Tag Archives: nature

Wanting Winter

Here in Ontario, we’ve gone from the deep freeze of minus 40 Celsius to plus 5 Celsius. All in about a week. This is actually the second deep freeze & thaw we’ve been through in about a month. Yuck. Please, please, please…. give me winter back!

I love winter. I love snow. I love cold. I don’t mind if it’s minus 40 Celsius. As long as my car starts when I leave work at the end of the day. And well, if it doesn’t. I’ll manage. It’s just an inconvenience.

We’re supposed to have temperatures in the positives for the next few days. Yuck again. I’m cheering for minus something. Actually, another great flash-freeze would be fantastic for our pond! My hubby groomed it into a fantastic outdoor skating complex. 🙂 Now it looks like a really shallow swimming pool. 😦 A good flash-freeze would freeze all that water and produce a fabulous ice surface. Here’s hoping.

Here’s what our pond looks like when the temperatures cross into the pluses in winter. It looks kinda pretty here. But believe me, it’s a pile of slush right now.

Snow is pretty. I want pretty. Again. I know the cold weather will come back. I just hope it lasts until March, like it’s supposed to.

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Filed under Creative Photography, Digital Photography, Landscape, Winter

On Display – Photo of the Week

Finally a chance to post some images from my bird photography outing a few weekends ago. We came across this really cooperative and response male Red-winged Blackbird. He had a female on a nest nearby and came to let us know. We were at the side of the road at a marsh and he clearly wanted to make sure we got the message. It was a windy day, but luckily he was down low, in the cattails, which made it far easier to focus on him.

Click on the thumbnail below to see 44th Parallel Photography’s Photo of the Week.

22 June 2013

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Filed under Digital Photography, Nature, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Wildlife Photography

Photographing Moose In Algonquin Park

Last week I made the 3 hour drive from my home near Westport, Ontario up to Algonquin Park. The park is part of the Ontario provincial park system and is often referred to as the ‘jewel of Ontario’. And a jewel it is. Despite being only a few hour drive from two of Ontario’s biggest cities, Toronto and Ottawa, the park is brimming with wildlife. Bear, Eastern Wolf, Fox, White-tailed Deer, Beaver, Pine Marten and a whole host of other animals are abundant in the park. As with most wildlife, a glimpse of some of these may be rare because many of these animals are secretive and avoid humans. But for the persistent who are willing to get out on the trails in the early morning, you may be treated to some great wildlife viewing.

Algonquin Park has many ponds, lakes, marshes and bogs, making it an ideal place for moose.

Algonquin Park has many ponds, lakes, marshes and bogs, making it an ideal place for moose.

One of the things Algonquin is known for is its moose. The many bogs and marshes within its boundaries provide ample habitat for a healthy moose population. Spring and fall are the best times to visit the park to see moose.  So I packed my camera gear in my little Toyota Yaris and headed for the park. This trip was to be a brief one – less than 48 hours for a round trip – but I had high hopes for making some great moose photos.

Moose love to graze on sodium-rich aquatic plants, which provide much-needed salt in their diet.

Moose love to graze on sodium-rich aquatic plants, which provide much-needed salt in their diet.

I wasn’t disappointed. I went into the park for a few hours in the evening and saw one moose, a young bull happily grazing at the side of the road on some lush grass. He didn’t seem bothered by my presence and so I had time to get a few good shots until someone else pulled up in their truck and rather than hanging back quietly to rattle off some frames, decided to walk toward the moose to get a closer shot. That’s never a good idea with moose – some are pretty mellow, but some aren’t and so you need to keep your distance. You certainly wouldn’t be doing what this guy did, during the fall rut when males are charged full of hormones and out searching for females to mate with.

With lots of marshes along Hwy 60, there's lots of moose habitat right along the main road.

With lots of marshes along Hwy 60, there’s lots of moose habitat right along the main road.

It was starting to get a bit too dark for good photos, so I headed back to my motel room for a good nights sleep and an early return to the park the next morning. I arrived at the park to buy my day permit at 5:45 am. It was light by then, but not bright, so still a bit challenging in terms of light levels for my 600 mm lens. I shoot with a Nikon D200, which I love. But the D200 has old technology and so I don’t shoot about ISO 320 because of the graininess of images at higher ISO’s.

