Monday, September 7, 2009

Why I Love Mountains: Part 2

I am a sucker for a view -- I'll spend hours bushwacking to get to the top of the humps on Southern Vancouver Island so I can get a 360 degree peek at the place where I live. Within moments of getting to the top of whatever chunk of rock is the day's goal, out comes the dog-eared topo map. Then the great (and traditional) "What mountain is that?" discussion starts. Bearings are taken, GPS waypoints are marked, notes are made -- but me and the Usual Suspects (Jan, Alan, and Mike) are slow learners. No matter how many times we head up the old familiar routes to Empress, Thunderbird, Quimper, McDonald, Braden, Sugarloaf, Jocelyn, etc. at the top one of us will be sure to say "Now which one is Mcguire?" or "That must be Warburton Pike" -- and the rush to demonstrate who possesses the most fulsome local knowledge is on.

We have not yet come to blows, but the discussion often ends with a demonstration of navigational prowess -- we all have to align our walking sticks and poles along the ground towards True North. Then Alan hauls out a beautiful sterling silver compass and the winner is decided. Of course, this is considerably more challenging on an overcast day hunkered down under a rock outcrop.

Even though we don't have Jan and Alan for our summer rambles, we still carry on the tradition of going for the big views and discussing the possibility that yes, that could be Mt. Ranier on the horizon, and not just some cloud formation. Doesn't matter who we hike with, or what type of local knowledge they posses, tradition demands we engage in the "What mountain" discussion.

The picture here is from the summit of one of the largest chunks of basalt on Southern Vancouver Island -- Mt. Arrowsmith. It rises 1817 metres (5962 feet) over Port Alberni. The view here is looking south along the ridge of the massif. A huge, steep gully separates the us on the summit from the next hump along. Past that, the mountains extend off into the distance.

I bet on a clear day we could see the Olympic mountains in Washington. There was a great deal of pollution and haze in the air (a heat wave and no wind = ground level ozone and haze), so no crisp views.

Mike and I, along with Tom (relatively new resident of Vancouver Island) and Rod (old friend from St. John's Newfoundland) went up the twists and turns of the Judge's Route. The trail is badly eroded in places and it was often easier to scramble up the adjacent rock faces then stay in the ruts of the trail.

This is a fairly steep hike -- ascending 1 km of altitude in 3 km of trail. No need for ropes, but a helmet might be a safe idea. The views from the summit are worth every grunt and groan. On a clear day you can see right across Vancouver Island from east to west.

I think Mike and I will try to get back this year for a winter hike. Maybe a bit chilly, but the air should be crystal-clear and surely we'll be able to hold a really detailed discussion on "Which mountain is that".

Map of the Judge's Route up Arrowsmith    Mt. Arrowsmith from the Cameron Main   Approaching the saddle

Check out our route on Google Maps:
The Judge's Route .

More pictures from our tramp up Mt. Arrowsmith: Our pics on Flickr .

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why I Love Mountains -- Part 1

I returned last week from a few days rambling in the mountains. I have been working on the pictures I made ever since and I'm reminded why I like mountains -- they always have so much to give -- you just have to be in a receptive frame of mind!
Mike and the "almost rainbow"

Mike and I, along with friends Lisa and John, backpacked in to Strathcona Park, on Vancouver Island. We were only in for a few days, but we did a hike up to the top of Mt. Albert Edward. The weather on summit day was not great -- it rained when we got to the first steep bit. Then wind, mist, and fog dogged us all the way to the top. We spent an hour at the peak waiting for views. And, even though they were not the spectacular vistas I know Strathcona can produce, I found myself deeply satisfied with what we did see.

Mountains in mist and cloud can be so majestic -- especially when the weather gods are teasing you with wispy views. That was certainly the case with Mt. Regan, little brother to Albert Edward. When the day is fine you don't even notice poor squat and lumpy Regan -- but on a day of thready cloud Regan can be the only ghost peak to float into existence.

When you can see them, mountain colours on a grey day can be deep and rich -- all the more so because nothing else competes. On Albert Edward the burnt oranges and dark crusts of basalt seemed to show us a bit of their birthright, formed in heart of volcanoes as they are. Pale pink granite-diorite helped put depth in the view when the mist parted. Flowers were bright spots of colour, covered with jewels of condensed mist. I could surely spend days in this place.

Davidson's Penstemon - closeup      Mike, John, Lisa      Away up the ridge

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Two-Dip Summer Day in BC

Summer 2009 has been hot, hot, hot on Vancouver Island. Mike and I, along with Rod, our friend from St. John's NL, decided to try one of the Island's premier backcountry adventures -- the Golden Hinde Traverse. This mountaineering trip takes about 7 days and crosses through the heart of Strathcona Park, in the centre of Vancouver Island. Midway along the traverse sits the Golden Hinde -- at 2200 metres it is the Island's highest peak.

I'm sorry to report that we didn't make the trip -- Rod and Mike were ill with a cold and the last thing I wanted was to be banging around in the backcountry with two old "wheezers"! We only did the first day of the planned hike -- Buttle Lake to Arnica Lake.

