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Monday, 26 July 2010

Orchids are Us

Banff National Park
Banff National Park - Click for larger

It happened years ago, right here in the Rockies back in 1998. I spotted a Sparrow’s-egg Lady’s-slipper and screamed, “EUREKA!” Franklin's Lady's-Slipper
Franklin's Lady's-Slipper - Click for larger

There has been no turning back ever since. We are obsessed with orchids. Everywhere we go we are constantly watching for them. Hunting for them. There will be some amazing vista, perhaps a snow-capped mountain reflected in a turquoise lake, but we’ll be staring at the ground pointing at little wisps of things and getting excited. It’s not that we don’t notice the scenery. After all Ron considers himself a landscape photographer first.Bow Lake, Banff
Bow Lake, Banff - Click for larger

He’s even still looking along the path when running to the edge of a mountain lake to capture the scene while the light is good. But when the mountains aren’t lit up and it is just a bright but overcast day (when it’s best for wildflower photography) that’s when we start the hunt in earnest.

The obsession started out slowly with just a general interest in wildflowersArctic Poppies, Banff
Arctic Poppies, Banff - Click for larger

-especially rare or endangered species. Ron had even photographed a few orchids previously, such as these beautiful Showy Lady Slippers he found on the Bruce Peninsula. All that was before - back when I had another life and a real job. I couldn’t accompany Ron on many of his photo journeys back then. But in 1998 I was on vacation and Ron had just shot this scene in Jasper of a double rainbow over the Athabasca River. Walking back to the car I noticed a tiny wildflower and Ron told me it was a Small Round-leaved Orchis. To me the tiny little blooms looked like rag dolls hanging on a stem wearing bonnets and polka dotted dresses.Small Round-leaved Orchis
Small Round-leaved Orchis - Click for larger

Seeing them made me wonder what other orchids were found in the Rockies. So we purchased the field guide “Plants of the Rocky Mountains” and while flipping through its few pages about orchids I noticed the Sparrow’s-egg Lady’s-slipper and that was it. We were hooked. We just had to find that Lady’s-slipper. Happily we did and the rest is history.Franklin's Lady's-Slipper
Franklin's Lady's-Slipper - Click for larger

It’s not that the Rockies are noted for orchids. We’ve found and photographed many more species in Canada’s eastern provinces. The mosquito-infested bogs of Newfoundland and the East Coast seem to be particularly abundant with delicate species such as grass pink, dragon’s mouth, and white fringed orchis. Earlier this summer we visited Purdon Conservation Area near Perth, Ontario to photograph Showy Lady’s Slippers. Again. It’s become an almost annual pilgrimage to see them in bloom. We just can’t seem to get enough of them.

Part of this trip was even planned around orchids. We tried to get to the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Southern Manitoba in time to see Western Prairie Fringed Orchids in bloom. They are only found in that small area of Manitoba in Canada. They and their eastern counterpart (found only in southern Ontario) are listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as endangered species. We knew however that we had already missed the Small White Lady’s Slippers – another endangered species that we’ve photographed there before.

When we arrived in Banff a couple of days ago we wondered if we would find the very beautiful Calypso Lady’s Slippers in bloom here again. We really started to get our hopes up when Ron first found some Small Round Leaf Orchids and then I spotted a big patch of Sparrow’s Egg Lady’s-slippers.

As for the Calypsos? We weren’t disappointed!Calypso
Calypso - Click for larger

.Calypso
Calypso - Click for larger

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Catch 22

This post is a rant about Dinosaur Provincial Park. Oh we enjoyed the strange landscape – the sandstone hoodoos and Badlands. Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park - Click for larger
The amazing terrain itself at this UNESCO World Heritage Site wasn’t the problem. When we arrived we asked for a site for two nights. But it was hot. The bugs were bad. So less than 24 hours after arriving we decided to move on. On checking out before 11 am (checkout time is 2pm) I asked for a refund for the 2nd night and was told that they do not give refunds unless they have 48 hours notice. So this rant is about Alberta Parks’ refund policies.Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird - Click for larger

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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Still Making the Most of Things (Where the Deer and the Antelope Play)

We tried hard to get to The Great Sandhills in Saskatchewan. But it wasn’t to be. What can I say – it’s a wet year. (see Ron's blog for his take on it)Sunrise and Flooded Fields
Sunrise and Flooded Fields - Click for larger

So Ron photographed what he could. At least there are always lots of Pronghorns in that area!Antelope
Antelope - Click for larger

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Gone to the Birds

We went to Morse, Saskatchewan again. We’ve been there many times before (see a previous post on my former blog). The main attraction is Reed Lake and its many thousands of nesting or migrant shorebirds.

