Mexico’s Wonders

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On my way to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, I had a layover in New York for eight hours–on purpose! I explored Manhatten on foot, including a visit to the Top of the Rock. The 70th floor, I believe (?), yielded the view from the picture below. Far in the distance, one can see a strip of the Atlantic ocean. At least, that’s what I think it is.

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I got stuck at the Mexico City airport overnight, because the time to get to my connecting flight was very short and my previous flight was severely delayed. This was a blessing in disguise in many ways except for my wallet. I got to try out their Izzzleep capsule.

A big market in San Cristobal de las Casas, every day. Things are quite cheap compared to Canada, but I can’t say the same about shelled macadamia nuts. I wonder why.

Can’t beat this for a hostel, and can’t beat this for a town view. I recommend the hostel, Qhia, Tonalá 5.

Eight hours of being part of a dozen students in a van later, we were in la selva Lacandona. A fragmented tropical rainforest where I spent ten crazy days with a bunch of more-or-less-cuddly, and bright, students and a few Mexican and Brazilian professors. In short, those ten days can be described by the following: (1) A military camp of three research projects in groups of 3-4 students, all including field work to collect data, a presentation and a written abstract. For one of the projects, we also wrote an entire paper with several review rounds by multiple professors. A lot of staying up until 2 am and/or waking up at 4-5 am. (2) Parties and swims in the river at the start and end of the course, and many ‘Hotmail’ love letters/poems taken out from a box and read by an MC host professor every night. Sometimes, someone would write a message about two other people to surprise them. I wrote two letters: one telling everyone that my place in Canada welcomes them and, another, that the course changed me for the better. Not particularly romantic, but quite exciting.

One of the projects involved setting up mistnets and banding birds (yay!) and another involved identifying ants. I really like ants, but I preferred to observe them from afar with binoculars (joke). The ant expert kept on saying ‘oww’ because of ants biting him, and enjoying those moments (see picture below). I can’t relate.

A few more nature walks and spotted creatures, and the last day approached.

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April 14th, 2019 – The second-last sunset

On my way back from the tropical forest, I stayed in San Cristobal de las Casas for a day and a bit. I decided to explore the fringes instead of staying in town. I hoped to go to Palenque (about four hours away), but tour tickets were sold out. Cañón del Sumidero turned out to be remarkable in its own ways.

After I got back from the canyon, we, the students and professors who haven’t flown back to our respective town yet, partied a few more times in San Cristobal de las Casas. A museum visit, a birthday celebration, a few restaurants, and then I took the bus at 4 am to Tuxtla Gutiérrez–to the airport and eventually, back to Ottawa.

Being in Mexico changed me in three main ways.

  • 15 days of only talking in a certain language can do wonders to learn that language. You know what they say–the fastest way to learn a language is to throw the person among those that (maybe could but) do not speak any other language. It can be scary (it is scary for many), but a step towards fear is a step towards growth…did I convince or did I just scare people more with that statement.
  • The culture and people were shockingly eye-opening. By being there, I realized how much I had become closed off throughout the years. Closed off to different ways of thinking and of interacting with people. At least the people I met, most into nature and a few hippies, were incredibly open and joyful. This is where I learned there was term for the way I am a lot of the time.  A hippie, in a lot of sense of the word.
  • I learned more about my interests. One of them involves including people in nature studies, like in the field of Ethnobotany. What is the relationship between people and medicinal plants?  How do (indigenous) people use plants and what does it mean to them? The Lacandón forest is a hotspot for this field of study, and it includes the Lacandón mayas. I briefly presented about Ethnobotany and the Lacandón Mayas at Toastmasters shortly after coming back to Ottawa. It was invigorating.

Cheers!

Mexico.

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I am tempted to comment on the lack of creativity of the title, but I will refrain myself from doing so…except, I just did.

Mexico!!! I will be flying to Tuxtla Gutierrez and then busing to San Cristobal de las Casas on April 3rd, arriving at around 11 pm. I’m so excited I have to post about this one week early. I’m also worried about security; it’ll be a 4-min walk from the bus station to the hotel–four long minutes, if I choose to walk. Someone online said they lived at San Cristobal de las Casas and that I should not worry about walking. Someone else, a Mexican who lived in Mexico City for a long time, told me to use UBER.

On April 5th, I will go with ~a dozen people from the city to Canto de la Selva, where I will begin a course on the Ecology of Fragmented Tropical Forests. The course ends on the 15th, and I’m back home the night of the 17th. In a way, this will be my summer break–I won’t have one, literally.