In all honesty, I was almost glad we had to cancel. It was so hot I could barely make it to Arnica Lake, and that part of the hike was all in the shade (although an uphill grind). Still, we did enjoy two wonderful dips that day. The first was a skinny dip in Arnica Lake under a bowl of clear blue sky. The second was in the green and cool pool below Myra Falls.

Arnica Lake is a classic sub-alpine pool -- clear water, meadows down to the shore, straight firs reaching for the sky. This one certainly didn't disappoint. After three hours of steady uphill hiking it was a welcome sight. We jumped in almost at once and stayed until I wrinkled.

On our way back to Victoria that evening we decided to make it a two-dip day by hiking down to the bottom of Myra Canyon and taking a dip in the grotto where Myra Falls enters Buttle Lake. The pool here has a definite elvish feel -- like we dropped into a scene from the Lord of the Rings. We had the place to ourselves and plunged in off the limestone cliffs. It was BC-summer-perfect!

There is nothing like spending time floating on your back gazing up at a sunshine-blue sky. Those moments make me sigh, flap my toes, and say "Ain't life grand"!!

More pictures from Arnica Lake

Map of the Arnica Lake Trail, Strathcona Park     Arnica Lake     Sitka Columbine

Check out the full set of pictures at my flickr site: Strathcona Park Hiking, July 26 - 27, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Native Summer Wildflowers

It's true -- spring DOES give a better wildflower show down on southern Vancouver Island than summer. But July and August are not without their beauty on low and mid-elevation cliff, meadow, and forest.

These images showcase a few of the native summer blooms found in and around the wilderness areas close to Victoria BC.

Hypericum scouleri ssp. scouler
St. John's Wort
Hypericum scouleri ssp. scouler . A lovely grouping of St. John's Wort on the western slopes of Jocelyn Hill.

Harvest Brodiaea
Harvest Brodiaea
Brodiaea coronaria ssp. coronaria is common on southern Vancouver Island. I love seeing it peek out from the golden grasses. Ants seem to love it.

Holodiscus discolor is in full bloom at this time of the year. The flowers on this graceful shrub become lacy seed pods in the late summer and fall. They can be seen right through the winter, until the spring brings new growth.

Manzanita berries
Not a flower at this stage, but Arctostaphylos columbiana berries are still interesting to examine. These tiny fruits look like small apples. The word manzanita is the Spanish diminutive of manzana (apple). A literal translation would be "little apple".

Tiger Lily on Wood
Tiger Lily
Lilium columbianum looks so bright and perky in the dark green forests of Vancouver Island. I enjoy seeing their flashy spots of colour on our summer hikes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Usual Suspects

Saturday, May 23, 2009: A perfect late spring day, and I'm spending it the way I like best -- bashing around the Vancouver Island back country through bush and rock. That I am out with Mike, Jan, and Alan (a.k.a. the Usual Suspects) is an extra bonus.

On this day we decided to try a new route through the Sooke Hills Wilderness area. We took off from our usual spot on Sooke Road (up the road from the mailbox pull-off), hiked in and crossed Veitch Creek. We didn't stay on the usual route. Mike had sighted some new ribbons a few weeks previously and wanted to see where they led.

The route turned out to be an excellent one. We got some fine views from a height of land we had never been to before, and some excellent flower sightings. Ah, yes, nothing is so sweet as experiencing another Sooke Hills "lifer" (doing a new route for the first time).

The highlight of the day -- aside from finding and photographing the extremely rare Prairie Lupine, was the final ascent up to Secundus (the 2nd of the MacDonald "Bumps"). The views opened out over the Sooke Hills and the Juan de Fuca Strait as soon as we got out of the valley. And the sky -- a perfect jewel of blue overhead.

The day was warm, so we stopped under the spreading branches of a huge arbutus tree and took lunch and a breather. Alan went down to his skivvies, but the rest of us demurred.

Even though the day was glorious we saw nary another soul for the entire outing. The Sooke Hills Wilderness is really a gem -- I am surprised that more people don't simply disregard the ridiculous "keep out" signs erected by the Capital Regional District. The Usual Suspects gave those signs a big raspberry some years ago and, frankly, I couldn't be happier!

The view across to the Olympics      Prairie Lupine - Lupinus lepidus -- Close up     Spotted Coral Root

PS. I hope to once again become your faithful photo-correspondent. For the past two months I have let things slide as I got back into the swing of my university gig. I am all caught up now and can post a bit more frequently (at least until Sept).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bold as brass

Bold as brassOriginally uploaded by Calypso Orchid
So, the BC government is going to cut back on an already gutted BC Provincial Parks budget. Well, that tears it -- I was seriously thinking about voting Liberal (because of their carbon tax initiative), but now I am striking them off my list of possibilities! Parks are such an integral component to life here in BC. I don't think we should stand by and see them further reduced.

