sweet water songs

PHOTO POST

It was a brisk Saturday morning as I made my way to the lakeshore.

Getting from here to there

I wasn’t after fish, but those who I sought would be fishing, or so I thought. I was on the trail of Long-Tailed Ducks, hoping to capture not only pictures but sound.

Writing in 1925, Edward Howe Forbush called these birds “perhaps our most loquacious ducks,” adding that “their resounding cries have been likened to the music of a pack of hounds.”

The trick was to get close to their deep-water haunts, without slipping into the deep myself. I failed that morning, but when I returned late in the afternoon the Long-Tails went about their business with little notice of my presence. I was pleased to note there was little wind, giving me an excellent chance to hear and perhaps even record their song.

Chapter thirteen

Long waves

Four’s Company

In the video below you may also note the odd Scaup and Goldeneye. (You may need to turn up the speakers to hear the Long-Tails’ calls, about 20 seconds in.)

Sun was setting over a frozen harbour channel as I made my way home.

Mouth of the Channel

The glassy water gave no hint of a coming storm.

Night Flight

Yet the bay was transformed by sunrise. A stiff south wind had picked up overnight, collecting thin sheets of ice from across the lake and depositing them, in a million pieces, on our shoreline.

Dawn breaks on Sunday

Waves were rolling up against the ice edge, so far from land that the scrunch of ice against ice was barely audible.

Blue Silence

Zig-zag-sun

But waves are nothing if not patient. On Sunday night a rhythmic smashing of ice had grown louder than the wind. By Monday morning the ice sloshed back and forth against the shoreline, shards splintering. By Tuesday morning the ice had returned to water.

(The video below is best viewed full screen, ideally on a screen approximately the size of Lake Ontario.)

lakeshore medley

PHOTO POST

When you’re looking for fresh new scenery on a daily basis, the January lakeshore obliges – especially when the temperature plunges, heavy snow falls, and waves rearrange the ice, water and steam ceaselessly.

Breakwater Boulder (click image for full-screen view)

As dawn breaks frost is forming on icicles at the waterline.

Mouth of a Cave

The delicate filaments of frost are gone by the end of the day … but they’ll be back soon enough.

Sunset Arch

Gentle waves roll over pebbles at sunset, carving a path under a coating of ice.

Sunset Flow

It takes much bigger waves to topple the more massive ice formations.

Snaggletooth & Friends

Right along the coast is not always the best place to go looking for fauna, as most species of waterfowl stay well away from shore. But just a short drive to the west at Lynd Shores Conservation Area, it’s not hard to spot lots of wildlife.

White-Tailed Deer

Mourning Dove at Evening

Barred Owl

When you love ice and snow the lakeshore is a special place, not least because the sounds are just as beautiful as the sights. Here’s a short suite from the shoreline over the past week:


Photo at top of post: Branching Out (click here for full-screen view)

 

 

back yard blizzard

PHOTO POST

When a blizzard blew over a few days ago the wintering birds knew what to do: gather round the feeders and feast.

Like most blizzards in Ontario’s deep south, this one was mild in temperature. But perhaps the birds sensed that much colder weather was on the way. They were so intent on taking their turns at the feeders they paid little attention to pesky paparazzi.

Finch and Junco (click images for full-screen views)

American Goldfinches (above right) worked at the nyjer thistle seed all day. Dark-eyed Juncos (above left) gave it a try too, though their fatter beaks aren’t a good fit for the narrow holes in the finch feeder.

Woodpecker Candy

The Downy Woodpecker (above), as well as its larger lookalike the Hairy Woodpecker, hammered away at their high-calorie treat – seeds frozen in a suet block.

Inspector Starling

The Starlings gave it a try too but had a harder time of it.

American Tree Sparrows found their picnics at ground level.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 1

Their name is a misnomer, since they nest and forage on the ground. Grass seed is a favoured food, and a deep drift of snow put the seed heads on tall stalks within a short hop.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 2

By the time the sun rose the next morning the wind had calmed, the snow was no longer drifting, and the skies were clear. There is no better time to stroll the beach, watching the light show play out where sand and stones meet ice, waves and the first rays of sunrise.

