Saturday, January 30, 2010

The cherry blossoms are just beginning to bloom

Last Tuesday, I saw my first cherry blossoms of the season. They were blooming vigorously on a small tree on the north side of 5th Avenue in Kitsilano, as I cycled to school, early in the morning. It was a bit rainy, and a bit dark and I was just a tad pressed for time, so I didn't stop, but they brightened the day, and I thought I might return soon for a photo. The next cherry blossom sighting was a day later, near my school in North Vancouver, and once more, there was no time to stop. On Friday, I saw the 5th Avenue tree again, on yet another day when there was no time to stop. I was on the way to keep an appointment at the license bureau, hopefully to get an enhanced driver's license.

*This next paragraph is a bit of a rant, and you may want to skip it.

That appointment was one of the few times when I was sadly reminded that I do have a mostly hidden, but occasionally surfacing, temper. It seems, the combination of bureaucracy and my own time management challenges will do it. I had brought four versions of my Quebec birth certificate (one handwritten with ink from the year 1947, dated five weeks after I was born, and certified by the minister of the church where I was baptized to be an "exact copy from the church register", another dated in 1962, and one more "official seal" document dated 1968, that one also fortified with a plastic card issued by the government. As the, I'm sorry to say it, very prissy young lady at the license bureau reminded me, if I had only read the instructions more carefully, I would have known that I needed the special new form of certificate issued in 1994. I had read the paper instructions included with my driver's license application, but had not gone to the web site, as suggested, for the complete version. The paper stated, "original birth certificate" required, and I truly thought I couldn't go wrong. I had underestimated the lengths officials will go, to make sure this ten-year resident of BC, with two police checks under her belt to get her teacher's certificate, a current license with photo in hand, a medical card, social insurance number, and several other id's, is exactly who she says she is. To those of you who work in bureaucratic positions, a word of advice. Just because you are right, and understand all the regulations perfectly, is no reason why you shouldn't restrain yourself from reminding someone less inclined to such regulatory perfection, that she lacks reading skills. Although you can't possibly know that the old-enough-to-be-your-grandmother lady has mistakenly biked all the way up the very, very steep hill of MacDonald Street to the corner of 42nd Street, which unkindly turned into Larch Street without much warning, has finally asked directions, turned around and biked back down to 24th, and is standing in front of you now, quite proud to have still kept her appointment on time, and certain that she has all the necessary documents to acquire the coveted EDL (enhanced driver's license). No, you can't possibly know this, but the sweat pouring from her brow might be reason to, at the very least, offer a word of understanding rather than sanctimonious reminders. To my credit, I didn't call that young lady any of the words that first came to mind, but I know my eyes bulged, the sweat streamed even more profusely, and a swear word (beginning with "d" so it could admittedly be worse) escaped my lips as I slammed my papers down on her desk. I regret this. It is frightening and horrible to be truly angry, and it achieves exactly nothing. Thank you to the more human young lady at the second desk who offered me an un-enhanced license, and reminded me to take my helmet and glasses off, and not to smile for the picture. That was my first, and very much needed laugh of the license bureau encounter, and although I can only imagine what that picture will reflect of my personality, and though I still slunk out of the office wishing for invisibility, I at least have that shared chuckle to soften an otherwise absolutely awful start to the day. *End of rant.

You will be glad to know that my day did get better. With about an hour to spare before classes, I decided to do a small stop-off in Stanley Park, on the way to school.

My first bird sighting was along English Bay. I think this may have been the same gentleman that I saw with swans digging in his pockets a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure why he was reaching behind him, but I know it wasn't to shoo the pigeons away. He may have been trying to stop an argument, perhaps just petting his friends, maybe giving food, or even possibly protecting his head from sharp pigeon toes.

When the food was gone, most of the pigeons left, but this one seemed to know the supply was not quite exhausted.

As the man headed away, he slipped a little food to that one persistent bird, and it took only seconds before the others noticed, and he was bombarded again. I enjoyed watching the encounter. The day was looking up.

Still along English Bay, I watched a pair of Barrow's Goldeneyes. They dove so often, it was tricky to catch them above water.

Here, the female..

and here, her mate.

I walked the bike along Beach Avenue, then crossed over the street, and up the path of the Parks Board Office. I had never noticed this beautiful old tree before. No time to change my long lens, so I satisfied myself with just a small portion of the tree and its beautifully twisting branches.
These yellow flowers are growing in front of the Parks Board Office. Although I can't name them, they added to a sunny feel the day was beginning to take on.

