgia Strait.

Heading down the last road, I ended up in a log-sorting yard on the water next to what looked like a mountain of salt and a huge, red, ship-loading structure (not the technical term).

Ready to call it a day I sat, looked at the log booms and containers on barges sitting in the bay.

A dark figure perched on a nearby rail caught my eye.

To the untrained eye, it could have been an immature sea gull, or a bald eagle, but I knew immediately that the white speckles on the brown back meant one thing. Osprey.

I quickly got my camera out and photographed its back in case that was all I was going to get.

It soon tired of my attention and lifted off, and I was prepared to be thankful I saw anything until I followed its flight to the top of a light standard in the middle of the huge concrete loading area.

It flew to the sound that had been nagging me from over my left shoulder. The sound of big, hungry, young osprey waiting for fish.

It was more than likely the male I first saw, quickly getting a bite of fish before delivering the remains to the mob on the nest.

From what I could tell, the female and one nestling were up top and once they tore into the fish the flapping and crying stopped.

Sometime later I saw two on the nest with two perched nearby, suggesting the typical brood of two young but they were so big, it was hard to tell who was who.

Also, the band of dark feathers at the neck that usually signifies a female seemed to be present in all of them making it more difficult to decide who was the mature male and who a big chick. The female adult stood out because she's bigger.

She stood out for another reason, too.

After the feed, two birds came back to my level at the rail. The mature female seemed to be carrying moss in her talons. Nest repair? A bit of a surprise as what would have been a deep cup nest earlier in the year was now flattened. The platform was more like a meeting place than a shelter. Fledglings and adults don’t need a nest, just a fish-delivery point.

As the female passed over me, I could see it was rope tangled in her feet. Closer still and I saw it was old yellow polypropylene, about a quarter inch, that she'd been worrying at.

It's surprising she couldn't free herself with her razor-sharp beak. Then again, I couldn't know how long she'd been dragging it around.

I continued snapping, wishing I could just cut that rope off her, but she didn't look distressed or bedraggled. I watched for a while longer and left them in peace.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fruitful searches part II

Next I headed out toward the Nanaimo Lakes area where I had looked a few weeks earlier.

That search ended at a TimberWest gate where a nice young man told me I had to pay two dollars to continue to the lakes.

What? A logging company, given public forest land for free by the B.C. government, now wants to charge me to go to the lake?

I don't think so.

I ended up looking along the Nanaimo River that day with no luck. Had a really nice swim, though.

The rumoured nest I was looking for was supposed to be in a patch of woods that had a no trespassing sign on one access point, which I skirted around until I found a path on the other side.

As always, prepared for my task, I tiptoed over thorny blackberry vines in sandals leaving trails of blood.

No osprey.

But the man at the wharf told me about another nest out at Duke Point, where the ferry runs from Nanaimo to Tsawwassen. He said I could get permission to visit the site when the port office opened on Monday.


Off to Duke Point.

I'm not going to say how I knew about the first two locations. OK, I will. I Googled ‘osprey nests in Nanaimo’ and they were pinpointed on Google maps. Ahhh, the cushy life of a modern naturalist.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fruitful searches part I

At long last I have found an osprey nest.

I have been, somewhat casually, tromping around lakes and wading up rivers around central Vancouver Island looking for something that is often conspicuous. When I found it, it was.

I had two leads to follow around Nanaimo – the Port of Nanaimo Assembly wharf and a cluster of trees just off the Island Highway.

I started at the wharf, a huge loading area for heavy industry right downtown and next to the Gabriola ferry terminal. I checked in at the commissionaire's office. Locked. No surprise on a Saturday.

So I drove on out passed the many 'NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL' signs until the guy in the green truck raced over with an amber light flashing and stopped me.

I find there is nothing wrong in these situations with using a little female charm and he led me to where a nest had existed earlier this summer. It was right at the water's edge, high up on a light standard with a flat platform on the top. An invitation to osprey.

He couldn't help himself. He told me how it had two chicks but that the parents abandoned them. They still saw the osprey around, he said.

What may have been seen as abandonment may simply have been that the chicks were ready to fly. I didn't get the whole story from him.

For now, there were no osprey around. I decided I could call back to learn more and continued on my search.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Success at last

Oh finally. I have found an osprey nest.

It's not quit what I had expected – it's in Nanaimo in a heavily industrial area – but I got my fill today.

That's not true.
I got a taste and there's a story that goes along with the 115 photos.

For now, here's a look at what makes my heart beat faster.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Birds brains part II

There is so much going on in bird behaviour research right now.

Here are the latest bits of research rocking the foundations of the old bird brain stereotype.

The big paper documents New Caledonian crows using tools in sequence to solve a problem, without any prior training. That's not been seen in any animal before.

The other published study, with video, has rooks using objects to raise the water level in a container to a level their beaks can reach. That's not really news though. Aesop recorded that one many centuries ago.

