The Snowbirds are back!!!

It’s spring!

It’s a beautiful time of the year, temperatures have warmed, blossoms everywhere, however there is something else that makes this time of the year unique! The Canadian Forces Snowbirds arrive for their annual spring training here in Comox. This year they arrived April 20 and will be here for about 4 weeks. They fly twice a day weather permitting, and they give anyone with a camera great opportunities to capture some amazing shots. Best places to watch from are Air Force beach and the Glacier Greens golf course entrance.

This year, the early session is 8:30am and the later session is 1:30pm. The best choice for photos is the morning one, as the sun will be lower on the horizon illuminating the planes more from the side than above. This gives great contrast and colour.

Taking your photos

Because they are so close, you don’t need huge lenses, cameras with moderate focal lengths work really well. A 70 – 200mm zoom is a really good one to use. Make sure you use a fast shutter speed to try and prevent blurring as they are moving extremely fast. Try not to use the automatic setting, use the shutter setting and set it at 1000 or higher. The lower your ISO setting the better to keep graining to a minimum. I try and keep the ISO at 200 and don’t use the automatic ISO setting. If its a nice day out it should be no problem. Don’t really worry about the F setting let the camera pick it for you when doing this.

If you do want to use a specific F stop the use the A (Aperture) setting but watch the shutter speed, it will not be sharp if its too slow. I usually stick with the S (Shutter) setting and keep the speed high. If you are using fast shutter speed and hold the camera steady your photos will be sharp and you don’t need a tripod. Practice how to hold your camera in the steadiest position for you.

To try something different, select a slower shutter speed and then pan (move the camera with the planes as they move) with them as you take the shot and with practice you can keep them sharp and give the feeling of speed! This doesn’t work well if they are a long way away, but when close it can be effective.

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park. Have you ever heard of it? Do you know where it is if you have? Most people think they know where it is and think its near Drumheller in Alberta, as that’s where the well know Tyrell Museum of Paleontology is located and it is exceptionally well know for Dinosaurs and fossils, but it is not the home of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Like the badlands around Drumheller, Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP) is located along the Red Deer river, but much further east and downstream from Drumheller. The world drops away as you arrive at the crest of the huge Grand Canyon like valley that contains it. You have no idea its there until you suddenly appear on the edge of it at the entrance viewpoint. It is a World Heritage Site that was designated as such in 1980. It is the worlds richest location for Upper Cretaceous (75 million years ago) dinosaur fossils. Complete skeletons removed from there are seen in museums around the world.

The closest larger community to DPP is Brooks, about 35km away from the Park to the South.

I had the opportunity to work there as a Park Ranger in 1979 and was completely taken by the land, the fossils and wildlife found there. Absolutely spectacular badlands. I spent every moment I could exploring the Parkas I had unlimited access to the entire Park. The majority of it is in a Natural Preserve with no public access. Only way in is by guided tour with the Park Interpreters. Since then I have returned many times and often conducted guided hikes through the Preserve with officials and friends. Its a labyrinth of valleys, coulees and spectacular badland formations that one can easily get lost in. temperatures are often over 100 degrees and there is no water except for the Red Deer river. Mule Deer, Coyotes, Bobcats, Rattle and Bull snakes can be found along with many species of birds; and be careful putting your hands in dark places as there are Black Widow spiders and Scorpions.

It does have a very nice campground that is very popular along Sandhill Creek which flows into the Red Deer. It also has a very nice museum, grocery/fast food store now, so you don’t have the long trek to Brooks for your basic supplies.

I found this place to be an absolute treasure trove for photographs! I have so many. The absolute best time is early morning and best is late afternoon before the sun sets. During the day there is very little definition and color, photos can be vary bland, but all that changes as the sun is lower on the horizon. I remember sleeping out in the badlands in just my sleeping bag looking up at millions of stars and listening to Coyotes howl. Makes on think of Dinosaurs, but one has to remember when they were living the area was a lush tropical type forest close to an inland sea, nothing like it is today.

If you have never been to this Park, really consider consider including it in to your travel plans, but make sure you do it when they still have the guided hikes and bus tours operating. One little tip, make sure you bring bug repellant because there are sand flies that are extremely irritating if you arrive when they are in full force! Also do not forget your camera!

Dinosaur Provincial Park, I must say is probably the most amazing place I have ever visited on this planet. I was lucky enough to explore it and get to know it intimately and to this I have been so thankful.

 

 

Skunk Cabbage

Those brilliant yellow spikes show up in wet areas all over the Valley. Brilliant spikes of light in usually dark swampy areas.

The two names most commonly used are Skunk Cabbage and Swamp Lantern. If you have managed to get out and have a look at these plants, it’s easy to see why they are called Swamp Lanterns.

Growing in dark wet areas, the flowering spikes look like bright lanterns. I always thought because they were called Skunk Cabbage, they smelled like a skunk. To date I have not found that, in fact it is an almost sickly sweet smell that is quite strong when there are a lot growing.

So which do you prefer? I am a Swamp Lantern person now! If you do decide to check them out, take rubber boots because it’s gonna be muddy! I always look forward to this time of year, as photographing these beauties is one of my yearly highlights. Once the flowers fade, the leaves continue growing looking like huge cabbage leaves. They are very large by the fall.

Volunteers

For most of my lengthy career I had been involved with volunteers in our Park. It is amazing these people give up their personal time to happily contribute to the well being of the Park and resources. I had a group of volunteer stewards that we grew from maybe 20 people to over 150 in the course of 15 years. We started off with the vast majority being retired individuals, but over time many younger people joined the program and wanted to get involved.

It took some time to realize that if you want to have an engaged volunteer group you must have a sense of purpose, clear guidelines. a commitment of time and manpower and projects that they can get their teeth into! Many of these volunteers have amazing contributions coming from their careers as professionals in all kinds of fields, so its amazing what can be achieved.

We managed this and then the group grew by leaps and bounds! We had project days on a regular basis doing all kinds of things. Helping monitor bears, brush clearing, wildlife safety, human use monitoring, and many other things. We created a yearly internal newsletter, had a group dinner at the end of the season with guest speakers and we had a logo and vests to wear when “working”

Its important to not have volunteers do jobs staff would normally do as it can cause resentment that volunteers are talking away their jobs, so one has to plan carefully. After retiring in 2015 I take great satisfaction that the group is still going strong!

Here in the Comox Valley, Seal Bay Nature Park has become a favorite haunt. It is such a beautiful place. I jumped on the opportunity when I found out from Park administrators there was a volunteer group working on trails to take some photos of their volunteers and staff at work. Here are a few of from that day.