Monday, December 5, 2011

Snowy Owls (Part 2) Hawks, and a Heron on Sunday

This is the sequel to my last post, and includes pictures from our return trip to Boundary Bay on Sunday, after first seeing Snowy Owls there on Saturday.  It was a cold but beautiful day, and  we stopped en route for a few sunrise shots.    
 I took one shot through the truck window to show the mist rising over the fields to our right. 
Bill leaned as far back as possible, wanting to give me a chance to take pictures through his window.  This was looking towards Mount Baker. Black Jack was focused on getting there as quickly as possible.  She did not take her eyes of the road, and I knew pictures of lemmings danced in her head.
 Mount Baker to the left, and the sun, a ball of fire, peaking out from behind the tree.

This may be the tallest Blue Heron I've ever seen.  I've named him/her "Boundary" in honour of the way s/he kept to more or less the same area of the park, not the slightest bit deterred by the numerous photographers, and even a few hunters.  In this picture, Boundary is crouched low.. 
but here, stretches tall.
I will go with Northern Harrier as a guess for all of the hawks we saw.  Please do correct me if I'm wrong.

I was sad that several of the photographers did not keep a respectful distance.  As explained in the poster at the entrance to the park, Snowy Owls need to conserve energy.  If they fly away, you are too close!
These two owls were surrounded.
 We stayed back, but had the opportunity to catch some photos of owls fleeing the more aggressive photographers.  This one came straight towards us.  Most of the following pictures speak for themselves, so no commentary is really needed.  They weren't by any means perfect photographs, but I was aware with each one what a privilege it was to be that close.

We had rubber boots that made walking much more comfortable than it had been the day before.  Bill took wonderful care of Black Jack.  Here, she forgets Lemmings for a moment, and opts to beg for treats.
 The air warmed up as the sun rose, and Bill was toasty warm.  I was as well, except for my "trigger" finger.
 An unidentified flower.
 An unidentified egg that we agreed would be most unlikely to hatch.
 More owls fleeing photographers and heading our way.

 Boundary stayed close to us and I believe, enjoyed the sun's warmth as much as we did.
 The hawks caught the sun as well.

 An unidentified smaller bird.  There were thousands around.
 This juvenile Bald Eagle did not move from its perch for the several hours that we were there.
Unidentified berries were enjoyed by this Towhee.
 One more lbb (little brown bird).
 Another hawk,
 and more unidentified berries.
 This owl was perched on a log near the road.
 I liked the fanned shape of these.
 I had to laugh at this line of photographers all watching a lone owl to the right, the only one that remained in the area, as the others had been flushed out.  
 I took this photo later in day in Yaletown.  A lady told me it is called a Beautyberry or Callicarpa.  It was the first time I had ever noticed it, and I felt it was well named.
That's it for a while.  I am so grateful for all that made the past weekend one of the best ever.  Happy Monday, everyone.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Snowy Owls and Brahms

The temperature hovered around zero (Celsius) between Wednesday and Friday, and it was evident Wednesday morning that Skytrain and Seabus were the safest way to travel to work.  A huge thank you to a lady named Heather Spence who was driving her three sons to school.  The oldest, Daryn (I hope I've remembered his name correctly), piled my bike into the back of their truck and Heather drove me out of their way to my school. My heart was warmed by the way this family interacted as they said their goodbyes for the day.  Both Daryn (grade 12) and his Mom insisted on eye contact and a kiss (Mom) and a wave (Daryn) when the two younger boys were dropped off first. The kindness of this family has stayed in my thoughts all week.  

When I arrived at school, I learned that one of my colleagues had broken his elbow after his bike spun out on a patch of black ice. Ouch! Wishing him a very quick recovery!

