A second e-book!

Find out more about Take You With Me on my E-books page….

Check it out!

I’ve just published this E-book for kids

Take a look on my new blog page — E-books — to find out more!

B n B Update

If you’ve been anxiously awaiting news of my summer songbird saga, as predicted, the Pacific-slope Flycatcher finished incubating her eggs around the end of July. We saw her delivering take-out meals by August 2. The youngsters grew rapidly, gobbling up bugs that I was pleased to see being removed from the garden. At first it appeared there were only 2 chicks, but soon a third head appeared tucked behind its siblings. The nest quickly became crowded.

It was amazing to compare the size of their yellow bills to the adults’ slim and darker version, and to note how fast they changed. Did they experience growing pains, I wonder? When they began preening and flapping their short wings, I knew it wouldn’t be long before they left the nest.

Curly, Larry and Moe

It seems one of the last things to develop is clear eyesight. Most of the time, they didn’t react when I moved the window blind to take pictures. But a couple of days before fledging, they froze in place at the slightest movement. Is that nature’s way of keeping them calm until they are ready to fly?

Ready to fledge

On Monday, August 17, the nest was empty. The whole process took just over a month. I suspect they took off in the early morning. I had hoped to see them hanging around the yard, perhaps still being fed. But they’ve vanished, off to make their way in the world. I’m elated to think there are now 3 more Pacific-slope Flycatchers out there.

Downspout BnB

My front door is ‘off-limits’. No more poking my head out to see what’s blooming in the flowerbed. No more sipping tea on the shady bench. But, as we’ve heard recently from our provincial health authorities with respect to behaviour choices during the current emergency, “it’s not forever, it’s just for now”. It’s necessary because I have a new resident seeking quiet, calmly practising self-isolation.

On July 11, I noticed the small bird—flycatcher habits gave away her species—sitting on the downspout under the eaves, holding a beak-full of nesting material. Bit late for that, I thought. With help from her mate, though, she proceeded to assemble a nest snug against the house wall and on top of a block of wood that anchors the downspout to it.

I consulted an expert/friend who confirmed she’s a Pacific-slope Flycatcher. I can see the teardrop shaped eye ring, and have heard her high thin calls as she communicates with her mate hanging out nearby. This species likes a shady site (check), builds with moss and lichen (check) and nests rather late (check again).

So now she sits, presumably on 3-4 eggs, occasionally flying off for an insect meal in the nearby shrubby border. Eggs should hatch by the end of July, and chicks will need another couple of weeks to fledge.

I’m more than happy to offer this perky songbird suitable accommodation that no one else was using. Meantime, the flowerbed and bench will wait. It’s a stay-at-home summer, after all.

Getting away….close to home

We’re usually just getting home from a late spring holiday about now, and having to tackle the weeds that rejoiced in our absence. But holidays have become myths this year, the weeds never got their freedom to frolic, and a change of routine is needed. The solution? A ‘staycation’. I always thought the term a bit silly, but now I’ve had one—a four-hour experience that included a picnic by the lake, and always fascinating birding.

Bald Eagle

An immature Bald Eagle was the first prize, occupying a post along the road to Herald Provincial Park. Osprey flew over the lake; it’s approaching high-water, so we didn’t find beach to sit on at the day-use area. That’s likely what kept most people away too; they were only allowed into the adjacent camping area this week. We set up a couple of chairs in a sunny spot overlooking the lake that would normally be busy with boats at this time of year.

It was largely empty of waterfowl, but a Chipping Sparrow kept us company while we ate our sandwiches. We heard Song Sparrows, Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos and saw one Solitary Sandpiper.

Chipping Sparrow

Next stop, Peter Jannink Park in town, where several hundred Western Grebes gather along the shore in the only breeding ground left in the BC Interior. High water is unsettling them too, with nesting among the reed canary grass barely underway.

I’ve missed witnessing their spectacular ritual mating dances for years, so staying home has had this unexpected benefit.

This park is a popular home for other birds too. A Catbird welcomed us, along with a possible Alder Flycatcher. Tree Swallows have claimed nest boxes newly refurbished last year by the local naturalist club.

Catbird
Tree Swallow on nest box

Nearby, the Marine Park invites visitors to walk a special trail maintained by the club. We strolled along the wharf accompanied by the kreek-kreek calls of more Western Grebes.

We’ll have to go back in a week or so to check out their nesting success. Plenty to do while staying close to home this summer.

