February on the Great Divide, temperature in the -20s C

Beautiful or bleak? Does it make you want to hunker down by a warm fire or put on your skis and go?

Winter in the city can be brutal. It was -30 in Edmonton this morning and barely struggled to -26 this afternoon. Enough wind to freeze your face if it was exposed. At least we’re not shovelling snow or sliding on ice, and our power hasn’t gone out. But wherever you live, Canada has produced a harsh winter, and we haven’t even reached January yet.

I love winter, even in the city. But its real beauty is in the wilderness. Here are some of my favourite memories, some recent, some decades old.

Can there be a more iconic form of transportation than a sled and a team of dogs eagerly pulling you across the land?

Dogsledding in the Tombstones, Yukon

Few animals are more powerful in their beauty than the polar bear. Will we still have them when ice no longer forms in the North?

Polar bear in Churchill

Winter is defined by climate, not the calendar. The photo below was taken in May, but we had temperatures in the -30s. Canada’s highest peak never disappoints in its scenery.

High on Mt Logan

Nor does Baffin Island disappoint. I was there twice. First in 1979 with the Alpine Club of Canada. We had enough light to ski 24 hours a day, and sometimes we stayed out that long.

Full moon over an unnamed peak, Ayr Lake, Baffin Island.

The second trip was a private expedition with my husband and a friend to Auyuittuq National Park. The granite walls and massive glaciers form a landscape worthy of the Norse gods for whom many of the mountains are named.

The land that time forgot.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. We had the “help” of a snow machine to get to our first camp in Auyuittuq.

Who thought that this was a good idea?

But even bad weather isn’t necessarily bad.

Dais Glacier below Mt Waddington.

Of course, I spend most of the winter in the city, and what I have learned in the wilderness keeps me from hibernating. I’m happy at -40, but when I’m out walking, I understand why so many people hate the season. People who can afford serviceable clothing either don’t buy it, don’t wear it, or don’t use it correctly. Instead of spending an extra five minutes at home to protect themselves, they shiver for 15 to 30 minutes waiting for a bus or walking to the grocery.

The number one error? Not covering the head, neck and face. When I wrote my book on snow camping, I said that we lose 40% of our body heat from the head. That was common wisdom at the time (1993).

Now I saw an experiment a few years ago in which people were stripped naked, placed in a cold room or in cold water, and heat loss from various parts of the body was measured. Turns out, they didn’t lose more heat from the head than from any other place on the body.

I’m not sure what the scientists were trying to prove. When is the last time you saw someone wandering naked down the street in the middle of winter?  (I hope they were treated for hypothermia and frostbite before seeing a psychiatrist.) If you have clothing on all of you except for your head, where do you think you are going to lose heat? And you’ll lose a lot.

So don’t become a cave rat. Bundle up, put a smile on your face, and go for a walk. You’ll feel better and you’ll be able to pity the poor souls who haven’t got the message yet.

For me in winter, there’s really is no such thing as bad weather–only a bad choice of clothing. Now if someone could just tell me how to dress for “hot and humid.”

View from Mistaya Lodge, B.C.


I have neglected this blog for far too long. A second visit to Costa Rica this year reminded me that I haven’t finished with the birds and animals I saw on the first one in February. Before dealing with them, here are a few that I was fortunate to photograph last month. It rained almost every day, and with no sun to light up colourful feathers, most of my birds-in-flight photos came out as dark forms against a grey sky. What I’ll share today are creatures whose character shines from within. No I.D.  Just enjoy them as I did.


Pert and sassy

I’m a cheerful guy, but this is my kingdom.

I am beautiful.

Wheels down!

I think you’re on my property.

Did you say something?


Photo of the Day


Sometimes you have to brag a little. This photo of a red-eyed tree frog in Costa Rica was selected by Natural Habitat Adventures in their “Wildlife Photo of the Day” competition. I’ve entered photos in the past, but this is the first time I’ve won.

More Big Beautiful Costa Rican Birds

Emerald Toucanet

With  a few days remaining before I leave for a blissful two weeks of internet-free snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies, I’ll add another post or two on my trip to Costa Rica. The big birds are easy to identify; the small stuff will take a lot longer.

