Monday, February 29, 2016

Ships in Port

On one of those errand trips into Owen Sound I dropped by the harbour to see if any lake freighters were in for the winter.  Usually ice keeps the freighters port-bound for 3 months or so, but even without the ice this year, crews need their winter break.

There were two big ships in the harbour, the Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin on the east shore, and the Algoway docked by the grain elevators on the west.  Both riding light (or empty) as you'd expect.  They probably both have skeleton crews staying on board for the winter.

The Algoway, out of Sault Ste. Marie,  is a self-unloading bulk carrier which can handle a variety of cargoes, from coal to grain.  Like all Great Lakes freighters, it spends its life moving bulk cargo between bigger ports around the Great Lakes.  Cargo moving around the Great Lakes is mostly bulk raw materials like coal, ore, salt, aggregate, or grain, rather than containers, as you might see in ocean ports.

Both ships usually carry a crew of about two dozen, but there will just be a few staying for the winter.  If you look closely, you can see two pick-up trucks and a van, a short gangway, and the heavy hydro cables running overhead to shore beside this ship.  There's a small crane for loading too.  Winter is a time for maintenance and restocking.

The other ship is the slightly bigger Rt. Hon. Paul J. Martin, named after one of our recent Prime Minsters (whose family owns Canada Steamship Lines).  They're both about 45 years old, but this ship has quite a different history, sailing first as the H.M. Griffith until it was dry-docked in 1999 for major reconstruction.  Basically the entire cargo and bow sections are new, with only the old stern and engine room kept from the former ship.  Ships on the Great Lakes last about twice as long as saltwater ships, simply because freshwater is less corrosive.

The unloading system is quite amazing, a series of moving belts in the hold that can bring up whatever cargo it's carrying, transferring it to that long unloading boom which reaches out to deposit the cargo on the dock.  Loading would be the opposite, with an onshore boom bringing cargo out and dropping it through the hatches into the ship's hold.  On modern ships like this one or two men can handle the entire unloading in a matter of a few hours.

Later I drove down the shoreline to drive around Balmy Beach Road, almost the only place near Owen Sound where the road goes right along the water.  I remember bringing my grandmother for drives here, to see the scenery of the bay; it was a favourite for her.  Today I just stopped for a quick 'out-of-the-car-window' shot.

But if you look closely you can see the two ships in the harbour, through the distant haze.  I'm intrigued with the rhythm of life on board the big Great Lakes freighters (and other ships around the world).  There's the daily rhythm of watches, round the clock when sailing, and the annual rhythm of months on board and months to go home and see family.  As with the military, it takes a special kind of spouse to handle a family when one partner is away for months on end.  I sympathize with all the Phillipino crews who spend often more than a year away from their families, sending money home.  Not many North Americans want that life anymore, in spite of the reputation for great meals that sails with these ships!Check out a site like 'boatnerd', 'marinetraffic', or 'vesselfinder' to find out more about Great Lakes ships and where they might be located at any point in time.

Have you ever thought about the logistics of restocking food on these ships, or even more challenging on a navy ship with a large crew?  Our daughter works for a company that does just that, juggling trucks carrying the supplies with ships in different ports, heading out to sea for times as long as several months.  Somebody better have a good mind for what's needed for all the crew to eat well over that time!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Weaver Falls

On one of my Owen Sound errand days this winter I stopped in to walk up the short trail to Weaver Falls, a beautiful short walk, but a difficult falls to get good photos of.

Weaver Creek emerges from a spring at the base of the Niagara EScarpment cliffs at the southern end of Owen Sound, and flows east then north until it drains down into Harrison Park.  There it forms the water supply for the public swimming pool I swam in once as a young child!  But I never knew the falls was here until about 5 years ago.

This is the beautiful narrow steep-sided ravine that the creek flows through.  The creek occupies the entire floor of the valley in most places, so they've had to build a boardwalk for much of the trail.  It's a typical ravine cut in the Queenston Shale, below the Manitoulin Dolostone, the layer the waterfalls falls over.

Below here, the tiny stream flows through the campground at Harrison Park, and then provides water supply for the ducks and geese that are kept there.  Unfortunately the waterfalls faces north, and it was a bright sunny day, making it a challenge to get photos.  These are all tripod and neutral density filter pictures to tone down the brightness.

Finally you come around the bend, and see the small waterfalls in the distance.  You can't approach the falls closely, both because the ravine slopes are simply too narrow and steep, and because the falls itself is on private property.

But with a bit of a zoom, you can get a picture from the end of the public trail.  I was surprised to find all these trees fallen across the stream, making photography a bit limiting.  Several of these have fallen over the past year.  And the waterfall is in shade against the bright sun.

I ducked under the last log for a picture, but as you go that far around the bend, you're actually seeing less of the waterfall.  And you can see the narrow steep slopes; if this wasn't private land, the safest way to approach the falls would be to walk right up the creek!

So I backed up and got a closer view before that last log, about the best view I got that day.  But every time I'm out in different light conditions I'm learning more and more about waterfall photography.  Still, I didn't entirely avoid the sun's glare.

