Spring Thaw

Winter started its annual retreat around here about a week ago. And with it the ice on the lake began to break up and move out. Open patches of water appeared and the ice volcanoes shrank a bit. And blue skies - something we haven’t seen much of this winter. But weather changes quickly, as I recently experienced. These images were taken over a five-day period, in different light, in areas close to where I live. All were taken around water and ice that changed on a daily basis.


A large piece of driftwood sitting close to the beach in the open water. But it didn’t stay that way for long. Just five days later strong winds, high waves and cold weather brought in more ice and water and that large log was buried once more.


Looking out from the shore, a close up the ice volcanoes. The white bands, and soft edges on some of the ice is due to the combination of moving ice and a two minute shutter speed.


The change in weather also affected the river cut. Completely open just a few days ago, it’s full of ice once more. It won’t last long, the warmer weather will quickly melt it, but for now this is what we have.


Driftwood comes and goes. It’s been in the water - sometimes already on the beach, often coming in with the winds. But those trees are no longer alive and the harsh weather can’t hurt them. But this small tree, once on the beach, is now surrounded by water and lots of wind. Will it survive? I hope so.


The living trees growing near the edge of the lake face harsh weather in the winter and early spring. Ice builds up on the branches, melts, and builds up again. Yet the trees somehow survive. I find their resilience - and their beauty - comforting.


I’m captivated by driftwood. Once living trees, possibly part of a forest, transported from parts unknown, they now appear as natural sculptures, formed by time, wind and water. Their shapes and textures are remarkable.


There was a lot of ice at Grand Bend this year. It is starting to melt but it will take time and some warmer weather before it’s all gone. But people are already there, watching the ice recede, and looking forward to the summer that’s not too far off now.


Weather changes everything. The light makes a difference, as does the wind. And ice - well that’s a whole story on its own. Ice is powerful, it moves whatever’s in its path And when it leaves, what’s left behind is different than what was there before.

This Year's Sandhill Cranes

This is the second year I've photographed Sandhill Cranes.  These birds migrate north to nest and raise their young, and this year I followed a pair in Port Franks and another in The Pinery.  They are large and majestic, with plumage that blends with the grasses and wetland areas where they build their nests.  Sandhill Cranes are the only member of the crane family that is now off the endangered or threatened list as their population is slowly but steadily increasing.  In the wild they can live for 20 to 30 years.  


Cranes feature prominently in both Asian and Aboriginal art and symbolism.  They are associated with royalty, balance, grace and longevity.  It is believed that an encounter with a crane can be a powerful experience, pointing the way to the achievement of balance and good fortune.  Cranes are also depicted as creative, with an ability to focus, and as problem solvers and wise teachers.  They are seen as loyal.


Nest building occurs in the early spring when the wetlands are still covered in dead stalks, reeds and grasses from the previous year.  The nest is built close to the water and large enough to keep the eggs dry.  Normally two eggs are laid which will hatch in 29-32 days.


Sandhill Cranes mate for life.  Both parents build and maintain the nest, and both sit on the eggs.  When it's time to change places on the nest a specific set of behaviours occur.  The nesting bird stands up, bends down to the eggs, and moves them around a bit.  The other bird, usually some distance away, starts to walk toward the nest.  Once there, both adults spend time minding the eggs, cleaning up the immediate area and adding grasses and sticks to the nest.  The bird who had been feeding and wandering nearby settles down on the nest.  The other stays for a short while, eventually wanders off, and  then takes flight. 


Sometimes Sandhill Cranes are tolerant of other birds but often not.  I've seen them aggressively chase the Canada Geese away and yet the next day be indifferent, even when the geese are close to the nest or the chicks are near by.  If it's territorial behaviour it's not clear to me what triggers the aggressive mode. 


Many shots this year were taken from a canoe, and that offered closer and better access.  The birds were not concerned.  They ignored the canoe and its participants, giving us opportunity to photograph them closer than we could have done from land.  Seeing them up close made the experience even more powerful.


