Friday, August 21, 2015

Invasion

Normally I wouldn't go camera crazy with Grackles, much less blog about them.  They're fairly common here during the summer months and really, I've seen so many that I tend not to notice them, opting instead for my waxwings, a colourful warbler or a busy woodpecker.  They tend to blend in to the background.   What I have found impressive the past few days though, is the sheer number that are showing up in my yard lately.  At one point earlier this week there were perhaps 30 at any one time, which is by the most of any single species that have graced my yard.  




One of my feeders was knocked down during a feeding frenzy, scattering bird seed all over the place, but at least these guys cleaned it up well.  




The cat, who will usually sit at the window watching the smaller birds as they feed, was nowhere to be seen.  All in all, it was all a bit surreal.  Nature never ceases to fascinate me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Positive Words and a Retraction

After a recent "letter to the editor" hurled some misplaced criticisms toward our community, it was refreshing to sit after a long day's work and see some well-thought-out responses and that the original letter writer had retracted his original statements.  I won't go into all the responses in any great detail here as you can read them for yourself in the aforementioned link.  Ironically, while this gentleman was here bashing my community, his car, along with several others, was being bashed up in the airport parking lot back in his community.  Karma works in interesting ways.

I would like to thank the kind words from the Yukon residents who came here to enjoy the games.  Having coached and chaperoned at a few sporting tournaments in the North, I can certainly relate to the challenges of having good facilities for our young athletes there.  We're glad you've been enjoying the venues we have to offer here.  I have to admit that Yukon is one of two provinces/territories I haven't yet had an opportunity to experience.  I very much look forward to visiting sometime in the future (hopefully soon), particularly after reading such supportive letters.

The retraction letter was genuine and well-worded too, and greatly appreciated by many here I'm sure.  As I'm sure this gentleman now realizes, when you prejudge a place or a community you do yourself a disservice by missing out on the bigger picture and on new experiences.  It's pleasing to see that this gentleman has changed his mind and I sincerely do hope to count him as a visitor to our community in the future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Living A Sheltered Life

If someone were to tell me I'd be writing a rant in the coming weeks, I would have put money on it having something to do with the upcoming federal election.  I certainly wouldn't have thought it would be over a "Letter to the Editor" from our local newspaper.  But alas, that's the way its turned out.  Given the tone of the letter and this individual's obvious ignorance I really feel no need to hold back, so if I drop a "salty" word in here, I guess you've been forewarned.  My own comment to the letter was more measured, but given that this blog is my own little personal space......

Apparently, a rather charming individual here for the Western Canada Summer Games who penned this letter dumping on my community over some rather ridiculous sleights, has led a very sheltered life.  Paying more for a hotel during a special event, getting honked at in traffic and seeing someone arrested can happen anywhere.  That's reality.  Welcome to it.  I know that many people here have worked many hours and put a great deal of time and effort toward making sure these games are a success.  I know many people have done their level best to be good hosts.  It this letter writer chooses to be a dick by being a poor visitor....well, I'm afraid I can't help them with that.

Perhaps they aren't aware of the many websites they can access in this technological age that will help them find hotel room at a price they like.  It's not like that takes up a lot of their time.  Personally I prefer tripadvisor.ca...but that's just me.  I actually used it for hotel bookings for both my BC trips this summer.  My second trip I decided to skimp on my hotel and chose a cheaper option.  For two days, the price was pretty good but I'm not sure I'd stay there again.  Sleeping in a closet-sized room over a local bar right next to the railway tracks with the 2:30 am train with its horn on bust wasn't conducive to a restful night.  Point is though, I took the time and made the effort to read some reviews and decided on this place anyway.  I had to live with my choice.  I certainly didn't let my choice of hotel room colour my perception of my stay.

In 2009, I spent 6 amazing weeks in Hungary, even staying at the same Budapest hotel I started out in after circling the country and returning to the capital.  My second stay was much more pricey due to that fact that this happened to coincide with the Hungarian Grand Prix race.  I don't recall exactly what I paid  but I know my second stay cost me about double what the first one did.  Rising hotel rates coinciding with major sporting events is like getting gouged at the pump on a summer long weekend (or any long weekend, really.)  As I said previously, that's reality.  Welcome to it.

While I was in Budapest, I even saw a couple guys get arrested (horror of horrors).  But I was strolling through a seedier part of the city....at night.  Four very big Hungarian cops...and they weren't wearing the kid gloves  But last time I checked, people get arrested in many places.  That's just how it works.  Some people are just assholes and there people whose job it is to deal with said assholes.  Again, welcome to reality.  These two events certainly aren't what I remember most about the city or the country as a whole.  I've never been to the casino here myself and really have no plans to but I know that some folks do manage to get themselves arrested there.  Life works that way sometimes.