My goal is to end up with photos of these local waterfalls in all seasons, so here's a comparison shot from fall a couple of years ago - obviously before all those trees fell across the stream.

This is about the best photo I got on that occasion, a photo I'm quite pleased with - every now and then you get a good waterfall photo just through dumb luck!

I've been thinking that I needed to learn how to take 'slow' pictures of waterfalls like this to get the photos I wanted.  Then I thought I could go out in all seasons and get comparable shots.  But no, it's still not that simple.  The flow of water over the seasons, the time of day, and the weather all make a big difference.  Sometimes an overcast day gives you a better chance for good lighting, especially for those north facing waterfalls.  But then I don't get the chance to always control all those variables, so what's a would-be photographer to do but keep trying.


After getting a nice snowfall on Wed. last, while much of southern Ontario got freezing rain, it was looking wintry again, but today the temperature soaring above freezing, and the snow on the driveway melted.  Now it's raining.  I fear that any chance for xc skiing is over for this year, but after this rain, and a freezing night or to as we're supposed to get this week, you'll be able to walk right across the surface of the snow in boots!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Beaver Valley Ski

It was another of those dull days, but I did get out once this year on the Beaver Valley Nordic Ski Trails, perhaps two weeks ago, before the thaw.  The club has done a lot of work this year to open more trails, and add a signage system.  So even though the trails were late opening in January, I think it's a big improvement.

It started out with a big new sign, with a proper air-photo-based map of the trails.  I always love this sort of map.  The mail box is for leaving your registration if you're not a member.

I headed north along the main entry trail, through the weedy meadow on the east side of Lower Wodehouse Creek.

And as soon as I could I veered off onto the new trails I hadn't skied before.  Here the trail goes through a patch of Eastern White Cedar planted in rows, that have been really struggling due to the deer predation.  All the lower cedar leaves had been stripped off.

They've adopted a proper signage system for the trails by labelling each trail junction with a letter.  This is the easiest system I've seen for making sure you don't turn the wrong way!

Then I reached the new loop on the far side of the creek.  This is a White Spruce plantation about 30 years old, and growing very well.  But there are gaps where the ski trails can easily run, and it's sheltered from the wind.  I was glad to try a new part of the area I'd never been in before - this is all part of Kimberley Forest.

The most interesting sights to me were several spots where there were mature old deciduous trees, and a few extra big boulders.  This tree looked like an Apple tree to me, and that pile of rocks looked like it might be the remains of an old barn foundation under the snow.

Another clearing with a big old Sugar Maple.  I'm definitely going back to investigate in the summer, to see if there's evidence of an old homestead in here hiding among the spruce.

 It was a long ski, nearly two hours, and I plodded along very slowly, but I enjoyed it.  Skied back down the old concession road and left for home, glad to have explored a new part of the trails I'd never seen before.

Correction to yesterday's post:
Yesterday I labelled this pinkish bird a House Finch, but Woody in his comments suggested it was a Purple Finch, a more unusual sighting for our area.  Unlike the former species, the pinkish/red on a Purple Finch extends down through the feathers on the back and on the breast.

And as if that was not enough, he pointed out that the bird on the lower right is a Pine Siskin - mostly brown striped, but with a hint of yellow on the wings and the tail.  David, in his comments, even suggested I keep my eyes out for this species; I guess I've already seen it.  I so appreciate it when comments help me learn something new!  And I've got the bird guide and binoculars out waiting!  Now, if I could just learn to take crystal-sharp pictures of the birds!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Birds at the Feeder

Both my efforts at attracting more birds to our feeders, and my efforts at taking bird pictures have been pretty well abject failures this winter!  I added both a niger seed feeder, and a suet feeder, but still very rarely see any visiting birds except the faithful group of Chickadees that seems to live in our Cedars beside the feeders, and a small flock of Goldfinch that visits regularly.

Mind you, this Goldfinch was at least showing that tell-tale hint of bright yellow that will become its summer plumage, an encouraging sign.

And I can almost always count on 2 or 3 Chickadees to be making their constant flights back and forth with seeds to crack open.  Compared to the Goldfinch that just sit on the feeders and eat, the Chickadees have to work hard for their sustenance!

But today we had a large flock of Goldfinch descend on the meadow, as well as the feeders.  There seemed to be dozens and dozens of them for about 30 minutes, stripping the weeds of their seeds as fast as they could go.

I think those dark seed heads are all the troublesome Spotted Knotweed, a tough invasive weed which I should get rid of, but the birds seem to like them.

And here they're eating seeds of the Evening Primrose.

I spotted several ground-feeding Juncos, and did see a Blue Jay once or twice for a few seconds.

And the day before a big flock of finches visited briefly and overwhelmed the feeders.  I had labelled this as a House Finch, but as you'll see in the comments below, Woody Meristem suggests it is a Purple Finch, a more unusual bird here.

Here's a second view of the same photo, cropped a bit.  Looking at my trusty Peterson's bird guide, I have to agree with him, the pinkish/red colour extending down the breast, and down the back as well.  And the small bird on the lower right is actually a Pine Siskin, showing a hint of yellow about the wing and tail feathers.  Interesting coincidence, but David Gascoigne left a comment suggesting I should look for them.

