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Friday, May 31, 2013

Water Lilies - Abkhazi Garden

My brother and my daughter and I have a ritual annual luncheon every spring at the Abkhazi Garden here in Victoria. The Abkhazi Garden is small but exquisite and well worth an hour's stroll around before lunch at the former residence of Georgian Prince Nicholas Abkhazi and his wife, Peggy Pemberton Carter, whose labour of love the garden was. For me it has most of the beauty of the Butchart Gardens without the Disneyland atmosphere and crowds. The menu is limited to a few choice items but they are invariably beautifully prepared and served.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Otter Trio

This trio of Northern River Otters (Lontra canadensis) was hanging out on shoreline of the Westbay Walkway for a couple of days last week. They seemed quite unconcerned about passersby who stopped to watch them at their fishing. When they had enough of the small fish that were in abundance then they crawled out onto the rocks to scratch and groom themselves and each other, as can be seen in the short video below.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Hands of Time 10 - I Am Here

This beautifully executed small sculpture mysteriously appeared set into the wall of the Inner Harbour Causeway recently. It is just life size and attached to the wall at eye level so that the mirror reflects the viewers image. It appears to be cast in bronze. I don't know who is responsible but this is very nice.

Later: Thanks to visitor Mike Laplante's comment I now know the artist is Crystal Przybille and the work is one of a series of twelve called The Hands of Time. This information and more from an article in the Victoria Times Colonist. And more information can be found on the city's website,

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Regular visitors here will know that I am always happy to add a new bird or wildflower species to my life list. In order to do so my personal criterion is that I have to have a photo that is good enough for clear identification. Here are two photos of a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicesis). Although I have seen Red-tailed Hawks before I have not previously been able to capture a definitive photo. The photo of the Raven I posted yesterday was taken during my most recent excursion to Pkols, formerly known as Mount Douglas Park. The Raven photo was a real bonus because I made the trip there especially to see if I could photograph some raptors. They like to hover in the updrafts near the summit. In addition to this Red-tailed Hawk I also saw several Turkey Vultures and a Bald Eagle. This hawk harassed the eagle until he left the scene. The summit of Pkols is two humped; these photos were taken from the eastern hump looking east. It's a beautiful spot to sit and watch the parade of clouds over the strait and I'll probably spend more time this summer sitting there on the sun-warmed rocks while the raptors soar past.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Above is a local bird, the Common Raven (Corvus corax), that I have not featured here before, mostly because they only hang out in fairly dense forest and because they seem shy and wary of mankind. I have often heard their remarkable deep croaks and calls when I have been out in the wilds but generally they move when I try to locate them. Thus I was particularly happy when I was able to locate the raven pictured above and that he stayed in one spot long enough for me to grab a few quick photos. Raven is a very important animal in the mythology of local First Nations people so it seems fitting that my first meeting with Raven should be on the same day that I learned the traditional name for the area where I saw him. Mount Douglas Park is now to be known as PKOLS, the name given to it by the people living here before the arrival of European colonists. The new wooden plaque atop the mountain reads:
I am sure that Raven approves.

See also "A people's Geography of BC" in today's "Tyee."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Special Guest Post by Molly Long

My lovely daughter Molly has recently been on a weekend camping trip up Sombrio Beach which is just about 1.5 hrs north of Victoria on the Pacific side of the island. It's wild beauty is a joy to experience. - Fern

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cruise Ship Season

It's that time of year again; from now until October we'll be hosting visits by over 200 of these vast floating Hotels. This is the Celebrity Solstice. It can carry up to 2,850 passengers served by 1,500 crew. When launched in 2008 it cost $750 million.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Victoria Day Parade

The Victoria Day Parade took place on Monday the 20th of May although Queen Victoria's actual birthdate is today, May 24th. Her birthday and that of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth, are now celebrated annually on the last Monday before May 25th. Queen Elizabeth's actual birthday is April 21. She was born in 1926 and so celebrated her 87th birthday this year. She has been on the throne for 61 years, a reign for a British monarch only exceeded in duration by Queen Victoria, who ruled for 63 years.

