Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Still MORE Ontario Birds

Day four in Lake Superior Provincial Park dawned bright and sunny. I hopped in my kayak hoping to find more birds--and maybe a wolf prowling around, but no such luck on the wolf. I did find the mergansers, just risen from their night on the shore, preening and fluffing. I think they look an awful lot like penguins.

Once again there were bunches of Canada warblers, but I did get a few shots of an immature Yellow-rumpled warbler...

...searching the branches for breakfast.

I saw quite a few American redstarts, but they stayed tucked in the canopy.

Earlier in the trip I had missed a golden opportunity to get some shots of a Black-throated blue warbler, a new bird for me. We had been walking the campground road when one appeared directly in front of us on an outer branch. But when I tried to shoot, the shutter wouldn't release. Set on auto-focus, the camera couldn't seem to figure out where to focus, and since it didn't think it was focused on anything, it wouldn't let the shutter release. Ugh. So it became a challenge of sorts to get a shot of this bird.

We were eating breakfast later in the morning when Lori said casually, "There's your bird." I looked and sure enough there was a Black-throated blue in the trees right next to the campsite. I grabbed my camera and went into stealth mode. I got a few shots of the male, then noticed his female companion. I was able to get a few quick, blurry shots before she flew off.

But the male stayed around, moving out towards the road, so I followed, and finally managed to get a good, clear shot. What a hansom fellow!

Of course by the time I got back to camp my eggs were cold, but it was worth it!

Next: A four lake portage

Monday, September 20, 2010


The wolf stood as still as the morning at the far end of the lake. Having seen me before I'd seen it, it watched alertly as I walked along the shore.

I had risen early, stiff and tired, and decided to go for a walk to loosen up a bit before the girls got up. I left my camera behind on purpose, not wanting to be weighed down with it. Later I thought about my binoculars, but something was telling me to not to go back, not to dawdle, and I decided whatever there was to see I would see with my own eyes.

I scanned the trees for early rising birds, and watched the shore for fresh tracks or scat. As I approached the far end of the lake I looked across to where the creek runs out of Crescent Lake and into MacGregor. A solitary loon floated on the surface and I stopped to watch. That's when I noticed, nearly directly behind the loon on the far shore, an animal staring at me. My mind ran through the possibilities: Deer? no, too stocky. Moose calf? no, too light in color. Coyote? no, too damn big.

The sun was not yet risen, and the light was dim at the far end of the lake, but I could judge its size against the drift of sweet gale behind it. I was afraid to move, afraid to end the stand-off. I don't know how long we stared at each other, but eventually the wolf walked away towards the creek and I watched until it disappeared.

Back at camp I told the girls what I'd seen. We ate a hasty breakfast and jumped in our kayaks to go look for tracks.

We approached the area quietly, not really expecting at this point to see anything but being careful anyway. The water level on the lake was down from where it had been in June, and there was quite a bit more exposed land near the creek than there had been two months before. I beached my 'yak and got out to look for tracks while the girls patrolled along the shore.

There were tracks everywhere, moose especially, some old, some fairly fresh, sunk deep into the mud. (The lens cap is 2" across.)

There were some beautiful beaver tracks and scrapings, and we moaned about not having any casting material with us.

I moved across the mudflat, searching for evidence that I hadn't imagined the morning's encounter, stepping carefully to keep from sinking in the mud. After several minutes I finally found what I was looking for, very near the creek bank--the prints of a large canine, fresh in the black mud.

And here, a place where an animal had bedded down.

When I found the tracks the girls decided to come have a look too. I moved farther up the creek, and found more fresh tracks, moving farther into the valley.

To top it all off, that evening Lisa and I walked back down the shore towards the place I'd seen the wolf that morning. I still didn't take my camera, but we both had binoculars. As we rounded a bend along the shore I looked up and saw a shape, just on the other side of the creek from where I'd seen it that morning. We both stopped dead and looked through our binoculars. "Do you see what I see?" I asked Lisa. "Sure do" she replied.

We watched in utter amazement as the wolf stopped, looked at us, looked around, then lay down on the shore facing us, and stared. We stared right back. This went on for several minutes, until Lisa moved slowly down the shore, when the wolf eventually rose and headed back down the creek.

Over the next several days we went back to the place where we'd seen the wolf, but he had apparently had enough, and did not make another appearance. None the less, that morning alone on the beach being watched by a wolf is a moment I will never forget.

It's OK with me that I didn't get a picture--some things are meant to live only in your heart.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Agawa Bay Pictographs

If there was one thing we could not miss on our trip to Ontario it was the hike out to the pictographs near Agawa Bay on Lake Superior. Lori loves Native American culture, and myths and fairy tales in general, so the pictographs satisfied two of her passions.