Sedimentary Colours 1

Sedimentary Colours, 2

Sedimentary Colours 3

Sedimentary Colours 4

The rest of the beach is equally beautiful with bright cottage colours set off against new snow.

Cottages at Port Darlington

When I return home the birds are again busy in the back yard and this Junco waits for a turn at the feeder.

Junco on White


Photo at top of page: Snowy Morning Doves (full-screen version here)

walking into winter

PHOTO POST

Gliding through the harbour one morning just before freeze-up I spotted a mink.

Though I’ve looked many times since, it proved an elusive sight. No more mink so far, but instead …

On the beach a crayfish rested its final rest, still but still intact, having escaped the mink and the pike and the herons.

Mine eyes have seen the glory

At the edge of the woods just after sunrise, maple keys grabbed the light.

Key

What work of abstract expressionist art did the sunshine reveal? Is it an alien crop circle, seen from a spaceship? 

Tooth Trail (1)

No, just the hard work of beavers who have been chewing through twigs and trees.

Tooth Trail (2)

As mornings got colder the starlings sought warmth – even if that warmth had to be created by fluffing their feathers and being as round as possible.

Points of Light (2)

The miraculous chickadees survive the coldest mornings in spite of their tiny size. But they certainly appreciate a bowl of unfrozen water to drink from.

At the watering hole

The big lake remains open though wind and waves scatter icy spray across the shoreline.

Winter Wave

When the harbour channel remains thawed it’s a great place to watch waterfowl in the warmth of afternoon.

Shimmering down the creek

But when both winds and temperature drop, the channel and the marsh begin to freeze.

Perpendicular Ice

Gulls gather one day at the lakeshore, another day in the centre of the marsh. For a few days, at least, the Ring-billed Gulls were joined by a less common visitor – a Great Black-backed Gull who stood still and did its best to act inconspicuous.

A giant among us

And then one morning dawns very cold and even the harbour channel is mostly solid. Canada Geese huddle on the ice in small groups awaiting the sunrise.

Minus Twenty-Two Morning

Will the cold last? Not likely, but we do our best to enjoy while we can. And if some day very soon the sun shines on an open harbour again, I’ll be looking for that mink.

Beautiful Niche (2)


Photo at top of page: Beautiful Niche (1)click here for full-screen view

Remembering Iohan

We stared through the dark windows at the ice-covered street, wondering … “Is he still going to make it here tonight?”

It was the evening of December 21, 2013, several hours after a huge ice storm settled over the north shore of Lake Ontario. Hundreds of thousands of people were without electricity, including everyone in our town of Port Hope. In mid-afternoon, before we lost all communications, Iohan had sent a message saying he was still determined to make it to our house that night – but he was making slow progress on his bike.

Long after dark we spotted a tiny flash bobbing down the street. Iohan was pointing his bike light at the houses, looking at the numbers, until he found our place at the end of the street. And so we met a truly unforgettable character, covered from head to toe in wet ice, who quickly filled our home with good cheer.

Iohan Gueorguiev had contacted us a few days earlier through the website Warmshowers, asking if he could spend a night at our house. We had hosted our share of eccentric travellers but Iohan’s plans were particularly audacious. As a newbie cycle traveller with no winter cycling experience, he was going to ride from Hamilton, Ontario to Halifax, Nova Scotia – more than 1800 km – during his Christmas holiday break from university.

By the second day the trip fit what would become a classic “travels with Iohan” template: tackle a challenging route, with minimal preparation and barely adequate gear, throw in plenty of rain, ice and bitter cold, plus the occasional major equipment failure, and Iohan would lap it all up and be even more eager for the next ride.

During his long day between Toronto and Port Hope he endured hours of cold rain, then plodded through the darkness on ice-covered roads, without studs on his tires or on his shoes. The next morning, it wasn’t easy to persuade him to stay another night rather than setting off again on the still-slick roads.

Fortunately for us he did stay and we got to enjoy his company for an extra 24 hours. We prepared an early Christmas dinner on the stove-top for 10 people, then feasted around a candle-lit table.

For many of our hours together, Iohan peppered me with questions about biking the ice highways in the western Canadian arctic. After two nights inside, however, he wasted little time packing his bags and suiting up for the ride. The roads were still ice-covered, there was no thaw in the forecast, and there wasn’t a working traffic light to be found anywhere in the region.

