Near and far

Near and far – Mt Baker peeks over the ridge of De Pencier bluffs.

While the weather this weekend was good enough to take this photo, this was actually taken a week ago. Yesterday’s good weather caught us off-guard and we had made other plans for the middle of the day…

I noticed this alignment of the bluffs and Mt Baker on our way up to the First Peak of Mt Seymour and thought I’d leave it until the descent when the light on Mt Baker would be a little warmer in order to emphasize the distance between the subjects. I was quite pleased to see that I was right and, with a little help from the polarizer to deepen the blue sky, I got pretty exactly the shot I was after. Ideally I would have preferred to have the longer lens to really compress the scene and isolate the two but I’m stuck with the reach of the 18-55 mm for now until I upgrade.

I really like how the nearby bluffs are crystal clear with the snow retaining a slight blue cast while Mt Baker is distinctly yellower and softer. I did adjust the colour of the deep shadow of the bluffs, warming it up slightly to render it more neutral and make it less distracting; winter shadows in the snow tend to be very blue and I didn’t want that to compete with the rest of the photo.

What surprised me most of all is that I have walked this route a couple of dozen times and don’t remember ever seeing that particular view before. Now I have to go back and look through all my Mt Seymour photos to check!

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City sights on a sunny Sunday

City sights on a snowy sunny Sunday – mountains, birds, the sea, the city, snow, ice, and signs of spring. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to believe that I live here.

Winter came to the city last night, and to everyone’s surprise, the clouds parted and we were treated to a gorgeous sunny day. Maria and I wandered out for some fresh air, heading down to the beach before grabbing a hot chocolate and walking home for lunch. And a lovely picturesque walk it was too!

1) The beach between Tatlow Park and Trafalgar Street has a nice tidal shelf with a few little raised rocks. This seagull was perfectly placed with the Vancouver skyline behind it, with the peaks of Mt Seymour and the Fannin Range forming the horizon.

2) I love this view of Kits Beach, especially when the tide is out a little like today. The ripples of the incoming waves add some lovely foreground interest – spot the seagull down on the beach too!

3) A couple of the streets offer a great view of Crown Mountain. I liked this one showing the street scene with the mountain as an imposing backdrop. The original version of this image (in a vertical 3:2 ratio) looks much better though. The square crop loses too much for my liking, and I wouldn’t post it alone in this format, but it works well enough for a multi-photo post.

4) I found some witch hazel still in bloom! Yay! This tree is the same one I photographed last year, and it’s a lovely hybrid tree with a mixture of yellow and red “petals”. Most are just one colour of the other, but this one blends the two into its own little spectrum.

5) I was hoping to find a scene like this: a dot of last night’s snow perched on top of some flowers. And with the blue sky behind, how could I resist?

6) Possibly the closest witch hazel tree to home, I hadn’t noticed this one before but it was a gorgeous pure yellow complete with a little icy hat!

Signs of autumn

Spring may be within sight, and I love the spring for the new growth. But I know many people favour autumn for its colour and feel. So this Thursday, let’s throw it back to a few autumnal shots from a couple of years ago.

1. Mushroom season is here – shaggy ink caps, I think.

Mushroom season is here – shaggy ink caps, I think #mushroom #fungi #Vancouver

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I had just left work and was heading to the bus stop when I spotted a couple of mushrooms poking up through the grass. Then another, and more, and then this group which stopped me in my tracks. I took the photo with my phone, and thought about repeating it with one of our SLRs. Alas, not two days later the city had been past with their mowers and cut down every single mushroom on the verge. Mushroom massacre! So I’m really glad I took that chance and grabbed the photo when I did.

2. A sunny thing happened on the way to the Kits Farmer’s Market

It’s always nice when the sun makes an appearance in Vancouver, and today the sun lit up the yellowing leaves on the catalpa trees beautifully. I don’t like catalpas as a rule; there’s something about the colour of the leaves, and the fact that they’re big and floppy just puts me off, plus they produce these sticky slippery bean-pods after the leaves drop. But there’s a short time when a bit of sun catches them just right and all is forgiven.

