Tag Archives: garden

The woodchuck and I.

I had the good fortune today of seeing a woodchuck up close and personal as. I must say that I am always ready for such animal encounters as I always carry my camera when walking in the botanical garden.

I had spotted the animal from afar as I was walking on the road that passes by a large field. This field is used by children who plant vegetables and other produce and are then used by the community. The animal was towards the end of the field where only grass is present.

I immediately walked straight towards the object of my interest, but at a slow pace. Woodchucks are notoriously shy and a sudden advance on them would have been the kiss of death on my photographic projects. I therefore moved only when it was not looking at me.

The animal was content in eating the grass that was in front of it, sometimes turning left and at times not moving and looking in my direction. I acted the part of appearing to be a statue. It would often chew on the grass and then look up. I was always on the move until I was a few feet from it, hiding behind a rock formation that had been shaped as a wheel by employees of the garden. From there I began taking pictures as I was unsure for how long the animal would stay.

The weather was not the best as the skies were cloudy but at times the sun would shine. I was now crouching and taking pictures of the animal and decided to get even closer to it but slowly. I knew that any rapid movements on my part would mean the sudden departure of my subject.

At times the woodchuck exhibited a strange behviour. At one point it stood on its back legs and stood up looking at me, seeming to strike a pose for me. Of course it is possible that it was trying to intimidate me by appearing larger than it really was. Interestingly not a sound was uttered by the animal. I took more pictures especially as the sun’s rays were now shining on my subject. The animal is not a colourful subject as its fur is brown with some reddish tint into it and it has the face of a beaver. But it is wild.

I was now facing the animal squarely and it did not seem to mine. In fact, it was so comfortable that it installed itself on a flat rock and stretched it front paws slightly in front of it. It was still eying me though, keeping a close eye on me. I was happy as I took more pictures while it stretched in the sun.

After about ten minutes of this the woodchuck suddenly got up and entered a small forest at the back of the area leaving me alone. Not once had it uttered a sound. It was always looking at me and knew at all times where I was and what I was doing. I was not doing much of course, except taking pictures.

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The fox in the cage.

I often visit the botanical garden to take pictures, and when I go I always go very early, before 07:00. There are less people and the wildlife is more visible. I love taking pictures of the foxes that roam the area, but according to the garden too much of a good thing is bad.

Foxes have been roaming the garden for at least 10 years. I vividly remember that before their arrival rabbits were plentiful as well as squirrels. That is certainly one reason why foxes were permitted to establish themselves: to control the population of squirrels and to eradicate the rabbits. These two are pests as they uproot plants and destroy the habitat.

However the garden likes the foxes, they usually leave every year only a couple of foxes to start the cycle again every year. They usually capture most young foxes starting in July or August. But this year it seems that they have started earlier, or it was always like that and I never noticed until it was too obvious to miss.

On that Saturday morning recently I was walking in an area called the children’s garden. This area is reserved for children in the neighbourhood so that they can plant vegetables and collect prizes for them. A friendly competition between the children. Naturally, too many foxes running around the area could pose a problem, although I have yet to see a fox eat carrots or turnips. But they do eat raspberries.

I walked behind a section where the employees have a small building. This is also used by the children from what I have seen. Behind it, well hidden from people, I found a cage and in it was a small fox.

It seemed to look frightened of me, trying to get at the back of the cage well away from me. It had these brown eyes that looked imploringly at me, as if asking what will I do now.

I thought about it for about 30 seconds and then walked away. Two reasons motivated my inaction; one, there were still 5 young foxes running around on top of four adults. That is still a lot of foxes to take pictures of. Secondly, odds are that even if I had released it the fox would be back in that same cage sooner or later, having eaten the free food inside. In other words, it was a losing proposition for me and for the fox.

I did feel bad as I left the fox in that cage as in all probability it would be destroyed. One less fox roaming around. But I also did not know how to open the cage securely and I was afraid of being bitten by the fox accidentally. I know that this sounds as excuses but they did enter my mind as I weighed my decision. Happy that I am not a judge. And of course, I do not go to the garden every day. In other words, of the foxes that get trapped eventually nothing I can do on a single day will change this. Or the cage would be moved in areas where I cannot access it. A losing proposition for me and the fox. Sometimes in life there are no real choices to make. Sometimes the hand that you are dealt is bad and nothing cane be done about this but to play what you have and hope for the best.

 

 

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Face to face with an owl!

It was a cold Sunday morning but at least it was a dry cold; the sun was shining and there was no wind. I felt great. I knew that on a day like that most people would simply stay indoors, but not me. I love photography and love a challenge as well, and taking pictures in -20 degrees Celsius or -4 degrees Fahrenheit for my American readers is certainly a challenge.

I was in the botanical garden, a place that I know well as it is barely fifteen minutes from where I live. There one can find foxes, raccoons, groundhogs as well as all sorts of birds, including large birds such as hawks and of course, owls.

I had previously seen owls in the garden, but all were seen from afar as they tend to stay in high in trees or they are well hidden sitting on a branch inside a conifer. I had previously seen a barred owl sitting on a branch not too far from me and I had taken some nice pictures but the owl was in the shade. This time it was different.