Iohan Gueorguiev, December 23, 2013, in Port Hope, Ontario

He biked away along our street and that turned out to be the last time I saw Iohan in person. But the memories of Iohan were just beginning. As I read his blog and then watched his many videos over the years, I joined a circle of friendship that grew to hundreds, then thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of people.

For a few years we corresponded frequently, about biking and camping gear, possible travel routes, and how to shoot and edit his videos. In 2015 he was accepted into the Blackburn Ranger program, and was awarded some of the best bike-packing gear plus training for a journey along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Alberta to Mexico. Before long, it was clear that he knew far more about rugged bike trips than I had ever dreamed of knowing. Not only that, but he had a real gift for shoestring-budget, solo videography; his simply-narrated, simply astonishing travel stories gained a huge and devoted following.

The risks he took were breathtaking. Still a newbie winter camper, he explored off-beat trails where, had an unexpected blizzard outlasted his skimpy food supply or ripped his fragile tent, he may not have been discovered until spring. He slid down steep scree slopes, in areas so isolated that a broken limb could well have been a death sentence. Acquiring an inflatable raft, he arrived at a rocky trailhead on the Pacific coast, loaded his bike and gear, then embarked on his first boating trip, battling waves and wind throughout a very long day to reach a safe harbour.

Not all of his thirty-nine videos featured the same degree of danger, but most featured challenges and setbacks that would have turned back almost any other traveller. It was not unusual for Iohan to fail, at least on first try, to reach his destination. That uncertainty was always part of the attraction: “If you know you can do it,” he said, “why go in the first place?” Beyond the danger and the hardship, though, his videos share his love of the sky, the mountains, the waves, the snow, the animals – be they bears, horses, or dogs – and the kind-hearted people he met even in seemingly lonely places.

As much as he loved solitude Iohan connected readily and easily with people. That was clear from the two days he spent with our family, from the segments of his video where he enjoys newfound friendships, and from the testimonies of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people blessed to host this big-hearted traveller over the years. Perhaps that need to connect with people made the last two years particularly difficult.

My last communication with Iohan was in the spring of 2019. He wrote from South America, but he was hoping to do a winter trip down the frozen Mackenzie River from Norman Wells, NWT, beyond the Arctic Circle to Tsiigehtchic (shown on many maps as Arctic Red River), a distance of about 400 km as the crow flies and a good bit more as the river meanders. It was pointless, of course, to tell Iohan, “it sounds very dangerous, don’t do it.” I did, however, list many things that could, in my view, go wrong, even asking the advice of an elder friend who had travelled that route many times since growing up in the area.

I’ll likely never know whether my cautionary advice was a factor – it had never discouraged Iohan in the past! – but it seems he postponed that Mackenzie River trip. And now in hindsight I wonder, was my caution quite beside the point? During the past few years, it seems, Iohan had been struggling with what, for him, turned out to be more deadly set of challenges.

Yesterday I was amazed to see Iohan’s picture in the Washington Post, and heartbroken to read that he had died in August. In one of many poignant tributes, David Von Drehle wrote: “Iohan Gueorguiev died by apparent suicide in late summer. He was 33. Word of the loss moved slowly, as if on two wheels. As if through thick mud. As if across snowfields grabbing at fat tires, relentlessly.”

Iohan’s friend Matt Bardeen sheds light on the combination of factors that might have led Iohan into a storm I would not have imagined. Increasingly severe sleep apnea meant Iohan could not get a good night’s sleep, which in turn contributed to depression. The sleep apnea may have been worsened due to Iohan’s strenuous trips at high altitude, including one in February 2020. He received a diagnosis and the aid of a CPAP machine, but I can’t help but wonder if Iohan feared he’d never be able to drag a CPAP apparatus on the kind of trips he loved to take.

And then the pandemic set in. Iohan was unable to travel to other countries, and though he took short trips in Canada he could no longer make new friends with the hosts who had, unpredictably but frequently, given him a bed, hot meal, and warm conversation during his previous trips. He was unable, too, to keep up the stream of video releases which had become not only his livelihood but, I can only guess, a central part of his identity.