The weather on day two had cleared, but not without some wind. We worried a bit about waves at Agawa Rock, but we had waited to go until late afternoon hoping for good light and a drop in the wind.

Like all places I've been so far in Lake Superior Provincial Park, the scenery was amazing. But beyond that, there was a feeling of protection here, with high cliff walls making natural gathering places. I could understand why this was an important place for the Ojibwa.

This slot, a natural crack in the granite, lead straight down to the water. Unfortunately the sun made this an awkward shot.

Once we made it down to the water's edge, we were faced with sheer cliff walls, 50 feet high or more.

Facing the water, the shore was lined with boulders fallen from the cliffs behind. Agawa Rock is on the north end of the bay, an area with a few small islands, whose face would presumably be visible from a distance.

The walk out onto the rock to see the paintings was intimidating to say the least. At the bottom left of the image below is a short railing. Past that, just above in this image before one reaches the taller cliff section is a chain set into the granite that you hold as you scootch along the sloped rock. After that--nothing. There are holes in the rock, and a few metal posts that were broken off close to the surface, where it looks like once upon a time there was a railing.

Perhaps the winter ice floes made maintenance of a railing too difficult and the idea was abandoned. All that was there were some thick ropes, anchored in the granite with sturdy rings, that one would presumably use to haul ones' self out of the water after falling in. Well, thanks for that! There were also a few poles with hooks and round life preservers stored near the info kiosk. I watched with trepidation as the girls inched their way out onto the slick, sloped rock.

The water looked gorgeous but I really didn't want to go swimming!

I waited for the girls to come back, then inched slowly out on the narrow ledge. They ask that you not touch the pictographs, for obvious reasons, but having to hug the cliff face made that a challenge. But it was worth every careful inch, as I was eventually face to face with Mishipeshu himself.

Mishipeshu is an important figure in Ojibwa mythology. A Manitou, or powerful being, his name translates literally as "Great Lynx". It was believed that he controlled the waters of lakes and rivers in the region, and was responsible for whipping up deadly storms on the big lake. To ensure safe passage, offerings of tobacco and other items were made to the serpent. But while he could whip up storms and deadly rapids, he was also helpful to the People, providing them with copper, medicine and protection. (Keep in mind that "medicine" in the Native American sense had as much to do with herbal remedies as it did with spirituality and ritual).

There were other pictographs too, like this horse and rider. The four discs below look to me to be part of a large boat, not quite visible in this photo.

Here is another serpent on the right, and a sturgeon on the left.

Thanks to the waves washing up over part of the slick, slanted rock, we were unable to see the rest of the paintings. Lori left a tobacco offering, and we headed back to the car, with the loop trail leading through another granite slot, this one with carved stairs to take us up and away from the lake.

Next: Day three and tracks in the mud.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Ontario Birds

Armed with my new lens and converter, I set out just after sunrise on day two, August 27, to get photos of birds along the shore of Crescent Lake. Lisa and Lori had been out the day before and reported scads of warblers in the shrubs along the water. So I paddled across the lake and parked myself nose-in at the waterline, and waited for something to fly by.

I wish that I had done two things first--figured out how to get my tripod into/onto my kayak, and put the polarizer on my lens. The first would have helped with camera movement, the second would have helped reduce the blinding glare off of the birds. Ah well, live and learn. The more time I spend trying to get really good shots of birds, the more impressed I am with people who are able to actually do it.

The first bird to show itself was a Nashville warbler. Another first for me, I didn't know what it was until I got back to camp and dragged out my Sibley's.

As you can see, I also have a problem focusing. Shooting into a mass of sticks and twigs, one's auto-focus is nearly useless--it can't pick the bird out of that jumbled mess. The problem is, I can't either! My manual focus point seems too often to be just in front of the bird. I may have to play with the diopter adjuster and see if I can't fix that shortcoming.

The second bird to come by was this Black-throated green warbler.

Canada warblers were plentiful (go figure!) and small groups of them would work their way along the shore, picking off bugs in the shrubs and Joe Pye weed.

Cedar waxwings were everywhere too. I like this shot looking up at their bellies.

This one looks like a Christmas tree topper.

This little bird looks to have had a rough night! My best guess is a Lincoln's sparrow. Its companion stayed hidden in the shrubbery. She danced around on a dead log for a few minutes, warming up in the morning sun.

Later in the day I walked the camp road again, and saw many young juncos working the underbrush. From a distance, I watched as they would hop into the air and grab at some unseen goodie about a foot or so off the ground. I assumed they were catching bugs. Then I came across one in a more open area, and I watched as it fluttered up and grabbed at grasses. It brought the business end down and nibbled the seeds off, as in the shot below. Watching this I remembered that the juncos that come round here in the winter are seed eaters, so this made perfect sense.