3. A big big-leaf maple leaf

A big big-leaf maple leaf

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By contrast, I love big-leaf maples! The size of their leaves is incredible and the trees grow all manner of moss and licorice ferns. When my parents visited Vancouver a few years ago, I found a large leaf and handed to my mum who took it home and put it in a frame on the wall 🙂

However, not everyone shares my appreciation of these trees. They’re not popular near buildings as they can rot from the inside and collapse or fall without warning. Water can collect in the boughs where it can cause large branches to rot and fall off. I’ve heard the term “widow-maker” in conversations about big-leaf maples… But without those constraints, I think they’re awesome trees. And the leaves can’t be beaten. I mean, just look at the size of that one!

4. A 21st century Halloween horror!

A 21st century Halloween horror! #halloween #pumpkin #jackolantern

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Aaaaaarrrrrggghhh!!!! What a nightmare, eh? I spotted this pumpkin on the doorstep of an apartment building in Mt Pleasant and couldn’t resist…

Icy blue

This week’s Throwback-Thursday theme is ice. Perhaps my favourite topics in physical geography is glaciology (volcanoes and meteorology come a close second) and so it was with some delight that I realized I could get close-up views of glacier while hiking in BC and Alberta. I had visited Chamonix for a conference (wow – 20 years ago now!) and had enjoyed seeing the snowy icecap of Mt Blanc and the Mer de Glace, but they were still quite distant. What I wanted was to be able to touch that blue ice, without necessarily getting into mountaineering. I found two ways to do just that.

1. Scale. A lucky shot, these 2 photographers were packing up as we got to this viewpoint. Taken in Aug 2009.

Our third trek into the Canadian Rockies and our second time stopping at the Athabasca Glacier. In 2008 we’d taken the coach tour out onto the glacier, which gave us the chance to step out onto the ice and even sample the delicious cold meltwater. A year later we spent a few days exploring along the Icefields Parkway, stopping off at the Athabasca Glacier once again, this time just walking to the toe past all the signposts marking its position in recent years.

As we turned to leave, I noticed these two just beginning to walk away after taking a few photos. I changed to the telephoto lens and quickly captured them against the freshly-revealed ice in the background where a chunk had calved off, leaving behind a sheer blue cliff. It remains once of my favourite glacier photos because it lends scale to the immensity of the ice.

2. Wedge Glacier, getting further away each year.

By the end of our first summer of hiking in Vancouver, we had improved our strength and stamina sufficiently to tackle the steep hike to Wedgemount Lake, the site of perhaps the most accessible glacier in the area. That day, our turnaround point was the campground next to the lake, though I now wish we had continued on to the glacier on account of it being much closer than it was in the above photo (taken in 2015). I never expected to witness glacial retreat in my lifetime let alone in just a decade of hiking in BC. I was shocked when I revisited in 2013, and even more so in 2015 where the combined effect of a mild, low-snow winter and a warm dry summer had led to a huge retreat in the Wedge Glacier.

Where only 2 years previously the glacier terminated in an ice cave and a small pool, now the glacier’s snout ended in a much larger lake – indeed, a new glacial lake forming. Still impressive to be so close to this river of ice, but sobering to witness its retreat.

3. Wedgemount Lake, always a stunning place to be.

Lastly, a wider shot of Wedgemount Lake looking towards the Wedge Glacier, again taken in 2015. On our first hike here in 2005, the glacier extended to the obvious rocky outcrop visible near the end of the glacier. In the 1970s, the glacier calved into the lake itself! And that colour – always such a treat to see.

For sure the lake and its surroundings look spectacular on a sunny day such as this. But one of my favourite visits was on a misty, cloudy day in 2011, the rocks dusted in their first skiff of snow. The lake glowed a sage green being the only colour in an otherwise mostly-monochrome scene. A beautiful sight! The other highlight of that day was seeing a mountain goat. 🙂

Superb owls

Today is Superb Owl Sunday so here’s a superb owl from 2011, the last time the snowy owls came to visit.

It was a couple of years ago that I first read someone’s post pointing out that the hashtags for “Superbowl Sunday” and “Superb Owl Sunday” were identical. I much prefer superb owls to the Superbowl, so I decided to follow suit and post a “superb owl” photo. I missed it last year but decided to post another today to mark the occasion. I don’t have many owl photos to choose from so I went back to December 2011 when the snowy owls spent the winter in Boundary Bay.

