July 1, 2017

Happy Canada Day!!

 We have a longstanding pattern of enjoying Canada Day together very much, and were both quite pleased to have enough of the day off to enjoy out and about together. We started off on Granville Island, since I'd never spent Canada Day there and wanted to see what it was like. Near the shipyards they had some chalk out for people to decorate a maple leaf, so we got our picture taken doing just that.
 Granville Island was a pretty fun place to spend a few hours. We had some nice Indian food, listened to a little music here and there (though most everyone seemed to be perpetually doing sound checks) and ran into some fun entertainers like the two shown below. Costumes on stilts seems to either be a big thing in Vancouver, or just has become a big thing since we moved here, but its a very neat way of making visible and fantastical costumes.
 Afterwards, we went downtown to the Olympic Cauldron and a  few other spots, but it was SOOO crowded down there that we beat a pretty hasty retreat out of the area, and opted for a walk along the seawall. There was a VERY large Canada flag on display in Stanley Park and we spent a little time sitting in the shade and watching a cricket match as I hazily tried to remember what I ever knew of the rules.
Met up with some very nice friends in the evening to watch the fireworks from the Vancouver Rowing Club and have a great chat. All in all an excellent time and a proud day for our country on its 150th (though obviously as an archaeologist, Kathryn considers it closer to Canada's 10,150th)

June 21, 2017

10 Whole Years!!!

 In one of those wonderful "blink and you'll miss it" situations, Kathryn and I have been happily married for 10 years now. On the one hand, the time really does fly, but we've packed so many good times and travels into those years that looking back on it, they have easily been the very best decade of my life.
 We used this picture for the DVD case of our wedding video and it seems like a good one to share to mark the occasion. We're still a few continents short of a full set for our travels, but lets see how things stack up by our 20th and which gaps on the map we've attended to.
 We had a pretty small-scale celebration just the two of us with a nice dinner out and a bottle of sparkling wine and dessert at home. Tin is the 10th anniversary gift, and Kathryn very sweetly decorated a little can with some drawings of our first 10 years which was very sweet indeed. Looking forward to the next 10 years and the 10 after that, and so on :)

June 16, 2017

Sea Kayaking

Our itinerary included a sea kayaking/bioluminescence tour on the south-west coast and we were doubly fortunate in that outing. First off, when the torrential rain kicked up in the afternoon, we decided that you only live once and we aught to go regardless. Secondly, the other people that would have been on the water at the same time as us didn't make the same choice about the rain, so we had a private tour.
 There were frequently pods of dolphins in these waters and we had high hopes to see some, but unfortunately the passing storm had kicked up some chop on the water so it was a little difficult to spot a small dorsal fin in the ocean. The skies were striking and it had been ages since we'd been out in kayaks, so it was amazing all the same.
 The bioluminescence portion of the trip was too dark for any pictures to be taken, but still has a story worth sharing. After dark we were snorkeling about and told that there would be tiny plankton which would light up due to motion on the water, but were having trouble seeing anything. After 10 minutes or so of flapping around with my face in the water I was beginning to wonder a bit if it was like the story of the Emperors New Clothes and everyone just raves about the bioluminescence because they don't want to admit they can see anything. Fortunately, moments later everything changed and every motion of your body was trailed by an underwater fireball of glowing particles. It was truly an amazing experience and unfortunately, one of the few where you'll have to either take our word or go see for yourselves just how incredible it was.

June 14, 2017

Arizona Birds

 Although we were only in Phoenix for a few hours each way, we managed to see quite a few fun birds down there as well. Gambel's Quail are very fun and distinctive with their bouffant forehead feathers, and are regionally separated from California Quail which they closely resemble. We were patient and quiet enough to see several of them scampering around near the concession stand in the Desert Botanical Garden.
 Also in the Botanical Garden, and quite possibly also interested in quail, was a mated pair of Great Horned Owls. We have seen them several times before, but they are always a treat, and one was even awake in the daylight as an added bonus. Great horned owls have a very powerful build and are often called the "tiger of the air," capable of eating pretty much anything they can catch.
 Since we were there in December, there were a lot of migratory waterfowl to be seen at a nearby pond, and we were delighted by a large number of Muscovy, ring-necked, and ruddy ducks, along with scaup, wigeon, moorhen, and shovelers.

June 12, 2017

Passing through Phoenix

 On our way to Costa Rica, we wound up with a flight change that left us with about 30 hours to cool our heels in Phoenix, Arizona on the way down and again on the way back. Rather than pout in an airport hotel, we were delighted to find that the area around the airport is both surprisingly walkable and full of neat places to go. Our first destination was the Pueblo Grande Museum, which had a nice series of displays and walking trails about the first nations people of the area.
 There was also the Desert Botanical Garden, which offered a wide range of cacti, butterfly gardens, other flowers/plants, and a nice place to have lunch. I was very taken with the size of the saguaro cacti and thoroughly enjoyed seeing them all over the place. My one regret was leaving my fisheye lens in the hotel for our all-day walk so that I didn't have the chance to get a nice spherical planet of these enormous plants.
Hole-in-the-Rock is a neat geological formation that you can walk up and climb through, so we managed to fit that in on our way back to the hotel. The Hohokam (resident first nations) had used this spot as a means of tracking the seasons, and a site at the Pueblo Grande Museum was where light shining through this hole would be observed during solstices or equinoxes.

June 9, 2017

Spectacled Caimans

 Caimans were the second and smaller crocodilian we saw in Costa Rica, with the males being up to 6ft long and the females being somewhat smaller. Their diet consists of invertebrates and fish with a few pigs thrown in for the larger adults. Like many of their Family, they have mastered the art of patiently floating along and trying to look as much like a log as they can to any short-sighted prey.
 We saw a few baby animals as well as the larger adults. The babies tend to stay closer to the edge of the water and tuck in among the grasses. The young are interesting in that the temperature of their nest will determine their gender upon hatching, with warmer temperatures producing females and lower temperatures producing males. While we (falsely) think of reptiles as laying their eggs and then abandoning them, caiman mothers will not only raise their own young, but are known to cooperatively babysit for one another.
 While not as outright terrifyingly huge as the American crocodiles were, Caimans are still pretty impressive reptiles and pack more than a little dinosaur quality to their appearance. We were never in any danger from these creatures, but there was one night walk where the lodge kept caimans on the grounds and we could hear one consistently moving towards us from the darkness.

June 7, 2017

Vulture Variations

 Costa Rica has vultures the way cities have pigeons: they are practically everywhere you go. Unlike pigeons, which we typically lump all together as "winged rats," there are 3 distinct vulture species in Costa Rica and we were lucky enough to see them all. Turkey vultures are the same species we have here in Canada. They hang in the air with a distinctive "V" shape to their bodies and search for their food by smell and sight.
 In contrast, black vultures (which we do not get in Canada, but which are also found in the southern USA) hunt entirely by sight. To help them spot prey, they fly higher than turkey vultures, and will often rely on their motions, or those of predators, to help them locate a meal.
 King vultures are the largest of all (except for condors) and fly the highest. We saw them twice and Kathryn was very good at spotting their distinctive white fronts (compared to the turkey vulture, they have the inverse colour pattern). They typically fly highest of all the vultures and often rely on both other species to locate kills. Despite their enormous beaks, they rely on other birds to open up a carcass and then use their larger size to drive the others away.