Monday, August 25, 2014

Murphys Point

This summer I worked at Murphys Point. For the past 4 months I have squeezed every ounce of my interpretive juice for the park to keep my Jedi Master pleased. Now, with the end of August in sight and almost certainly my final summer of being a park naturalist, I have reached a shameful and unforgivable conclusion: I have hardly spent a single full day exploring the park. 

Therefore, I dedicated my last day off to a bio-blitz, no, bio-blitzkrieg if you will, of the park. Here is a photo-rich account of what you find when you get off your ass and into the field with your net and camera for some good old-fashioned Geeking! (yes, I said it).

My quest began at the McParlan House. Cardinal Flowers heralded my arrival as I crossed the drawbridge to the Rat Snake fortress...

Cardinal Flower
The Black Rat Snake peeps from his lair
I then journeyed toward the Silver Queen Mine, careful not to disturb the water, as it was guarded by a perilous patch of Water Hemlock.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta Sp.)
Though not the same plant that killed Socrates, it is nevertheless extremely poisonous! I will think twice next time I consider corrupting the minds of youth or acting "impious."

The perils were not yet over, for the parth was guarded by a fearsome beast. We did battle.

Eastern Milksnake
The Silver Queen Mine is famous for its minerals, but it is also rich in botanical curiosities. A close study of the plants in this underground garden was long overdue.

"The air doesn't smell so far down here"
Rock polypody (Polypodium virginiana)
The Liverwort Marchantia polymorpha with umbrella-like gametophores, female ova-producing structures (it gets more complicated than that).
I returned to the office library for a Gandalf-like consultation of field guides, complete with the blowing of dust from the covers (ok, a small exaggeration). But on the return, a real treasure awaited. The Gray (?) Comma has eluded me for years, because they are so easily startled. This time, they returned. And in greater numbers. In fact, the very sweat of my labour lured in my reward.

Gray Comma

Friday, August 15, 2014

Quest for the Mountain Mistrel

Adventures are getting harder and harder to come by these days, but God be thanked for old friends with wheels. Our spirits percolated with excitement as the worthy Golf whisked us from Ottawa to the nearest mountain. Mt. Marcy was our destination, the highest peak of the Adirondacks at 5,343 ft. We could do no less. This spectacular mountain wilderness just happens to be the dwelling of a particularly rare and beautiful bird. Chantal, being no fool, already suspected there must be an ulterior motive for this quest. Birders know of which bird I speak. 

The summit is in view
"Only recently considered a separate species from the Gray-cheeked Thrush, the Bicknell's Thrush has one of the most restricted breeding and wintering ranges of any North American Bird." ( 

The route was 30 km to the summit and back, a light stroll for a fit young man and woman. But we were off to a rocky start even before our boots struck the trail. Chantal was asked to work Saturday morning, which delayed us, but more importantly, we were set back a whole 15 minutes because I forgot to write down directions. I received much scolding due to this, and my rusty gear-shifting abilities in the Golf. 

By the time we had reached the trail head, it was nigh 7 o'clock. "Plenty of time to reach camp" I reassured. As the sun went down, I lighted the way with my beaming positivity, but my companion was starting to have doubts, about the hiking in darkness thing and uncertainty of how far ahead the nearest campsite lay. "That's why we have headlamps." That she had hiked to Cape Scot on northern Vancouver Island solo was my best argument for us to carry on. It helped little. Despite my positivity and expert nocturnal guiding skills, she had lost complete confidence in me. Nevertheless, withstanding a couple hours of scolding was a small price to pay for a chance to witness the melodic minstrel. When I had received a 10 minute ultimatum (I'm not sure what the threat was, we were in the wilderness) we suddenly saw a glimmer of light and heard the faint sound of hearty banter - it was the Adirondack Mountain Lodge! From the wilderness to the company of fellow hikers, my companion's spirits soared and I was relieved. The friendly Innkepper Dom even leant us a bear barrel. We were offered a room (for free!) by a group that had rented the whole place, which I would have given them some money for of course, had not Chantal resolved to continue to the next camp site. We had knocked off 7 km, 23 were left for tomorrow. 

The stunted forest where dwelleth the mountain mistrel
With a new day came a new vigour in our step as we sped to the summit. Well, occasionally I sped a little too far ahead. A couple more scoldings for nostalgia's sake. Then we entered the mountain monastery of stunted black spruce, and no sooner had we noted the change in habitat, we heard it. Yes, that was definitely it: the song of the Bicknell's. I gazed in reverence for a full 3 seconds at the mountain mistrel. Seizing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, I attempted to secure a second view, so that I could further reinforce this moment in memory. However, my old companion hastened: "I know how this goes, you'll be here for 2 hours..." Then I realized: "Nothing worth doing in life takes 3 seconds." 

