Mute Swan

Indulge me, if you will, as I post yet another set of bird photos. This is the Mute Swan, which, until last August, was a common sight at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon.

The reason Lost Lagoon no longer has any resident swans is that the last three swans were officially retired and now live at an animal sanctuary somewhere in the Fraser Valley. The move came after a fourth swan was killed by river otters. The swans are geriatric, and it was decided they should live out their remaining years without the threat of predators.

The Mute Swan is not native to North American, but you see them everywhere on this continent, mainly in city parks. Back in the 1960s, there were at least 70 of them living at Lost Lagoon. These days, however, the caretakers at Stanley Park are keen to ensure that native species thrive over invasive species. (I could tell you about the blackberries, but that’s a whole other post.)

Don’t worry, though. This isn’t the last you’ll see of swans in Stanley Park. Because the park is on the Pacific Flyway, you have a good chance of seeing either the Trumpeter Swan or the Tundra Swan as they pass through when they migrate — and they are far more likely to stop in if there are no more of the territorial Mute Swans.

But, invasive species or not, aren’t they magnificent creatures?

One last note: The Mute Swan is the national bird of Denmark. Does that surprise you? It sure did me. I would have guessed England, but apparently that country is still trying in the process of choosing a national bird. As is Canada.

Northern Flicker

Today is the first day of Vancouver Bird Week and to make it a little more interesting, the city is taking a vote on which of four birds should be Vancouver’s Official Bird.

Vancouver has had a City Bird for three years now. The Northwestern Crow was selected in 2014. In 2015, the honour went to the Black-capped Chickadee and in 2016 to the Peregrine Falcon. But this year is different: the honour of City Bird will become permanent.

Oh, the pressure!

None of the previous City Birds are considered eligible. Bummer, as my favourite Vancouver bird is the Black-capped Chickadee. Also not eligible are any birds that are a city, provincial/state, or national bird elsewhere. (That kinda narrows it down. Another choice of mine would have been the Bald Eagle, of which Vancouver has plenty.) Two final stipulations are that the potential City Bird cannot be viewed negatively by any cultural groups (?), and cannot be commonly found outside of the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver’s City Bird has to be uniquely West Coast.

So, which birds made the Final Four??

Those would be the Spotted Towhee (photo here), Anna’s Hummingbird (photo here), the Varied Thrush (sadly, no photo), and the Northern Flicker (below).

Which one did I vote for?

Now that would be telling.

But may the Best Bird win.

Canada 150: Edmonton

Canadians are known for playing hard in the summers. We like to spend as much time outdoors as we can, which is easy, because the days are long, and necessary, because the season is short.

Also, for the most part, the weather is awesome. Not too hot, not too humid.

One of the ways we play hard is by going to outdoor festivals. We’ve got a few, ranging from the traditional fairs and exhibitions and rodeos to theatre (from Shakespeare to fringe) to music of all sorts, including jazz, blues, and folk.

One of the best festival cities in the country, in my opinion, is Edmonton. And one of the best outdoor music festivals in the country, in my opinion, is the four-day Edmonton Folk Music Festival held every August at Gallagher Park. The park is a ski club in the winter, but in the summer, its hill serves as a natural amphitheatre with spectacular views of the city’s skyline.

The Edmonton Folk Fest is one of the largest and best-attended folk music festivals in North America, and attracts musicians from around the world who, once they’ve played the Folk Fest, are always eager to come back. Celtic, country, blues, gospel, soul, and world music — you name it, they’ve got it. It sells out every year, typically within minutes.

If you’ve never been, you don’t know what you’re missing. Seriously.

Canada 150: Banff National Park

My Canada 150 series would not be complete without a post about Canada’s oldest national park. But since every single one of my previous posts on Banff consists of a photo of a mountain, I’d thought I’d mix it up this time. (Otherwise you might get the idea that the only thing to see in Banff National Park are mountains.)

There’s wildlife, too!

Of course, say “wildlife” and “Banff” in the same sentence and most people will start listing off which of the Big Five — deer, elk, moose, bear, and wolf — they’ve seen. The big animals do deserve the attention they get, but it is often the little animals, which are far easier to get up close and personal with, that lead to the best photo ops.

Like this Columbian Ground Squirrel.

We Albertans call these gophers. They live in underground burrows and spend much of the year hibernating. As far as rodents go, they’re kinda big — typically about a foot in length.