I am looking forward to the day when the juncos make their return to our home. Remember, I actually like winter!

Next: Pictographs at Agawa Bay

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ontario Birds

Ontario is for the birds. I mean this literally. Dense forests, marshland, lakes and streams--the varied habitat supports a huge variety of birds. Lake Superior Provincial Park being right on the big lake puts it on a major flyway and so it also gets lots of migrating birds. For a newbie to the birding world, it is a chance to see birds never seen before. The images in this blog are all birds I saw on my first day in Ontario, some new, some old favorites.

Remember these guys? When I was up in June there were two Common merganser families (well, moms with chicks anyway, as dad's job is over pretty quickly!). The chicks were still fuzzy little balls of fluff, perhaps only a few weeks old, and they followed mom closely.

Well, by late August they were all grown up! On my early morning walk down the shore one family emerged from the mist and swam by as I crouched by a dead cedar. I was happy to see them all looking so well.

Back at our campsite I was visited by two shorebirds, this young Semipalmated sandpiper,

and the larger Solitary sandpiper. It really is amazing what will pass by if you just sit still for a while.

Out on the trail at the Sand (Pinguisibi) River, I saw two warblers high up in the trees, both firsts for me--this Black throated green warbler,

and a young Canada warbler (I think--it's harder to identify warblers when you can't see their wings). I would see more of these the next morning.

Back at the campground the mergansers paraded back and forth, chasing minnows through the shallows. They would often swim with their heads underwater, watching for fish, I assume.

Once in a while they would take off "running", perhaps in pursuit of a school of minnows.

I took a short walk down the campground road and saw a Yellow-shafted flicker working its way along the road, picking ants out of the gravel.

A family of Broadwing hawks hung in the sky over Crescent lake. This I believe is a juvenile.

The best moment of the day came when this little Cedar waxwing went from a nestling to a fledgling. Lisa had noticed the nest in a black spruce in our campsite. I tried to get a few shots of it but it was pretty well hidden. That afternoon, while we were all right there in camp, this little bird made its inaugural flight, fluttering and sputtering across a short opening and landing, rather ungracefully, in this poplar.

It sat there for several hours, peeping plaintively. By evening it had moved farther into the trees between campsites, and continued to peep well after dark. The parents had been feeding it, and we were sure they were nearby, but we worried that its calls would bring a nighttime predator. However, we heard the peeps again the following morning and felt relieved. Not long after the family moved out of the campsite, following their babe as it tried out its wings.

Next: day two and the Pictographs

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Artwork--"Let's Play" in progress

Just a quick post on the progress of my new piece. I have a show in Bowling Green, Ohio this weekend and am planning on taking this. I have since finished the second crane and am trying to figure out what to do about the ground they're standing on. Hmmm...

Close-up of crane #1. It's not really that blue, just bad lighting.

Part of the wings on crane #2. Almost a shame to color them in. Maybe I will do a few pieces over the winter in just ink.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Water Water Everywhere

Karin and I decided that since Lisa and Lori were new to the park, the first stop of the trip should be the visitor's center. We would then drive up to the Pinguisibi (Sand) River for an easy hike. We packed sandwiches and piled in the car.

The visitor's center is fairly new and has exhibits about the region, including the Group of Seven, Canadian artists who captured the area in gorgeous works from the early to mid 20th century. After looking at the displays and taking some pictures of a few of the taxidermy animals (great for reference!) I went out the back door. The center is on the beach, and the sands of Agawa Bay looked so inviting I thought it would be a good place for a picnic!

With the sun high in the sky Superior glowed blue and green. The fresh air off the cold waters was an elixir. Lori walked the beach, looking for stones.

A cloud like a flame arrowed across the sky, and I played around with some shots of it with driftwood.

Superior's famously rocky shore means lots of wave polished stones to examine. I could spend hours looking at rocks!

After lunch we drove up to the Sand River, the remnant of a much larger channel that was formed when runoff from receding glaciers carved the softer rock out of the granite. Geologists believe the rock here is ancient, three billion years old ancient, remnants from one of the first mountain ranges on the planet. That amount of time is nearly inconceivable.

Lovin' the blues and greens and golds.

This is the largest of the falls along the river that we saw, although I think there are bigger falls farther upstream. I later climbed down to get closer and was cooled by the spray of these falls.

While Karin and I found places along the river to sit, Lisa and Lori had moved on upstream and emerged above the falls. I would not do this on a rainy day as the granite can become quite slick. But this day was perfect for exploring the river and falls.

Love this shot of Karin.

Looking down river from near the top of the series of falls. Waters are low in late August, and there were many pools in the polished stone. On a warmer day I may have dipped my toes in one.

Next: birds of Ontario and the pictographs