If every MLA would cut his or her travel budget by less than 1%, I bet we would have more then enough money to keep rangers in the field, campgrounds open, and (be still my beating heart) even put interpretation back into the system! Better still, stop those ridiculous "Best Place on Earth" adds and put the money into the "Best Places in BC"! Those adds must cost a pretty penny.

My post today illustrates very well how desperately important BC Parks are to individuals, the province, and the country. The little fellow pictured here is a Yellow-bellied marmot. Not particularly endangered (he is a pretty adaptive guy) -- but the landscape he is inhabiting is. He is in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. This jewel of a park hugs the northern extent of Kalamalka Lake. It is one of the last examples of okanagan grasslands -- an ecosystem that is rapidly disappearing.

This picture is from April 20, 2009, but Mike and I have hiked through this park many times. We always hope to see a rattlesnake. No luck yet. We did get to see a Gopher snake once though. It was very impressive. At first we thought it was a rattler, but the lack of a rattle made us suspicious we were seeing something else.

This park has a great diversity of plant life. In all 432 varieties of vascular plants have been identified here. At 4209 hectares it is rare to find so many species in such a small area.

In 2006 a State of the Park analysis was conducted ( State of the Park Report ). One of the report's findings noted the importance of building public awareness around ecosystem issues. This is going to be very difficult to do if there is no one there to help interpret and explain the importance of this place. Without help all that will be seen and understood by most visitors are some cute rodents, space for a few picnic tables, and lots of land to develop into yet more subdivisions.

Well, perhaps that is a little bleak, but these parks belong to us. I think they deserve better treatment than our BC provincial government is currently doling out. Bit by bit our parks are being dismantled. And, since it is death by a thousand cuts, we don't notice it happening. It is the little things -- less maintenance on trails, closing a few access points, cutting research budgets, no replacement of interpretive signs, canceling one or two programs a year, later seasonal opening, earlier seasonal closing. And so it goes until one day we wake up and realize that "Super Natural BC" has been gutted.

No matter which group ends up running the show here in BC, we the people, especially we the people that put parks and the environment first, will have to be vigilant. Government types have to wake up and smell the coffee -- it's not a choice between the economy OR the environment. A healthy economy is built on a healthy environment, and parks are a key component in building and keeping our environment strong.

Talk to your friends and family about this issue, ask potential MLAs about their opinions on Provincial Parks and the environment. Vote for the ones giving an answer that supports parks and the environment. When these folks get in power, hold them to account. In general, make a nuisance of yourself -- your kids will thank you.

Kalamalka Lake reflections  - Mike and an old Juniper

If you get a chance, visit Kalamalka Park. A few more cuts to our BC Parks and it could be "Last Chance to See".
Info on Kalamalka Provincial Park
More photos from Kalamalka .

Kalamalka Lake colours     Kalamalka Lake and Ponderosa Pine   Arrowleaf Balsamroot   Mary at Jade Bay, Kalamalka Lake

Friday, April 10, 2009

A rare and delicate bloom

I love Spring in Victoria. The town is awash in colour, cherry and plum petals blizzard down on walkers and cyclists, and everyone seems to be in a wonderful mood. Out in the parks the show is, if anything, even more spectacular as our native wildflowers start to strut their stuff.

Mt. Wells Park, in Victoria's Western Communities, is one of my favourite spring hikes. It has all of the colourful and delicate native plants that I am coming to know and love. And, it is home to the very best display of Satinflowers in all of Vancouver Island. This flower ( Olsynium douglasii ) is only found on southern Vancouver Island and in a few spots in BC's southern interiour. Its delicate magenta petals look like they have been cut out of a satin ball gown. In the sunlight this flower nods and swings, splashing colour and light all around. It is one of our most beautiful harbingers of spring, and when I see it, I know warm days are coming.

These flowers are almost always a magenta purple, but every now and again we see a very rare white Satinflower, or a variegated one. A few years ago Mike and I were bushwacking through some back routes on Mt. Wells when we stumbled upon a patch that had all three types of plants -- magenta, white, and both together. I'm pleased to report that three years on the plants are still there and doing better than ever.

Mt. Wells was established as a park in 1994, but it was only in the past few years that a new path has been put up its north slope. Unfortunately, this path has suffered terribly from overuse. The erosion is quite wide on the steep bits. This year Victoria's Capital Regional District installed an ugly chain fence up through the area. Not very pretty, and far, far, far from "natural", but necessary to keep people off the delicate habitat to either side.

There are other routes up Mt. Wells, but they can be difficult to find, and some go over private property (or at least I assume it is private -- it doesn't belong to the park). However, once found they are well marked and you can't go wrong.

Mt. Wells is an example of a roche moutonee -- a rocky hill shaped by glaciers to give a smooth up-ice side and a rough, bouldery surface on the down-ice side. The up-ice side is where the main trail is located.

Mt. Wells is famous for its native plants, but its bird life is just as fascinating and lovely. Sooty Grouse, Golden Eagles, Ruffed Grouse, Pygmy Owls, and lots of other birds can be found here. Just this past week (April 8, 2009) I rode out from town with Alan and Rick. We heard and saw Sooty Grouse and Townsend's Warblers. Both are magnificent birds and NOT easy to get good looks at. As well, three weeks ago Alan and Jan were hiking on the south side of Wells when they looked up and noticed a Saw-whet owl just a few metres away at eye level.