I continued on to spend a few moments at Lost Lagoon. The swans were as beautiful as ever.

And, finally, a cherry blossom! Another of those pictures when a 150-500mm lens is ridiculous overkill, but I had no time to change it, so this is just one tiny little part of a lovely tree.

There were lots of Mallards, with the occasional surprise among them. I am guessing this to be a female Lesser Scaup.

This heron seemed to change colours, depending on the sun's reflections on the pond. Here, the golden look.

And here, a more blue look. I loved the way it marched forward to check out..

that splash of water in front of the rocks.

I thought it would come up with a small fish, but instead,

a stick. I had checked out the heronry, thinking it is just about time for the herons to begin reconstructing their nests. I wonder if this one was just beginning to build up a stock of branches.

Just time for a few more duck observations, before I left to cross the Lions Gate. I had trouble identifying this one. Maybe, a young, female Wigeon - possibly a hybrid American-Eurasian?

Maybe this was the mate to the Lesser Scaup above?

This American Coot was perturbed, I thought.

It followed this one, and although my book shows no way to differentiate males and females, I thought her coy posture possibly indicated that she was the object of his desires.

Thanks for reading my rather lengthy account of Friday morning's adventures.

As I post early in the afternoon on Saturday, the rain has yet to let up. Poor Black Jack has a tenuous relationship at best with rain, so we'll play some ball in the apartment, and hope for a few dry moments to get outside later. Happy weekend to you!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The waterfront in North Vancouver on Wednesday

On Wednesday, a lone Canada Goose stood on a little sandbar, and watched some female Common Mergansers on a separate sandbar a short distance away.

The mergansers were putting on quite a show as they bathed and preened.

As one Merganser climbed ashore to dry off, the goose..

left its place to swim towards the Mergansers.

I think it felt quite sure it would be welcomed. Some of the Mergansers were waving...

and gossiping with friends as they went about their preening.

But, it turned out, they were not impressed when the goose joined them.

I could understand the goose's curiosity. The Merganser hairstyles were fascinating. I don't remember the day feeling windy, and somehow, the spiky look is one that I imagined might resist a breeze, rather like the Mohawk with Fringe look some humans favour, stiffened with copious amounts of gel and pomade to perfect the bristles . However, the Mergansers' topknots were blowing freely. I think the goose just wanted to take a closer look.

Then it did something that I thought was quite brilliant. Not to seem out of place, it began to preen, and the Mergansers immediately relaxed.

A pair of American Wigeons slept nearby, completely uninterested in the Mergansers or the goose. The male did keep one eye out, but I think that had more to do with my clicking camera.

Just around the corner, by the waterfront lookout, a crow looked heavenward, as if to say, "Puleeze, there is nothing any of those birds could do that touches the brilliance of my actions."

And, the seagulls were agitated over something. I'm guessing it had to do with a stolen meal. I took the opportunity to practice changing exposures, hoping to capture a bit more of the detail in their white feathers.

And, exciting news for me - a seal showed up, the very first I've seen in a couple of months.

Always something to watch and think about along the Waterfront Park in North Vancouver.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Of olympics and dentists and pink skies

Yesterday was one of those two-round-trip days between Vancouver and the North Shore. To school in the morning, taught one class, then back to Kitsilano for a dentist appointment, then back to school to finish classes before the final trip home. On the way to the dentist, as I passed English Bay, I saw what I thought to be a house moving. Google later gave me some more information. It turned out to be a floating hotel called North Island Lodge. It will be docking at False Creek, and will be available to rent during the olympics.
Amazing to me that a tug can pull a hotel.
A closer look. You can see a lamp and some furniture in the rooms.
What do I think about the olympics? Negatives and positives and a whole host of in betweens, but now, guests are coming, and it's time to put Vancouver's best face forward. So far, to be honest, I haven't felt the impact very much. At school, we were told yesterday about a web site that will post the many free ways to enjoy the olympics. That definitely helps to bring them a bit closer to reality, and free is definitely better than the alternative.

And dentists? Had to see a specialist yesterday. $1440 for a root canal treatment that took about 45 minutes. I'm lucky to have insurance which may cover about half. Yikes! That doesn't include the crown. Olympics and taking care of one's teeth sometimes seem to be only for rich people. I might add that I was terrified for most of the visit. Even freezing has become a huge deal. I don't make much fuss, but I often feel as though I'm going to pass out with fear. Fear of my teeth falling out. Fear that the needle will go somewhere it shouldn't and cause permanent damage. And, just plain unexplainable fear. How come, after all the dental work I have had done in my life, I still dread the visits? I feel sorry for my dentists, who are perfectly nice people, although I guess their earnings help to take some of the sting out of dealing with people like me.

