Glacier lily season

Flowers!!! Nuff said really. Glacier lilies are blooming nicely, plus we managed to find some fairyslipper orchids, lots of wild ginger, a patch of very pale pinesap, and even some trillium still in bloom, complete with a well-camouflaged crab spider. My favourite time of year!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we saw some wildflowers on our hike to Goat Mountain (WA). Of course, not just any old wildflowers, we saw glacier lilies! And I’d be lying if it was purely a coincidence. I was so happy to be photographically spoiled for choice with the glacier lilies again, though as usual I still found it hard to come up with really good compositions. The challenge is finding a composition while staying on the trail, or at least on ground that is suitable to step onto. The meadows in the early season are probably at their most fragile and so should definitely not be walked on.

The most surprising photo in this batch, though, is the one of the trillium. At the time I took the photograph, I had barely noticed the fly, let alone the crab spider waiting on one of the petals. It was only later at home when I zoomed in to check focus that I saw the spider, it blends in so well! And I have to say I really like the result: the crab spider has adopted its characteristic menacing pose, ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey such as this small fly. The fact that the spider is on the white petal and the fly on the green leaf just makes the photo even more effective. Sometimes you get lucky!


A quartet of peaks from yesterday’s hike to Goat Mountain: Shuksan, Mt Baker (Kulshan) peeking above Mt Herman, Mt Sefrit, and the slopes below Goat Mountain’s west summit. I think we’ll be back to try for the summit once the snow has melted.

Goat Mountain in Washington jumped to the top of our hike list earlier this year when we read that its south-facing slopes often melted out by early June, resulting in easy access above the treeline and, of course, the first bloom of alpine wildflowers. And so it was indeed the first week of June that saw us heading across the border and ascending the (remarkably well-graded) switchbacks up the mountain. Despite the considerable elevation gain, the hike was not difficult and we made it to a great lookout with superb views of the mountain peaks to the south.

We knew Mounts Shuksan and Baker, but new to us were the minarets of Mount Sefrit, the closest of the peaks. Behind us, the slopes up to the summit of Goat itself were snowy enough in the wrong places to indicate that this viewpoint was as far as we needed to go. The flowers were good, the views were good, our intentions to return before the end of the hiking season were also good; alas the light was not so good, so the images are a bit dull. But that’s just a photographer’s excuse for coming back on a better day.

The Perks of a Window Seat

Our flight back from the UK (back in May…) left us speechless at some of the views we had from the aircraft, so much so I decided to opt for a series of daily photos for a Window-Seat Week.

Perks of a Window Seat I: mountains and glaciers on the eastern coast of Greenland. After a couple of hours ignoring the sea of clouds outside, our attention was caught by the sudden appearance of blue ocean moments before flying over the Greenland coast. The incredible sight of the coastal sea ice, jagged mountains, and enormous calving glaciers flowing off the ice sheet had us glued to the window. Gradually the peaks were swallowed up by the vast expanse of snow and ice and we returned to our books.

Perks of a Window Seat II: flying over the Rockies in Banff National Park reminds me that it’s been too long since we last visited. This view shows the Icefields Parkway near Mistaya Lake and the Waterfowl Lakes to the north, the Saskatchewan Crossing area near the top left corner. I always enjoy seeing places I’ve been from the air!

Perks of a Window Seat III: flying back to Vancouver last week, our view was hazy from forest fires in Alberta but we could still make out the mountains and it made the puffy cumulus clouds really stand out.

Perks of a Window Seat IV: descending into YVR was the most fun part of our flight, with the opportunity for close-up views of some very familiar mountains. First up was Mt Judge Howay, a well-known, distinctive double-peaked mountain visible from many places in the Lower Mainland. Beautiful in its own right but the layer of clouds clinging to the northwest ridge of Mt Kranrod add extra gorgeousness.