Once the chicks are hatched both parents remain close by.  Neither takes flight, both alert to what's happening with the chicks and on guard for predators.  The chicks, covered in soft yellow down, leave the nest within a few hours of hatching and are capable of swimming.  


They sleep under their mother's wings for three to four weeks.  In their first month they run, flap their wings and eat food provided by their parents.  In the second month they learn to dance and begin pre-flight training.  In the third month they learn to forage on their own, dance, practice take-off and landing skills, and fly with their parents.  By the end of the summer they are ready to migrate south with their parents.  But once they're fully mobile it's hard to find them.  


Cranes are known for their beautiful spirited dancing, something I've not yet seen.  As part of their mating behaviour they leap, run, twist their bodies and flap their wings in powerful movements.  One year I hope I'll be fortunate enough to see that.  But for this year I've spent more time watching and photographing them than the year before, I've seen the nests survive a wet spring and rising water levels, and watched the chicks get stronger and more active over the first ten days of their lives.  And seeing them cross the river, one parent leading and the chicks swimming close to the other parent, was wonderful.  I've learned more about them; It's  been a joyful few weeks.


Sandhill Cranes:  big, beautiful birds.  Symbols of longevity, loyalty, creativity and focus.  Having watched their behaviour I understand why.

The Intense Greens of Spring

In Canada the winters are long and we wait for spring with much anticipation.  And, after all that waiting, our springs are short with not enough time between the first hint of green in all its lovely shades and the harsher hues of summer.  This year the spring colours seemed more striking than usual.  These images were taken in Grey County, just below Owen Sound, the last week of May.  Spring had arrived and green was everywhere, vibrant and intense.

I was going back to a place I'd visited last year to see if the colours were the same, to hopefully improve on the images I'd taken then, and to find some new locations.

Walters Falls and the Bruce Trail

Walters Falls is a small village named after the pioneer John Walter who established the first sawmill there in 1854 using the power from the falls.  The falls continue to provide power for a gristmill today.  Walters Falls is the only double waterfall in Ontario.  The Bruce Trail - an 885 kilometre trail that runs from Tobermory to Kingston, following the Niagara Escarpment, and one of the few UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves - runs through the area.   

Rocks, Moss and Trees

Rocks, Moss and Trees

Below the Bruce Trail

Below the Bruce Trail

Branch abstracts amid the moss and stones

Branch abstracts amid the moss and stones

This image of the falls was taken last year.  Unfortunately the water was exceptionally high this year and access along the river to the falls wasn't possible.  Disappointing as photographing the falls again this year was one of the reasons for the trip.

Double cascading waterfall at Walters Falls

Double cascading waterfall at Walters Falls

Trees and a Small Brook Along a Country Road

How to find places to photograph?  Never easy, especially when you don't know the area.  And harder to find scenic imagery in the middle of the day.  These shots were taken mid-afternoon in bright sun.  But the greens were lovely and waiting for a bit of cloud cover helped, as did using a polarizer.

Trees in spring along a small brook

Trees in spring along a small brook

Trees and dead branches in the flooded marsh

Trees and dead branches in the flooded marsh

Bognor Marsh

Another place visited on last year's trip.  This time not so easy to photograph.  The light wasn't good and finding a decent vantage point to shoot from was tough.  Another reminder - not that I need one - that nothing stays the same, change is constant, and I need to stop and get that shot when the light and the composition are there because waiting to come back for it often doesn't work.  These are two images from this year that I did like.

Lilly Pads and Blooms

Lilly Pads and Blooms

Bognor Marsh

Bognor Marsh

A couple of days travelling in Ontario with a friend who's also focused on photography is always a good thing to do.  I see new things, revisit a few places I've been to before, make mistakes, learn a bit, and come back home rejuvenated and energized.  I'm now thinking about where to go next.