My worry for Mt. Wells is that it will be "developed" (what a stupid word to use for the process of habitat destruction in service of yet more suburban sprawl) right up to the park boundaries and the delicate balance that allows unique plants like white Satinflowers to flourish will be completely over turned. As I was saying to a friend last week "we humans have a lot to answer for"!

A rush of colour -- and then some white
Magenta and White Satin Flowers on Mt. Wells.

Info and map of Mt. Wells Park .
More flower pictures from Mt. Wells.
Photos of Sooty Grouse on Mt. Wells

Riot of Satinflowers      Sooty Grouse on Mt. Wells     Mt. Wells Summit - Finlayson in the background

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The wild ocean -- Cabin Point, East Sooke Park

East Sooke Park showed her beautiful side last Sunday (Mar 22). The sun came out, the sea looked tropical, and some of our native wildflowers put on a show. We were out for a hike with Arthur (Mike's brother) and Rita who were visiting from California. Dave, another of Mike's brothers also came along. Dave was visiting from Edmonton. We started at Aylard Farm and went up Babbington Hill. From Babbington it was down to the Coastal Trail at Cabin Point, then around to Beechey Head. We came back to the car from Beechey via an interiour trail -- all in all we were out for six hours.

I love taking visitors hiking in East Sooke Park. They get to experience a number of southern Vancouver Island's key ecosystems all at once. On this day we started off with a walk through Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Red Cedar forest. Heavy canopy, dappled sunlight, nursery logs -- the walk up to Babbington has it all. Once on Babbington proper we are into the sunny, dry, rocky ground so favoured by Arbutus and Garry Oak. Shore Pine likes this outlook too. Finally, we went down on the coast making our way over 25 million year old gabbro and basalt rocks. Here moist seeps in the cliffs are perfect habitat for many native wildflowers. On this trip we saw Saxifrage, Shooting stars, Sedum, and Monkey-flowers.

This park also gives a glimpse into human use of this area -- the petroglyphs carved into the rocks at Alldrige Point were done by the Coast Salish First Nations people. I don't know how old the carving are, but I have heard anything from 200 to 1000 years.

Cabin Point is another example of mankind and the environment. The Point has an old "trap shack" on it. In 1902 the Canadian government allowed canneries to build huge fish traps in the Juan de Fuca Strait along the coast of southern Vancouver Island. This was to stop American fishers from catching salmon destined for the Fraser River, which is in Canadian waters.

A fellow by the name of Charles Fox Todd had five traps in this area. They were huge -- built of wire netting and lots of fir pilings, they ran nearly a kilometre out to sea and trapped salmon as the fish tried to migrate through them. Todd's traps were very successful and he could net up to 300,000 salmon in a season (the ocean was abundant back in the early 1900s!). But, his huge catches didn't win friends amongst the other fishers in the area and he had to put in guard houses to keep an eye on his traps. The old "trap shack" at Cabin Point on the Coastal Trail in East Sooke Park is one of these.
For more info on this see Ross Crockford's blog Unknown Victoria , or get his book.

East Sooke Park also includes an old farmstead -- Aylard Farm was acquired by the Capital Regional District (CRD) and added to the Park in 1972. The old orchard is still around today.

This Park is one of the most versatile in our area -- the trails range from an easy ramble on the sandy beach at Aylard Farm to the rugged 10 km long Coastal Trail. I think I have been on every trail in the Park (over 50 km of them), but I still find new and interesting things to look at and do every time I return. The CRD was thinking ahead when they reserved this wonderful area from development. If you get out to the Victoria area, and can only make it to one park, I recommend this one.

A few links of interest:
An overview of East Sooke Park
Park map and info
More pictures from East Sooke Park

Some pictures from our East Sooke Park hike: Sun, Mar 22, 2009

Views from Babbington       Mike takes a swing      Views along the Coastal Trail

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The centre of the cascade

With this post I am going to start a few weeks of writing about some of my favourite parks in and around Victoria. I love getting out in them for hiking, photography, picnicking, and just generally goofing off.

I just finished taking a nature and travel photography class with Josh McCulloch . It was an excellent class and I learned a lot from it. The course involved several field trips, and I got this image of Sitting Lady Falls out at Witty's Lagoon on one of them. I like the colour and movement in this image, but my lens (75 - 300 zoom) is not a particularly good one, and with a 1.4 teleconverter attached sharpness and contrast seem to suffer. Although I love the movement here, this shot seems a bit "soft".

Going to Witty's Lagoon reminds me how much I enjoy and appreciate the regional parks on southern Vancouver Island. Witty's is particularly enjoyable because you get ocean views and forest walks, along with lots of bird life. This park is also known (to me and my friends at least) as a veritable horn of plenty when it comes around to blackberry season. I have enjoyed many blackberry pies, margaritas, and crumbles furnished by the bushes in this park. The park also has an old apple orchard and the fruit makes for some very tart and spicy pies. There must be something about growing apples in sea spray that makes them so crisp.