As the sun gets low in the sky, lighting conditions become more challenging, especially when shooting with a long lens. But with many moose happy to pose for your images, you don't have to worry about fast shutter speeds.

As the sun gets low in the sky, lighting conditions become more challenging, especially when shooting with a long lens. But with many moose happy to pose for your images, you don’t have to worry about fast shutter speeds.

The southern park corridor, where I was on this trip, consists of a paved highway (Hwy 60) that runs roughly 55 km east-west along the southern border of the park. It is the most developed part of the park, with visitors centres, museums and a number of car-camping campgrounds. But in May, before the kids are out of school and families on vacation, the park is wonderfully quiet. And so the best way to spot moose is to drive along Hwy 60, early in the morning. The moose come out of the forest to graze on maple saplings and lush grass at the side of the road or to munch on aquatic plants in one of the many marshes and bogs.

You'll often find moose just off the road, in the forest, browsing on maple saplings.

You’ll often find moose just off the road, in the forest, browsing on maple saplings.

Within a 5 minute drive of the east gate where I purchased my day permit, I spotted a moose grazing at the side of the road. I quietly pulled over, set my tripod and lens up on my side of the road and happily rattled off frames while the young bull grazed, not minding my presence. He was on the other side of the road, eating aquatic plants in a marshy area. I didn’t approach him for a closer look. That would be stupid. Plus, with my 600 mm lens, I didn’t need to get closer. In fact, the only images I could get of this moose were head shots. Yes, being that close with a long lens means you can’t even get a full body shot. Not that I’m complaining at all. 🙂 No way! I’d dreamed of getting these kinds of images for years. But you wouldn’t even need a 600 mm lens to get great shots. A 200 mm with a teleconverter or a 400 mm lens would be plenty to make great images at this distance.

A 600 mm lens is great for wildlife portraits. You can see that this female has antlers that are just starting to grow back (they shed them each year in the fall) and she is  looking scruffy, with her thick winter coat being shed and her sleek, dark summer coat coming in underneath.

A 600 mm lens is great for wildlife portraits. You can see that this female has antlers that are just starting to grow back (they shed them each year in the fall) and she is looking scruffy, with her thick winter coat being shed and her sleek, dark summer coat coming in underneath.

I shot several images of this moose and then piled my photo gear back in my car to head on down Hwy 60. One minute later, another moose. So I got out, quietly set up my tripod and  rattled off more frames. Once I was happy with what I had gotten, I headed off down the road again. Not even one minute later, two more moose – this time a mother and what looked like last year’s calf, an older one, not a newborn. I didn’t get any photos of them. Mum was just too wary with her calf by her side and she slowly led her calf back into the forest. Getting great images is so satisfying, but no image, regardless of how amazing it is, is ever worth disturbing wildlife. Wildlife photography needs to be ethical, meaning the well-being of the wildlife comes first. Period. No image is worth harassing wildlife. And so when Mum and calf wandered off into the forest, I didn’t pursue them. They clearly didn’t want to be bothered. So the best thing to do in these cases is to enjoy the fleeting moment you had with these beautiful animals and then continue on down the road in search of others.

No shortage of moose portraits using my Nikon 600 mm telephoto lens.

No shortage of moose portraits using my Nikon 600 mm telephoto lens.

Another minute down the road, another moose. Wow! This was incredible! And my good luck continued. Inside of 10 minutes, I spotted 5 moose! In fact, in my very short time in the park, in less than 48 hours, I saw 11 moose. I photographed 5 of them. The rest were either fleeting glimpses or cases where the animal was partially hidden by the forest. But oh, these sightings were fantastic. Moose are remarkable animals. They are BIG. I was seeing mostly young males and females rather than full-grown adults. But these guys are still big. And they are gangly-looking, with their long, spindly legs, robust body, big ears and long face. And the males have a waddle, a fleshy bit of skin that hangs under the chin, which makes them look all the more bizarre.

Moose are funny looking animals, almost cartoonish. But they are also magnificent symbols of the wilderness.

Moose are funny looking animals, almost cartoonish. But they are also magnificent symbols of the wilderness.