Perks of a Window Seat V: it was hazy as we approached YVR but we could still make out some of the jagged peaks of the Coast Mountains. The Five Fingers group is most prominent with Mount Garibaldi showing up ever so faintly in the distance.

Perks of a Window Seat VI: perhaps my favourite photo of this series, partly because it’s such a familiar peak but also because I’ve stood on its summit. It is, of course, Golden Ears peak itself, along with the jagged Edge Peak and Blanchard Needle (Alouette Mountain is right at the bottom).

And thus concludes my Window-Seat Week 🙂

Visions of a green and pleasant land

Visions of a green and pleasant land: the River Itchen near Winchester, beech woods in the New Forest, a thatched cottage, meadows along the River Blackwater near Farnborough, a friendly Shetland pony, red deer and an ancient oak in Windsor Great Park, fields from the flight into Heathrow, donkeys by the roadside in the New Forest, and woodland along Ober Water.

Vancouver is my home but it’s not where I’m from. And so every couple of years we return to the UK to visit family, often dragging them outside to explore old and new places.

  1. We walked into Winchester from St Catherine’s Hill, a few kilometres south of the city, following the River Itchen all the way. Much of the river is calm and peaceful, especially this stretch which was as calm as the proverbial mill pond. It looked just like a postcard!
  2. I don’t miss many things about the UK, but I grew up playing in gorgeous beech woods, perhaps the complete opposite of the dark, dense west-coast rainforest. It’s open, light and airy, with long sight-lines and soft leaf litter to wade through. Plus the beech trees themselves are beautiful. The trees in this photo are young but it captures the essence of beech woods.
  3. The New Forest is home to many thatched cottages, including this one at Furzey Gardens (which, by the way, does wonderful cream teas!). It’s a little different in that it’s a plain brick cottage; many of the thatched cottages are either whitewashed or have tudor-style beams visible. But it still looks idyllic, especially looking out on to such a lovely garden.
  4. The River Blackwater winds its way through industrial parks and housing estates near the triple boundary where Hampshire, Berkshire, and Surrey meet, but it preserves a lovely little bit of classic English nature with open meadows, small copses of trees, and hedgerows. As I ran along the river here I startled a grey heron into flight, which in turn made me jump out of my skin!
  5. In addition to the meadows, there’s also some pasture, and this little Shetland pony was one of half-a-dozen friendly ponies in a small field that wandered up to the fence to greet me.
  6. Windsor Great Park is a vast sprawling area of open ground and forest (well, copse more than true forest), owned by the British royal family. The long walk is a straight road (closed to traffic thankfully) that leads to the gates of Windsor castle, and along the way we encountered the royal herd of red deer. At that time there were quite distant, but on our return leg, we ended up much closer and were able to get a good look at the resting herd. The massive oak tree was one of dozens lining the avenues, and I included it to complete the sense of Englishness about the scene.
  7. England’s green and pleasant land from the air, a patchwork of small fields, mostly green but increasingly yellow with the extensive planting of rapeseed oil. This view also included two villages a couple of miles apart, and those puffy white cumulus clouds so common on fine days.
  8. A donkey mare and her foal – what a treat! The New Forest is unique in the UK in that it grants commoners’ rights to the residents, which means that livestock (ponies, cattle, and donkeys) can roam freely across the forest. The Forest is best known for its ponies, but this day the donkeys definitely stole the show.
  9. New Forest streams and rivers tend to be stained with tannins from the peaty soil, although it’s hard to see in this photo of Ober Water. It’s another typical Forest scene though, with open deciduous woodland that is a delight to wander through.

Alas, one thing we weren’t able to sample while back in the UK was a good pub… Next time?

Flowers of Lighthouse Park

It’s floral Friday again and here’s what I’ve been snapping this week: death camas, rattlesnake plantain leaves, Nootka rose with Saskatoon berry and climbing honeysuckle, a nice patch of western starflower, harvest brodiaea in bud, and a pollen-coated puddle.