As usual there was a large variety of parade participants - community groups, floats and local and visiting marching bands and many of the pipe bands who came for the Highland Games also marched in the parade. The red building in the background for most of these photos is Victoria's City Hall, a Canadian National Historic Site, built in 1890.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival

In Victoria the beginning of summer is marked by the Victoria Day long weekend, a public holiday marking the birthday of Queen Victoria. While it's a public holiday throughout Canada, here in her namesake city it is perhaps more fervently celebrated than elsewhere. Traditionally here the long weekend is opened with the Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival on Saturday and Sunday. Many (if not most) of the city's founders were Scotsmen who came out to settle here and build fortunes and families so our Scottish roots run deep and many thousands of people turn out for this annual festival of all things Scottish. Queen Victoria herself had a long and intimate association with Scotland. The skirl of bagpipes is constantly heard from the many pipe bands that attend. There is a never ending parade of tartan-kilted lads and lassies leaping. And those that have gotten too heavy for leaping can join in the Highland sports, most of which consist of throwing heavy objects, including "Tossing the Caber", as can be seen in the video below. A caber is typically 19 feet 6 inches (5.94 m) tall and weighs 175 pounds (79 kg). Some of the gentlemen partipating in the video below are world champions at various Highland sports, including tossing the caber. These are big men - most tipping the scale at around 300 pounds and averaging over 6 feet in height.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

View from Gonzales Hill

While the Gonzales Observatory (pictured here yesterday) is itself worth a trip to the top of Gonzales Hill, the view is spectacular. Here, with the observatory behind us we are looking out over Foul Bay (left foreground) with Ross Bay beyond. The mountains barely visible on the left are the Olympics across the strait in the USA. The dark blue hills on the right background are in Metchosin, further along the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gonzales Observatory

Like lighthouses, observatories are similarly appealing to photographers. Like Gonzales Observatory above, usually they are perched on the very peak of some eminence and they are interestingly shaped and domed. Whenever I visit this particular little observatory I am inevitably reminded of those classic sunbaked white villages of the Greek Mediterranean coast. Gonzales has not been in use as an observatory for many years and now serves as an office for The Land Conservancy which has been managing this site and others of historical and ecological significance in the province.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dusk Blooms

I love when the clematis on our front porch blooms, it is endlessly beautiful. - Fern

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Canadian Rockies - Over, Under or Through

I recently made a quick trip to Calgary Alberta, flying there and then driving back through the mountains. The mountains looked spectacular still covered in snow.

Here we are driving west, leaving Calgary and the prairies behind us. The spring weather has really only just arrived west of the Rockies.

It's always amazing to me what incredible terrain we have in this country and I can't wait to be able to see more of it! - Fern

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mystery Grass

Whenever I visit Mount Douglas Park I always visit a small swampy area because it has such a grand stand of Skunk Cabbage and to see the wonderful cuneiform of deer hoofprints in the black mud. On my last visit however, what drew my attention were stands of this grass with their striking flower heads. I'm guessing these are male and female flowers but I have no idea. Nor do I know what this grass is called. Any ideas?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fisgard Friday 3

This week's Fisgard Friday features on the left an HDR version of the lighthouse directly from the camera. For side-by-side comparison a "normal" single exposure is posted on the right above. All I've done here with these photos is to shrink them to one third of their size so they don't take forever to load. In the HDR case the camera took three exposures rapidly with one click of the shutter button and then merged them into one final shot. On the right is a single exposure. In this case I think I prefer the "normal" shot on the right but I really like the way the HDR version brings out the lichen on the rock and tones down the blown out brilliance of the lighthouse tower. Ultimately I think I would prefer something midway between the two, so I merged the above two photos in Photomatix to produce the version below.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)

This little bird, a Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris), was so busy building a nest when I saw him out at Swan Lake recently that it was difficult to snap a photo of him. I write "him" advisedly since nest building is a male activity of this species. The males commonly build one or several nests as lures to attract female wrens for breeding. Singing must also be a part of this activity since the only breaks he took from nest-building were to perch on this bull-rush and belt out a few tunes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Albert Head Lagoon