By 10am, the sun was high in the sky, the temperature and humidity soaring and the moose scarce. This is the best time to head to one of the many hiking trails for a walk. I did two hikes – one to a lookout. It was a steep walk up that got the heart working hard, but the view at the top was well worth the effort. The other hike I did was the first few kilometres of the Mizzy Lake Trail. Typically it’s a 6 hour hike and I didn’t have 6 hours, so I just did the first few kms. And that was plenty, given that I was lugging around my 600 mm lens, my tripod, and a few other lenses. Although I didn’t see moose on the trail, I did see many tracks. This is a good trail to go to early in the morning when the moose are active. Next trip….

The outlook - a stunning view well worth the steep climb to get there.

The outlook – a stunning view well worth the steep climb to get there.

The beauty of rugged Canadian Shield country.

The beauty of rugged Canadian Shield country.

Spring is a fantastic time to visit the park because of the abundance of wildlife and the lack of visitors (it gets really busy in the southern corridor of the park, June through August). But having the park to myself came at a cost – BLACKFLIES! Yes, those pesky little biting flies with big appetites. Bug repellent is a must when visiting the park. Unfortunately, the night before I had run out of repellent while I was out walking the Spruce Bog Trail. And by the time I got back to the east gate of the park, the park office was closed and so were all the shops in nearby Whitney, where I was staying. So when I entered the park the next morning, I had no insect repellent. And the blackflies were BAD. I paid a high price for my moose photos. Three days later, my bites are still itchy. And I’d stopped counting when I discovered 30 bites on my neck and the back of my head (I didn’t bother counting how many bites I had on the rest of my body). Yes, they even work their way through your hair to bite your scalp. The blackflies were not fun. But I hadn’t come all this way to photograph moose only to be chased in by a gazillion biting flies. No. Instead, I donated blood to the local blackfly population, but left happy (and itchy) with my moose photos. Next time I’ll check my stash of bug repellent before I leave on my trip. I won’t be making this mistake again….

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Filed under Conservation & Environment, Mammals, Nature, photography, Wildlife Photography

Algonquin Moose – Photo of the Week

I’m just back from Algonquin Provincial Park. I made a really brief trip up there (30 hour round trip) to photograph moose. Late spring and mid fall are the best times to see them in the park. I was disappointed. In less that 24 hours I saw 11 moose and I photographed 5 of them. Some are wary and won’t stay around long enough to get a good photo. But others are very tolerant and as long as you keep your distance and respect their space, they will happily graze while you snap away. I can’t wait to get back up to Algonquin for more wildlife photography. I’ll definitely be back in the fall for more moose photography.

Click on the thumbnail below to visit 44th Parallel Photography’s Photo of the Week.

1 June 2013

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Filed under Digital Photography, Mammals, nature photography, Photo of the Week, Wildlife Photography

Black-throated Green Warbler – Photo of the Week

This weekend I finally got out for some bird photography – way behind schedule, but life’s been a bit crazy lately and well, as they say, better late than never.

I ended up photographing one of my favourite birds – a Black-throated Green Warbler. This little guy has set up shop on the same territory for 2 years. It’s nice to have him back.

Read about and view 44th Parallel Photography’s Photo of the Week by clicking on the thumbnail below.

26 May 2013

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Filed under Digital Photography, Migration, nature photography, Photo of the Week, photography, Wildlife Photography

An Artistic Look At Forest Flowers – Photo of the Week

This week’s Photo of the Week puts an artistic spin on shooting forest wildflowers. I just love wildflowers and can spend hours out with my camera, laying on my belly, fending off mosquitoes, while I find interesting and creative new ways to bring forest wildflowers to live in pixels.

This weekend I photographed wild Lily of the Valley. It’s a tiny plant, only a few inches high. But it is just as beautiful if not more beautiful than its cultivated cousin.

Click on the thumbnail below to see and read about the Photo of the Week.

 

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Filed under Abstracts, Creative Photography, Digital Photography, Nature, nature photography, Photo of the Week, plants, Wildflowers

Conservation & Environment: Do species suffer from poor communication?

Today’s post falls under my Conservation & Environment Series. And no, it doesn’t refer to chipmunks that need hearing aids or a Canada Goose couple that just don’t seem to understand each other.  I’m referring to the impacts, on nature and the environment, of perpetuating mis-information.