There’s not much for me to add here, I think most of the images are fairly self-explanatory. Catching flowers in their prime is simply a delight, and Lighthouse Park is a good place to see a few species that aren’t very common near Vancouver. I’ve only seen death camas (always so dramatic-sounding, and yet so well-named) in the Lower Mainland in Lighthouse Park, on Elk Mountain, or on a mossy cliff along the Squamish Valley road. It’s more common on southern Vancouver Island and the Southern Gulf Island, as well as in the Okanagan and the Rockies.

The other rarity is harvest brodiaea (#5) a beautiful purple bloom that grows in really thin soil and only appears when the soil is completely dry. Here we caught it still in bud. I’m surprised it survives (and maybe it won’t in the long term) as the only places it grows in the park are right next to the trail, and not many people are careful about where they put their feet.

I’ve made many attempts at photographing rattlesnake plantain (#2), almost all of which have failed miserably. This time I had only the leaves to photograph, and I really liked the starry pattern they created. Continuing with the star theme, I couldn’t resist this lovely patch of western starflower (#4), as it made a welcome change from trying to get a single flower in focus!

In the final photograph (#6), I captured a puddle at UBC covered in yellow pine pollen after a recent downpour. That in itself was of sufficient interest to me to take its picture, but I also like the fact that the puddle has a quartet of pine cones that complete the story of how pines come to be.

That leaves the most colourful of the set, the third photo showing a photogenic combination of Nootka rose, Saskatoon berry, and honeysuckle. the colours and the arrangement of the flowers was perfectly set up, and right next to the trail. All I had to do was notice them.

Earning the view

Earning the patio view at the Sea to Sky Gondola by counting the trail markers. A great way to spend a sunny afternoon – this hike has grown on me in recent years, despite the terrible condition of the trail. I would love to see the Sea to Sky Gondola folks put some money and effort into upgrading the trail. The km markers are a welcome addition but that doesn’t stop inexperienced hikers from underestimating what’s involved.

Well I thought I was behind before, but now I am a whole season behind! After hiking this trail with friends the previous month in somewhat variable weather, it felt good to take advantage of a sunnier day for a return visit.

The patio at the lodge has a great view in several directions, including this view over towards the still-snowy Tantalus Range. I liked how the cable follows the same angle as the land, kind of hiding it. Then there’s the gondola car itself, whose occupants may be enjoying exactly the same view as the photographer, perhaps allowing the viewer to imagine riding the gondola themself, and taking in that scene.

The kilometre-markers are a relatively recent addition, and I think they’re invaluable for gauging progress. I’d also like to see them labelled with the elevation too so hikers can get a sense of how high they’re climbing. Marking the quarter- and half-way marks is simultaneously useful and demoralizing as it always feels that you’ve made more progress than that! The directional signage has also improved drastically since we first hiked this trail back in 2014. If only the trail itself had seen some maintenance during that time…

Howe Sound on a sunny day is irresistible, still looking blue at this time of year before the main snowmelt gets underway when the silt in the Squamish River turns the sound a milky green. I’ve always liked the wiggle in the road from this vantage point too.

Upper Shannon Falls may not be as impressive as the lower counterpart, but they’re still pretty impressive. The smooth rocks by the creek make for a good resting spot, though they must be treated with care as they can be slick.

The bluffs just beyond the half-way point are a great spot for lunch or at least a snack with views of the Chief to the north. Just watch out for the chipmunks and Steller’s and Canada jays as they are all too quick to scrounge for food. Alas too many people have fed them over the years, which has made them all far too bold for their own good.