I took this photo last summer.

Happy Easter!

Fountains Abbey Church, Yorkshire, England, October 1996

Canada 150: Cavell Glacier

Cavell Glacier in Jasper National Park is one of the most easily accessed glaciers in all of Canada. It lies at the bottom of Mount Edith Cavell and can be reached by a short (less than 1 km) hike. Cavell Pond was formed from the glacier’s meltwater. It’s turquoise because of all the glacial silt suspended in the water.

I spent every summer of my childhood exploring the Rocky Mountains with my family. The mountains are a pretty spectacular playground for kids, but I don’t think I truly appreciated them until I returned on my own as an adult. Now, I don’t take them for granted. Ever.

If you’ve been to Banff or Jasper, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, put the parks on your bucket list. You won’t regret it.

Through My Lens: Fountains Abbey Windows

For Palm Sunday, I’m posting a photo of a wall of windows from Fountains Abbey. These windows are located on the bottom level of the abbey’s tower, which was built not long before the abbey was surrendered to the Crown. As I explained last Sunday, after the surrender, the lead and glass were removed from all of the abbey’s windows, allowing in the elements and causing the abbey to quickly fall into ruin.

The Crown sold Fountains Abbey to a merchant from London. Eventually, it was purchased by Sir Stephen Proctor, who used stone from the abbey to build a home for his family. It took from 1598 until 1611 to build that house, which he named Fountains Hall.

What was left of the abbey became the estate’s “folly” — essentially a giant lawn ornament. Such features were common in formal English gardens.

Since 1983, Fountains Abbey has been owned by the National Trust. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

Through My Lens: Fountains Abbey Narthex

Here is a photo of the narthex of Fountains Abbey, which I am posting for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. A narthex is the entrance to a church. Nowadays, we usually call it a foyer.

You get an idea of the size of the church at Fountains Abbey from this photo. It wasn’t until I visited this abbey that I began to understand why so many of England’s abbeys lie in ruins. Which is ironic, considering that Fountains Abbey is one of the best-preserved abbeys in all of England.

It’s because once you take away the roof, the building doesn’t stand a chance against the unpredictable English weather.

Why is there no roof? That’s easy. When the deed of surrender was signed at Fountains Abbey in 1539, the abbey had to be made unfit for worship. The roof was torn off, and the windows were stripped of their lead and glass. Some of the stone was carted off to be used for building projects elsewhere; the rest was worn down by the elements. During the Dissolution, many of the abbeys were also burned to ensure that the monks would leave.

The Dissolution came about because of Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. More than 900 religious houses — home to some 12,000 people — were destroyed between 1536 and 1541. Initially, the proceeds from the monasteries was intended to provide an income for the Crown, but eventually many of them were sold off to fund Henry’s wars.

Canada 150: Tr’ochëk

Here is one last photo from North of 60. This is fireweed, the official flower of Yukon. It takes its name from the fact that it is one of the first plants to grow after a forest fire.

I took this photo at Tr’ochëk, a former settlement of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. It’s also known as Moosehide. Located about 5 km down the Yukon River from Dawson City, the settlement was abandoned in the 1960s after its only school was closed. Today, it is an important gathering place and a seasonal fishing camp for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.

Canada 150: Inuvik

Our road trip up the Dempster led us, eventually, to Inuvik. Located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, Inuvik was built in the 1950s in its present location in the Mackenzie River delta to function as the region’s administrative centre.

Inuvik is the northernmost point of the Canada that I’ve ever been to. Until this year, it was also the northernmost point in Canada that you could drive to in the summer. In the winter, the Dempster Highway continues north to Tuktoyaktuk for another 194 km along an ice road formed on the channels of the Mackenzie River delta and the Arctic Ocean. This ice road was only open during the winters, but is being replaced by a new all-season road scheduled to be finished by the end of next summer.

Our Lady of Victory Parish, or the Igloo Church as it is often called, is the community’s Catholic church. It was designed by Brother Maurice Larocque, a missionary from Quebec who spent his entire ministry working in the North. Before he became a priest, he was a carpenter, and he used his skills to design a church that reflected the people who would worship in it. The church was built in the shape of an igloo to be able to deal with the shifting permafrost it stands on.

The Igloo Church is the most photographed building in Inuvik. Naturally, I had to take a photo, too.