Skip to content

Banded flamingos in Sian Ka’an Biosphere, Mexico

December 12, 2019

Flam P-3041In November, Dave and I visited the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico. We’d flown into Cancún a week or so earlier, and were slowly making our way down the coast to Xcalak.

Flam L-2982I’d seen the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on the maps as I was researching our trip – a big wetlands area on the east side of the Yucatán Peninsula. No roads in.

Flam S-3034But stopping in Tulúm on the way down, we found out that there were boat trips there. So we left Tulúm early the day we were driving southward, and sure enough, we made it out on a trip with a Mayan guide named Ulises. Our trip looks us to two freshwater lagoons, and in the second Ulises motored us over to where two flamingos were feeding at the shoreline.

“We’ve never had flamingos here in the biosphere reserve before,” he said. “These ones are juveniles. They’ve been here for two weeks.”

I pulled out my camera and did the best I could, handheld and from a distance, from a boat bobbing in the wind. I could see one of the birds had a band – so I took a lot of shots, hoping I’d be able to read the number.

Flam S-3042And sure enough! DXLV is the bird!

Looks like he was banded last August in the Ría Lagartas Biosphere Reserve, up on the northern tip of the Yucatán. I’ve reported him to authorities there, and will add to this post here when I have any updates!

Are you interested in what I do? Then sign up for occasional email updates about my projects and my speaking events on my contacts page (Don’t worry, I will never share your info or spam you!)

Barred owls, woo-hoo-ho-hoooo!

August 28, 2019

L-0043So this is fun. And a bit of a response to all those people who say to me “How’d you get such great pictures? You must have a really good camera!”

Well sure, the camera helps… but no matter what camera you have, you do need to know how to use it. (Honestly, I’ve taken some great photos on Dave’s phone when I wasn’t carrying my gear with me… in fact, I will do a post about that at some point! I’ll link here when I do). Done: here it is.

The big thing about wildlife photography, really, is just spending lots of time out there. Sure, every now and then you go out to the woods or wherever and you get lucky: something interesting happens. An eagle swoops down, a bear pops out of the bush, you come across an active bird’s nest.

But the things is, the more time you spend out there, the more of those lucky happenings you will witness.

So… these owls.

L-9936I have been visiting them for seven years now! I have not yet found the nest – as in actually seen it – but I am pretty sure I know where it is to within about 50 m.

I’ve been talking to these owls, too. They hoot back when I call, and usually they’ll fly over. (And no, I would never feed them, that is totally wrong). The summer before last, one time four of them flew over – two pairs, singing two duets with me!

L-9955These guys are fledglings – probably actually their first day out of the next when these photos were taken (I say that because there were three together – and by the next day they were more dispersed). I’d been chatting with their parents for a couple of years – but you can tell that these guys didn’t know what to say to me. Have a look (and – if you were wondering about the title of this post, this video will explain):

Are you interested in what I do? Then sign up for occasional email updates about my projects and my speaking events on my contacts page (don’t worry, I will never share your info or spam you!)

The Secret Coast Expedition 2019

August 5, 2019

With the support of presenting sponsors the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Spanish Embassy in Canada, my adventure partner (and husband) David Gilbert and spent a month working our way down the wild, and mostly uninhabited outer coast of Vancouver Island.

Here’s a short clip about what we accomplished as covered by CTV News:



I’m now working on what will be my next book! It will weave the story of our month-long adventure down the coast with my investigation of the history of the early contacts between the Nuu-chah-nulth inhabitants and the very first foreign visitors here. Most people think of Canada’s colonial history in terms of the English and the French – but LDSC_6731here on the west coast, the Spanish were actually the first explorers to arrive here (in 1774) and to make contact with the indigenous people.

The Americans also played an important role. They were in on the fur trading, of course, but gradually came into conflict with the indigenous people. One of their ships was captured by the Mowachaht Chief Maquinna, who enslaved two of its crew members for over two years. Another American ship, the Tonquin, was sacked by Tla-o-qui-aht in 1811 (largely in retaliation for their village previously being burned to the ground by the Americans) – a final conflict that, for the next half-century, ended foreign explorations into this part of the world.

LDSC_8959Not many people know about this aspect of the history of the Pacific Northwest. The ultimate product of our adventure will be a book which I will both write and photograph (along the lines of my best-seller The Wild Edge), integrating our discovery of the landscape where these encounters occurred, with the history that I research from documents recorded by the visitors, as well as what we discovered through the oral history preserved by the Nuu-chah-nulth inhabitants. Find out more on The Secret Coast Expedition website, or follow me on Twitter to stay updated.

