I know this blog is supposed to be about birds, but I haven’t been birding lately. I’ll start again once the migration begins. In the meantime, I’ve been writing about other things. My new article in Norther Beat News is about placer mining. Sticking with the theme – gold – I include a shot of a crow in the golden evening light (mirrored) that I especially like. Sometimes, the light is just right.
Leaving the present, and terrible, international situation for a bit. Thinking of more pleasant things….
For us, going to the tropics has been out of the question for the past two years-like a lot of people, I guess. Darn pandemic! We’ve certainly missed those evening breezes coming off the Caribbean, and the smells of Latin-American food being cooked down the beach somewhere. One night, in desperation, we even watched that Jeff Bridges movie from the 80’s, the one shot at Isla Mujeres and Tulum. We ordered in Mexican food, drank a few bottles of Sol, and had fun picking holes in the plot. Still, it’s not quite the same.
At least, I can rummage through my pictures of tropical birds. These are from Costa Rica, from the Cloud Forest at Monte Verde. The more observant reader might notice that not all images are of birds. Well, any port in a mountaintop storm.
On that trip, V and I spent a few nights at a lodge near the Cloud Forest Reserve. Our driver, on his first run ever, checked google maps, and picked what was likely the worst road in the region to get us there. When we arrived an hour or so after the regular van, we were as well-shaken as a protein drink. Later on, we took a (guided) jungle walk at night, which came complete with tarantulas, little rivers of Leaf-cutter Ants, a ghostly Olingo high in the trees, and sleeping Trogons.
The next night was so windy that we thought the roof of our bungalow was going to blow off. At dinnertime, we huddled in our puffer jackets eating pasta and drinking Red Tapir Ale, thinking fondly of the beach we’d left behind at Playa Hermosa. Our birding tour of the Cloud Forest almost didn’t happen-the guide being afraid that jungle trees might fall on us. In spite of rain and wind, however,we ventured out and ‘got’ our ‘target birds – the Resplendent Quetzal and one of the loudest birds in the world, the Three-Wattled Bellbird (hard to see, but easy to hear).
*The Dancing Men are 300 or so stone carvings of captives at the ancient Zapotec city of Monte Alban. Most look contorted, as if tortured and mutilated, and are thought to represent captives, most likely of high rank. Unfortunately, I can’t find the pictures I took of them.
Just wanted to share my article about the Nechako River in northern British Columbia, and actions by local First Nations to restore this historic waterway. I spent many years living on, or near, the Nechako, and have a great affection for this beautiful river.
I’ve spent a lot of time searching for the Glaucous Gull. This Arctic visitor shows up on the west coast semi-regularly, but I just could never seem to, as Owen Wilson says in The Big Year “nail that sucker.” And I’ve really tried, really tried. I’ve gone to windswept Oregon beaches in January, landfills in March, Goldstream River with its spawned-out salmon lots of times. I followed up every report, within reason. I even spent the better part of a day at a sewage lagoon in Duncan, afraid to leave, but punished for staying, if you know what I mean. My reference picture might have been part of the problem–it’s possible.
In any case, I finally caught up with the culprit at Goldstream, the place where I had tried so many times before. indeed, the first bird I saw when I pulled up to park was the Glaucous Gull! The river was very high, drowning the more recent remains of spent Chum and Coho, and keeping all gulls close to the picnic area. My young bird was tugging hopefully at an almost bare fish skull, and getting very little sustenance from it, or so it appeared.
I must say that the bird didn’t closely resemble my reference pic except, maybe, for the beak, so I couldn’t really be faulted. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway!
Finding my bird, after so many failed attempts, had a curious effect. The marvellous sense of birding adventure that consumed me when, six of seven years ago, I rejoined the hobby had suddenly returned. I even posted a picture of the subject on my bulletin board! So, although it took awhile – “thanks Pal!”
Butchart Gardens is famous, and it’s one of Victoria’s premier attractions. But I knew of the Butcharts long before I came west. The Butchart mansion on 5th Avenue in Owen Sound, Ontario, was a block away from my boyhood home. It had, maybe still has, an indoor swimming pool. I remember once tramping through the snow to the front door in the hopes that I might sell a subscription to the Toronto Telegram.
Even after many, many years, I can still remember smelling chlorine through the half-open door. I probably wondered what living in a real mansion would be like. To be able to take a swim at home rather in the the minuscule YMCA pool – that would be something! Of course, it probably wouldn’t have worked very well in our 2 bedroom apartment behind the factory, but I would have been up for a try. Incidentally, I don’t believe I sold a subscription. Nor did I ever see the inside of the grand house. The Butchards, I think, were long gone anyway.