Sitting Lady Falls is on Bilston Creek. For most of the year there is just a small stream going over the rocks, but in late winter and early spring Sitting Lady is full to the brim. This shot was taken with a time exposure of .6 of a second. Recently I printed it on some fine matte paper and it looks like a painting. The "soft" feel given by the poor lens and the teleconverter worked out after all!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Portrait -- contrast and colour

Originally uploaded by Mary Sanseverino
I don't usually do portrait-style photo shoots -- usually I wait for people to get out of my shots. So, when Annye emailed and asked me to do some promo shots for her up and coming short movie I was a bit unsure of my abilities. I said yes because Annye has a good sense of humour and I had taken a number of head and shoulder shots of her in the past.

We discussed what Annye wanted out of the shoot, what she would wear, and a few shot ideas before the shoot. Then, using the late afternoon light, we met at the Governor General's gardens in Victoria BC on Thur, 5th Mar. When I saw what Annye was wearing -- spaghetti strap bustier and a skirt -- I thought this would be the shortest shoot in history. 10 minutes outside and she would be freezing. But, on the south side of gardens the sun was warm and there was no wind -- we shot for 2 1/2 hours and no one got cold!

The reason I don't like to shoot portraits is because I have a great deal of difficulty visualizing the finished image when I look at a model. I find it much easier to visualize landscapes and macro nature shots. Probably because these things tend to stay still and I can contemplate them. But, the real reason for my reluctance is this: only I will be disappointed if a landscape shot doesn't turn out the way I planned.

Annye was easy to work with and we had some lovely light to play with. I used my flash for most shots and soon realized that for even better light control I'm going to have to get the flash off the camera and control it remotely.

Shooting good portraits is both and art and a science, and requires a lot of practice. Working with outdoor light on the face and body can be so ephemeral -- one moment the light is perfect, and the shot is magic if you and the camera can respond. The next it is gone for ever.

I like this image best out of the ones I did on Thursday. The hat and face seemed to call for a black and white treatment. I did this in post processing (Adobe Light Room) by reducing the saturation on all colour channels. Then I brought back the colour on the feathers using the Light Room's brush tool. I over-saturated these colours so they would pop, but not so much that you missed the searching look in the eyes. This was one of the few shots that I visualized while out on the shoot -- even to the crop of the hat.

I was not too pleased with the over exposure on the upper chest when I saw it, but I liked the light on the eyes, and, when I saw the image on the computer I realized at once that a b&w would work well with the 1940's feel of this shot. I felt the overexposed skin would be a kind of counter-point to the colour in the feathers. However, it might be better if I cropped off the bottom inch -- I'll have to try it.

I'll be doing a bit more work with Annye in the future, but under studio lighting conditions. I'll also be shooting promo shots on the set of her upcoming movie. I'm excited to be doing that type of work, but nervous as well. I certainly have lots to think about. And, lots of practicing to do!

More shots from the shoot with Annye at my Flickr site .

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The first Fawn Lily of spring!

My first native wildflower of 2009 -- the Fawn Lily Erythronium oregonum . So named because the leaves are mottled like the back of a new-born fawn. I caught this image up at the Lieutenant Governor's gardens on Rockland Ave. in Victoria, BC. The gardens are very extensive, especially now that the southern exposure is open to the public. I'm sure it won't be long until all of my old favourites are popping out of the ground!

For this shot I used my 100 mm macro lens. I had the flash on the camera, but had it dialed down two stops. I also underexposed this shot by 1 stop. I wanted to bring out some of the texture in the leaves and a bit of detail on the petals themselves.

With flowers any puff of wind is enough to make the shot blurry -- especially when working with small apertures (F13 here) and correspondingly low shutter speeds (1/10 second). You have to be patient and wait for the wind to stop or die down. Also, for best results I think you should shoot with the mirror up and use a remote control to trigger the shutter.

With macro shooting I almost always use manual focus. I usually shoot on aperture priority. I don't use the flash too often, but I want to start using it more for flower shots. I have to get it off the camera though -- my next purchase will be some Pocket Wizards (remote controls) for the flash.

I'm looking forward to spring FINALLY breaking through and hopefully this year will bring an abundance of wildflowers for me to photograph.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Colours of Feburary

Another evening of beautiful light. The winter months on BC's west coast offer sunsets of blue, pink, and purple. I took this shot from the tombolo on McNeil Bay, in Oak Bay, Victoria BC, on Feb 19, 2009. The view here is west. The mountains in the distance are the Olympics in Washington State. The hump in the middle is Garibaldi Hill (I think) on Rocky Point. And, in the foreground, is Harling Point.

I was trying out a 500 mm lens lent to me by a friend. I was trying to get shots of birds, but that was a failure. I needed a lot more light than the evening provided! So, I turned my hand to the long view. Like any long lens, the 500 mm foreshortens the view. Things in the image look closer together than they really are. For example, when you see a huge mountain looming over a city (e.g. Mt. Baker over Victoria as it sometimes appears in the local paper), you are probably looking at a landscape that has been photographed with one of these big lenses.