A little thought. Sometimes, one travels for the fun of it. Some other times, one travels for skills, knowledge, or work. It could also be to escape routine or gain a new perspective, or to destress or forget about everything that’s “going on back at home.” Most likely, it’s a combination thereof. 

Cheers!

Autumn Dreams

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On my way to BC in July, I dropped by Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta (yay free passes thanks to Canada 150!). On my way back to Ottawa in October, I went to Yoho National Park in BC and Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan. Oh, and I drove through the big snow chaos from ~Calgary to ~Medicine Hat…and counted 15 deserted vehicles down the snowed hills on the side of the freeway, including a big truck, between those two locations. Was it a matter of speed and/or carelessness? I can’t tell.

Back to parks. Banff and Jasper are widely known…and, I guess, as well as Yoho. Grasslands, on the other hand, is perhaps very underrated. It was suggested to me that I visit it, and it’s one of the best places I’ve been to. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the beautiful spring/summer wildflowers because I went there in October. Still, so many gems all around. The feeling that comes with being in the middle of Grasslands is indescribable. I’ll show one of the many gems below:

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See that bison staring at me? You move. No, you move.

 

Trip out west!

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I departed on a road trip west from the 18th of July. Stayed in Vancouver for four days, and hiked my legs and heart out with my cousin and aunt. I then left for Vancouver Island (mainly Victoria, Qualicum Beach, Ucluelet and Tofino–Pacific Rim National Park!) until the 31st of July.

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Hiking the Grouse Grind, North Vancouver.

On the 1st of August, I drove from Vancouver to Tatlayoko Lake (near Williams Lake, BC), where I would start work as an Assistant Bander until the end of September.  “Woah bear!” (precautionary, not treatment, if you know what I mean) has been one of my most frequently spoken words. Welcome to the land of bears and berries, and, of course, cool (western) birds.

 

For more information about the Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory, visit this blog (I may write on it on some days): https://tatlayokobirds.wordpress.com/

See you Ottawans real soon!

I know your breed! You’re a mix.

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You know how some people turn their head at the sight of (physically) attractive strangers on the streets? Yeah, I do that motion too, but only for dogs. I can’t help it! For many reasons, I’ve never lived with a dog, yet I’ve been swooningly (I know it’s not a word) wanting one for as long as I can remember.

The past with dogs

I’ve cared a lot for two dogs so far in my life. The first was a miniature schnauzer. I never knew I liked schnauzers until I met him. He wasn’t leash trained, and no one told me that. We were going for a walk. I was holding his leash when he decided to run through the half-closed garage door. I let myself be pulled and my forehead hit the door with a loud thud; I had to sit down and apply ice later on. He hopped on the sofa and leaned on me. That was the first time he expressed such friendliness. Yes, the picture below was taken right then. …was that what it took for him to care?

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The second was a labrador retriever. The first time I saw him, I felt something I never felt for any other dog before. Familiarity and warmth. He kept looking at me, and I did the same through glass windows. Our time was short but nice. The second time I saw him, he stole some of my food, and I’d like to think we bonded over that. I’m not sure I’ll ever see either of them again. But hey! Good news! I’m getting a dog!

The near-present with dogs

For the past year, I’ve been educating myself a lot more on dogs. Why? Because I knew that I would soon get a dog. I’ve been taking online lessons on how to train and care for dogs, what are the annual costs, what breeds would suit my lifestyle, etc. etc. etc. I’ve done at least 5 (10 maybe?) quizzes about what breed I should get. “Medium” or “large” were always my answers for preferred dog size. Answer of many quizzes: Canaan dog or Brittany Spaniel. Both are relatively rare and are therefore hard to find in a shelter. I’ve been visiting the Ottawa Humane Society website every day. I really want a Brittany though. There are at least three breeders in Ontario. …but helping a dog at a shelter is important to me. The Brittany could be my second dog.

In December, my family welcomed a dog into the house–a Yorkshire Terrier (English breed) x Biewer Terrier (German). This was not to be my dog. I planned to adopt one in late fall 2017. The plan was for me to train this dog, and my aunt would adopt him. Fast forward to February 2017, my aunt decided to not adopt him and my mom insisted on keeping him instead of returning him to the shelter. Fast forward to April 2017 (now), the remaining people in the house have warmed up to the idea of keeping him.

The present with a dog named Champ

Even though I wasn’t sure where he would end up most of the time before now–it was never for me to decide–I still trained and mentally stimulated him for his (and our) sake. He learned to pee outside in a sheltered area often (note, it was winter when we got him), and eventually stuck to doing it permanently. People who have Yorkshire Terriers would understand how hard it is to house-train them, because of how stubborn and audacious they are. Oh, and they’re smart too.