And finally, some pictures taken in North Vancouver after my last class yesterday, as the sun was setting. I have no clue how to capture sunsets, and night photography is pretty much a mystery. Still, I was happy with the photos. There was a beauty and a calm in the air, and a feeling of greeting old friends, as flock after flock of geese flew from the sea to the little river beside my school. With the industrial activity on the other side of the river both blending and contrasting, the pictures evoked a mood and a memory of tranquility and golden light.

These next two pictures are almost the same. I took the shadows out of the first one with iphoto. The second one was left as is. I would love to know if one or the other seems more pleasing to you.
There were a few shorebirds, probably Black Turnstones, although the pictures are not clear enough for positive id. They worked together as a unit, finding food in one area, and then taking off like a shot, to land a short distance away and begin the thorough food search again.
The water was glazed in pinks and golds that changed almost as quickly as the Turnstones' direction.
Geese, coming toward me.
Turnstones heading away.
Wispy trees set off in tones of pink and tangerine.
Pink clouds on pastel blue.
Industry appearing almost like a magic land.

The final shot just before dark. What is in your mind, Mr/Ms Canada Goose. Do you notice the colours in the sky? Will you sleep well tonight? I hope so.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Maplewood Flats

On Sunday, Bill, Black Jack and I drove to Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver for a second visit. The first, a few months ago, was in pouring rain, and yielded not even one bird photo, so I guess this second outing could be called a success. Still, overall, bird sightings were few and far between. I heard bird song, even a call or two that sounded new, but most of the vocalists stayed well hidden.

Wanderin' Weeta did a recent post noting the Spring shades of yellow on her street, and I did a bit of a double take when I read it, as the predominant colour to jump out at me for most of the walk was indeed, yellow.

The day was gray, with rain threatening, but still, the golden tones showed up, even in this picture of the oil refinery across the water.

Admittedly, the yellow tones are harder to find in this next shot. But, look between the boat and the buildings behind it. Straw yellow grass. It was the tanker that caught my attention, though. The name of it is "Maersk Bering" and although it appears to be in need of a little TLC, I found some information on it that you can see at the link. Its route seems to be between Los Angeles and Vancouver, but its name implies, at least to me, that it may be doing, or have done, trips to the Bering Sea.
Back to the colour, yellow. Our walk was on a man-made path, but over the fence, much of the terrain appeared like this. Great hiding places for birds.

Lots of logs, this one fascinating, with rusted chain and frayed yellow rope.

Tree stumps with yellow moss.

Beautifully shaped driftwood on a background of yellow grass.

Little, yellow trees growing out of stumps.

Finally, just as the raindrops began to fall, a hawk in a tree. Too high up, and too far away for much of a picture, and too rainy to spend the time getting closer, but according to the caretaker at the Wild Bird Trust Centre, it is most likely a Cooper's Hawk. He drew my attention to it when It flew over the centre - at least I think it was the same hawk - about a half hour later.

Thanks to that kind caretaker, the day became more bird focused, when he allowed me into the small fenced area where bird feeders are kept, and where a variety of small birds congregate. Here, a Red-winged Blackbird.

More yellow, and a first for me (at least, since moving to BC), some Pine Siskins, I think. Even with the feeder, they were hard to catch, and the rain drops were now coming too quickly for much lingering.

I read that the female chooses her mate on the basis of the amount of yellow in the wing. Apparently, more is better.
A front view.

And, for a change of theme, some beautiful red. I love these little house finches.

I do think I see hints of yellow as the shades of red fade towards the belly.

There were even yellow flowers blooming along the porch of the cozy little bird centre, where we were warmly welcomed after our walk. The volunteer wasn't sure what the flowers were, and this picture is poor, but I think they look very much like the Forsythia Wanderin' Weeta showed in her post.

Overall, the couple of hours spent at Maplewood Flats were enjoyable. I know the birds are there. We saw pictures of all kinds of them, including woodpeckers and a Northern Pygmy Owl, on the walls of the Bird Centre. I should add that Black Jack definitely approved of the outing, happy to be with her Bill, who kept her entertained, all the while helping me search for birds. Thank you to Bill for another good day, and to you for reading about it.