Tag Archives: Vancouver

UBC Botanical Garden

Sunday, July 28, 2013

JC had a Groupon for the Canopy Walk at the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research that was about to expire.  So, without the dogs in tow, we hopped in the Jetta and headed west.  If we arrived early (they open at 10:00) we figured that we could get in and do the canopy walk before any crowds arrived and lineups formed.

We followed the route provided by our iPad and iPhone devices which got us to the UBC campus without any problems.  There was a triathlon being run that day resulting in road closures including the one indicated on the map.  After a little angst and a quick check of the Garden’s website we found the parking lot and geared up.

The first thing that we noticed was a group of Bald Eagles, 1 or 2  adults and at least 4 immature birds, flying around, chasing each other and doing acrobatics.  I assume that it was part of the learning process for the younger birds.
Eagles at PlayEagles at PlayWe watched them for a while, while I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to get some pictures of the fast flying birds.

After perhaps 10 minutes, we paid our entry fee and headed into the Garden.
Garden Path to the Forest CanopyBench and PondOur first destination would be the Canopy Walk which was towards the southeast end of the Gardens.
Along the way there was lots of interesting plants to look at.

The Eagle Tree

Eagle TreeEagle Tree Information
We also passed the Eagle Tree, a 600 year old tree that the bald eagles liked to perch in.  It was occupied most of the time that we were there but only by adult birds.  Perhaps it should have been call the ‘boss eagle’ tree.

The Canopy Walk

The full name is the Greenheart Canopy Walkway and it provides the opportunity to see close up a west coast forest canopy ecosystem.
Canopy WalkCanopy WalkCanopy WalkCanopy Walk
While it claims to be the only one of its kind in Canada, there is a another canopy walk that we have tried at Whistler.  The Whistler canopy walk is more extensive and higher off the ground but it is more expensive and only available as a tour, since it requires a short bus ride to the start.

The Garden’s tree walk can be self-guided or part of an hourly tour.  We chose to go with the self-guided tour.

A Glacial Erratic

Glacial ErraticGlacial Erratic

At the exit from the canopy walk is a large rock that was picked up and dropped off by the glaciers 18,000 years earlier.

Flowers and Bees and Butterflies

Yellow Flower with BeeWhite Butterfly

We headed back to explore parts of the Garden that we had whizzed by on our way to the tree-walk. Seeing some bright flowers, bees and butterflies I decided to try out ‘macro’ mode on my camera with some nice results.

Through the Tunnel to the Other Side

Tunnel to the Other SideGarden MarshSparrowFurtive Spotted Towhee in Flowering BushBird BathSucculent Flower Beds

We discovered a whole lot more garden on the other side of the road accessible through a tunnel. There were in fact several different garden themes. The first area we went through was a marshy area full of cattails that was part of the Carolinian Forest area.

Across the Great Lawn was the Alpine Garden where I got some good pictures of a sparrow and a Spotted Towhee hiding in a flowering bush (one of my favourite birds to photograph). It may have been the large stainless steel bird-bath that was attracting them to this part of the Garden.

B.C. Native Garden

Garden WetlandDuck and DucklingThe B.C. Native Garden had several sub-areas including a small wetland with a dabbling duck and duckling pair.

Food Garden

The Food Garden is a living demonstration of varieties and techniques for home gardening.  More than 100 varieties of carefully trained fruit trees line the outer paths. Fruits and vegetables harvested by the Friends of the Garden are donated to local charities.

Part of Vegetable Garden
Gourd or PumpkinMiniature ApplesKiwi Plants with Fruit

Wildflowers and the Physics Garden

Enclosed by a traditional yew hedge, the design of this small garden is based on a 16th century Dutch engraving. The 12 concentric beds encircling a sundial showcase traditional medicinal plants from medieval Europe.

Physics GardenSundial in Physics GardenWildflowersWildflowersThistle FlowersThistle FlowersAround the Garden Pavilion and the Physics Garden were lots of colourful flowers including giant thistles and lots of wildflowers.

The physics garden was our last stop after which we headed back to the parking lot, hopped in the Jetta and headed home.
A day that started as an effort to get some value out of a coupon before it expired had turned into a very enjoyable visit the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research.

We saw a few interesting birds as well resulting in a few good pictures.

