Category Archives: Observations

Spring Sprung’d

Western Tanager

It’s exploding out there. Not peak pink yet, but days away.

Went for a short walk in Whitemud Ravine via the Aspen Gardens entrance. Funny, Sharon and I were just talking about warblers (she’s taking a class) and I spotted one about ten minutes in. For years, I’ve been seeing yellow birds, but have never been able to capture them on film. I got lucky today.

A Western Tanager!

OK, not a warbler, but I’ve always thought the yellow birds were warblers. It’s far away, so the shot isn’t as clear as I’d like, but I’m very pleased I’ve finally bagged the mighty, tiny and ubiquitous yellow bird, which prior to this has never been named. Hello western tanager!

Many years ago, I very clearly remember seeing a tanager just off the little wooden staircase in Mill Creek, although I didn’t know what it was at the time. Red head, yellow body. I thought someone has lost a tropical bird. At the time I identified it as a scarlet tanager. Who knows if that’s what I saw back then, but this guy for sure is a westie.

Other than that, hot and sunny in the ravine.

23C/1:40 – 2:40 pm.

 

Oh hello Mill Creek

Second day of my mini-holiday. Drove over to Mill Creek Ravine, and it didn’t disappoint. Still lovely, of course. It’s very hot so it’s weird to look around and see barren trees. There are buds everywhere, but the leaves remain furled. Nice to see the creek high and fast. So often, we have a dry spring.

11:00 to 1:00/27C

The snow is gone and the frogs are back!

I guess we’re kinda sorta on track, spring-wise. This time last year there was more greenery and even blossoms, but it was also very droughty. This year, no drought, but the greening has been delayed because of multiple snow events and coolish temperatures. Today and yesterday, it reached 21C. Tomorrow even hotter, and then very nice for the next week. Spring is here!

I’m taking a couple of days off and so this afternoon I headed into Whitemud Ravine after about a month. There is no snow anywhere and the frog bogs are full of water and frogs, singing their love-sick frog songs.

On that theme, I stood for quite a long time photographing frogs. With the bird song and frog song wafting in the warm air, it just doesn’t get any more bucolic. The frogs were hanging out, clearly enjoying the beautiful day just like me, but with more slime. I saw ducks too, but DUCKS ARE DEAD TO ME (until the Oilers successfully out of this second round of playoffs).

April Snow

Well, it’s been more than a month since I last posted. In that month, we’ve been virtually snow-free, except for the deepest parts of the ravine. We’ve also had two major 10cm+ dumps of snow. Melting, snow, rain, melting, snow, rain and so on. Very few precipitation-free days. The good news is that we are not having a droughty spring. The bad news, snow. So. Much. Snow. Today it was a virtual white-out, but with temperatures just above zero. The grass is greening up, when you can see it.

Not gonna lie, I love a nice goose bum

There are also green things poking up from the mud. And lake-sized puddles.

I need some sun.

I’ve had a few walks this month but far fewer than I would like. Yesterday, Sharon, Vic and I walked to the pond along the power line. The water is completely open, and a few ducks and some geese were floating around as dumbfounded as the rest of us.

Whitemud Creek in full rage on April 23

Whitemud Creek on March 25

March 26, I went down to north Whitemud Ravine and photographed seagulls on the river, mostly.

Yesterday, wet geese and a raging Whitemud Creek.

All walks are good. Lately, my right leg is bothering me, like it’s misaligned or something, but once I get walking, it’s fine. The key is to get walking.

Whitemud Creek, cold and damned (March 25)

The North Saskatchewan River on March 25

Hopefully, in the next few days, the sun will come out and a proper spring can begin. And by spring I mean no snow and lots of blossoms.

And now, seagulls:

3C, or thereabouts, for most of April (although to be fair it was in the mid-teens last week…)

Polar Bears in Hawrelak

Polar bear sighting in Hawrelak

Coupla nice walks on Friday and Saturday. Friday, I walked into Hawrelak from work over lunch under warm, blue skies. Instead of walking along the peripheral path, I entered the park directly, to save time. As it was, I still spent too long watching the recently returned geese and ducks flying overhead, or wandering about the snow covered field. They were probably disappointed that the lake was still frozen but a few managed to find some open grass near a tree. They weren’t too happy about my presence in spite of the fact that I promised not to steal their turf.