I had walked for well over 90 minutes with nothing to show for. Of course in winter just going for a walk let alone walking 90 minutes in freezing conditions is good for one’s health, but not having taken a single picture and going home empty-handed is bad for one’s morale. And waiting for the bus with nothing to show for is even worse. I was now in the last moments of my stay in the garden and I knew it. I was ready to cry uncle and leave as there are limits to my patience as well as my stamina. I was entering an area called the alpine gardens. I looked around the area and thoroughly searched it visually as well as physically, no small feat as the area was slippery. I then decided to return home by going by the same way that I had entered, a rarity for me as I usually do the opposite. For once it served me well.

I was walking towards the path when from afar my eye was attracted to something on a branch. It looked like an empty beehive with its characteristic gray color. I decided to use my lens and zoom in on the object and it was then that I realized that it was not a beehive. What I saw was a beak, a small yellow beak. I looked at the rest of the image and discovered that it was a small owl called a saw-whet owl.

Immediately I was seized by excitement, followed by fear. I was too far to take a picture and I imagined someone walking towards it and forcing it to flee. I started to walk towards it slowly, taking pictures at regular intervals. I did want something to show for. But as I got closer I was able to see that the small owl was not moving as it seemed to enjoy the sun. It was opening its eyes and did sway its head to locate the birds around it but it looked content to remain as is, sitting on a branch in the sun.

I was finally able to get so close to the owl that I could have petted it on the head. That close. For over thirty minutes I took pictures from every angle possible and still the owl would not move. I believe that it must have eaten soon before as I discovered in looking over my pictures a drop of blood on its body.

About towards the end of my stay a walker arrived behind me. I was torn between showing him my discovery and just seeing if he was going to discover the bird by himself. He walked by the bird without seeing it. I was not surprised having long thought that most people walking are simply not there, the body being there but the mind is away.

Having had my fill of good owl pictures I left the owl in the same area as I had found it, happy that in spite of frigid conditions I had seen a bird that people rarely see in broad daylight. Now only if that sort of thing happened every day….

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The red-tail hawk in the rain.

I arrived late in the botanical garden. It was a very cloudy day but I had thought that it would be a dry day but in the end it was anything but. I had purposely waited until 09:00 to take the bus but still had to contend with bad weather.

Here I was, walking with my camera and looking for a subject to photograph. With no snow on the ground and few birds, I was left with the prospect of trying to find mushrooms. Add to that low light and a small drizzle and one can see that I was less than enthusiastic about my prospects. It is the time of the year when a photographer has to be creative.

I had been walking for well over an hour and I still had nothing to show for except two pictures of some lowly mushrooms growing by the side of a dead tree. Nothing to crow about I would say.

I thought finally that swinging by the bird feeding stations would be a good idea. I was still hoping to see some birds so I began walking in the direction of one station that was near a small wooded area, at the junction of two small roads. A stream was also flowing nearby. Generally it is not the best feeding station as foot traffic can be intense at times.

I was walking along the trail when all of a sudden my eye caught something whitish on a branch high besides the feeding station. I approached cautiously and using the zoom on my camera began to examine this. As I looked I realized that it was a hawk, a red-tail hawk. I was besides myself.

This hawk does often frequent the garden but it is hard to see and harder to photograph as it tend to be quite high, looking on the ground for small rodents and birds. Not knowing if it was very skittish I approached slowly, taking a series of pictures in case it flew away, but luckily it did not.

I continued my approach until I was facing it. I then extended my monopod to the ground and began taking some more pictures. By then it was still drizzling but harder. I had my plastic bag protecting my camera as well as my lens, but not completely.

The bird was very much looking in the direction of the feeding station. It often would look at me as well, probably wary of what I was doing. It flew several times around the area, going from one branch to another. I could distinctly see its red tail sticking out. It is a massive bird much bigger than a Cooper’s hawk. I am always amazed how it can fly so silently and not uttering a cry.

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My foggy morning.

Imagine stepping out of your apartment and looking in front of you and around you. Imagine then facing a gray wall where you would see only about 10 feet in front of you. That is what I experienced this Saturday morning. True, at 07:00 in the early morning there was not much light and everything looks gray when there is no sun.

I waited for the bus to arrive, noticing that I really could not see much ahead of me. I was supposed to take pictures today, hoping that the sun would finally burn this fog and allow me to take some nice pictures. Alas, it never happened. The fog stuck around till the early afternoon.

The bus arrived and whisked me away towards my destination in less than 10 minutes and I arrived in the botanical garden just before 07:20. I looked around me and saw no one. I walked briskly around the area, trying perhaps to see a fox or a hawk soaring….in front of me? In this fog, a hawk flying high or low would be practically invisible. As for a fox, if it was more than 10 feet away I would not even see it. Add to that a rust colored fox lying on rust colored leaves and I think the reader will understand that better camouflage than that has not been invented. Mother Nature knows how to do things right.