One of my fondest trip memories in fact happened during a short stay in Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic (try pronouncing that one) where I was given my own little private tour around the outside of the castle there by two sweet senior citizens.  My knowledge of Czech was shaky, but I ended up with some fantastic photos that are among my best of the entire trip.  Initially, I could have declined the invite and yes, at the time I recall wondering if I was going to be literally led up the garden path only to be met by some unforeseen doom.  But I took the opportunity and I am the richer for it.  I guess I raise the anecdote as a way of suggesting that had the letter writer had shown a bit more faith, the would have been richly rewarded as I was.  I guarantee this KW Halliday person that had I had even an hour of their obviously too-precious time, I could have shown them some great places around our community.  Well, your loss.

As for getting honked at....yikes!  I'm going to assume here that since this is the WESTERN Canada Summer Games you're from a western province and not, say, Toronto or even Montreal.  You may want to avoid a large city, or community of any size really, if you're THAT easily offended.  If you're going to act like Ned Flanders from the TV show The Simpsons watching tv and feverishly recorded any instance where you might even remotely be offended, well, you're probably going to have a rather sad paranoid life.  Don't do it.  Just some free advice.

Occasionally, I get honked at here.  Usually for jaywalking, a habit I picked up after many years of small town living.  Once I had words with a guy, but he was frustrated and yes, it was just one of those days and I was being a jerk.  Maybe the guy in the jacked up truck honked because you were being the ass.  I guess we won't really know but to turn around and take a moment of frustration to paint an entire community with the same broad brush?  Grow up.  Seriously.  My mom just got over a major cancer scare earlier this summer.  I really do think there are more important things in life to worry about.  In the   this "Letter to the Editor" only serves to show just show petty and utterly ridiculous its author truly is.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Game On

After a long wait with much anticipation, Western Canada Summer Games are here.  From now until August 16, our community will be hosting one of Canada's premier amateur sporting events.  Fortunately, last winter's changes to my work schedule mean I will be off for the first half of the games.  The cycling events are all happening in Thickwood, and within an easy walk of the house, so I'm hoping to catch some of the cycling events at least.  I'm also thinking that if I'm lucky I might even run into people I know from Nunavut.  While they will bring a small team covering a select few events, they surely make up for numbers in terms of enthusiasm.  I wish them, and all competing athletes the best of luck over the coming days.  Welcome to Fort McMurray!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jasper

Here is a short photo montage made up of a few photos left over from my trip back through Jasper National Park a couple of weekends ago now.  It was a nice change to have the scenery roll by so effortlessly with no hard climbing involved.  There's a bit of glare in some of them since they were taken from a bus but otherwise I was happy with how some of them turned out.














Friday, July 17, 2015

Climbing

My second day in Valemount I took on a more challenging trail.  The McKirdy Mountain and Meadow Trail is only about 4.3km, not long at all compared to other hikes I've gone on, but with slopes of up to 30 degrees, rocks, tree roots and the elements thrown in, it was definitely one of the more challenging ones I've done in the past couple of years.  I hiked up King George Mountain three or four times when I lived on Baffin Island which took me up to about 1750 feet and its really the only climb comparable to  this one in terms of endurance......and beauty.

Unlike past trails I've done, this one didn't start in town.  I had to trek about 5km up a gravel road (which ended with a rather nice viewing area, I should add) before I could access the trail head.

And off we go....


This photo was taken at a communication tower not too far up the access road.   Great views of the town and the valley despite the overcast conditions which were to plague me for the bulk of the afternoon.


A view to the north.


Getting higher...by this point I had a good sweat going on even with the cool temperatures.  I was thanking myself for packing the extra water.



Not a bad view of the Cranberry Marsh looking south down the Robson Valley.  Sadly, the clouds obscured the mountains.


This sign was around the halfway point to the trail head.  It certainly wasn't kidding about the "steep hills".  I did note another trail head just out of frame to the right here.  I would have been tempted to explore it had it not been for the fact that it was closed to hikers at the moment.


The road just seemed to keep going and going.  There were a number of hairpin turns.  This was probably the straightest stretch I passed along until reaching the trail head.


Another view of the marsh...


The next four photos show how I was starting to get up in to the clouds.  I definitely noticed the drop in temperature although I appreciated the cooling effect.





At the end of the road, I finally reached the trail head.  The mosquitoes were insane at times but I troopered on.  I had thoughts of pushing all the way to the top of Mount McKirdy but given my current level of hiking skill I knew I'd likely be biting off more than I could chew at the moment.  Nevertheless, I decided to push on and see where this trail took me.  I wasn't to be disappointed.