Did Erebus ‘rock the world’?

My book, 10 Ships That Rocked the World, is now available in Korean since rights have been sold to a publisher in that country. I hope that means many more young readers will learn about the ships that focused the world’s attention on momentous and influential events throughout history.

While compiling a list of ships to be included in this book, Erebus came to mind, but only in the context of the Franklin Expedition, and it was felt that topic had been well covered already in the school curriculum. However, I was unaware of the earlier and extensive history of Erebus….until I recently read Michael Palin’s 2018 book, Erebus, The Story of a Ship. His writing chronicles the successful scientific expeditions of the British ship to the Antarctic, beginning in 1839, under command of James Clark Ross. Along with her companion ship, Terror, Erebus sailed further south than any ship had ever done while her crew mapped the coastline and determined that Antarctica was actually a continent, not merely a group of ice-covered islands.

Those earlier years of Erebus are fascinating to read about in view of the extreme conditions in which those explorers had to operate, and how well the sturdy ship performed. We miss all that detail and intrigue if we only see Erebus in the context of her Arctic fate. In fact, her reputation as a vessel worthy of polar exploration recommended her for the 1845 Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Palin writes about that too, but the bulk of his book deals with the Antarctic adventures. Read Franklin’s Lost Ship (John Geiger and Alanna Mitchell, 2015) for its engrossing tale of the Arctic misadventure and discovery of the wreck.

In 10 Ships That Rocked the World (2015), you’ll find a brief mention of Erebus in Chapter 5. As I worked through the final drafts, amazing news of the discovery of the resting place of Erebus hit the media in the fall of 2014. I was able to include the link to the story of the Civil War submarine, H.L.Hunley, with a reference to how submersible technology inspired the sonar imaging equipment that eventually located the sunken Erebus in the Arctic Ocean’s Queen Maud Gulf.

Christmas Bird Count Prize

Another CBC is ‘in the books’ after our recent December day of observations along the shore of Shuswap Lake opposite Salmon Arm. Our section is about 25 km long including a few side roads, Herald Provincial Park and the Margaret Falls trail (now finally reopened after extensive repairs due to a washout a couple of years ago).

Margaret Falls Trail along Reinecker Creek

Besides driving, we walk parts of the side roads, and trek through the park closed to vehicle access in the winter. Even with plenty of conifers, shoreline and the bubbling Reinecker Creek that empties into Shuswap Lake, it seems off that we rarely come across any birds to add to our list here. Golden-crowned Kinglets are the most likely, at play among the cedar branches. In past years, American Dippers foraged up at the falls, and a Townsend’s Solitaire would be a fine prize. We haven’t seen either of them lately.

We’d collected the usual suspects—Black-capped Chickadees, Red-shafted Flickers, Common Goldeneye, Horned Grebe—but really wanted a Bald Eagle to boost our species numbers. Alas, we’d reached the end of the trail with no such sighting. On the way back between Canoe Point and Bastion Ranch, a small white tuft caught my eye: Bingo! A Northern Pygmy Owl, sitting there calm as you please as if waiting to be counted.

Only a few hundred metres farther along, we stopped again to admire an elegant Raven perched beside the road. And what should fly into the same small tree, but a Hairy Woodpecker. A productive section of the road for sure!

We finished without an eagle, but managed to collect 40 species that day.

My umbrella…

It’s been a rainy autumn in my home area of BC. That means plenty of days when I could use my umbrella. Since rainy days are dreary, I bought an umbrella that is far from dull. It depicts Claude Monet’s 1886 Impressionist painting, Woman with an Umbrella, alight with the yellows, greens and blues of a sunny day. Why make gloomy days more dingy with a plain, boring, dark umbrella? It would be like carrying the rain cloud with you!

More attracted to Realism for its close observation of detail, I’m not a devoted fan of Impressionism. But I do enjoy the light and color of the natural images and the sensory effect of fleeting glimpses of detail. It’s cheery, especially for an umbrella, offering the feeling that brighter skies are only moments away.

I’ve had many compliments on that umbrella. I respond that it is probably the only ‘Monet’ I’ll ever have. So I was delighted to have the chance to visit Giverny, Monet’s home and garden near Paris this spring. I’d see the actual inspiration for his work, with maybe a chance to own another ‘Monet’.