It’s an issue that’s been gnawing at me for a while and so I finally had to write about it – get it off my chest and toss it out there for discussion.

At the real heart of the issue is how we, as scientists, are not very good at communicating science to the general public and as a result, the public ends up mis-informed. That mis-information can hurt the environment. That’s the crux of it.

My angst about the issue began when I attended a photography presentation this past winter by a local photographer, Michelle Vallberg. She had made several trips to the Canadian arctic, photographing its stunning landscapes and wildlife. She was exhibiting some of her images and also gave a fabulous presentation, showcasing many of her images. She stated up front that she was not a biologist and that these were simply her observations and experiences. But it was clear she had a decent grasp of the basic biology of arctic ecosystems and some of the environmental issues facing our arctic regions. Her photos were stunning and I would have been happy to have walked a mile in her shoes. 🙂

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After the presentation, she entertained questions and comments. Someone in the audience asked her about polar bears. He wanted to know if she had encountered lots of polar bears during her trips. The short answer was yes. And in fact, Michelle elaborated by saying that the locals (primarily Inuit people) in some of the areas she visited had actually noticed that they were seeing and encountering considerably more polar bears in and around their communities in recent years.

I don’t doubt that observation for a second. The Inuit, as people who live off the land, know their land intimately. They know about the plants and animals and what is happening to them as global climate change occurs. They are very connected with their surrounding environment. That locals in these northern regions are encountering more bears is not something that I would question.

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What bothered me was the comment that ensued. In response to the statement about local Inuit encountering more bears, someone from the audience responded that maybe polar bears are not threatened by climate change. Maybe polar bear numbers are increasing. Hey, if Inuit are seeing more bears, there must be more bears out there than there were before. As a biologist, alarm bells sounded for me immediately.

Just because the locals are encountering more bears does not mean that polar bear populations are increasing. In science, the reason why we do experiments is to try to understand what is causing some pattern – what is the explanation for the observations we have recorded because an observation on its own does not tell you anything about its cause. I’m not for a minute saying that we need to start experimenting on polar bear populations. Not only would that be completely inappropriate, but it also is utterly infeasible! My point here is that just because locals are seeing more bears doesn’t mean that bear populations are increasing.

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The comment that maybe polar bears are increasing in numbers alarmed me enough that I just had to speak up. And so I made a comment in response –  that more sightings and encounters around the local villages does not mean polar bear populations are increasing. It simply means that bears are being observed and encountered more frequently by the people in the area. We can’t say anything about the cause of the increased sightings.

I just couldn’t let the audience believe that more sightings meant polar bear populations are increasing and that this whole issue of population declines of bears due to climate change is bunk.  I didn’t want a roomful of people going home and thinking, Hey, tonight I found out that global climate change isn’t killing polar bears and that in fact, maybe it’s helping them. There was no way I could let people leave thinking that.

So, I offered up an alternative explanation. Maybe locals are seeing and encountering more bears because of the effects of global climate change on their environment. Maybe local bear populations are declining, but that local Inuit are seeing more bears because bears are on the move, looking for food. Sadly, we already know from the many years that the garbage dump existed in Churchill, Manitoba, that polar bears will gladly munch on human garbage. Tour operators in Churchill used to take their clients to the local dump, just so that they could see polar bears.

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Let’s just entertain the following hypothesis: what if local polar bear populations are in fact declining because climate change is affecting availability of sea ice (which polar bears need for hunting), making it harder for bears to hunt seals(their main food source)? If this were true, then maybe bears are venturing into local villages more frequently, in search of food because they are hungry, because they are having problems getting enough food in the wild. This is just an hypothesis; I’m not saying conclusively that this is the case. What I’m pointing out is that we could have a completely opposite explanation for the same observation.

After I made my comment one fellow in the audience said (to paraphrase) that what I was saying was crap and that environmentalists were trying to pull the wool over our eyes and that scientists had no clue what’s happening to polar bears in the wild. He wasn’t timid in sharing his opinion.