It’s a shallow intermittent saline lake and it along with Chaplin and Old Wives lakes, are part of a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site – one of the most important inland sites for migratory birds in North America.American Avocet
American Avocet - Click for larger

This trip would not disappoint. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of American Avocets.American Avocet
American Avocet - Click for larger

But there were also Marbled Godwits,Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit - Click for larger

Willets, Phalaropes, and Franklin's Gulls - to name a few.Willet
Willet - Click for larger

We even caught a glimpse of a pair of Black-necked Stilts - a first for us. It was a good day to go to the birds!

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On Family and Friends

Staying in Killbear Provincial Park meant we wouldn’t get to visit with my sister while on Manitoulin Island. Instead we arranged to meet in Espanola as she headed off the island and we headed on. It was her birthday and the first time in many years that I was able to wish her Happy Birthday in person! Most years we are already on the road on this day and have to sing Happy Birthday long distance. Probably the most unusual spot we’ve sang from was the confessional converted into a phone booth at The Convent, a bed and breakfast in Val Marie, Saskatchewan near Grasslands National Park. Happy Birthday again Little-Big-Sis!

The Island of course is still home to me in so many ways. My Mother is there. And there is just something about Manitoulin.Cattle
Cattle - Click for larger

Barrie Island Shore
Barrie Island Shore - Click for larger

After Mom’s we put in another long day on the road and drove to Pukaskwa National Park. The sound of the waves hitting the shores of Lake Superior is just so restful.Pukaskwa National Park
Pukaskwa National Park - Click for larger

Still following Lake Superior we stopped again along its shores in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park at Thunder Bay. There the whitetail deer are so used to people they graze right through your campsite.Whitetail Deer
Whitetail Deer - Click for larger

After getting past Lake Superior we took refuge in a lakeside motel in Nestor Falls and watched the thunder storms and pelting rain from the safety of our room. We were glad the motel was uphill of the lake as a raging river soon formed as the water rushed toward the lake from the parking lot. It would have been much worse if we had camped just south of there in Caliper Lake Provincial Park as originally planned. There we would have had to tent camp at the bottom of a hill. I can’t imagine that would have stayed dry during those downpours.

The highway north to Rushing River Provincial Park was flooded over in two places although still passable. The river was swollen but not really worse than the last time we photographed it, but then that was a wet year too.Rushing River
Rushing River - Click for larger

In Manitoba we stayed with friends Dennis and Frieda - they are such good hosts! While we are with them the conversation never ends - hope we didn't talk their ears off! We also did some wildflower photography in the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve and visited with Christie and the usually barefoot Laura – the guardians of that untouched grasslands.Wood Lily
Wood Lily - Click for larger

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Thursday, 8 July 2010

Making the Most of Things

Sometimes things just don't go as planned. Like getting a good night's sleep our last night at home. That just didn't happen thanks to backups kicked off to run overnight that kept failing with trivial error messages. We didn't make it to Manitoulin Island that first night as planned either. Oh we tried although we were late leaving. We even got beyond Pointe aux Baril on highway 69. But a bad accident further north shut down the highway and made us change our plans. That's the thing about plans - they are best kept fluid. Instead we camped at Killbear Provincial Park and tried out sleeping in our van for the first time. While we gazed at wind-swept pines on the edge of Georgian Bay we felt grateful that we were not involved in that accident and worried about those that were.Wind-swept Pine at Georgian Bay
Wind-swept Pine at Georgian Bay - Click for larger

(Unfortunately there was a death and serious injuries in that accident. See the Sudbury Star)