Frequently over the past eight years, I feared that someday I’d get news that Iohan had died. I thought he’d be lost in a fierce blizzard, or fall through the ice of a northern river, be attacked by a grizzly bear or polar bear or a poisonous snake, be swept under a wave in a coastal storm or slip over a cliff into a remote canyon. So the manner of his death was a complete shock, and a reminder that depression can be as tough and as dangerous as anything else we might face.

On my own first bike trip, a retired newspaper editor had waved me down on a Michigan road, warning me of an impending severe thunderstorm and giving me a safe place to sleep inside his barn. As we chatted he asked if I thought my trip was dangerous, then quickly followed that thought with “But then, the man who never died, never lived.”

Nothing can lessen the tragedy of Iohan’s final struggle and his far too early death at the age of 33. But more than just about anyone I’ve known, he avoided a greater tragedy – that of never having lived. For the better part of eight years, he lived with a joy that carried him from the frozen Beaufort Sea to the high plains of Wyoming, from the coastal inlets of BC to the jungles of Panama, over the Andes and onward to Patagonia. I count myself blessed to be one of the hundreds who met Iohan somewhere along his journey, and one of the millions who have been awed by his stories.

Iohan Gueorguiev
Born January 20, 1988, Bulgaria
Died August 19, 2021, Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada


Photo at top: Iohan Gueorguiev on December 22, 2013, in Port Hope, Ontario. (Full-screen image here.)

Recent articles about Iohan:

Bikepacking magazine tribute

New York Times obituary

The Hard Road: Insights Into Iohan Gueorguiev (From A Close Friend), by Matt Bardeen in CyclingAbout

A Tribute To Iohan Gueorguiev, by Alee Denham in CyclingAbout

A man, his bicycle and an incredible gift to the world, Washington Post

spring forward

PHOTO POST

We all have fond memories of that most welcome season, when instead of going out to play on ice, we sneak out and slop around in mud for the first time.

But how many of us have had the thrill of sliding into the muck wearing a pristine white suit?

Clean White Suit

A pair of Mute Swans were the first to try out this puddle in the Bowmanville Marsh, on an afternoon when most of the marsh was still covered in ice.

First Flowers

Just a few days later, Snowdrops were poking through mud and leaves without sullying their white coats in the slightest.

Whiskers on Blue

With their jet-black attire, what fun would it be for a squirrel to play in the mud? So they stick to the high road, except when it’s time to drop down to ground level to check a food cache.

Still Life with Circles

It’s not a bad idea to study the forest from a mouse-eye view, because visual treats abound on this lively backdrop of mosses.

Shelter and Shadow

Along the waterfront, a remnant of shore ice had one more opportunity to soak up sunrise before joining the waves.

The Shape of the Shore at This Moment

Shape of Shore II – Echo

Shape of Shore III – Lifeform in Sand

Shape of Shore IV – Drop of Blue

Some of our less common spring visitors are fishing the mouth of the creek. From left, female and male Hooded Merganser, female and male Greater Scaup.

Mergansers, meet the Scaups

The Long-Tailed Ducks are feeding too – but also keeping their wings in shape for their long flight to the arctic coast.

Water off a duck’s back

In a small hole in the breakwater, icicles catch the afternoon sun once more – but the colours of algae and water-soaked wood are coming into season.

A Window on Water


Photo at top of page: detail from Leading Edge (full-screen image here)

 

wintering at sea

PHOTO POST

In our house, if a lake is big enough so that we can’t see across to the far shore, then we’re allowed to call it “the sea”.

Many ducks, we’re pleased to report, agree with our interpretation. In winter we have as company several species of ducks who ordinarily shun frozen lakes and typically hang out along the New England coast. The open waters of Lake Ontario, they seem to believe, are as good as the sea.

In recent months groups of Goldeneye, Scaup, and Long-Tailed Ducks have been visible off the coast in Scarborough, Pickering, Whitby and here in Port Darlington – though they don’t typically get within good camera range.

Blue Rainbow

On a recent excursion to Cranberry Marsh, at lake’s edge south of  Whitby, the diving ducks kept their usual distance but a pair of Trumpeter Swans swam right up to the shore.