Now, if only I could find that article about the part of the brain this intellectual might was stored in. Because I know everyone is just waiting to learn the name of the structure.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Swimming hole

For being on an island in the Pacific, the Alberni Valley is blessed with many fine freshwater swimming spots.

Here's my latest favourite. Regular dips have been a necessity lately as the temperatures have been over 35 celsius for more than a week.

This little spot is on Sproat Lake, a 3,800 hectare deep, clean body of water about 10km from town.

It's one of a group of lakes on this part of Vancouver Island that offer a change from the saltwater beaches.

Sproat Lake is home to my kayak, the Martin Mars waterbombers and at least one osprey that I've seen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Too hot to blog

It really is, too hot to be inside, too hot to be at a computer.

I'll post a pic I've been sitting on and introduce an area I've been reading up on.

Bird intelligence.

I've been following animal intelligence research for years and more recently digging into the work on the smarty pantses of the bird world, the corvids.

This group includes ravens, crows and jays which have long been recognized as clever. Researchers now understand more about their brains.

The size of the avian brain made it difficult to explain their tool use and problem solving skills. Demonstrated behaviour that measures up there with dolphins and primates on the mammalian line.

What scientists, the mammals that they are, have been looking for is a structure akin to our frontal cortex to explain higher level mental function, but it isn't there.

Just about everything on a bird is built for flight and the brain, like other parts, couldn't get all bulky and still allow birds to get off the ground. So the way they've stored their smarts and where they've stored them is different than other animals. But it has been found.

I've read a lot of Candace Savage's writing on corvids and she says everyone has a crow story. I told this to a friend who paused briefly before saying "I don't have a crow story." Then a few minutes later she proceeded to tell someone else's crow story.

What I'd like to know is how the raptors measure up, especially the osprey.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flora on the trail

The pink flowers in the foreground are mountain heather

growing in the alpine.

Latin name, Phyllodoce empetriformis.

Phyllodoce was a sea nymph in Greek mythology.

"These cheerful bells ring an invitation to high places above the timber line, to those serene and lofty slopes where peace and quiet enter our souls," Lewis Clark, 1976.

The spot of water visible in the distance is the west end of Great Central Lake.

Broad-leaved willow herb

also called river beauty,

or Epilobium latifolium

found on the banks of Drinkwater Creek

poking out of the rocks.

A river beauty indeed.

Indian hellebore

aka Veratrum viride

one of the most violently poisonous plants on the Northwest Coast

which was well-known by indigenous people

who also found ways to use its strength medicinally.

In this area, the Nuu-chah-nulth rubbed the mashed root on sores

or rheumatic areas to stop pain and as a general liniment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Toads on the mountain

Aside from in my head, I didn't see a whole lot of wild life on the Della Falls trip.

This guy is the most memorable.

This western toad sat right on the trail while I took about 20 photos of it. I had my lens inches from the toad's nose at times. Didn't budge.

First time I've seen this big (up to 15 cm) species. This one was about the size of a large grapefruit.

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment website says western toads can identify predators by recognizing chemical cues they emit.

Makes me wonder if those pheremones signal intention or capability. A human would fall into predator category in terms of capability. If their identification is intention-based it could indicate that I was in an alert, hunting kind of state. Or just-a-hiker-taking-pictures state.

I'd like to learn more about that.

When I went for my evening stroll to the falls, I saw a red-tailed hawk soaring above the canyon where I camped. Always take that as a good omen. A Shuswap woman once told me I had hawk spirit, and I believe her.

I saw a baby Bewick's wren that same evening, near the base of the falls. It fluttered to a boulder just feet from my face and its parents scolded me harshly until I moved out of their range.

I imagine there was more to see, but I had my eyes to the ground a lot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Love Lake

Okay, I'm a big hero, the Della Falls trails was easy. Ha.

After arriving at camp on day one I set up, ate and had time to walk to the base of Della Falls before sunset.

The challenging hike was up to Love Lake on day two.
The trail climbs steeply up the mountain across from Della Falls to give the best views of the 440m falls.

As I switch backed up the mountain I would spend the next three hours climbing, I looked up to a rock ledge above me and saw a black bear looking down at me.

It was way above me, but I could see it checking me out, the same way I was checking it out.

I stopped, breathing heavily already from the climb, and debated canceling my plan. That left me with few options. The other hikes in the area require climbing gear and there wasn't a peaceful body of water to sit beside and read the day away. I took another look at the bear and continued climbing.

Well, that was it. For the first time in my life, I was scared of wildlife. I treeplanted for 11 seasons and never worried about bears.

On my walk in, I had started a little inside joke with myself. I had seen the scat of a small animal and decided it was wolverine.

I know there are no wolverines on Vancouver Island. I know they are vicious animals. In university I saw a slide show of a moose that a wolverine had attacked by jumping onto its back from a tree and eating it alive over many days as it walked.