And that makes these two females Purple Finch as well, clearly streaked in brown.  Thanks Woody!

We have had a Downy Woodpecker stop by the suet feeder a few times.

And if I go all the way back to December we did have the bigger Hairy Woodpecker visit a few times.  I think I may have posted this picture then.

And that's pretty well all the birds we've seen this year, the last two days about as exciting as it's been!  Mind you, it's time to start watching for the spring migrants returning, so maybe that will make some more exciting birding!

Linking to:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Signs of Spring

Suddenly in early March we seem to start getting more sunny days, and this year it's started in late February.  The result is that I really notice the sunrises, when the sun rises, at least sometimes, into a clear blue sky - and the point at which the sun breaks the horizon keeps moving north!

This is the most recent sunrise I caught out our living room window, though the clouds are cutting off the sunrise fast (and there's a lot more snow back now!).  The sun is rising just over my little garden shed.  Take careful note of where among the trees the sun is breaking the horizon.

This is only 5 days earlier, on Feb. 18th, and that below only 4 days before that on Feb. 14th.  The sun starts moving fast toward the north at this time of year, and the same thing would be true if I could show you the spot at which the sun sets.

So the days are longer, the sun is higher in the sky and the snow on south-facing slopes melts more quickly.  I can walk the dog later, and it's just brighter out in the middle of the day.  The willows are turning yellow, and the dogwoods turning red.  Porcupine are out in the bush, leaving their waddling tracks behind.  Spring is only 3.5 weeks away!

Compare the first three to this one in early January, closer to the solstice.    This is about as far south as the point of sunrise gets outside our window; it seems to just sit in one place for six weeks centred on the solstice.  But at this time of year, it speeds up as if it wants to get back to summer as fast as it can!


We got the 'big' snowstorm here, though it certainly wasn't as big as many we've had.  Further south in Ontario there was a lot of slush, mush, freezing rain and rain, but here it was just snow.  So we're back in winter, though not back in severely cold temperatures, and it's supposed to rise well above freezing again by Tuesday/Wednesday.  This is not the kind of winter I like, because the above freezing temperatures simply destroy the cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.  But I did get out to ride the snowblower for a couple of hours clearing the driveway.  It was an unusual snow accumulation, because it came with an east wind which made drift patterns different.  My fibre artist wife is back from two quilting retreats in two weeks; she's been home less than she's been away at these sewing parties.  It's nice to be back together.

Linking to:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

February Fences

I could go on sharing waterfall pictures for about two weeks, but you'd probably get bored with them.  Here are a few fences I've spotted in the past couple of weeks instead.

This is one of my favourite winter fences - a rather dilapidated board fence that casts neat shadows on the white snow on a sunny day.  Doesn't look like much at any other time.

I see a lot of fences like this, stretching far back across the fields, or down the side of the road, with those posts so close together.

This is a community pasture, just south of Walter's Falls that I always notice when we drive by; it's on my route to Owen Sound.  The barn has been retained, but there's no house.  Sometimes you do see cattle here in the summer months.

It's quite a nice barn, and in quite good shape.  I don't think I've ever seen those triangular buttresses out from the corners of an old barn, but hopefully they'll help keep it upright for a long time.

For the first time I noticed this small new windmill, obviously to provide water supply for any grazing cattle.  I don't think there's any hydro here anymore, but it's a beautiful farm looking west across the rolling fields to the big barn.


The storm started slowly this morning, and then it snowed quite heavily for several hours, turning our world white again.  But it's fine snow pellets rather than large fluffy flakes, so it's not very deep.  We had a gap for a few hours, but now it's snowing gently again.  Tomorrow I'll be out blowing the driveway again.

Linking to:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Back to Inglis Falls

After sorting out the pictures I posted yesterday, and reading your comments, I went back to Inglis Falls today.  I knew I could do more, and I had to go to Owen Sound anyway, to run some errands, so I took the camera, tripod and filters, and tried some experimenting.  If you're not interested in photography, you can skip on right now.

The first thing I noticed was the remarkable change from last Wednesday; much of the waterfall had opened up, but the ice wall at the bottom was now higher.  And there was spray everywhere, making for a very icy path where I walked and a lot of haze in the air.  I picked 3 different views, and then  took about 7 different exposures of the same view, from 1/25 seconds, to 4 seconds (and one fast one).  Above is a fast one, attempting to stop that moving water, at 1/4000 seconds. 

Second shot, same view, but a 0.5 second exposure.  I like this one.

I climbed further down this time (very carefully), and got a wider shot, here a fast one at 1/3200 seconds.  Look at the mist rising over the waterfalls.

And my favourite of this one was again at 0.5 seconds. 

Too much mist in these last two, but this was a fast shot at 1/3200.

And this last one was at 0.5 seconds too.  So among all the many 'slow' shots I took, ranging from 4 seconds to 1/25 seconds, it seems to be about 0.5 that I like, enough of that beautiful slow water, without overdoing it.  Tomorrow perhaps I'll show you some different shots of the river, or the next waterfalls.