Young Trumpeter

These beautiful birds had been hunted nearly to extinction but are now making a steady recovery, thanks in no small part to determined work by Ontario conservationists over the past four decades.

The Trumpeters’ resurgence is apparently not welcomed by the Mute Swans who have taken over much of the habitat for large swans.

Trumpeter, chased by Mute

Mute Swans will also chase each other or will chase Canada Geese – but there was no obvious reason why all these geese suddenly decided they had to take to the air.

All Together Now

At home in Port Darlington, the north winds have been cold enough to shape some shore ice.

Lively Ice

Where waves bounce against ice, feeding conditions seem especially attractive to true diving ducks.

Bluebill

Though most of their number stay well off-shore, one or two Greater Scaup (above) and Common Goldeneye (below, with Mallard) have plied the narrow harbour channel recently.

Goldeneye

By the heat of the morning sun, as steam rises off waves, fishing near the breakwater is well-nigh irresistible.

Hot Sun

Making Strides

Drops of Ice

Swells break against the shore ice, the water churns and foams – and now and then a Long-Tailed Duck or two ventures close to play in the surf.

Home on the Waves

That’s winter at its finest, down by the seashore.


Photo at top of page: Scratching the Surface (click here for full-screen view)

suite for january

PHOTO POST

Perhaps no month can show so many moods as January,* particularly when we get a taste of real winter as in the past few days.

On a clear crisp morning wave-spray has transformed every twig on the shoreline into a jewel.

Twigshine

Under an arch

Even grains of sand have conspired with the water and the temperature to shape new faces, if only for a day.

One Particular Wave

On a quiet cloudy morning, though, colours are understated, asking for careful study.

Steel Blues

Budding branches await a spring thaw.

Refraction

Much closer to the ground, a small thistle managed to grow in a thin layer of gravel on the breakwater last summer, and stands strong still.

Prickling Sensation

The January sunlight can be harsh, glancing low across the water through clouds of steam.

Wet Nose

The same rays can light mallard feathers into full iridescent glory.

Feathers will fly

On a clear morning the tones ring out most intensely right around sunrise.

Five Step

Net Orange

The atmosphere catches colour: in a tiny channel carved through a small shelf of shore ice, soft waves push moist air up against the ice and new designs shape themselves.

Breathing Hole

Even the rocks get a make-over just for this moment.

Long pink line

Back at home the mid-morning sun thaws a collection of American Bittersweet berries, calling hungry Starlings.

Bitter Sweet

If these berries tasted better they wouldn’t have lasted this long. A flock of Starlings, once they get hungry enough, can polish them off in minutes.

A Minor Murmuration


*It’s one of the top twelve, for sure.

staying close to land

PHOTO POST

These days can be ever so quiet.

Some mornings the marsh is filled with geese and gulls, but other days the honks and screeches are far away.

Sparkle and Shadow

A pair of foxes might criss-cross the marsh before dawn, tracing the edges of every island, but leaving no evidence that they found a single mouse to eat.

If you come to a fork in the road, take it

Read More

quiet passage

PHOTO POST

We’ve slipped into a new year, but perhaps not yet into a new winter.

With no ice on the lake and patchy ice on the marshes, moisture rises to the sky and cloud mutes the light of many sunsets and sunrises.

 

She Sells Seashells (By the Lakeshore)

 

Swells Come Ashore

The morning of January 2nd was one glorious exception, as a bright sun rose in time to light up the freshly fallen snow.

Light in the Woods 1

 

Light in the Woods 2

 

Light in the Woods 3

The shipping season on Lake Ontario, typically finished by the end of December, is still in swing with two ships coming to port in the past week.

Shipping Lane 1

Shipping Lane 2

At the end of December we also had a fortuitous patch of clear sky, as the Long Night’s Moon rose over the lake before 5 pm.

Long Night’s Moon

This full moon, named for its proximity to the Winter Solstice, is often also called the Cold Moon –  but this year even the nights have been mild.

Do the birds expect the warm trend to carry through January? I couldn’t help but wonder when I saw this Great Blue Heron on January 4, a good month later in the season than I had spotted any herons in previous years.

Winter Vigil


Photo at top of page: Fragments (click here for full-screen view)