Each time I saw animal sign, or felt nervous after that, I would say wolverine and start laughing.

But it didn't work on the Love Lake trail so I started singing. I don't know the words to a lot of songs. Three very different pieces walked me up that steep, treacherous trail waiting for a bear or cougar to jump me from above.

The main number was She'll be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes. Annoying and appropriate. That was interspersed with bits of Spiders by Moby and Do You Feel It? by the Joe Cuba Sextet.

The Love Lake trail is the place to see Della Falls, and the precious little alpine lake they pour out of, which is Della Lake, not Beauty Lake as I said before.

Beauty Lake and Beauty Falls are just a little way down the valley from Della and almost as impressive.

It's like a ring of snow-topped mountains wrap their rocky arms around this little bowl with a turquoise puddle and just tip it so the stream falls thinly from the edge.

Love Lake was my planned swimming hole. Luckily I knew before I ascended that it would still be covered in ice thanks to water taxi operator Bruce, but it was still a surprise to see a big lake capped with thick ice on a hot day at the end of June.

I sat there looking at the impressive peaks of Mount Septimus and Mount Rosseau (1962m) across the ice and ate, and generally reveled in my well-earned summit.

I didn't feel fearful again after that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Della Falls trip

The Della Falls trail was not as hard as I expected. There, I said it.

The river crossing did not require rope. It required the use of the muscles in my legs.

It was disappointing to see a damaged bridge in a B.C. Park left dangling dangerously and impassable for a second summer.

Strathcona Park is the oldest in B.C., designated in 1911. It cuts a big chunk out of central Vancouver Island and is mostly accessible from Comox and Campbell River. I hope that this corner of the 250,000 hectare park isn't forgotten as Della Falls draws many visitors each year to the Alberni Valley end of the rugged mountain area.

After crossing Drinkwater Creek, I sat on the rocks patting myself on the back and puffing my chest out, then carried on to a river-side camp site about 3 km from the falls.

I camped at that spot, rather than right at Della Falls, thanks to a tip from Tony Greenfield, author of the recently released Waterfalls of British Columbia guidebook. I interviewed him for a story about his book and he said not to carry the heavy pack the extra distance but to day hike to the falls and Love Lake, which I did, and it worked perfectly.

As I scrambled up the bank to rejoin the main trail, I though to myself 'must remember this spot'. Didn't help. The only problem I had on the trail was finding that crossing spot on my way back out. I lost about an hour, and a lot of energy, going back and forth, looking for the way down.

I felt some urgency because my water taxi would be waiting at the dock on Great Central Lake at a pre-arranged time. I planned for a swim and lounging in the sun, but sweating it up and down a rocky path was eating into that time.

I looked at the dangerous remnants of the bridge three times and saw too much potential for a fatal fall. Eventually I bushwhacked my way down to where I thought the crossing should be and I wasn't far off.

After the crossing, I walked the remaining 11km without a break, which felt like a bit of a feat after two full days of hiking with the big pack. Over the final 7km I had little choice but to motor as the clouds of starving mosquitos were relentless.

I arrived at the dock 25 minutes before my ride. I got my swim in and sat looking back down the Valley. Then Bruce from Ark Resort showed up with cold beer in his restored 1973 motorboat to take me the 45 km across the lake.

Over the three days I logged 45 kms on my boots and I would do that trip again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sneak preview

This is really just a tease to let everyone know I survived the journey. Much more to come about Della Falls, the highest waterfalls in Canada, pictured here spilling from Beauty Lake.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parting shot

I'm off on vacation tomorrow.

If all goes well I will return in a couple of weeks with fabulous photos from Della Falls and the North Okanagan.

If not, I may get an eco-funeral courtesy of a creature like the turkey vulture.

The hike to Della Falls takes three days in and out. I've not done a multi-day hike before and I'm going alone, so I'll confess to a little apprehension. Especially as people keep telling me I need 30m of rope to cross a river where a bridge is out and I can't for the life of me figure what I'll be doing with that rope.

I'm sure it'll be clear once I get there.

Happy summer!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Birds I take for granted

Cormorants fall into that category but like anything, start digging around and there's an interesting story there.

I saw these colonies of double-crested and pelagic cormorants during a lovely harbour cruise out of Nanaimo with my mother.

The birds live in impossibly small cliff nests on the west side of Gabriola Island.

Cormorants are unusual among seabirds in that they don't have waterproof wings. That's why they are often seen sitting on rocks with their wings spread out to dry.

Most birds get their waterproofing from the fine structure of the feathers but waterproof birds are buoyant birds. The cormorant trades being dry for the ability to dive to depths of up to 40 metres.

Under the water they are agile swimmers and pursue fish and small invertebrates.

Young cormorants in colonies form groups called creches that they hang around with when their parents are out gathering their food.

Cormorants, and especially their young, don't make it hard to imagine their reptilian link to the dinosaurs.