The SkyTrain was convenient and rather fun on Thursday, December 1st.  I stood at the front of the train and took this picture as we sped through the tunnel.  You can see my reflection just left of centre, and perhaps another passenger's reflection on the right.
As I walked through the indoor tunnel from the SkyTrain to the SeaBus, I took pictures through the window on my right.  There are reflections from the window at the left, but the sunrise and train yard still came through quite well.
The small lens, zoomed in, captured some trees in the distance, and the more fiery shades just above the horizon. 
Train yards are fascinating places,
 with their maze of tracks and imagined destinations.
As we approached North Vancouver, I enjoyed seeing familiar landmarks.  The street near the right moving up towards the mountains is Lonsdale.  It's quite a hill, one that I have "huffed-and-puffed" up more than a few times.
More landmarks, this time The Lions in the background, bright yellow sulphur piles in front, and The Iron Workers Memorial Bridge just behind those. 
Lovely pastels with icy sky tones, as emissions from three chemical plants rise behind the bridge.
I looked out the side window of the SeaBus for these fiery layers of colour.
One more view of North Vancouver's waterfront, just before arrival at Lonsdale Quay.This time, Lonsdale Street is just left of centre.
 Before my first class, I took one picture of The Lions behind the school, 
and one of the wooden lookout.  It was covered with a thin layer of frost.  Good plan not to ride the bike.
The sun was coming up in a blaze of fire just outside the school cafeteria.  Our dormitory students eat breakfast to one of the best views in town.
I was amazed, later in the afternoon, to see how clearly BC Place Stadium showed up, all the way across the water.
Even further away, Mount Baker in the state of Washington was highlighted in bright sun.  I pointed it out to a few of my students and after a bit of discussion about volcanoes, we decided to go outside to to see it (any excuse to get out of school work:) Here, they are pointing to the Stadium roof.  Mount Baker is to their left.  You can see it below,  
in all of its glory.
Behind our school, three dogs romped in the off-leash area of the park.
I made my way homeward much later in the day, less convinced about the wisdom of leaving the bike at home.  It was dark, but the temperature had risen to well above zero, and there was no ice.  I didn't much feel like walking to Lonsdale Quay (maybe a 30-minute walk) but in the end, enjoyed it.  As I rounded the street to walk down to the water, I could see the Vancouver skyline, and below it, on my side of the water, the North Vancouver Squamish First Nations homes, many lit up with Christmas enthusiasm. 
The Lions Gate lights were strung across the distant blackness, and the sulphur heap glowed.
Walking back through the tunnel from the SeaBus to the SkyTrain, I again took a picture through the same window I had enjoyed in the morning.  This time, office lights and a glimpse of a Christmas tree in one foyer brought warmth to the darkness.
It was fun to listen to this busker for a few minutes.  He sang in French for me (after learning about my Quebec background), in Chinese when he saw a few people from China, and in Spanish when he judged another group to be from Mexico.  The Mexican girls did a little dance for him, the Chinese people smiled, but I was the only one to drop a loony into his hat.
Although Christmas decorations have been showing up around town for the past two weeks, December 1st brought an explosion of reds and greens.  Every store feels obliged, I guess, to join the holiday atmosphere.  This was taken at the entrance to Urban Fare, when I stopped for a few groceries.
On Friday, December 2nd, I again took the SkyTrain and SeaBus to school, but opted to walk by McKay Creek behind the school, thinking to take the number 240 bus home, rather than the SeaBus. The sun was intense, and my photos were mostly failures, but these fleeing ducks..
stirred up some neat water droplets.
A second after this mass exodus,
the cause of the panic became evident.
I caught the bus on Marine Drive, got off at Denman and West Georgia and walked up Denman to English Bay.  Darkness was falling as I walked along the beach, but there was still a little blue left in the sky as I admired the half moon.  
A man sitting on a park bench noticed my camera and pointed out Venus, just beginning to show in the sky.  We sat for a few minutes talking about Venus and waiting for it to become a bit darker so that we could see it more clearly.  I have little knowledge of the planets and stars, but lots of curiosity to learn more.  Sometimes, I wonder how many of my retirement goals will be realized in what is clearly going to be far too short a time, even if I reach my goal of living to the age of 100. This photograph probably won't show the red along the lower edge of Venus, but the man, who introduced himself as Michael, told me a story to explain that red.  I'm hoping he might read this post and repeat that story, as the details are a little too vague in my memory to dare attempt repeating here.   
I continued on my way home, the sky now taking on new meaning.  Venus had appeared over Vanier Park, as I looked across from English Bay.  I turned to look behind me, and took a somewhat wobbly picture of another bright light in the sky.  I'm wondering if it may have been Jupiter.  
The background to the moon was now black rather than the blue of a half hour earlier.
The Christmas lights had just gone up in George Wainborn Park.  I remembered them from last December..   
and took a couple of photos..
before heading home to have supper from The Foundation with Bill.  I love the "Sesame Surprise" and Bill's favourite is "Final Option."  If you haven't discovered that restaurant, we recommend it.  We generally do take out, as loud rap music is not our favourite background for winding down on Friday evening.  Here's the menu:
 On Saturday morning, we rose early for an adventure day at Boundary Bay.  We picked up lattes at JJBean and I took this photo of the lights that we both admired on Davie Street. 
Our usual route out of town was blocked, and we soon saw the reason.
I really admire the courage of firemen.  This fellow climbed to the top of the crane, where he.. 
did his best to extinguish flames with a steady stream of water.  The flames were persistent, and a couple of firemen waiting on "standby" (my term for it) told us they had already been working on the fire for a few hours.  The entire house had been burned out, and it was a pretty clear case of arson.
We learned that the house had been slated for demolition.  Although arson is not at all a good thing, I was happy that no one was injured, and that no one had lost their home.  All in all, an interesting way to begin our adventure day.
We stopped along the road to Boundary Bay, to check out this hawk ( a Red-tailed?).
It stared fearlessly (I thought) at us,
and when it left, I had the feeling it had spotted prey.
A heron sat by the trail, apparently undisturbed by the many people walking their dogs. 
We had both heard that Snowy Owls were in the area, and although seeing one was a wish, I didn't really think we would be so fortunate.  In fact, there were about thirty of them in the area.  It was a first-ever sighting for me, and quite a thrill.  They normally stay in the Arctic all year round, but some years, when the supply of lemmings is low, they head further south. 
We did not dress for the occasion.  Many photographers were there, and most were wearing high rubber boots so that they could walk through the wetlands to get closer to the water.  We did venture far enough for my shoes to soak through, but didn't want to stress the owls, so stayed fairly close to the road.  These birds were flying in clouds back and forth along the water.  I asked several people but no one could tell me what they were.
I watched these three owls for quite some time, 
and decided that they were a family.  Perhaps, the male in the centre, with
Mom on the left and Junior on the right.  
As Bill said, "That's your story and you're sticking to it."
I had an enjoyable conversation with this man, Calvin, who was taking a few pictures of the owls as well.  He told me that he teaches science at Ladner High School and rides his bike to work.  We talked about my imminent retirement, and the fact that, although his and his wife's retirement are still quite a distance away, we all have similar attitudes in that we see retirement as a time to explore our worlds in a way that we couldn't while working full time.  He walked up to the road, and while I continued to take pictures, he and Bill began a conversation.  Here, Bill looks very serious.  I have a persistent problem with cold hands, and he was studying Calvin's cycling gloves.  They have a thumb and index finger division, but the other three fingers are together.  Hm..  perhaps worth investigating.
Black Jack did not take her eyes of the wetlands.  I think she would like to be a Snowy Owl and live on a diet of Lemmings.  I joined them, my feet now about as cold as I can ever remember them, so we said our good-bye's and headed back to the truck.  
Hawks flew by frequently.  Most people said we were seeing.. 
Northern Harriers..
and Red-tailed Hawks.  
I don't offer much of a guess here, 
since time doesn't allow for a proper investigation in my birdbook.
This Snowy Owl flew by and I took a shot from far away.
There were signs up to warn people to be respectful of the owls' space,
but unfortunately, many were so eager to get close-ups, they didn't pay much attention to the warnings.
This was my last hawk of the day, taken as we walked back to the truck.
Back in Vancouver, I took this truck shot at the corner of Oak and Broadway.  We were heading to The Wicked for lattes and porridge.  I don't know why I liked the colours of these balloons so much.  
Later that evening, we walked to The Orpheum for a concert that managed to top an already incredible day.  I tried to take this picture of a mural on a wall near The Orpheum.  The failure photo was rather interesting.
Here is a bit of the mural.  I decided to go back one day in better light to try to get a better shot.
We had seats that many would say weren't very good, but I loved our perspective.  We were second row from the front, and all the way to the left, right in front of the harpist.
We heard three works, the first called "Masquerade"  by Edward Top.  There was a "talk back" before the concert, and I enjoyed the opportunity to hear Mr. Top say a few words. His work was inspired by a painting called "Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889" by James Ensor.  Like the painting, the music was filled with a frenzy of activity.  
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels
The second work was "Songs of a Wayfarer" by Gustav Mahler.  I love these songs, and the soloist, Hugh Russell, was outstanding.  During the intermission, I took a few photos of the painting on the ceiling of The Orpheum.

After that, the Brahms Requiem was a huge treat.  Hugh Russel did the baritone solo in this as well, and he was joined by soprano, Isabel Bayrakdarian.  This is another of my favourite works, and the performance was very powerful.  I loved watching Bramwell Tovey's face as he conducted, and with our seats so close to the front, almost felt as if I were sitting in with the orchestra.  I found this review in the Vancouver Sun, and would agree that the Bach Choir singers were the stars of the evening.  The photograph was included with the article but was not credited.  This was a performance to go down in my happy memories for a long time to come.
On Sunday morning, we again returned to see the Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay.  I am going to make a "Part 2" post for those pictures.  What a week and what a weekend!  Thank you, Bill!  Thanks as well to Heather, Michael and Calvin, and last but not least, to any readers who have taken time to share in my memories.