The Nightsky

I have always loved the stars.

I have never lived in a city, so I have always been able to walk outside my home and stargaze. I love that you can watch the stars move, that the constellations shift and that the skies are different from night to night. I love laying outside in the grass and watching for meteor showers and I love bundling up on cold nights to photograph the crystal clear skies and always cross my fingers for a glimpse of the northern lights.

It is only in recent years that I have started photographing the stars and the aurora, but it has made me fall all the more in love with the night sky. One of my favourite parts of winter are the long nights, and clear cold skies. In the winter, I can see the northern lights almost every single nights, and I miss them throughout the summer, when it is much more difficult to glimpse them in the brief hours of actual darkness.

The other night, I was incredibly lucky and got to photograph the aurora AND the milky way. If I faced north, the aurora was vivid on the horizon and by just turning around 180 degrees, the milky way stretched overhead. These moments always leave me feeling tiny and yet part of something so very huge.

Here are my two favourite photos from that night:

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Please note that these are the low-res images;

High res images will be available for sale on my etsy page soon!

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Wildflowers and Waterfalls

I am constantly in awe of this incredible place that I call home; Kananaskis is beautiful in every season and in all kinds of weather. There is no such thing as a bad day out here. We have had a lot of rain recently (which, not going to lie, has made for a bit of a rough summer) but the rain has been really good for the wildflowers! The wildflower season out here is usually fairly short, but with the abundance of rain, the flowers just keep on coming! I did my weekly hike out to Troll Falls yesterday and snapped these photos along the way! The colour of the week for flowers seems to be purple.

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Whale Watching on Vancouver Island

When I traveled to Vancouver Island in June, what I wanted more than anything was to see whales. I have done whale watching before on the east coast in Halifax and St Johns, but the west coast was supposed to be so much better.

Before driving out to the island, I researched extensively the best spots to see whales and the best companies to tour with. I was impressed with the level of ethics that goes into modern day whale watching. There are guidelines in place to keep the whales safe, which, as an animal lover and naturalist, I truly appreciate. It made me feel good about going out, knowing that these companies do all that they can to give the whales their space and avoid collisions.

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This shows how boats are required to position themselves around whales

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A boat that has spotted whales will fly this flag to alert other boats in the areas.

The Screen+Shot+2015-02-26+at+4.07.27+PMfirst place on Vancouver Island that I went whale watching was in Tofino with Ocean Outfitters.  Tofino has so many whale watching companies, and they are all similarly priced, so my reason for picking Ocean Outfitters was actually their store front. The atmosphere in the shop welcomes you; there is a coffee bar in the corner with plush leather couches and beautiful photo adorn the walls. They offer an amazing selection of local interest books (I buy a couple every time I visit Tofino!) as well as great selection of gear and clothing. As a social media specialist, their marketing is stunning. Their logo is aboslutely beautiful and perfectly suits the company and pays homage to the history and culture of the west coast. In a town where whale tours are the life blood of so many companies, Ocean Outfitters stands out as the cream of the crop.

The tour starts at their shop front, getting outfitted in an ocean survival suit and an13419263_10209718737034901_4489420991607454471_n introduction to your skipper. For the tour, I chose to go out on the smallest boat, the 12 person zodiac. It promised to offer the most up-close-and-personal whale experience. The skipper knew where the whales had been spotted that day and where they were feeding, so he could bring us out to a known whale hot spot. As the skipper toured the boat out of the harbor and up along the coast, he pointed out land features and talked about some of the local wildlife, answering peoples questions. We hadn’t been out on the water long before the skipper slowed the boat down and told us to keep our eyes peeled for blow spouts, the distinctive jet of water that comes from a whale breathing as they breach the surface. Sure enough, within a minute or two, a blow spout was spotted a couple hundred meters from the boat!

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Our skipper explained that what we were seeing was a grey whale feeding. It was feeding on the bottom, so it would dive down, coming back to the surface every few minutes for a breath. Everyone on the boat got good at recognizing the pattern: Blow spot meant that the whale was about to dive again, so watch for the whales back!

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We visited a number of different whales up along the coast at various feeding spots, never staying for too long at any one spot so as not to disturb the whales. The boat ride was absolutely gorgeous, and is a great way to view the coast line around Tofino. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone visiting Tofino. Be sure to pick up on of Ocean Outfitters rad hats in store! It is my favorite souvenir from Tofino.

Whale watching location number two of the trip was in Victoria. I had never visited the city before, but everything about it screamed ‘come here to see whales!’

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See what I mean?

My tour operator of choice in Victoria was Prince of Whales Whale Watching. With a name like that, how could you go wrong?