Quick evening hike up the Stawamus Chief, Squamish

January 14, 2019

limg_2563I had intended to get an earlier ferry over to the mainland, but there was too much to do at home. Oh well, it is what it is.  I arrived at the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park parking lot, just outside Squamish, at 3:30 pm, and got on the trail as quickly as I could. The Explore Squamish website said that it is a 2-3 hour hike (return) to the First Peak, but that fast hikers might do it in less. I had one hour to sunset.

I had nothing to prove, so there was no point in me risking anything. It is mid-January after all, and even a minor fall late in the day could mean a night on the mountain (and therefore become life-threatening). I had a headlamp with me, and a spare flashlight. I’d see if I could make the summit in an hour – if I wasn’t near it by then, I would reassess.

limg_2561The trail was steep right from the start! Lots of stairs – but big, high, steep stairs, not like your regular household stairs – made of wood, concrete or hewn boulders of granite! Near the end there were a few metal ladders and chains, to get up the steep stuff (and the last few hundred metres, on bare rock, kind of freaked me out – especially when I turned around to go back down and saw how high and exposed I was!) but it was a totally fun hike.


The sun had set by the time I made the summit, but I still had great views of the town of Squamish and of Mount Garibaldi. I took 58 minutes going up, spent 4 minutes at the top, and actually took as long hiking down – 59 minutes – by headlamp!



Birding in Mexico

December 27, 2018

LIMG_1806Dave and I took off to vacation in Mexico – two and a half weeks in late November and early December. We flew into Mexico City without any huge goals or big endurance things planned (I know, unusual for us), aiming to eat lots of mole sauce and visit the butterflies. But of course, we always have our eyes out for the birds! So, more about the other parts of the trip coming – for now, here are some of our birding highlights.

BTW, I didn’t have my “good” camera equipment with me (my SLR and big lenses), but brought my new Canon G3X along. It is much harder to aim and focus than a bigger SLR – but for the size trade-off it actually is a really amazing camera: perfect for travelling.

Cerro Pelón / Macheros

LpIMG_1948Macheros is a very tiny village southwest of Mexico City, at an elevation of 2430 m (around 8000′), and the closest access point to the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Reserve. We stayed at JM’s Butterfly B&B – which was amazing in every way, including the birdwatching bonus of a rooftop that Dave and I could go up to every morning with our coffee mugs and binocs, and have 360° views of all the birds waking up! The cinnamon-bellied flowerpiercer at the top of this post is from there – and here are a few more highlights:

LsqIMG_1776The hummingbirds were fun – this is a white-eared hummingbird.


And this is a Rivoli’s hummingbird – very hard to catch the turquoise glow of his throat in a photo unless the light catches it just right, but for good reason this species used to be called the magnificent hummingbird!


And these guys are part of the morning crew that we viewed from the rooftop – gray silky flycatchers.

Angangueo / El Rosario


Angangueo is a funny little town that is the closest access point to the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary. It’s bigger than Macheros, and a few hundred m higher – but I say it’s funny because, even though it is the big tourist access point to the monarchs, it is SO untouristy! The few restaurants there close around 7:30 (and they may run out of food before that). But we still liked it anyway – both our visit to El Rosario, and a hike up to the cross above town, where we saw muchos hummingbirds!

LIMG_1983I think these guys would have to be the birding highlight of our trip: red warblers! They have a very small range, so not many birders will ever get to see them. But we actually saw several. This guy was one of our first, up at El Rosario – but we saw several on our “hummingbird hike” up to the cross, too. I’m amazed I got this shot at all – he was moving pretty fast!

LsqIMG_2299This hummer was super-fast moving, and this is the only photo I managed to get of him. He had dark purply “cheeks” and made a loud clacking noise – I am pretty sure he is a hummingbird called a green violet-ear.

LsqIMG_2306And there were lots more magnificents/Rivolis.


As well as lots more white-eared hummingbirds too!

LsqIMG_2280Oh, and a new species to me – the broad-tailed hummingbird. I found this guy by the high-pitched whining of his wings. I peered into the bush where the sound had come from, and there he was, all puffed up!

Mexico City/Chapultepec Park

LIMG_2403Dave and I are not really city people – so put us in the largest city in North America, and we will find the wilderness! We headed out to the wilder western section of Chapultepec Park – a forested green area right in the middle of the city, that has been preserved as a wilderness area and water source since Aztec time. LshIMG_2394We walked for over an hour and saw almost no one: only one runner and two horsemen.