Just a little further west along the coast from Esquimalt Lagoon is Albert Head Lagoon. In the photo above, the lagoon is on the left, separated from the ocean by the spit in the center. Like Esquimalt Lagoon, Albert Head Lagoon is a nature sanctuary but the ocean side is a splendid stretch of public beach that was nearly deserted on the day of my visit. This photo was taking looking east towards Esquimalt Lagoon and if you look carefully on the far right you can see a tiny white dot that is the Fisgard Lighthouse.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Chocolate Lily

Here's another favourite spring wildflower - the Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis), sometimes known as Rice-root because of the many small swellings on the roots that look like grains of rice. I also saw a few of these blooming on my recent trip to Bear Hill but no matter where I see them, I seldom see more than two or three together. For a couple of years I knew of only one plant of this species that grew near the summit of Mount Douglas so I am happy to have located others.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Esquimalt Lagoon

Yesterday's gun tower may not be very pleasant but the view from it is lovely, pictured above. Here we are looking west towards the entrance to Esquimalt Lagoon and the small bridge that crosses over it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fort Rodd Hill

The Fisgard Lighthouse, a National Historic Monument, lies just offshore and is more or less surrounded by another National Historic Monument, Fort Rodd Hill. Fort Rodd Hill consists of a number of buildings and gun emplacements designed to protect Esquimalt Harbour from attack from the sea during various wars of the 19th and 20th centuries. Most of the gun emplacements remain, a sombre reminder of the horror of war. The photo above looks ominous and it should since the sole purpose of the structure was to position guns where they could most easily destroy incoming enemies.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Thetis Lake Beach

When it gets hot like it has been this week, Victorians head for the beaches, but even though we are surrounded by ocean beaches, the many small lakes near the city are also very popular with the those who like to loll in the sun. Though it is small, Thetis Lake Beach (pictured here) is one of the most popular.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fisgard Friday 2

The new camera has some interesting features - particularly its well-developed set of possibilities for HDR effects. The above photo, for instance, is actually made from 5 separate exposures at different shutter speeds. These were then fused (in Photomatix) to produce a more balanced exposure while at the same time retaining and strengthening the detailed contrast. In this case I did the fusion in post-processing. However, the camera also produces finished tone-mapped HDR images from multiple exposures and we'll have a look at one next Friday.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dark-eyed Junco

Some of the photographers I admire most specialize in bird photography. I find it very challenging. Birds are shy and hard to approach; they move around unpredictably and jerkily a lot; they come and go seasonally; and they're often quite small and in difficult locations - up in trees, for example. Other favourite subjects of mine, wildflowers, are relatively easy to photograph since once they are located they can be photographed without worrying about their immediate departure. Bird photography is also pretty demanding when it comes to equipment. A very good long lens is absolutely necessary. It is possible to get reasonably adequate bird photos like the one above with a 300mm zoom. But for really outstanding results something more powerful and faster is required - maybe a 400mm prime lens. However, one has to have pretty deep pockets for that kind of lens since they start around $1,500. A good tripod is another necessity since long lenses with good glass tend to be very heavy and difficult to hand-hold without shaking. But certainly the most demanding requirement for good bird photos is patience. Lots of patience.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

New Railings on Ogden Point Breakwater

The Ogden Point Breakwater has new railings and Victorians of all ages were out on the weekend to enjoy them. While the initial idea of railings on the breakwater was met with mixed reactions, now that the railings are up everyone is very happy with them. The breakwater used to feel just a little too dangerous for anyone with slight mobility issues. And it was completely out of bounds for those in walkers or wheelchairs. This is not the case any longer and many seniors were out with friends and family enjoying the fresh sea breezes and the record-setting May temperatures.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Variation on a Theme

This is a favourite subject of mine at this time of year, the way sunbeams catch the new leaves of the Bigleaf Maples. It's like a butterfly ballet.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Anyone Care For a Ride?

You never know what you'll find in the city; even a little bit of old fashioned fun! - Fern

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spring Comes to Thetis Lake

I can never get enough of this beautiful park. - Fern