The straight line shooting distance covered in this photo is over 80 km: 23 km from where I am shooting to Garibaldi Hill; an additional 50 km from there to the Washington coast; another 10 to 15 to the Olympic Mountains themselves.

This particular 500 mm lens is not very sharp in low light situations. This gives an image that is a bit "soft" (okay, a bit fuzzy), but I love the colours in this shot, especially the blue and pinky-gold on the water. I went home from shooting and could hardly wait to see what the image looked like on my big screen.

I am a bit concerned that the screen is too much of a flickering and fleeting medium for images I love -- the pictures display for a few minutes and then I change the pixels and a new image appears. Sure, we can bring images back, but there is always so much more to see. I think the print is the only constant form. My next big purchase will be a quality photo printer. In the meantime, I better get a few of my best shots committed to paper at Prism Colour, my favourite lab in Victoria.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wilson's Snipe: Rithet's Bog, Victoria, BC

View Large On Black
Originally uploaded by Mary Sanseverino
On my face in the mud -- that's how I took this shot. I crept up on my belly, pushing through bush and leaves until I could get a good look at this lad (or lass, as the case may be). The Snipe thought he was hidden and stayed still for about 20 shots. Happily for me, the Snipe was well lit by a few rays of wan sunlight trickling through the overgrowth. Although a bit of a stubby fellow (about 25 cm / 10 in long), he is beautifully marked -- quite elegant actually.

It was just luck that I even got a chance to shoot this bird at all. On Friday, Feb 13, Jan, Alan, and I were out on a biking and birding expedition to Rithet's Bog. We where hoping to see Virginia Rail, and Wilson's Snipe, along with Merlin and oodles of woodpeckers. If it wasn't for a mother and son we stopped to chat with we would never have seen this fellow. Right after we parted the pair called us back to point out the Snipe. There he was, standing in a muddy seep under willows and blackberry canes. We had walked right by him!

After surveying the scene and trying to get a few shots standing up, it became clear that the Snipe would startle away unless I got in low and quiet. I belly-crawled in and started shooting. The details: f8 at 1/50th of a second. I used my 300 mm zoom lens, and dialed in an ISO of 400. Being down on my belly worked out well in the stabilization department too -- I was able to rest my elbows on the ground and brace myself solidly for shooting. The result was a series of quite sharp images of the Wilson's Snipe.

Even though 300 mm seems like a long lens, when speaking about birds it is very small. And, for best results, one should use a tripod. Hand-held as this (and all) of the Snipe shots were, it was the height of luck that any of them turned out. I'm hoping for more of that luck in my future birding shots!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sedum spathulifolium - a splash of red

View On Black
Originally uploaded by Mary Sanseverino
First hike of the new year! I was out on Jan 23, 2009 with Eva, Gord, and David. Our destination was East Sooke Park, on the southern trip of Vancouver Island. It always gives a fine walk with great views. We went up Babbington Hill from Aylard Farm parking lot, then down to Cabin Point and along the Coast Trail back to the car. I could barely keep up with the crowd, but they put up with the old woman and graciously waited for me to get my photos and toddle along the trail.

January doesn't have much in the way of wildflower colour. But, I can always rely on Sedum spathulifolium to provide some eye-catching colour. The succulent reddish-purple leaves of this plant seem almost to be made of flesh, but this is because the leaves store water. And, as this is our wet season, the plant is gathering in as much moisture as possible. Soon it will be hot, dry, and exposed on this southern-facing cliff and the moisture will be most welcome. Sedum spathulifolium is part of a class of plants called xerophytes which are well adapted to living in hot dry climates like ours can be in the spring and summer.

In winter this sedum is one of the first things a hiker notices on the Coast Trail. It is splashed all over ocean-fronting cliffs, rocks along the trail, and in sunny crevices back from the trail. In this picture the sedum was nicely set off by tufts of Reindeer lichen (part of the Cladina family I think). This hardy lichen is very common in East Sooke Park. It looks soft and fluffy, but is really hard and crunchy on top.

I am hoping this year will feature a banner wildflower season. I'm planning on getting lots of wildflower shots from my favourite haunts up and down Vancouver Island. And this year I'm going to catalog and organize the pictures too!! Well ... a girl can always dream.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Grand Show

John Muir , the old man of the modern environmental movement, reminded us back at the turn of the century that nature goes on with or without us: "This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn ...each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

At this time of the year we on southern Vancouver Island get amazing sunrises and sunsets. And, even though I know there will be another one along in some few hours, I still look up at around 4 o'clock and say "Time to head down to the ocean. This is going to be a great sunset -- I can't miss it!"

I took this shot January 19, 2009, on Willows Beach, looking south-east over Oak Bay and the distant Juan de Fuca Strait, to Mt. Baker. Baker is an active volcano and has a constant cape of snow and ice. In January, when the air is cold and the haze of pollution from Vancouver to the north, and Seattle to the south is noticeably less, Mt. Baker stands out sharply.