When we first entered the bush from the road, we spotted this bright summer tanager. Once we were in the forest we saw mostly warblers and flycatchers… I guess it’s time for me to learn my flycatchers!


So, I think this is a Hammond’s flycatcher.

LsqIMG_2406And I think this guy is a gray flycatcher. Interestingly, both of those flycatcher species also occur at home, in British Columbia (as do many of the warblers we saw down here). Just like us, they’re hanging out in Mexico for the winter!



Winter paddling adventures off Tofino, Clayoquot Sound

November 12, 2018

LP1100160Here’s a secret about Tofino: Some of the best sea kayaking here is over the winter months! We often get a high pressure system sitting just off the coast – which leads to crisp, sunny, windless days. The swell might still be big, so you can’t land your kayak easily at beaches exposed to the surf – but you can sure get out on the water! And that’s what Dave and I did yesterday – experienced the best of Clayoquot Sound from the water!

Dave and I had never paddled a double kayak together before. We wanted to try it out – and, since we were only going out for a day paddle, rather than use up short daylight hours loading/unloading our singles from the truck, we got a rental boat from Tofino Sea Kayaking Co. (where I used to work as a sea kayak guide!).


It was just on low tide when we launched, so we first headed out towards the open ocean as the flood current started to build.


Then we looped around Lennard Island. I don’t think I have ever seen the seas this flat out here! Then we caught the flood current in, along the shores of Echachist and Wickaninnish Island, past the village of Opitsaht, and up Lemmens Inlet, Meares Island.


Yay – Dave even took a picture of me! (Being the photographer, I don’t usually get many pictures of myself – especially nice ones!)


There’s a little secret spot I wanted to check out (I actually have a lot of “secret spots” in Clayoquot Sound) where two small salmon streams – creeks, really – come out into a quiet little bay. I remembered that the salmon runs here were quite late, so I wanted to go and see if we could see the fish going up.


Turns out we had just missed the fish – but not by much. There were bear trails all through the forest here – well used! – and lots of bear poops out on the estuary, and salmon scraps littered throughout the forest. (That’s why these salmon-river ecosystems are so rich and productive: because of all of the natural fish fertilizer the bears spread through the rainforest). So, we had missed the spawn – but not by much. As you can see, the rainforest here was just so beautiful – so wild, so serene – that we were just happy to be here, salmon or not.


We were travelling so fast (double kayaks go much faster than singles, and we are both quite strong paddlers – oh, and we had the optimum tides for this route) that we even had time to paddle farther up the inlet, to historic Adventure Cove, before turning around and heading back to Tofino. Here we are just after 4pm, almost sunset… a great six hours on the water.

Royal Canadian Geographical Society AGM and dinner, 2018

November 2, 2018

I’m just in from the RCGS AGM and dinner, held yesterday here in Ottawa. It’s a long way for me to travel. However, as much as you can keep up with what’s going on with people’s lives and projects online, there is nothing like making connections, hearing people’s stories, and maintaining relationships in person.

LsqshP1100144Here I am with my oldest buddy in the world, adventurer and cave diver extraordinaire, Jill Heinerth and her husband, the multi-talented Rober McClellan (writer and so much more). Jill and I have known each other since we were three years old! Which means that we have known each other for, well, a long time.

As Robert noted, we scrub up pretty well!

For more about the happenings of the day, check out this article: Eight awesome things that happened at the 2018 RCGS Fellows Dinner.

Snorkelling with salmon, Campbell River, Vancouver Island

October 10, 2018

L to R: Jill, Russ, Trish and me. Photo by the amazing Maxwel Hohn

Well, I am gradually transitioning… from being a person who stays above the water (sea kayaking) to someone who gets into the water! No, I’m not fully getting scuba diving… but I am getting into our local waters : cold-water swimming and snorkelling, and aiming to take a course in free-diving next year. (I have always been a gear minimalist… so snorkelling  and free-diving are way more attractive to me than full-on scuba diving).


My first time in a dry suit! Pic: Russell Clark

So here is a fun autumn activity for getting into the water in autumn on Vancouver Island! I was lucky enough to spend a few days with my oldest friend in the world, Jill Heinerth (one of the world’s most accomplished divers, as well as the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s first Explorer in Residence), and two of our other RCGS friends, Trisha Stovel and Russell Clark (of Seaproof TV).

The four of us headed over to Campbell River and went snorkelling with the salmon! I’m not currently set up with pro underwater photographic gear, so the salmon pix are ones I have taken previously (as noted). And here are a few more:


Me, Jill, Trish, Max and Russ – suited up and ready to get in the water!