The Butchard Mansion
Even then though, I knew about the Butchard Gardens, later called The Martins. They were a few miles out of town at Balmy Beach. It was a long bike ride for a 12 year old so I never got there. I hadn’t yet heard of the west coast version. No reason I should.
A few years ago, I finally visited The Martins. It was May. I was birding along the cobbley Georgian Bay shoreline and then, almost accidentally, I was there, walking among the ruins of a grand idea from another time. Half of the real estate had been stripped way by winter ice and freak high water, the there was more recent damage. Winter storms on the Great Lakes can be fierce.
Winter’s Fallout – The Martins, Georgian Bay
About the Butcharts. The brothers, Robert and David, were born in Owen Sound in the 19th century. They ran a hardware store on what is now Main Street (2nd Avenue East), and ranked among the town’s “contemporary and go-ahead merchants”. Solid, likely Presbyterian, moderately well-off. Then they found that marl from a nearby lake bed could be converted into cement, a product in great demand in Canada’s developing industrial heartland. The discovery was huge. Soon, the Owen Sound Portland Cement Company was making some of the best cement in the country. They also shipped the product in bags rather than barrels. This innovation made the Butchards wealthy.
Marly, no longer industrial, Shallow Lake
Rich now, Robert built the mansion with indoor swimming pool on 5th Avenue and lived there until he and Jennie left for the west in 1904. His brother David stayed in Owen Sound and built something grand too. I’m not sure which of the imposing west side Owen Sound houses was his. Jennie, of course, created the Gardens at Tod Inlet near Victoria, BC, but David also created a Butchart Gardens at Balmy Beach on Georgian Bay. I wonder about this family obsession with ‘Gardens’, and where the idea came from.
In any case, the Owen Sound establishment, with its Italian Garden, Sunken Garden, tennis courts, swimming pool, and many other features, was an important tourist attraction until, one winter, unusually heavy lake ice carved away a big chunk of the property. After Hurricane Hazel destroyed much of the rest, the Gardens were finished.
It rained while I was there. Forlorn, a strange, almost haunted legacy of what was once one of the country’s largest cement fortunes, it seemed the last glimmer of the Jazz Age world of the 1920’s. I suspect the property has now been developed; it certainly looked ‘ripe for the picking’. I’ll check on it next time I’m ‘home’. Since this blog is about birds, well, I saw only one on the property, a Common Merganser. The sun flashed out for a millisecond and lit him up, and then it started to pour.
This time my post isn’t about birds. It’s a people story. It begins with a storm, a real doozy. Many of the boats in our bay dragged anchor, and moved. Of course, if your cable broke, there was only one way to go — onto the beach. Surviving that night would be tricky. In the morning, however, when the winds finally subsided and the tide ebbed, only 2 boats lay high and dry.
The little ‘Portuguese fishing boat’ was up near the curve of the seawall. Beautiful lines, high prow, white with blue trim. Eye candy out there, on calm evenings. A problem now for the owner. It turns out there is one, which is not always the case. Half of the boats are probably abandoned. The Portuguese boat was riding at anchor in a few days. Lovely. Back where she belongs.
The yellow boat I’ll call Spirit was not so fortunate. Keel high and dry, and pointing in the wrong direction, the boat is too far from the waterline. No way it’s going to float again. Out in the bay, it made for a splash of bright canary and gave the scene ‘pop’. Up close, well.
I’d seen a guy taking a 5 gallon bottle of drinking water to Spirit the night before the storm. If he’d stayed aboard through that, the experience must have been horrendous. Nothing happened to Spirit for a few days, but then the 5 gallon guy came back. He placed the figure of a seated Buddha near the bow, and got to work. He had a spade, a log fulcrum, some driftwood levers and ‘moving gear’– and a damaged wrist. He refused help. The pandemic was on, and he didn’t want anyone touching the boat.
For a long time, not much happened. A month, or more, of digging every day, of watching the tides, of prying and bumping, resulted in a bigger hole. He was creating a slipway. He had to move, what, a ton and a half of boat. One guy. Impossible.
Then, one morning after a good tide, a miracle. Spiritdid move and flipped her keel. Now, with a very high tide, she might get to the sea. And, a week later, she actually floated. Another week and she was off the beach. Not quite in deep water yet, but getting there.
I spend a month and a half rooting for the digger. I admire his spirit. He persevered to save his home. I’ve never seen someone work so hard, fight such ridiculous odds, under ridiculous circumstances. I guess it happens more often that I know. Perseverance is what humans are good at. It defines us. I always liked the Stan Rogers song, ‘The Mary Ellen Carter’. It tells a tale a bit like this one, about people getting on with it. Doing what they have to do. The song cheers us on when we face adversity — AndLike the Mary Ellen Carter rise again…rise again. Good luck to you 5 gallon!