The soft run of pastel colours makes a good backdrop to this shot. I particularly like the blend from blue to purple-pink. I needed to use a graduated neutral density technique for this image. I set my camera's exposure for the mountain itself. This turned out to be 1/40 second at f4, with an ISO of 200. I was using my 24-105 zoom, at 105. Moreover, I wanted to emphasize the fading sky light, so I stopped down 1/3 of a step. This made for a pretty dark foreground and ocean.

Cue the graduated neutral density technique -- I don't own the hardware necessary to put a graduated ND filter on my lens (quite cumbersome -- to say nothing of pricey), but Lightroom 2.0 has a technique that mimics the process. A typical ND filter had a graduation from grey to clear glass. Usually the greyest portion covers the brightest part of the photo -- typically they sky. With the sky now a bit darker, the photographer can get a picture with detail in both the sky and foreground -- nothing is "washed out".

I used Lightroom to apply a graduated filter to the image after the fact. This let me keep the darker sky and bring up the brightness of the ocean and foreground. I have to say, I'm pleased with the effect, but it is good to know that if I fail I can always wait for another glorious sunset. John Muir assures me that this grand show is eternal.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Trumpeters on the wing

More Trumpeter swans for me to go gaga over! These ones were at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary , a quiet green space close to Victoria BC.

I don't have one of the lovely long lenses so prized by bird photographers. I shot this with an old 75 - 300 inexpensive (but very light) Canon zoom lens. It is not as sharp as I would like, but still, this picture is not too bad considering both the lens and the photographer! Actually, this was more a combination of dumb luck and number of frames, because I had the camera off the tripod and was following these birds as they took off.

The details: 1/250th of a second at f8, 300 mm, with an ISO of 200. You can see some blurring if you view this photo at its original size. But, the effect of the light on wings is just too enticing to ignore. Sometimes I think sharpness and crisp focus are totally overrated!

Notice the lead and following Trumpeters. They are all white. These are adults. The mottled grey birds are juveniles. See how much you've learned about this species just by keeping up with my blog!

My friends Jan and Alan have engaged in a new twist on an old addiction -- Green Birding -- and they have invited me to join them. They are absolutely dead keen on birding and are experts at it. The twist is in seeing how many different birds they can find without generating carbon emissions (other than what comes naturally). This means undertaking a birding expedition completely by way of their own steam: Birding by bike, by foot, by kayak, etc.

Green Birding looks to be an up and coming trend, and with 94 species on their GB list to date, Jan and Alan are shooting stars in the Vancouver Island Green Birding community. It is lots of fun to doddle along on the bike, stopping frequently to look around. You get a good sense of an area's biogeography. Every little stream, copse of trees, or tangle of brambles can be prime environment for birds. A day spent biking and birding certainly lets me look at my surroundings with new eyes.

Swan Lake horizon

Monday, January 12, 2009

Grey Skies, Grey Seas

So far the month of January has been grey, grey, grey. But, as I recently found out, that is so much better than white, white, white! For several weeks at the end of December we in Victoria had snow and ice. It was not easy to get around. I even fell off my bike riding in the snow. Now the icy white stuff is gone, and for that I am happy, but the grey, just like in this photo, has descended.

This picture was taken on Friday, Jan 9, 2009 a few blocks from my house down at McNeil Bay. The view is across to Trial Island on the left, with the Olympic Mountains of Washington state in the background. There was a bit of clear sky and just a touch of warm golden light available on this otherwise very grey day. You can see the touch of gold on the water and across the mountain backdrop. Hopefully better weather will come our way soon and I'll get off to the surrounding hills for something a bit more cheery!

I used HDR (High Dynamic Range) for this shot. I wanted to pick up the detail in the ocean and keep the ridgeline of the Olympics in view across the back of the photo. HRD involves taking three or more pictures of the same scene, but at different exposures. These exposures are then blended in an application like Photoshop. This technique allows you to capture a wider range of brightness in the scene than can be recorded in one shot by the camera.

For example, in this photo I wanted to keep the detail in the mountains, while at the same time letting viewers catch a glimpse of the light and detail on the wavelets in the foreground. If I took a shot that accurately captured the foreground I would "blow out" the highlights over the mountains -- that part of the photo would just be a blast of white. If I exposed the mountain ridge correctly, the wavelets in the foreground would be almost black. So, like Goldilocks, I took one picture that was too "hot" (over exposed), one that was too cold (underexposed), and one that was just right (according to the camera). Then I blended them in Photoshop.

Our eyes are truly miraculous organs -- we can look at a scene and catch a huge range of light, seeing detail in both shadows and light. The camera just can't do that. I am getting used to seeing a scene in the field and thinking that it might make a good HDR. But the process in Photoshop is still a dark art as far as I'm concerned. It is just lucky when something turns out even a bit. I wonder if this is the case for others who create HDR shots?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My 52nd birthday: Jan 7, 2009

Birthdays can be a good time to take a close look at those things that make a person feel grand. And, since I believe people should get at least one wish on their birthday, I've done exactly that. For me it is quite simple: I have to be out in the hills, far from the madding crowd. It lets my spirit soar -- it always has.