Hawrelak blue (Instagram)

On my way to the water, I spotted three polar bear snow sculptures. They were very well done and very beautiful. You never know what you’re going to find on a walk.

Saturday, I drove over to the Westbrook trail head and ventured into the woods, micro-spikes on foot and camera on shoulder. Another gorgeous day. Within minutes, I had a couple of chickadees eating seed out of my hand.

Whitemud Ravine (second bridge)

It’s snowed a lot in March, so the landscape in the ravine is still predominately white and pristine. The creek is open, however, and is its usual spring puke-yellow colour. Particularly enjoyed the waterfall (Whitemud Creek waterfall) by the Rainbow Valley entrance where the creek was damned by ice and the water was flowing furiously over into bubbling water. The water on the other side of the bridge was completely still.

Later that night, after the hockey game, the weather turned ugly. Slashes of rain/snow and crazy winds. And I was driving. By Sunday evening, the snow that fell Saturday night has melted, but we still have a long way to go. It’s been a crazy March. Much colder and snowier than last year. This week should be nice, so more lunchtime walks.

Red-breasted nuthatch (Whitemud Ravine)

White-breasted nuthatch (Whitemud Ravine)

Friday (9C)/Saturday (4C).

Never complain, never explain. But…

Never complain, never explain.

Too late. I have already complained, and I am about to explain.

I spent four days in Scottsdale, from Thursday, February 16 to late Sunday. It was a wonderful. All of it. Even the parts I complained about and will now attempt to explain. It was a relief to leave, however briefly, a Maggie-less house. Nice also, to be under the sun (for two of the four days) and next to saguaro cacti, which always seem so human to me. And to see my sister Sharon, who has been on vacay for a month.

Proving to instagram that I was in Arizona

Larry and Cathy

My cousin Cathy and her husband Larry were also down in Arizona, so it was a great family visit on top of a much-needed desert holiday. Shortly after arriving at the condo, Sharon and I took off to her home away from home, the Desert Botanical Garden. It’s a beautiful place. The breadth of plant life (mostly succulents) in Arizona in combination with the flat landscape and the afterthought mountains continue to amaze. It’s truly a gorgeous place and I’m always happy to be walking among the pricklies, even if now some of those pricklies are actual pricks (of the Trump variety).

American Starling

Billy Idol Starling

Turns out, on previous visits I had totally missed entire sections of the garden. In my defense, it’s huge, with lots of twists and turns and a great gift shop. Many photo opportunities, especially birds. Apparently there are also snakes, lizards and roadrunners, but I have yet to see any of those. On this trip, I saw mostly starlings, which are a spotty bird with a lovely green sheen. They enjoy sitting on the tops of cacti. Either they have good padding or they are very, very dumb. And, I would imagine, sore. Also, lots of quail and pigeons, although down here they call them doves.

pigeondove

We did all the usual stuff. Walked to Old Town. Ate Mexican. Drank latte’s at the Coffee Bean. I had a particularly nice phone conversation with Tom while sitting on a lounge by the pool as dusk approached. Very balmy. Very relaxing.

Also, I nearly died.

One of my goals for this trip was to do some hiking. Sharon and Vic have hiked all around the Phoenix area, but I have not. Sharon picked her favourite hike in the Superstition mountains, about half an hour outside of Scottsdale. As we approached the trail, it looked harmless enough. The surrounding landscape was beautiful. Mostly flat right up to the mountain range, with lots of cacti. A scene plucked out of a western movie set. Within 15 minutes, however, things got rocky. Really rocky. It turns out this trail is mostly loose rock and boulders, which apparently is called a scramble. By definition, if you need your hands to make headway up a steep gradient, you’re scrambling. I would add, if you need your hands and your ass to make headway up (or down) a steep gradient, then you’ve made a terrible mistake. I have never hiked up a scramble before. My acquaintance with the word had, up to that point, involved eggs. By the end of it, my brain, and parts of my body, were well and truly scrambled. I was a full English breakfast.