The gardens at Giverny are popular, so the pathways that wove through the acreage around ponds and over bridges were filled with visitors. But it was a quiet pilgrimage, everyone enjoying the profusion of colors and artistic landscape design that Monet created. I was surprised to find so many of the same flowers that I’ve planted at home…

Lupins
Poppy

Lunaria….Honesty….Money Plant

One plant, lunaria, grown for its papery silver seed pods was one of my dad’s favorites. The other names he told me—honesty, money plant—are the ones I remember best.

This shop sold umbrellas….much like mine. The main gift shop was awash with souvenir items all depicting favorite Monet images. I now own a Water Lilies mouse pad; it is at my fingertips all day, recalling the enjoyable tour of a springtime garden that inspired one artist’s legacy…and an umbrella that lifts my mood every rainy day.

A journey to Canadian War Memorials

A marker found in many of the war cemeteries

Another Remembrance Day is on the horizon. Each year at this time, the sacrifices of so many in decades past, as well as in recent years, is brought back to mind with images and stories. I’m glad the stories of veterans’ experiences have been collected and archived to help keep this aspect of our history alive. As I’ve watched the televised ceremonies from war memorials both in Canada and in Europe, I’ve often thought how much more meaningful it would be to visit some of them, to stand on the actual sites of battles and see how they are commemorated.

Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, near Ypres, Belgium

So the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019 was the perfect excuse to visit the historic Second World War sites where so many Canadian soldiers gave their lives for our freedom. We chose an escorted motor coach tour of cemeteries and associated memorials and museums around Normandy, and, with the relative proximity and abundance of First World War cemeteries such as the iconic Vimy Ridge Memorial, into the Ypres Salient as well.

But would it be a sad or morbid journey, in view of the tens of thousands of graves that dot the Normandy countryside and beyond? In fact, it was a tangible affirmation of all that I’d read, both nonfiction and historical fiction, of the depth of loss in that dark time. Hard to imagine, though, the lush green farmland and tidy villages we drove through as, twice, a killing field. Seeing first hand the serene, carefully tended resting places where white gravestones stood in recognition showed me the degree of homage that continues to be paid to the Allied liberators of Europe. It elevated my appreciation of the value of their sacrifice to my own and future generations. Every Canadian should see these sites, not only to remember personal ancestors but also to realize why such catastrophic events must never be repeated.

My brief article with photos about this tour is posted at https://guide2travel.ca/2019/10/a-journey-of-remembrance-to-canadian-war-memorials/

Katie and Gulliver

Katie waited for Gulliver’s familiar, raucous wake-up call. Instead, she heard sparrows arguing in the bushes beside the cottages. She heard fishing boats chug away in the morning mist. She heard wavelets slurp-slop under the wooden docks. She didn’t hear Gulliver.

“Maybe he missed the ferry,” Dad teased.

“Bet he found a new girlfriend,” said Uncle Ralph.

Katie pushed the cereal around in her bowl. “He’s not coming.”

“Wait and see,” Dad said, and Uncle Ralph agreed.

My short story, “Katie and Gulliver”, has been published in the July/August issue of Cricket Magazine. I’ve had quite a long association with this US literary publication, one of the best markets for the children’s short stories I love to write; they’ve published 9 of them since 1992.

Katie has grown to love a distinctive one-legged gull that turns up whenever she visits Uncle Ralph’s seaside resort. Gulliver has arrived every summer since Katie was a baby, keeping an eye on her and alerting her dad and uncle to hazards she encountered. Now ten, Katie watches and waits until the last day of holidays. But this summer….no Gulliver. Her decision to search for him outside the protected harbor almost ends badly. Except, it seems, Gulliver is still her guardian angel…

This story explores the special connection that sometimes exists between humans and animals, and how that bond endures. It may border on fantasy, depending on what you choose to believe. But it was inspired by reality: a visit to an RV park along BC’s Sunshine Coast over 20 years ago.

 

The lively setting was the catalyst: the campground occupied a terraced slope on the shore of a rocky harbour.

 

Small sailboats chased the wind,  sea birds circled, salty smells wafted from seaweeds tangled in driftwood and the tide gave up, then took back curious treasures.

While shorebirds searched the sand and rocks, or gulls screamed overhead, there was no one-legged gull that I recall. He flew into my imagination as I looked for a central theme, a way to connect Katie’s coming-of-age closely with nature.      But, who knows, maybe there is a Gulliver out there. For sure, the human-animal bond exists. If you read my story, I hope the setting and characters come to life for you….and then let your imagination do the rest.