Of course, on a clear day, the crowds flocked to the suspension bridge for photo-ops, so who could resist making a photo-op of those photo-ops? You have to admit, it’s quite the view…

Big Lonely Doug

A tribute to Big Lonely Doug, Canada’s second-largest Douglas fir at nearly 70 m high. I had mixed feelings about this visit: on the one hand it was amazing to see such an impressive tree so clearly, and a treat to be able to get a closer look, but to see it standing alone in a huge clearcut was very sobering. 🌲

It occurred to me that celebrating these few remaining big trees is like getting a coupon for money off. Sure, it’s great to think about what you’re saving but look at what you have to spend in order to “save” that.
Lastly to get there requires driving over one of the scariest bridges I’ve ever crossed. The bridge must be 30-40 m above the raging Gordon River, and only has an ankle-high guard rail… 😬

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A tribute to Big Lonely Doug, Canada's second-largest Douglas fir at nearly 70 m high. I had mixed feelings about this visit: on the one hand it was amazing to see such an impressive tree so clearly, and a treat to be able to get a closer look, but to see it standing alone in a huge clearcut was very sobering. 🌲 It occurred to me that celebrating these few remaining big trees is like getting a coupon for money off. Sure, it's great to think about what you're saving but look at what you have to spend in order to "save" that. Lastly to get there requires driving over one of the scariest bridges I've ever crossed. The bridge must be 30-40 m above the raging Gordon River, and only has an ankle-high guard rail… 😬 #biglonelydoug #douglasfir #vancouverisland #portrenfrew #ancientforestalliance #clearcut #oldgrowth #temperaterainforest #beautifulbc #logging #bigtreetuesday

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From the road it’s impossible to judge just how large this tree is. We weren’t sure whether we wanted to risk picking our way through an old clearcut on such a wet day, knowing just what a battle it can be. But we saw other people had made it down to its base, and we decided to try as well. It turned out to be easier than we expected (though we still took a wrong turn and had to find a way over some very slick logs), and within a few minutes we were standing beneath Big Lonely Doug.

It’s well named; both Big and Lonely. And yet it was still hard to appreciate just how tall it was as the lowest branches must be nearly 50 m off the ground. We craned our necks upwards, the rain dotting our glasses and camera lenses, and following the length of the trunk up and down to try and absorb its size.

With mixed feelings we walked back to the car and drove back down the road to the Avatar Grove. As I mentioned above, the road crossed the stunning chasm of the Gordon River, a rugged, wild river if ever there was one! And, okay, maybe I exaggerated about the diminutive height of the guard rails: they actually came up to the middle of my calves….


A plethora of pink fawn lilies for fawn-lily Friday! So happy to find some as they’re very rare on the mainland. A big thank you to bustapbj for pointing me in the right direction 👍👍

Pink fawn lilies (Erythronium revolutum) are very rare on the mainland: I’ve seen only a single one in Lighthouse Park, a few on the UBC campus, and a handful more at the UBC Botanical Garden. So I was really looking forward to our visit to Vancouver Island, and to the Port Renfrew area in particular, where I’d seen a couple of photos showing pink fawn lilies at the base of a large tree. One of my Instagram friends let me know of another site where I might find them, which we drove past multiple times and every time I couldn’t see where they might be hiding.

But Sombrio Beach had a surprise waiting for me with a small area of pink lilies, some of which – alas – had been trampled carelessly. I picked my way through the tangle of salmonberry to find a nice spot with a few flowers in a photogenic arrangement. If those were all I’d seen I’d have to admit that they would do, I guess, though I was still thinking about trying to find this other spot.

On our last day, as we were driving back to take the ferry home, we drove past the “secret” spot one last time and I decided that it was now or never. Leaving Maria in the car with her book, I ran off in one direction. Nothing. I ran back past the car, saw a short trail disappear into the forest and took it. The environment looked ideal, but the only flowers were trillium (which, of course, I did stop to photograph as well…) and false lily-of-the-valley (which I did not, on account of not seeing a good composition).

Returning to the road, I crossed over and followed a different trail down a small embankment into what I thought would be a scruffy area (if not outright dumping ground as it was next to the road). I could not have been more wrong. Here, in all their glory, was the biggest patch of pink fawn lilies I had ever seen. It was stunning! Knowing we were short of time, I hurriedly snapped a few photos, not really taking the time to find good compositions. I ran back to the car and breathlessly told Maria all about them, and decided we had enough time for me to drive the 100 m back to that spot and show her. It was worth it 🙂

So, many thanks Shane – you were absolutely 100% right!