We will definitely consider the Garden as a place to bring visitors when they come to visit us.

Vancouver to Toronto by Train Day 2: Kamloops to Jasper

Previous post: Day 1: Sunset Departure

Day 2 - Kamloops to Jasper Travel

Arrival in Kamloops

We awoke extremely early (for me at least), before dawn even at around 04:00.  With the curtains open we could watch the scenery go by without leaving the cabin.  Soon it was light enough to start taking pictures.
Kamloops LakeCrossing the North Thompson RiverNorth Kamloops Kingbirds Yellow-bellied Marmot
We had clearly left the coast behind as the terrain was noticeably more arid. We quickly figured out that we were moving along the northern bank of Kamloops Lake which is effectively a bulge in the Thompson River which eventually joins with the Fraser.

Kamloops in fact lies at the intersection of the Thompson River flowing out of Kamloops to the West and the South Thompson and North Thompson Rivers both of which flow into Kamloops from the East and North respectively.

We crossed the North Thompson River and made a left turn into the North Kamloops train station where we would get our first opportunity to get off the train and get a bit of exercise.  It was just before 06:00 when our feet hit the dirt.

There was the expected dawn wildlife activity. A number of noisy Western Kingbirds advertised their presence.  On the other hand, a Yellow-bellied Marmot almost went unnoticed as it watched us quietly from behind a hill of earth.

One lesson that we learned at Kamloops was to make sure you know when you have to board, not just when the train is due to leave.

When we finally pulled showed up to re-board,  all of the doors were closed and there were no conductors in sight.  A check in the train station found someone who eventually got us back on the train – but not before remarking that there was no need to worry as there would be another train in 3 days.

Following the North Thompson River

By 07:30, we were back on board for the next leg of the trip that would take us on toward Jasper Alberta..

Following the North ThompsonFollowing the North ThompsonFollowing the North ThompsonFollowing the North ThompsonThe CN tracks follow the North Thompson River for most of the way, eventually crossing the Continental Divide at the Alberta border.

Initially the river was wide and fairly slow flowing passing between hills covered in ‘snags’, a reminder of past forest fires. Grassy fields with browsing cattle and field full of round bales of hay were scattered along flat sections along the river.

The birding highlight of the day occurred about a half-hour out of Kamloops. On two separate occasions, a Lewis’s Woodpecker was seen flying close enough to the train to be identified with the red belly and grey/white collar easily seen. Our previous encounters with the Lewis’s Woodpecker occurred many years ago when we were living in Southern California.

If you check the breeding maps for the Lewis’s Woodpecker, you will see that this area of BC is pretty much at the northernmost part of their breeding range.

Other than the woodpecker sightings we saw relatively little animal activity.

A Stop in Blue River

Blue RiverBlue RiverBlue RiverAs we continued up the North Thompson River, the geography became more mountainous, and the river ran a little faster. Around 10:30, we rolled in to a small town called Blue River.

According to my (web) sources, Blue River is both halfway between Kamloops and Jasper and halfway between Vancouver and Edmonton. We arrived around 10:30 and were stopped on the tracks for a quarter of an hour or so (waiting for a freight train to pass as I recall).  It might have been a nice place to explore but we were kept on the train.

If you browse the Blue River Town Web-Page you will see that they refer to themselves as the Jewel of the Yellowhead – an outdoor destination for skiing and snowmobiling in the winter and cycling, hiking, camping and fishing in the summer.

The term Yellowhead appears in many geographical contexts in this part of BC. It appears to have originally referred to the blond hair of a metis trapper and is now attached to a number of geographical names including the Yellowhead Pass, which crosses the Great-Divide and separates British Columbia from Alberta, and The Yellowhead Highway (aka Highway 16) which runs from British Columbia, through the Yellowhead Pass, all the way to Manitoba.  It represents the northern branch of the Trans-Canada Highway which the CN train was following more or less.

Mountains, the River and a Waterfall

North of Blue RiverPyramid Creek FallsLooking BackThe scenery at this point was pretty impressive. The North Thompson was flowing faster and had the lighter colour indicating a higher silt content. We saw less evidence of man made structures as we began to climb towards the Yellowhead Pass and the forests now contained mostly conifers.