Once again, I chose to go out on the smallest boat, another 12 person zodiac. This tour is definitely more commercial and less personal than the tour in Tofino, but no less awesome. Our skipper was hilarious, cracking jokes and pointing out landmarks as he steered us out to the open ocean.

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A couple of porpoises made a brief appearance.

The weather that day was very moody, but the ocean was perfectly calm and made for gorgeous photos. The first half an hour or so was uneventful as we travelled out in search of whales; a couple of porpoises popped up near the boat but then nothing. Until… splash!

Straight ahead of us something very large had just jumped out of the water. 13418577_10209753398461415_7399521376888066300_o

And then there it was again! The skipper explained to us that what we were seeing was a juvenile humpback whale who was feeling particularly playful that day. The juvenile and his mother were feeding at the surface and the little guy was putting on a show.

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Look at that giant mouth!

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Just because the boats won’t approach a whale, doesn’t mean that the whales don’t get close! When the whale tour boats see whales, they stop a couple hundred meters away to give the whales their space; they cut the engine and sit tight and the whales will swim upto, under and past the boats in close proximity!

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After seeing a number of different humpback whales, our skipper turned the boat back towards the shore, but not straight back to the harbor. He toured us around Race Rocks Marine Ecological reserve, a haven for a huge variety of ocean life!

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California and stellar sea lions, harbor seals and sea otters were just a few of the animals that we spotted around the islands that are known as Race Rocks.

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A picturesque lighthouse at the research station on Race Rocks

The tour with Prince of Whales was incredible. Everything went perfectly right, the weather was good, the ocean was beautiful and the wildlife was abundant. Definitely add this to your west coast bucket list.slider-beers-blackbetty

The biggest disappointment of the trip was not seeing Orcas, but the rest of the wildlife more than made up for that, and hey there is always next time! The best way to end a day on the water? With a trip to the Vancouver Island brewery; Their Black Betty Blackberry Saison is legitimately the BEST beer I have ever had.

The Bears of Kananaskis

If I had a dollar for every time I got asked ‘Are there bears in Kananaskis’, I would have a lot of dollars. The follow up question is usually ‘should I carry bear spray?’

Lets look at a helpful infographic:

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The follow-follow up question is usually ‘But are there actually bears?’ Yes. There are actually bears in the Kananaskis area. Bears can be found everywhere in the Rockies, to be precise. Should you live in fear of bears? Heck no! There is no point in being afraid of bears, what everyone really needs is to be educated about bears, and bear safety. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. When you are buying it, the place selling it should give you a full demo on how to use it.If not, ask someone who is familiar with it. I will happily teach anyone I meet how to use bear spray so that they feel comfortable carrying it, and therefore comfortable in bear country.

Top things to remember in Bear Country: 

-Do not leave food/attractants laying around. This includes things like soap, shampoo, petroleum products, alcohol, packaged food, pet food, etc.

-Do not feed ANY wildlife. Those cute squirrels or chipmunks that take food from your hand? They’re not eating all of it, they are caching it. That means they are burying it around your campsite or picnic area. Buried food attracts bears.

-Do not approach bears intentionally; do not try to pet them, ride them or feed them. You heard me, don’t ride the bears (I saw this attempted when I was a park ranger.).

-Make noise when you hike, this way you won’t surprise wildlife on the trail. Most animals really don’t want to see us, we just surprise them when we move quietly through the woods and they are bound to react defensively. Think about times when someone jumped out at you.

-Give wildlife its space, especially bears. Its better to have to backtrack on a trail then to risk it and skirt too close to a bear.

 

Am I afraid of bears? No. Do I respect them? Yes! In my 8ish years working as a park ranger and now a guide, I have had to spray two bears. I have seen a lot of bears that saw me, and then moved off. Or I moved off. I actually love bears. I think they are beautiful and incredible animals who deserve to be respected.

Things you probably didn’t know about bears:

-Bears are not true hibernators. They go into something called torpor, where they can wake up if disturbed or if weather conditions change.

-Female bears give birth in January to cubs the size of a lb of butter.

-Bears will occasionally make ‘nests’. They will climb a tree and pick branches to eat the fresh shoots on the end and then they will drop the branches and they will collect in the tree, creating what appears to be a very large nest.

 

Bears are beautiful animals; here are some bear photos that I have snapped over the last couple of weeks.

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The last couple photos were taken on my phone since I saw 7 bears on the one night I didn’t have my DSLR.

When you live out here, you see some of the same bears on a pretty regular basis; you honestly start to love them and love seeing them. You get to watch cubs grow up, bears flirting during mating season and bears fattening up during the fall. You eagerly await seeing the first bear of spring, since that means spring is really here.

What I want people to take away from this is that bears are incredible creatures that have a place here. This is their home that we are visiting and if we all follow some basic guidelines, we can live and play in bear country without being afraid.