What I get from an adventure in the hills and mountains is sheer joy -- even (especially!)if the day or the trip features inclement weather and hard going. And joy is, after all, what I think we all strive for. When speaking of his exploits on Mt. Everest and why he undertook such danger, Sir George Mallory said " We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for." A very sensible outlook if you ask me.

This picture is from one of my favourite mountain parks -- Mt. Revelstoke National Park, near my home town of Revelstoke, BC, Canada. I hiked and climbed in this park from my days as a teenager who often played hooky from school to spend time in the hills. I still try to get back for a look-see every year.

This shot, which is probably my all-time favourite picture, was taken with a Canon Digital Rebel -- the first version Canon brought out. The lens was the inexpensive kit lens that came with the camera. I couldn't love this shot more if Ansel Adams himself had taken it with the very best equipment money could buy.

The day, July 30, 2005, was perfection itself -- my husband Mike and I were out for a doddle and we decided to head up the Jade Lake Pass. The weather was balmy, a fresh breeze kept the bugs down, and we had this view all to ourselves.

The details: f/16 at 1/125 second with an 18 mm lens. ISO 100.

I plan on spending a lot more time in places like this -- hopefully making more pictures like this.

I think that Edward Abbey, that great anarchist of the American western desert summed it up best:"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit". I'm looking forward to another few years of searching out the bare necessities of life.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Trumpeter swans at Martindale Flats

These Trumpeter swans Cygnus buccinator are in the wetlands that form around Martindale Flats, on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria BC. Although we on southern Vancouver Island see these swans regularly over the winter, they are something of a miracle. In the 1930's there were only 77 Trumpeter swans breeding in Canada and only 50 in the US. An intensive international effort that included transplanting swans, breeding in captivity, and the protection of these swans in endangered species legislation, has resulted in returning these birds from the very brink of extinction. Although their range is considerably reduced, there are over 16,000 Trumpeters in the wilds of Canada and the US. They are no longer considered endangered.

Back at the turn of the 20th century we humans hunted these birds relentlessly. Unfortunately, we are still trouble-causers for this species. Habitat loss from expanding human population pressure is the biggest threat to Trumpeter swans. Hopefully we won't let the survival situation of these creatures deteriorate. Certainly, the world is a far better place with Trumpeter swans in it!

I took this picture on Jan 1, 2009. It was at the end of a day of birding. The sky was starting to get dark, so I had to use a higher ISO setting on the camera (the swans wouldn't sit still for a longer exposure!). A higher ISO gives a bit of a rough, grainy texture to the shot that I think works well with this image -- kind of gives it a "homespun" feel.

I used Adobe Lightroom to increase the contrast, remove a bit of the grainy "noise" introduced by the high ISO, remove a bluish colour cast, increase the exposure slightly, and saturate the non-blue colours a bit. Since I had Photoshop open, I popped the cropped image in and gave it a border.

1/60th second at f/8 with a 50 mm Canon 1.8 lens. ISO speed is 800. The metering type is "partial", with the metering centred on the swans.

This is not a "perfect" technical shot in any way. The lens is not the best one I could have used -- just the only one I had with me. I could have done a custom white balance in the field but I didn't because it would have taken longer than I had. No, the only thing that this image did well, as far as I am concerned, was capture a perfect moment at the end of a fine day.

More info on the Trumpeter: Hinterland Who's Who - Trumpeter Swan.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Birding with buddies: Jan 1, 2009

The bright red berries of winterThe first day of 2009 dawned cold, a bit sleety, and not fit for a good bike ride. As an alternate a birding expedition was arranged -- Jan and Alan collected Mike and I for a walk through Panama Flats, Viaduct Flats, James Island pier, Island View Beach and Martindale flats .

I selected this picture to be the lead shot for my 2009 photo-journal for a few reasons: First, the picture was taken on New Year's Day -- almost the first picture of the year; Second, it has a sense of expectation about it -- full of possibilities.

These berries jumped out on a day that was grey and cloudy. With a lot of snow on the ground, they were a flash of colour that could not be ignored. They are from a Hawthorn tree. This small tree is not native to Victoria, but adds colour in both the winter (with berries) and in spring (with pink-red blossoms).

As the day was grubby, I was out with my "dirty day" lens -- my 50 mm 1.8 Canon. Not that this lens is particularly easy to use, but it is quite sharp, and I've found it versatile enough for some fairly close shots, as well as "portrait" style landscapes.

This image lets me see how each berry is enrobed in water. The temp was dropping, so I wouldn't be surprised if this covering didn't become a layer of ice.

I particularly like the drops of water hanging from some of the berries. They give the image a sense of expectation, like a stop-action. Also, some of these berries will, if all goes well, become new Hawthorn trees in the fullness of time. And, in the spring these trees will produce lovely blossoms, and then more berries, and so the circle goes. Fitting, don't you think, for the first day of a new year?