The Toucan tribe is almost as colourful as the macaws, and we were fortunate to see several species. The Emerald Toucanet posed regally for us.

Emerals Toucanet

There’s nothing regal about the others.

Black-Mandibled Toucan

Although “Kill Bill” tried.

Keel-billed Toucan

But this fellow didn’t.

Collared aracari

For a regal-sounding name, nothing beats the Montezuma Oropendola. And he’s handsome enough to carry the name.

Montezuma Oropendola

And of course, we need a parrot.

Red-lored parrot

The remaining bird almost didn’t make it into this category; I think the red legs saved it.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail

I’ll give him one more chance to show off.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail

Superstars of Costa Rican Birds



Sometimes I get lucky. The macaws flew only once before retiring to the trees where it was cooler. I set my Lumix FZ1000 to 400 z00m, aimed skyward,  fired a burst, and hoped. When I cropped the specks in the frame, I discovered that the camera had captured their magnificent flight.

Macaws are clowns. It’s impossible to take them seriously, but their beauty is impossible to ignore.

They hang around, looking silly.

They hang around, looking silly.

Until they decide to fly.

Until they decide to fly.

We spent a long time with these birds, which are quite tame because they are raised and fed in this location.

A solemn pair?

A solemn pair?

No, they're all goofy.

No, they’re all goofy.

And a delight to photograph.

And a delight to photograph.

The bird we all hoped to see, of course, was the elusive quetzal. They hide deep in the trees, usually obscured by branches and almost always in a dark place. We were fortunate to see several and follow them until we managed to get some clear shots.

Sneaking up from behind.

Sneaking up from behind.

The standard portrait.

The standard portrait.

But I prefer this one.

But I prefer this one.

More to come from my trip to Costa Rica. There are big birds, small birds and a lot of creatures that aren’t birds, enough material for quite a few posts.



Trio. Oops! Quintet.

I promise to finish my blogs on the Firth River as soon as I return from two weeks of snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies. But I just got back from an eight-day photo tour of Costa Rica and have to share some of the delights. A great many places have learned that by putting out a feeder or even hanging some flowers from a branch will attract hummingbirds and tourists. It would have been nice to capture the birds at random in the bush, but feeders make photography so much easier. Below are my favourites from three locations.

There's room for everyone.

There’s room for everyone.

I could probably drink upside down if I tried.

I could probably drink upside down if I tried.

A study in colour.

A study in colour.

Attack from two sides.

Attack from three sides.

Eye on the enemy.

Eye on the enemy.

I win.

I win.

Nahanni Odds and Ends

Makenzie Orchid

Mackenzie Orchid

Most of the flowers I saw were old friends from the Rockies: death camas, potentilla, lousewort, asters, bog rosemary, and reindeer lichen. Lady slippers occur there as well, but the beautiful Mackenzie orchid (a version of Cypripedum guttatum) thrives only in the mist of Virginia Falls. At least I recognized it sufficiently to call it a lady slipper.

The following pretty bloom was a real puzzler.

Boschnialia rossica

Boschniakia rossica

I spent a long time searching the internet in vain for this one. Fortunately, one of our guides was a trained botanist and came to my rescue a few days ago. Its common name is northern groundcone, and it’s a parasite.

The final plant oddity isn’t really unusual; I just had not encountered it before. Plus, it wasn’t fully in bloom. This time, Ben Gadd’s  wonderful Handbook of the Canadian Rockies provided the answer, as it usually does for anything in the Boreal forest.

Striped Coral Root Corallorhiza striata

Striped Coral Root.  Corallorhiza striata

It’s another orchid. No leaves. It feeds on dead plant matter with a little help from fungal friends.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but it was there.

Caribou tracks on a beach

Caribou tracks on a beach

A couple more sky pictures. The clouds were endlessly fascinating.

A sunny day with promise of showers later

A sunny day with promise of showers later


Cloud mountains

Cloud mountains

And finally, here is what the Nahanni would look like today if the mountains had not risen up around it. It still has its curves and oxbows, but they are far less obvious as they flow through deep canyons.

Flat-land river

Flat-land river

That’s all from the Nahanni. The next posts will deal with the rest of my summer holiday: Yellowknife and the Firth River.