While it doesn't look like it, this little section of trail was one of a few rather steep sections.


I really wished at this point that it hadn't been so overcast as the views were amazing.
This is Kinbasket Lake  from about 9-10km away.  I wasn't actually expecting to see the lake from the trail so this was definitely a nice little highlight.


Kinbasket Lake again up  to the right of this photo.  This was such a scenic spot, I would have just spent the rest of the afternoon here with a nice book.  It's definitely a destination all by itself.  At any rate, I rested here for a few minutes soaking up the views before pushing on.  This was also the spot where I spotted the red-tailed hawk noted in my previous post.



I was grateful for this nice level section of trail out of the wind.  The trees thinned out slightly and I passed through a few small open areas as I gained elevation.


A fork in the trail.  I wanted to push on to the summit but seeing that there was a cabin 450m to my left I decided to head there instead.  I had hoped to head further up the trail to the summit afterwards but as it was starting to get on in the afternoon I decided in the end to leave that to another day.


I spent about a half hour at this cabin, maintained by a local recreation group, resting my knees and just taking in the magic of the location.  Apparently, you can see Mount Robson from up here as I was to find out a couple days later while looking up further information online about the local trails.  I wish I had known about this at the time though the cloud cover would most likely have obscured any views even if I had known ahead of time.


This nice little mountain stream was pure gold.  I had to perform a hiker's version of a "grand jete" to get over part of it on my way to the cabin as there were no bridges.  It did provide a welcome opportunity to re-fill my water bottle.



Inside the cabin.  An old topographical map, which for some reason I totally forgot to take a photo of, informed me that I was sitting up around 2040 feet.


Not a bad view of the "front yard".


My inner child would have loved to have remained longer and spent an evening but I did have to catch an early bus the following morning.  Now that I know of this place though, I can easily see myself returning in the future.  A few more minutes of bliss watching some juncos flit among the trees and I reluctantly began my way back down.  Mother Nature was a bit more cooperative and allowed me a little better view of Kinbasket at least.


More views along the way.



The car at the bottom gives you a sense of the scale of this place.




One last shot of the town with part of the Columbia Range to the west.


All in all a fantastic outing.  As I mentioned early, it had been quite some time since I had done a hike of this difficulty level.  I was a bit sore the following morning but some good stretches definitely helped.  I enjoyed the challenge of it and it was a great opportunity to see just how well I could tackle a "black diamond" trail, which turned out to be pretty well if I can say so.  I'm hopeful of taking this one one again before the fall comes around but if not, I definitely have a nice trail to add to my list.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

B.C. Birding Bliss

I returned yesterday from another blissful weekend in BC.  I didn't quite get a break from the haze of forest fires as you can tell from my photos below.  (Much of this smoke is coming from forest fires in Jasper National Park.)

The Cranberry Marsh in Valemount was a place I discovered last month and is fast becoming a favourite for bird watching.  I spent a good part of Saturday morning there and this time around I did the 6km loop in reverse, spending most of my time on the sand dyke on the marsh's west side.  

The east side did reveal some pleasant surprises however as I spotted 3 Great Blue Heron up in the trees.  If you look closely you can see one of them here....


After last month's very rewarding outing I wondered how this trip would stack up in terms of species sighted or what I might see.  When I spotted my first ever Western Tanager I knew it was going to be a great weekend.  This species has been on my dream list of birds to see ever since I moved out here.

When I include the Rock Doves I saw in Jasper and the Gull in Grassland, AB on the way back my count for the weekend runs to 27. surpassing my total from my last trip.  Not too shabby.

Here's my list.  Like last time, my "first sightings" for the year are in bold...

1. Common Raven
2. Barn Swallow
3. Pileated Woodpecker
4. Canada Goose
5. House Sparrow
6. Chipping Sparrow
7. Tree Swallow
8. Yellow-rumped Warbler
9. Northern Flicker
10. Dark-Eyed Junco
11. American Robin
12. EUROPEAN STARLING
13. GREAT BLUE HERON
14. BONAPARTE'S GULL
15. WESTERN TANAGER
16. Black-capped Chickadee
17. American Coot
18. Redhead
19. Ruddy Duck
20. YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT
21. Yellow-headed Blackbird
22. Mallard
23. Marsh Wren
24. Red-winged Blackbird
25. RED-TAILED HAWK
26. Rock Dove
27. RING-BILLED GULL

Cranberry Marsh




Canoe Mountain and Mount McKirdy obscured by the haze of forest fires.





Fortunately, it did clear up the following day, though not as much as I had hoped.  The next afternoon I found myself up 2000 feet next to a small cabin by a small alpine stream.