Jill, working hard. (Barely saw her head above surface the whole time we were there!)


Me and a big ol’ friendly salmon guy. I floated with him for a long time – poor guy, he was so exhausted. Photo: Russell Clark


And here I am again… just working to hold position in the current as the salmon swirl around me. Photo: Trisha Stovel


This is a photo I took a LONG time ago… chum salmon ascending a tiny rainforest creek on Meares Island, near Tofino.


This one is from a long time ago, too. It’s a scan of a slide, taken in the Kennedy River, between Port Alberni and Tofino. I love the colours of sockeye salmon…

North America’s highest waterfall: Della Falls and Love Lake in a day

September 9, 2018

LP1090924Just in from what might be the last adventure of this summer! Dave and I fastpacked in to Della Falls and Love Lake on Monday. (Fastpacking is the best of ultrarunning and backpacking combined: the route we did is normally a 3 to 5 day backpacking trip). We go fast and far – but our packs are light!

I’m not really sure what the total distance was – something between 40 and 50 km, with a net elevation gain of just under 1200 m (Love Lake is at 1240 m, and we started at Great Central Lake which is around 90 m). This route is all within Strathcona Provincial Park, central Vancouver Island.

We were especially grateful for the blue skies, after such a smoky few weeks. And the weather couldn’t have been better: mostly sunny, not too hot and not too cold. Here are some pix – enjoy!


We launched Dave’s boat in the dark, and made it to the trailhead at the west end of the lake before 7am.


The first few hours are fairly easy – a relatively flat and straight trail, only a very gradual uphill – until around here, where it becomes a bit more twisty and rugged.


Della Falls, in the background had very little water going over it – it’s been such a hot and dry summer. (And yes, we packed a tripod so I could get these pix of both of us).


Love Lake. The first time we came up here together (seven years ago to the day) the lake was still frozen solid. Yes, in September! Which means it never thawed that whole year!


So nice to get up to the alpine. We are so lucky to have so many great trails near home.


Then we descended back down from Love Lake and the alpine, and headed upstream to the base of the falls. There was a bit more water coming over the other branch (to the left of this photo, but no trail to get over there) but very little coming down here.


And then back to the boat just on dark. Our time on the trail was 12:46, but that includes stops for the photos (with the tripod and the timer, so they take a while) and a nice relaxing break up at Love Lake. It is raining now as I post this – glad we made it in there when we did!

Megin watershed kayak trip

August 29, 2018


I’m very lucky to own two Feathercraft folding sea kayaks. I bought my first one well over 20 years ago, a gift to myself for completing my PhD. My mom bought one a few years later – and, last year at age 87, she finally agreed she probably wouldn’t be using hers much more, and she gave it to me.


Which means that Dave and I now have two folding boats! So here are pix from our first expedition together – taking advantage of the fact that we can pack these kayaks into a float plane. We flew in with Tofino-based Atleo Air to Megin Lake, northern Clayoquot Sound (Vancouver Island, BC), and descended the Megin River to the ocean and paddled back to Tofino – the whole trip taking a week.


This summer was the 30th anniversary of the Sulphur Passage blockades and protests that ultimately saved the Megin watershed. It is the largest remaining intact watershed on all of Vancouver Island! Being so fortunate to travel it allowed me the opportunity to see first-hand the value of this intact and pristine watershed – from the diversity of the wildlife to the massive size of the old-growth trees!


Above is one many giant cedars on the shores of Megin Lake, and below is me bumping my loaded kayak down the many shallows in the river (it was a very hot and dry summer – and you can see from the photos that we were affected by all the smoke from the wildfires that were ravaging the province).


I feel intense gratitude to the people who dropped what was going on in their lives in 1988 to attend the blockades.

In so many of these environmental “fights”, a win is just temporary – the logging company or mining company or government agency will just come back and then they have to fight the fight all over again (whereas a loss is forever, the area they were fighting to protect is destroyed, and there is no reason to come back for a second fight). But in the case of the Megin, the watershed became designated as an addition to Strathcona Provincial Park – preserved for real!



The photos above are emerging at the mouth of the Megin into the saltwater of Shelter Inlet, and then the evening view from our first oceanside campsite at Shark Creek.


Our final three days were spent navigating the ocean in fog, and then camping on the surf-washed sand beaches of Flores and Vargas Islands.


Here’s the Bob Bossin song No Pasarán – the anthem of those protectors of Clayoquot and the Megin, from back in those days. I still get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes every time I hear it – thank you to all of you!