About 30 km North of Blue River, the CN tracks go right in front of the Pyramid Creek Falls in a Provincial Park of the same name. In fact the train passes so close that for a few seconds, looking out the right side of the train, all you can see is a wall of falling water.

The climb up the East edge of the valley soon became obvious providing some nice views of the valley looking back to the South.

Approaching the Great Divide

Mountain in the CloudsMountain ViewForests Showing Signs of Past FiresAs we approached the Yellowhead Pass, some of the larger mountains came into view. The mountain covered in clouds with a small section of snow-covered rock showing is, I believe, Mount Robson which is only clear of clouds a few days each year. Mount Robson is also the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Some spectacular rock-faces were also seen along the way, some even seeming to glow in the early afternoon sunlight.

As at the lower altitudes, there were patches of mature forest with some large areas covered in gray snags indicating a fire in the not too distant past.

Birds and Bears

Bear in the WoodsWe only saw two raptors during the Kamloops to Jasper run. One was a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree and the other an Osprey flying overhead.

There were also a handful of ducks that we did not identify. A fair number of swallows, crows, pigeons and starlings were also seen.

On the other hand, there were two separate black bear sightings as we got closer to Jasper, one of which I captured with my camera as the train sped by (look for a black smudge at the base of a pine tree).

Jasper at Last

JasperJasperJasperJasperIn Jasper we were given about 90 minutes to explore the town. We got the postcard-sending out of the way first (though it took a while to find a mail-box).

Our original objective was to find a trail where we could go on a short ‘wilderness’ hike.  My own supplementary goal was to see some of the mountain bird species such as Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees, Stellar’s and Grey Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Mountain Bluebirds, etc.  None of these was seen or even heard unfortunately (surprisingly) as the Rock Pigeons, European Starlings and House Sparrows appeared to have taken control of the town.

There was a noticeable tourist presence as we checked out the town though not so much as to be oppressive.

Finally, our time was up and we boarded the train for the final run out of the mountains.

Out of the Mountains

Leaving the RockiesGrassland and LakesSwallowedGrass and Trees
We were moving again by about 16:15.  Some of the rock formations seen as we moved out of the mountains were impressive. By 20:00 we were out of the mountains into the land of grassland and lakes.

It wasn’t much longer until we called Day 2 a wrap and went to bed.

More Links

All Day 2 Pictures on Flickr

Day 1: Sunset Departure
Day 3: Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Vancouver to Toronto by Train Day 1: Sunset Departure

Previous post:  Vancouver to Toronto by Train

The dogs were off at “doggy-camp”. While we were crossing the country by train and hanging out in Collingwood, they would be walking the dykes and forests of Maple Ridge.Vancouver DepartureSunset Behind the Port Mann Bridges  AH (our son) dropped us off at the Lougheed Mall SkyTrain station where we caught a SkyTrain to the VIA Rail station.

We had allowed for some delays and, as our travel to the station had gone without a hitch and we were sufficiently early that we had time to grab a bite to eat before entering the train station.

After ticket and identification checks we were allowed to board and check out our cabin, the observation cars and the various other areas that we would be our home for almost 4 complete days.

The train left on time and slowly crawled eastward through some of the urban  areas of Metro Vancouver.   We passed along the north edge of Burnaby Lake, crossed the Fraser River between New Westminster and Surrey and then followed the South Bank of the Fraser and underneath the new and old Port Mann Bridges.  After that, it was clear sailing.

We hit the sack early ending Day 1.

More Links

All Day 1 Pictures on Flickr

Day 2: Kamloops to Jasper

Vancouver to Toronto by Train

The Vacation within a Vacation

One of our planned vacations this year was a trip to Collingwood Ontario for a small family reunion. JC (my partner) and I decided that we would take the train from Vancouver to Toronto and return by air. It would be, in effect, a vacation within a vacation.

During the summer, VIA Rail runs 2 cross-country trains per week in each direction. We chose a train leaving Vancouver on the evening of Friday, July 5 with a scheduled arrival in Toronto for the following Tuesday morning. Our package included the train ticket, accommodations in the form of a small sleeping room with barely enough room to turn around in (but providing privacy and a better sleep than a seat in coach), and three meals daily in the dining car.