On a final, completely unrelated note, the “revolutum” part of their name instantly brings to mind the Queensryche album “Operation: Mindcrime” and, in particular, the song “Revolution Calling” which I will forever more think of as “Revolutum Calling”. Which they will do every spring.

Wild flowers, wild life

A combined wildflower-Wednesday and wildlife-Wednesday post: cheery white fawn lilies, waving in the wind, and a sea lion lolling in the waves.

Mid-April is usually a good time to see the white fawn lilies in Lighthouse Park. Being early spring, the weather can be somewhat unpredictable and so I found myself in the park on a blustery grey day, threatening rain. My first port of call was actually to head out of the park and over to Kloochman Park, a 5 minute walk away, where I had been informed I would also find fawn lilies. Sure enough (see the third photo) I found a few; I particularly liked this one in a patch of licorice ferns, and deliberately left the colours on the cool side to emphasize the feeling of the day. I found more lilies out on the bluffs, most of which were already fading and none of which were easy to photograph.

Of more interest, though, were the sea lions playing in the waters between me and the Grebe Islets a few hundred metres or so off shore. Occasionally one or two would swim close to the cliffs below my feet, rolling in the choppy water and diving under the moment they saw me. I readied the camera and waited for their next pass and caught one of them with its head and upper body clearly visible, as in the fourth photo. And yes, I can say that I included the branches of the arbutus tree for interest and scale, as well as to provide a sense of my having to be a little surreptitious in my photography (as all wildlife photographers surely must be!).

As I walked back into Lighthouse Park and down to Point Atkinson, the rain did indeed catch up with me. I pulled up my hood and sought temporary shelter near the washrooms, before shrugging and heading out onto the rocks anyway. The wind blew in strong off the sea, and I found myself alone out on the rocks braving the weather. The Vancouver skyline was invisible. It looked like a passing shower, though, and I stayed put as the rain stopped and the sun (and the city) began to make an appearance. Now with bright sunshine, I could feel justified in heading over to where I knew I would find the best lily display.

When I reached the point, the sun was out in full force, shining with that post-storm intensity. The wind was still blowing hard, and while I now had good light, the flowers were constantly in motion. Still, I put the camera on the tripod and sized up a few compositions. My patience was rewarded with occasional calm moments during which I quickly set my focus and took the photo. Even when not totally calm, there was enough light to keep my shutter speed high enough to stop the worst of the motion. And so I managed to capture the first two photos: the first shows the underside of the flower as it was blown backwards in the wind, while the second is a beautiful trio of perfect flowers with just the right amount of curl to their petals.

Flowers and sea lions makes a pretty good day to me.

Misty Mountain Monday

Misty mountain Monday – views of the Stawamus Chief, showers in the Squamish Valley, and a suggestion of snowy peaks hidden in the clouds across Howe Sound.

Sometimes you have to get out hiking whatever the weather, and on this day we had plenty of weather! Winter wasn’t done with us yet, and we ended the day walking in wet snow. Still, swirly clouds make for interesting views along the way.

The first photo is overlooking the gap between the first and second peaks of the Chief, where we can see the Squamish Valley beyond and the way up towards Whistler. I snapped it from the gondola on our descent, and I like how the view is sandwiched between the clouds.

The second photo shows a similar view, though just looking down into the valley: I like how the light was catching the two parallel roads pointing northwards up the valley, and how the view becomes obscured by the rain showers.

The third photo was taken from the patio at the upper gondola station and at first glance might not appear to be very striking. But I really like the subtlety of the snowy mountain barely visible through the clouds. I tried to make it noticeable but not too obvious in the processing and I’m not sure it entirely worked. However, I still like it because it reminds me of the day and how there wasn’t even this much of a view when we first reached the top!