Champ, the Yorkie Biewer, eventually learned to sit, wait (i.e. stay), come, bang! (i.e. fake dying), up (stand on two legs), spin, and “let’s go” (resume walking along). I was blown away by how fast he became leash trained. He understands both English and Vietnamese. He leaves right away when we say “good night!”. He loves fetch and slippers. He loves to sleep at a different spot each night, alternating between his doggie bed, the laundry basket, and the sofa. He used to not be able to jump on the sofa, but those days are long gone.

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Challenges and future avenues

As a result of adopting him during the winter and family disputes over what to do with him, part of his training had been delayed. Notably, he did not really get to socialize with other dogs. Still, I tried to get him to socialize a lot with people. Family members see him as a stay-in-the-house kind of dog. But to me, that’s impossible.

These days, I’ve been trying hard to get him used to being in the car and other dogs. It was really a struggle in the car at first, with him being very anxious. He’s now starting to like being in cars. While he’s still stressed around bigger dogs, I can see him improving. Yorshire Terriers are known to act big despite their small size and play with bigger dogs, and I hope Champ does that too, someday. He’s at ~6.5 months, and while the socialization window supposedly closes at 6 months, I have hope. He has many times proven to me how adaptable he can be. Many other dogs adopted from shelters can change despite being much older than him!

Nope, he’s not my dog. Well, I don’t like using possessive pronouns, but that’s not why. Champ’s the family’s dog. Still, if ever anyone asks, I have a son and his name is Champ.

TCBO – Thunder Bay Bird Observatory

Left from the 27th of September until the 1st of November to an unknown territory: Thunder Bay, Ontario. This city is right above Lake Superior, the second Great Lake that I visited for the first time, both in a year. I brought a slightly over-sized carry-on bag (10kg) with me (only by a kg). The Porter airline officer glanced at it and let me pass without weighing anything. That was easy.

I was told the night before by the observatory coordinator that I would have to hike in. Weather conditions did not favor a boating trip. I was given a ride to Silver Islet from where I started a hike on Kabeyun trail. I was told that there would be two big “obstacles” on the trail, one after ~9 km and the other after ~11 km. The first obstacle, rocks for ~0.5 km:

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The second obstacle, stairs that are a lot steeper and higher than the picture suggests. The space between the logs could not be stepped on, and were about waist-high:

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The coolest trail I’ve hiked! Not that I’ve hiked many trails. 13 km later and I arrived. Two volunteers greeted me on the trail ~a hundred meters away from the station and one offered some water. I was ecstatic because I emptied my water bottle before starting the supposedly three-hour-and-a-1/2 hike. Didn’t want extra weight on my back. 2 km away and all I cared about was water.

I arrived at ~6 pm and was then told to sleep in the morning after, partially to rest from the long hike. I took that pretty well and slept until 10:30 am (I soon learned that “sleeping in” at this observatory usually meant waking up before 9 am).


Highlights!

Types of bird traps I’ve never seen nor used before!

Atop the TCBO watch tower, looking north-ish, one can see the (stinky) feet of the Sleeping Giant.

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What are those cute furry blue flying __ that fly around like snow around the cabin? A friend mentioned contextual emotions when I made a fuss about how cute the aphid was. Yeah, yeah.

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Woolly aphid

I had a few dragonfly-catching days. I proudly made my own net with a plastic bag, wooden sticks and rubber bands. There was no net at the station.

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(Very) Common green darner

Bird Highlights 

Of course, the birds were great awesome. There are too many things to say about them, and I like posting about things that aren’t so bird-centric. In other words, this post is not about bird documentation.

Anyhow, here are among the better bird moments:

  • Spotted a Townsend’s Solitaire! Thanks to a friend who told me what I actually saw
  • Flocks of Snow Buntings around the last week before leaving
  • A bold Horned Lark that stayed around for days, hung out on the lawn, and never got caught in the surrounding ground traps
  • Migrating (we say “vis-ing” for visually migrating) Northern Shrikes
  • A day of seeing all seven woodpeckers: Black-backed, Downy, Hairy, Pileated, Red-bellied, Red-headed (brown-headed juvenile), and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Released a Sharp-shinned Hawk, by facing away from the wind and throwing the bird as straightly, strongly and steadily as possible!

Prepping and leaving

I booked my flight a bit late with the plan of travelling around urban/suburban Thunder Bay for a few hours.