I began taking pictures of my surroundings. I could see afar the trees and their branches in the fog. It looked like a horror movie. I was forever expecting to see a ghoul or two emerge from the fog. Naturally, Stephen King and his books entered my mind. One can add to that the humidity in the air that made it far colder and damp than the advertised temperature.

As I was walking near one of the ponds a cacophony of sounds suddenly erupted; first it was the quacking of ducks who for some reason thought it appropriate to let me know that they existed. I for one ignored them. There is a limit to taking pictures of mallard ducks after all. And then, high up in the air, I heard the honking of geese. Not one or two, but perhaps 100 of them. They flew over me…and I never saw them! They even turned around me but I was unable to see them in this thick fog. A second group arrived minutes later and still I could not see them.

Since I was blind I decided to focus on what I could see, the landscape that was in front of me and that I could see. I tried to focus on color, but in mid-November most trees have very little red leaves left. I was able to find a few trees that still had orange leaves with a background of very dark trees. I tried this several times and got some good shots.

In the end I did see a fox, but it was quite haughty; as soon as it saw me it sprang to life and faster than a bullet it sped in an area where the garden employees work. I had tried the old trick of going around the subject and then hoped to catch it by surprise in front of me. It did not work as the fox outfoxed me and just quickly left the area. At least the fog had not prevented me from seeing it but I wished that the fog at that moment had been

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Seeing and not seeing.

Here I was, walking in the botanical garden. It was late morning and I had been exploring the area trying to take pictures of something worthy of. In winter this is not easy. Sure, there were birds at the bird feeding stations but they were the usual birds that I have photographed often such as cardinals and juncos.

I was walking the ski trail and trying hard not to walk on the ski tracks but beside them. No need to arouse the ire of skiers I thought. I try hard not to antagonize people unnecessarily. I was walking towards an area of the garden where one can find tall conifers as well as several sculptures that are made of metal. Ugly objects in my view as rust was attacking them. It was cold, but the sky was blue and the sun was shining. I was a hunter on the prowl, but no animals would be harmed today by me.

I turned a corner and I could see on my left some conifers bathed by the morning sun. As I approached a tall conifer my heart raced when I saw a bird on a branch, a hawk called a Cooper’s hawk. It was only a few feet away from me and I was lucky that it had not been startled by my sudden arrival. Coming upon a hawk on a branch was a stroke of luck for me as these birds are notoriously difficult to see and especially to photograph. At least for me.

The bird was somewhat hidden on one side so I purposely walked sideways more to the left of it as I wanted to get a good shot. Finally, after a few careful steps I was exactly at the spot that I wanted. The bird cooperated with me and I took several pictures, and then not content with what I had I approached the bird even more. Again I took several more shots. At one point the bird lunged in front of it, or so it seemed to me. I was focused on the bird but I did notice that it had released itself. I had seen nothing else. For me there was nothing else to see.

Soon after a skier arrived and as it passed by the conifer the hawk flew away. I could not find it afterwards even if I did try. I left the area shortly after and reviewed my pictures. They were nice and I was happy with them. A day later, as I reviewed again my pictures I noticed something red lying on the branch where the hawk was. I increased the magnification and to my surprise saw that it was some sort of prey that the bird had caught. It had chosen this branch on that conifer to eat its prey. Despite the fact that the scene was in front of me I had seen nothing!

Truly we are blind. We see what we want to see and nothing more and it is probable that all our senses are affected in this way. Our eyes do not see and our ears do not ear. It is the brain that interprets reality. I was wondering, what else escapes me during my walks in the garden, and of course, in my everyday life? Are we all sleepwalking through life?

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Santa?

I was returning home fresh from doing some photography at the botanical garden when I spotted him. As I turned to look discreetly I recognized him instantly. He would often rest on one of those benches that line the entrance to the garden.

He looked like Santa to me from afar, wearing a red kangaroo with another sweater over him. He was laboring to bring all his stuff as he had one large bag and two smaller ones. He was probably in his sixties as his beard was more white than grey.

Immediately I saw that he was walking towards the bus stop where I was waiting. I was surprised when I saw him pull out his bus pass and right away I was faced with a dilemma; to take the bus with him or to walk.

I admit that my reaction was irrational. He did not appear to be a threat despite the fact that I could hear him mumble under his breath, never a good sign. And I knew that people living on the streets often suffered from mental disorders and could sometimes turn violent.

I reflected that he had been young once too, with parents that must have cared for him. He must have had dreams for the future and I am sure that they did not include living on the streets. Was it perhaps drugs or alcohol that drove him to that life? Perhaps it was gambling.

In the end I did the only rational thing, I let him enter the bus first and stayed near the entrance to exit the bus two stops later as planned. He continued on his way.

We were like two ships in the night, passing each other and only briefly seeing each other and then going our separate ways. For some reason I still felt uneasy about our encounter once I was alone at my other bus stop, as if I had escaped something dreadful.

I am not proud of how I felt nor cannot explain it. It was more instinctive than anything else. And it is precisely that instinct that has to be fought. Once we start thinking and not just reacting, we become what we should be, human beings and not merely animals.

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