Lapland Rosebay
To wrap up this tale, we rejoiced at the summit with celebratory beers, viewed alpine wildflowers, took a customary AvThat! shot, sped down the mountain with a vengeance, and were back in Ottawa with a 24 pack of Yuengling Lager and hearty memories with a great friend. 

As an endnote, here is a great program they have going in the Adirondacks:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Five day water battle in Thailand

Songkran: a five day water festival of epic proportions in Thailand, the worlds greatest country. The city of Chiang Mai is about 1 million. During Songkran it doubles. Travelers have made a pilgrimage from all corners of our earth to this sacred Buddhist festival... 



Thank you to all the dope folks who did battle by my side with blaster, bailer or pumper and who helped cherish this amazing week of madness!!! It will go down as my most epic adventure ever. 

Hoi An and the clay flutes

Hoi An, a city that may have up to 500 tailors, and nearly every visitor increases their swag at least a little while they're here. I wasn't that keen on shopping but I happened to spy this coat I liked on the wall, so the girl sized me up right then and there and by the next day I was feelin fly.

We even rocked out to Gangnam style in the shop while she showed me pictures of her little kid. Reasons why I love Vietnamese people!

Pleased with my success, I pondered "in a place where I can get pretty much anything I want custom made, what is one thing I've always wanted?" Obviously Team Zissou fake adidas shoes.

Now let me tell ye a tale.

One night in Hoi An I was feeling alone. Traveling solo and all that, but I knew there is only one way to fix this problem. You must overcome your inhibitions and full on talk to some strangers and see what happens. Of course, alot of the time they are lamoes and you never talk to them again. But other times...

I decided to chill at the "eating and drinking area", my favourite place in Hoi An. There I encountered a group travelers - and I could sense the force was strong with them. I worked up the courage and sat down with them and it turned out they were pretty cool and we hit it off - by then the beer was flowing and many good times laid ahead!

The crew

One night, a lady came selling these clay animals that are flutes. After 3 evenings of trying to sell them to us without success, Dave from Holland finally said "I'll buy all of them!" 

If ever we were in need, we would simply blow our flute and our companions would rush to our aid.

That night we all went out to the Why Not Bar and many flute-choruses were heard through the night in celebration of this great life. 
This is how Germans party

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A cave, a marmot, and a mountain

This weekend, Angela and I went spulunking in an ancient cave, saw one of the world's rarest mammals, and summitted two epic peaks.

Because that is just how we do.

This tight squeeze would have promised Gimli's girdle with a challenge
We bravely descended further into the abyss
When we broke out into the sunlight, on thing was on our mind - Marmots  - and their complete and utter visual slaughter.

With the help of Lena's pinpoint directions, we located a Marmot after 1 hour of searching
We rejoiced! We had just seen one of the world's rarest animals - there are only about 350 left! The Vancouver Island Marmot stunned us with it's beauty (see "Concerning Marmots").

Then we entered the Forbidden Plateau,  and set our sights on 2093m Mt. Albert Edward.

The path was set toward our goal
We scoured the tundra for Ptarmigans - yet again, none were found

Then there was a decision: should we head back and make it a 31 km round trip as planned, or should we opt for the extra 10km scenic loop? Ange did not even hesitate. But it quickly became more challenging - and more epic - than we had anticipated.


With blistered feet and crushed ankles and knees - we hiked the last 10 km in a frantic frenzy to reach the parking lot - then we saw it. 41 knee busting kilometers - we made it!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Concerning Marmots

Mountain Marmots
Vigilant Rodents
Round and furry friends
On an alpine slope

If Hobbits were animals, they would be marmots. Being short-limbed and stout, they are not known for their speed or strength. Their virtue lies in their character. That they also dwell in subterranean villages lends them further similarity.

Isolated on mountain tops by ancient glaciers, three species of marmot have evolved three distinct colors. I visited three mountain ranges to hunt them, like the Pokemons.

To Mount Washington, Vancouver Island, where we scanned the rocky hillsides for these ever-vigilant rodents. Our subject did not allow close approach. One cannot be to careful when viewed as a walking steak by all beasts with tooth or talon.
The sentinel
There are only 350 Vancouver Island Marmots left because they are so delicious
The Hoary Marmot waddles across the slopes of the Cascades, filling his gullet with grass and herb, and minding his surroundings for predators. When he detects a menace, his whistle is heard across the slopes and valleys, a warning to his comrades to head for the hills!


The Hoary Marmot got its name because it is considered sexually promiscuous
In the Olympic, there dwells the Olympic Marmot. We located an entire village of them. Why are they so successful in their isolated range, while the Vancouver Island Marmot constantly fails?

Ever vigilant
The Olympic Marmot received a gold medal for being one of the best-looking rodents alive
A loyal rodent stands guard in his misty domain
A marmot Barron surveys his lands for females to attract, and sub-par males to evict
A further note: marmots have little in the way of legs. They waddle from burrow to burrow, sending ripples of fat and fur down their body - a majestic sight in the morning sun.