Neither JC nor I are very good at the kind of vacation where you just sit at the beach doing nothing but soaking up some rays so there was some concern that we might get bored being confined to a handful of rail cars for four days. JC packed a large selection of books to read whereas I brought binoculars, camera and an iPad with my own reading material. My plan was to take pictures during the trip and to try my hand at starting a new nature/birding blog (the one that you are currently reading).

The plan did not go quite as expected. First, the only internet access to the outside world was through the 3G connections on our phones and tablets and this access was intermittent. On the last full day through Northern Ontario, for instance, we had no signal at all except for a few brief periods. Second, a moving train can provide a fairly bumpy ride making typing and editing challenging. Finally, the view from the train was compelling and we ended up spending a large part of our time watching the countryside go by and taking lots of pictures.

In the end, only 4 of 10 books were read and while we had hundreds of pictures the blog was little closer to getting off of the ground.

A note on the food

It was excellent! The continental breakfast was good and for Lunch and Dinner in the railcar provided choice including a vegetarian option for JC. Because of seating constraints, there were 3 separate 90-minute shifts for the two later meals.

A note on taking pictures from a moving train

Camera settings: A camera with image stabilization will help for the small train movements but probably not when the train is rockin’ and rollin’ at higher speeds. A high shutter speed may be your best friend when the train is moving at its fastest speeds. Passenger trains do seem to stop frequently to let freight trains pass and these stops can provide good opportunities for taking pictures without the train motion.

Choosing a seat: You might think that the observation cars with the raised viewing area would be a good place to get good shots but we didn’t find that this was always the case. First, the viewing cars are often crowded. Second, they have been constructed of sections of glass that have curves that distort the light. Finally, at least in the forward direction, the glass tends to gather a fair amount of ‘bug-splatter’ which can show up in the camera shots. Viewing from the side-windows in the cabins or some of the corridors is a good option though the windows are low down and you have to bend over or sit down to get a good view. If you want to watch both sides of the train, the dining car (if meals are not being served), and the breakfast/entertainment car provide seating with lots of windows. A final option that we discovered was found right in the sleeping cars. A pair side-by-side bench seats provided a view out both sides of the train and as these seats were frequently unused it was easy to move from one side of the train to the other as the view changed.

A note on birding from a moving train

I found bird-watching from a moving train to be tricky. When the train is moving it is as though you are being submitted to a continuous bell-ringer quiz in bird-identification – you get a few seconds to see and identify a bird and then it is gone. Trying to follow birds with binoculars falls somewhere between difficult and virtually impossible and trying to get a camera shot for subsequent identification is almost as challenging. An SLR camera with a full-sized sensor and a good burst mode might make the camera a useful tool if you just spam pictures into your memory card to be viewed later.

In the end, we found that the naked eye turned out to be the best method for bird watching and identification on the moving train. Of course, it helps if you recognize the birds on sight without having to go to an identification guide and even then some species will be all but impossible to identify reliably. For instance, identifying a male Yellow-headed Blackbird is easy. Telling a Common Tern from a Forster’s or a Common Goldeneye from a Barrow’s in areas where their ranges overlap may not be possible. The time of year is also important. With a single short look, you might be able to tell an Eared Grebe from a Horned Grebe when they are in their breeding plumage but in non-breeding plumage they will be hard to separate. Finally, knowing the ranges of each species can help.  For instance, a breeding scaup with chicks that is seen from the train while passing through Saskatchewan on the main CN line is probably a Lesser Scaup as the Greater Scaup breeds much farther North.


The two maps show different views of our trip.  The first map shows the trip in relation to provincial boundaries, rail lines, roads and towns.  The second section shows the trip in relation to the Canada’s Ecozones (see also: The Ecological Framework of Canada).

The highlighted portions represent (roughly) the parts of the day during which we were awake.

Vancouver to Toronto Map

Vancouver to Toronto Ecozones

The 6 ecozones passed through on the trip are, from left to right:

Day by Day Links

A more detailed account for each day of the trip along with our favourite pictures follows the subsequent posts listed below:

Day 1:  Sunset Departure
Day 2: Kamloops to Jasper
Day 3: Saskatchewan and Manitoba
Day 4: Northern Ontario
Day 5: End of the Road

Each day’s post has a link to the entire Flickr set of pictures for that day.