The trail of tears

Cathy, Sharon and Larry

Part of the superstition mountain range

For most of the walk, my eyes were glued to the trail, because I was sure if I broke concentration, I was going to fall. Some of the passes were quite narrow, with uneven, rocky footing. It wasn’t the physical exertion of climbing to 5,000 ft so much as the psychological trauma of anticipating my immediate demise and/or blood spurting and/or bone breaking injury, or the injuries of others. I’m not usually such a whiny little bitch, but I was spooked. When I did stop, the scenery was magnificent! Every time I looked up the peaks of the mountains to our left and right were closer. We had started the walk under cloudy skies, but as we ascended, the skies cleared and the contrast between the red rocks and the blue sky was stunning.

Cathy and Larry, Weaver’s Needle behind

Sharon, photographing Cathy and Larry

Me, apparently alive, in front of Weaver’s Needle

I think my fear has something to do with my lack of fitness. I used to be very fit, and I think there is a confidence that goes with a well-performing body. Also a lighter body. Five hours of hiking would tire anyone, but the mental exhaustion was kind of a surprise. I spent most of the hike wondering if my body would keep me upright. (It is known to be untrustworthy in that regard.) I started chanting ‘the earth will hold me up, the earth will hold me up,” and somehow, it did. I tripped a few times but didn’t face plant. I’m glad I made it, but I’m more than a little surprised and yeah, maybe a little ashamed that I complained throughout. That’s not me. At least not when I’m in nature. It’s supposed to my element. Walking is my thing. Who is this Donna??

Behold, the splendor of nature in all its bouldery magnificence!

It’s OK not to like scrambles. If the trail had been clearer and the boulders less homicidal, I think it would have been different. But even at peak fitness, I’m not an agile person. I don’t look for ways to go up or down hills on my ass, and I don’t like going full old-lady down a trail, grabbing every branch for dear life, including the occasional cactus. I was probably being overly-cautious, and sometimes that can be as dangerous as being reckless (like the douche we passed running up the hill, and then down). Whatever I was doing with my body, and certainly with my mouth, it made me look like an asshole, a million miles from where I used to be just a few years ago. I don’t like being that afraid, and I also felt bad that I made my sister feel like she had taken me on an un-fun hike. It was fun, in hindsight, and the scenery was (probably) worth it. My cousins who are more than ten years old than me had no problem, and they loved it! Sharon, who is managing a health crisis rather admirably, had no problem. We were all tired, but I was the only one complaining. Nice.

My step counter showed 22,487 steps. A record for me.

After we arrived back in the ‘hood, with great difficulty I got out of the car and got myself a latte, and then we all spent the next hour exchanging skins cells in the hot tub. That helped. I wasn’t too stiff the next day, but still felt bad about the whole thing. My inability to deal with the scramble, and my inability to keep my mouth shut about it felt at odds with how I perceive myself. On the other hand, maybe I am a whiny little bitch. I am certainly out of shape.

The rest of the vacation featured few dangers, and very little complaining. Who could complain in that landscape? It did rain on the Saturday, and parts of Sunday, but along with the ease that comes with warm summery temperatures, I also miss rain in winter. We don’t get a lot of it in drought-prone Edmonton and the sound and smell is always so calming. It was wonderful falling asleep to the sound of rain on Saturday night. We also enjoyed walking around the partially flooded golf course on Sunday, watching the cormorants air-dry their wings and just being immersed in green. We followed that up with a great dinner at The Blind Pig, one of Sharon and Vic’s favourites, which had a live country band. Lively atmosphere and the salsa was incredible. And then a direct flight home.

My takeaway? Winter holidays are great, even if they are short. Also, more exercise, more walking and more nature. Fewer boulders.

Cormorants drying their pits