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That worries me. Its’ true that we need more data to better understand what’s happening to wild polar bears. I’m not an expert on polar bears. But I am a biologist and I used to teach population biology. I know that we need more data to get a clearer picture of what’s happening to wild polar bears. But I also know that we have to be careful about the conclusions we draw based on observations. All the scientific literature I have read (field studies investigating changes in the amount of arctic sea ice, polar bear survival and birth rates and population sizes as well as modelling studies predicting bear population sizes at the end of the century) indicate that there is a general trend toward decreased sea ice in the arctic and that many polar bear populations are in decline. Polar bears need sea ice for hunting seals and for resting. My point is that yes, we are still learning about how climate change is affecting polar bears. But when people jump to conclusions and pass it on to others as if it was fact, I think it has big potential do damage.

Mis-information can be dangerous. I wonder how many people went home from the presentation that night, thinking that polar bear populations are not in peril? How many went home thinking that the concern over global climate change is overblown? Listening to people mingle and discuss, after the presentation, I surprised by how many echoed that polar bears must be doing just fine if the Inuit are encountering more of them. After all, they just saw a lot of gorgeous images of polar bears. There must be tons of them up there!

I wished I had asked some of them, what if you’re wrong. What if you think polar bears are fine, global climate change is bunk and so we do nothing about it? And what if we end up with conclusive evidence that shows that bears are declining due to climate change. What then? We should have acted, but we didn’t. That’s a high cost to pay.

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This brings me back to my initial point, my general concern that as scientists, we need to do a much better job of informing the public about the results of our research. We need to make that information both accessible and palatable, putting it in a form that the general public can understand. If we leave it up to the media to get the word out, we know the mis-information will continue. That’s not a pot-shot at the media. What I’m getting at is that when we play the ‘telephone game’ (remember that from grade school? Where your teacher whispered something into the ear of the first student in the line and each student had to convey that information to the person next to them, on down the line. We all know what happens. The version of the message that the last student got is vastly different from the message told to the first student), we risk conveying mis-information. I think we have the same problem in science. Because we too often rely on non-scientists to interpret information and package it for consumption by the general public, we risk creating mis-information. I see it all the time in the media and it makes me cringe.

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In the past I think we, as scientists, have collectively done a really lousy job of conveying science to the public. But I do think it’s getting better. We still have a long way to go. We need more scientists with excellent communication skills talking to the public. We need more scientists working directly with communication specialists to put the results of research into a form that the average person can understand. We need to ensure that information gets conveyed to the public in a way that they can understand it, but at the same time, ensure that the information is accurate. We need to avoid the ‘telephone game’.  And this doesn’t just apply to environmental issues. It’s rampant in the medical field too. How many of us have heard on the news that drinking red wine is bad for our health. But then a few years later, we hear about a study that says drinking red wine is actually good for our health! No wonder people are confused…

A while ago I came across a new programme at Sir Sandford Flemming College here in Ontario. The programme is called Environmental Visual Communication and its focus it to teach students with a science background how to use the tools of communication (photography, video, graphic design, etc) and how to develop communication skills and use them to convey conservation and environmental issues to the public. That’s brilliant, in my books! And long, long overdue. The students in this programme bring me hope.

A big focus of my photographic work is visual storytelling. Using images to tell people about nature, conservation and the environment. Combining words with images to inform people, in the hopes of getting them to care about nature and environmental issues. If we can get people to care, then we can get people to act. It’s getting them to care that’s difficult. Or maybe they do care, but they can’t see how their daily actions have ramifications for our entire planet. I mean hey, I’m only one person on a huge planet with billions of other people, right? Just a drop in the bucket, so to speak. What I do doesn’t matter, does it? WRONG! What each of us does, matters.

Our actions are based on our understanding of the world around us. This means it’s critical for people to understand the world around them. Mis-information can cause us to behave in ways that harm the environment, not help it. This quote that I found recently sums it all up for me:

In the end we will conserve only what we love.

We will love only what we understand.

We will understand only what we are taught

– Baba Dioum

So  I hope we do a better job at getting people to think more critically of the information they glean from the media. I hope we do a better job of communicating science to the general public. And I hope we ensure that information gets conveyed accurately, so that people can scrutinize it and make up their own minds about an issue.

My thanks go to my good friend and polar storyteller, France Rivet at Polar Horizons, for allowing me to use some of her fabulous polar bear images for this post. Be sure to check out her website and her latest project.

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Filed under conservation, Conservation & Environment