Unexpected Surprises (the Good Kind!)
NOTE: If the cursor changes to a hand over any photo, click to enlarge the image in a new tab.
On our very enjoyable visit to my cousin’s farm near (tent-caterpillar-free) Maryfield SK, which I mentioned in Part 3, we also enjoyed a special moment with these little guys:
Eventually, I got too close, I guess, and Francis disappeared with the the others. I thought I should have a look around the back side of the granary, and, as I moved carefully in that direction, who should come round the bin, but Francis, as happy to see me as I was him — maybe not, but the backlit shot here is a memory I’ll keep alive as long as can!
It’s hard to say why this felt like such a blessing. Of course, they’re cute, but they can be a pest on a farm or even an urban environment. I often used to see them in Sapporo, where I lived from ’89 to ’02. In the spring of 1990, I’d had a delightful encounter with a family of Hokkaido fox kits near the top of an urban ski hill not far from where I lived.
Since returning to Canada from Japan in 2002, I hadn’t seen any foxes in BC or elsewhere. It was just a coincidence that this summer, my cousin was not keeping chickens as she often does, so she and her husband were enjoying the foxes, too, and told me where to look for them. This is a memory I’ll cherish as long as I’m able to!
The next day, we pushed on — across the border into Manitoba where we hoped to do some birding around the village of Melita and to camp in the Turtle Mountain Park before visiting Whitewater Lake the next day. Then we’d be on our way to Winnipeg.
Well, the birding was okay, no caterpillars to contend with. Not fantastic, but okay. Turtle Mountain, however, turned out to be so much less than I’d imagined all through my youth when I looked south from the Trans -Canada Hwy on our regular visits from our home near Winnipeg to Moosomin where my grandmother lived, and the farm which Alec and Iris took over in the 1950s. My research with Google Maps indicated that there was a decent road from west to east through the Park. That did not pan out. So, enough said; what’s a little wasted time?
We headed north to Boissevain, a town I’d long known of but never visited, in hopes that we could camp there. When the campground proved quite unsatisfactory (I’ll spare readers the details), we thought we were stymied. Once again, ended up at Subway for dinner where we enquired of one of the employees as to where we might find a decent camping spot. He immediately and strongly recommended a place that hadn’t even come up on our searches, a spot called William Lake Provincial Park. We decided to have a look. It turned out to be one of our favourite camping spots of the summer. Not that we have many photos to show for it! Fortunately, Nana took some with her iPhone.
Some of its features couldn’t really be illustrated with photos: June 2 — no caterpillars! Clean heated washrooms with showers and hot and cold water! Wonderful morning birdsong —particularly a lovely House Wren that really didn’t want to pose for pics as it foraged among the oaks. Free firewood! And we had the place almost entirely to ourselves…. Until the next morning (Friday, June 2) when, as we were leaving, we found the gate that had been dark and unstaffed the night before, now processing a line of cars coming in. As the exit was closed, I went in to pay for our night’s stay, only to be informed that we would also be charged the $5 day pass fee for Friday, as well. I explained that I didn’t that was reasonable, and I was “let off this time”…. Good ol’ Manitoba. (BC did away with day passes several years ago….) If they had simply rolled the five bucks into the camping fee, we’d never have minded. Funny how that works: don’t nickel and dime me; in fact, I’ll give you a dollar if you don’t!
So, off we went, backtracking to Whitewater Lake, which also turned out to be a mild disappointment. Although it’s quite large, there’s a long spit that stretches out from the marshy shores and has an observatory gazebo of sorts at the end. Unfortunately the road/walkway out to it had been washed away recently and we couldn’t get to the end. While we saw birds including Western Grebes, a Cattle Egret, and other waders, gulls, and more, they were generally too far away to get decent shots.
There was also a small domesticated herd of bison on the shore in the distance. And, as usual, the gusty wind that helps account for the lake’s name was less than wonderful!
So, back to the plan: drive across southern Manitoba through places I’d know of nearly forever but had never to my recollection ever visited: Killarney, Cartwright, Crystal City, La Riviera, Pilot Mound, Manitou, Morden, Winkler, Carman, each with it’s own claim to fame that I’m not going to go into here….
If the surprises of the day, to this point, had been less than memorable, what happened in Killarney, a town of 2200 with its strong pretence of an Irish heritage, was not only remarkable, but wonderful. I’ll get to why in a moment.
First, though, this bit from Wikipedia:
“The Town of Killarney was officially incorporated in 1906 [KAR —about the time my grandfather began homesteading near Moosomin, SK]. An Irish land surveyor named John Sidney O’Brien named Killarney Lake (before that, it was called Oak Lake by the aboriginal people) after the Lakes of Killarney, in Ireland. Legend has it that as he sat on the shore of the lake, homesick for his native home, he took a bottle of “Good Irish” from his pack and, pouring it into the water, christened the lake Killarney. The “Irish”-ness of the community is often used as a tourist attraction with things such as green fire engines, Erin and Kerry Parks, Little Irish Downs, and many other good Irish-themed attractions used to play up this theme. Killarney, Manitoba does not have any actual connection with the town of Killarney, Ireland. Most of the people who originally settled the region were from the Scottish Highlands, the English or were Mennonites or Hutterites of Central European extraction.”
What will stick in my mind most, however, are the images of this clean, charming, progressive town. Although Highway 3 allows one to bypass it, that would be a great mistake. My advice? Turn off the highway, and drive towards Killarney Lake, not “man-made,” but certainly human-enhanced. Stop at Erin Park and look for Blue Jays, Grackles, and lots of other birds.
Enjoy the families playing in the park and its fabulous Water Bucket Splash! I’d never seen one of these; instead of simply shooting a video, I took bursts of the bucket filling, then dumping its contents over the delighted children. The process takes much longer than this animated gif indicates — we miss the wonderful suspense…. When I got home, I rued my “mistake” until I found software online that allowed me to make this image. Turns out my blog doesn’t allow me to upload videos anyway!
What blew us away, however, were the White Pelicans, a bird I’d long wanted to photograph! We have ’em in BC, of course, but they’re only rarely seen at either The Coast or in the Okanagan Valley. I had no forewarning that I’d see them here, so the surprise was truly thrilling. Our first look came at Erin Park where we saw them at a distance both in the lake and in flight. It never occurred to me that I could get better shots than the ones below, so I happily accepted what the lake was serving.
First views: click any photo to enlarge them all….
An even better surprise lay in store, however. We got back into the Murano to go uptown and find some lunch. First, we had to cross the bridge. And there they were: the main flock — so close in some cases, I could barely fit them into my viewfinder. Took a jillion photos and still managed to leave some great shots wanting to be taken, like a conflict in which a Red-winged Blackbird objected defiantly to a Pelican cruising too close to shore. Nana urged me to capture the moment — it went on for several minutes — but after getting the shots below (and a whole lot more), I figured I could come back after lunch and likely find this behaviour again. I was wrong. I know, I know! I should always take my wife’s advice!
The closeups: Click any photo to open it, enlarged, it in a new tab.
And, of course, there have to be more flight shots! Click any photo to enlarge them all….
Many of these shots were less than perfect. If I lived in Killarney, I’d be down here every day honing my skills and working the light! I think, now that I’m home and looking more closely at the map, that there are probably several other parks and ponds I’d be checking out on regular basis. Will I ever get the chance? Time will tell….
(The last part of Day 10 is included in the follow-up post….)