Looking back at those photos, I am appalled at the behaviour of some of the photographers, marching over the marshes to get closer to those birds that had perched further away from the dyke. That was despite warning signs to stay away from them. Some of the owls were startled into flight, which is goes against everything you ever learn about being a wildlife photographer. I guess they felt they had to justify the thousands of dollars’-worth of gear they’d bought somehow.

I’m also struck at how fortunate we were to have such good weather for photography, the golden afternoon sunlight on the reeds and grasses making for a beautiful warm contrast to the stark white of the owl. The only disadvantage with that was that the owls were (understandably) squinting in the bright sun so we couldn’t quite get to see those gorgeous yellow eyes. But that’s a small price to pay really to witness these beautiful birds in their natural (if not entirely native) habitat.

The photo was shot at full telephoto (200 mm = 300 mm 35-mm equivalent) and then quite heavily cropped. Even a lowly 12 Mp camera has enough pixels to crop quite closely for Instagram purposes 🙂 I must confess I would like a 20+ Mp sensor with a longer lens for wildlife photography but it’s hard to justify that kind of expense for a setup that would see only occasional use. Maybe one day…

Chasing spring

We may be subject to another 6 weeks of winter (you know, because today is a cross-quarter day which means it’s 6 weeks to the equinox) but I’m dreaming of seeing these little flowers emerge again.

Yes, today is Groundhog day whereby we get to contemplate the weather-forecasting abilities of a rodent that lives underground. It’s also a cross-quarter day – half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox – which means that tomorrow we’re more than half-way through the winter season and looking forward to the official start of spring.

Of course, plants and animals don’t know that we humans have divided the year in this way, and they show their recognition of the lengthening days and warmer (!) weather by beginning to grow new shoots or singing the first songs of courtship and staking territorial claims. One aspect of hiking that I particularly enjoy is how we follow spring up to higher elevations through the season. Beginning at sea level with the first flowers in the city – I always look forward to seeing witch hazel bloom in January – before moving on to the forest flowers that bloom in April (yes, even the skunk cabbage), and up to the alpine flowers from June onwards.

My favourite (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before) is the glacier lily and I really like trying to catch the very first wave of these in bloom. For me, they signify the beginning of the best part of the hiking season: the opening up of the alpine areas and witnessing the last gasp of winter at those high elevations.

Last year our timing was perfect; the road up to Blackwall Peak in Manning Park opened up the weekend we went there to hike another trail. Unable to resist, we walked the short Paintbrush Trail (you may recognize the above flowers in that post too) where the glacier lilies were only just beginning to bloom, the snow barely melted from around them. It was glorious. And with so many flowers so close to the trail, I could take my pick of photo opportunities. We left with many photos, dirty wet knees, and cold wet feet. A perfect day, in its own way.

Getting these photos is hard: the flowers are only a few inches tall at this early stage which means getting down on hands and knees. A tilting screen makes a big difference but it’s still easier to look through a viewfinder (and usually more stable, unless the camera is on a tripod – which is almost never the case for us). It helps that the main camera we were using (the Nikon D3200 with the kit lens) is able to focus at quite close distances even at full zoom. Coupled with 24 million pixels, it becomes possible to capture some tiny details on these flowers even without a macro lens. Then it’s a matter of finding the right flower with just the right shape, with just the right amount of water beading on it…

Full moon shining

The nearly-full moon shines through the clouds above Cox Bay beach on New Year’s Eve. Hoping for clear skies next week to see the full moon, and maybe the lunar eclipse too – if I can wake up early enough…

Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was saying I don’t take many photos of the moon these days? Well, technically this isn’t a moon photo; it’s a cloud photo with the moon merely providing the light. I really like the crepuscular rays from the moonlight shining through gaps in the clouds, as well as the colourful iridescence. It almost looks like a photo of a distant nebula out in the Galaxy…

The weather forecast doesn’t look good for the full moon next week, but if it’s clear then I might try and drag myself out to see the early-morning lunar eclipse. I’d love to catch the moonrise like last year but there’s this thing called “work” that prevents that from happening this year. It’s about time I tried another timelapse though…