Here’s a better view of the Sleeping Giant.PA310090.JPG

I considered buying candies and a pumpkin to put outside my motel room. I could hear “trick or treat!” every few minutes for a while. It was Halloween. But the nearest shop wasn’t really near…and I wanted some rest.

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Bring this back to Ottawa?

Oh hey, a rainbow seen from inside the plane!

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An unforgettable month+a few days. Great people I hope to see again sometime in the future. One of them told me he noticed “the world is small”. Hmm.

My next post will probably be about…dogs. Yes, dogs. They’re part of wildlife too. The post is already a draft sitting in my draft box.

Cheers!

BPBO – Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory

9 August – A friend and I will spend about a month at Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory, starting the 15th of August. I’ve finished packing up for the most part, and one of the fun pre-trip challenges is to pack the bare minimum–enough to get by and do what is to be done.

Counting down the days, finishing tasks that must be done before the trip, and scheduling for after the trip. Of course, I’m really looking forward to the knowledge and experience. I’m also looking forward to briefly surveying the peninsula and trying to come up with a project idea–gets my blood pumping.


Back in Ottawa on the 15th of September at around 10 pm. I learned so much about vegan cooking from the friend who traveled with me; went shopping for vegan butter, vegan cheese, red lentils, and other items the morning after at ~8 am!

Anyway, about the trip. It was remarkable. I learned many more bird observatory operation techniques as well as bird handling ones. Aside from the expected, however, I studied and explored a lot. I mainly studied about trees (with the help of a friend) and insects. I decided to take on a simple project: document insects around the observatory. It is currently progressing well, although I still have a big folder with pictures of unidentified species.

In front of the cottage in which I stayed during the month, there was a shipwreck:

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Underwater view of the ship!

On the south side of the observatory, there are three bluffs. I got to climb on Middle bluff with the team. The path up is simply impossible to find without ribbons…or someone very knowledgeable about the area.

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Anyone who has traveled to the Bruce peninsula for leisure must have done (part of) the Bruce trail and visited the Grotto. The Bruce trail is the longest one in Canada, with a distance of above 800 km. A friend and I went right after students went back to school, and yet it was still very busy. We did part of the trail from Tobermory to Little Anse Cove, and then we visited Cyprus lake + the grotto on another day.

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Grotto, Georgian Bay

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Grotto, Georgian Bay

At the end of the day, I’m always back in the cottage right next to the Georgian Bay. The views for sunrises and sunsets are always different. I wish I had taken pictures of those every day. Here is a sunrise and a sunset anyway.

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6:55 am, Georgian Bay side, 10 Sep. 2016

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7:48 pm, Wingfield Basin side, 10 Sep. 2016

That’s all I have to say for now. I’m leaving for Thunder Bay on the 27th of September–Thunder Cape Bird Observatory (TCBO). Back on the 1st of November.

Onto a New Society!

New Society…NS…Nova Scotia, you know. Although I’m actually circling East Canada. Should start in 15 days, on the 25th of June.

A pre-planned two-week trip got cut in half. A much-wanted solo, post-graduation (B.Sc.) trip turned into a celebrating-with-parents trip. A friend told me to think of it as a rare time for bonding and such. Yep, I agree. By the way, you should read The Tail End by WaitButWhy.com: http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html. A (very) visual representation of human life and of how much of everything we have left…like how many pizza slices we eat before dying. Confused? Just go read.


Here’s a revised travel plan:

QUEBEC: Day 1

  • Trois Rivières: Basilica Notre-Dame-Du-Cap
  • Old Quebec
  • Kamouraska (first french colonists in the late 1600s + South St. Lawrence River)

NEW BRUNSWICK: Day 2

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND (maybe): Day 3

  • $70 ferry, $46 bridge…hmm.
  • PEI National Park
  • Canadian Potato Museum (yay!)

NOVA SCOTIA: Day 4 + 5 + 6

  • Cabot Trail – Cape Breton Highlands National Park
  • Peggy’s Cove

Day 6 + 7: Return + wiggle room


I’ll post pictures right here. As long as I’m still alive, of course.

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Kamouraska, Quebec (25/06) – onlooking the St. Lawrence River (South)

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Hartland Bridge, New Brunswick (26/06) – built in 1921

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Garbage “houses” in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (27/06) – why aren’t those things in Ottawa?

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Brackley Beach (27/06) in PEI – hey, that’s me. In water so cold I could no longer feel my legs. Dove soon after. Challenge=success!

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Iona, Nova Scotia (28/06) – Bombus borealis – Awwwww overjoyed. What’s as awesome? Seeing two Boreal Chickadees nearby.

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Cabot Trail, NS (28/06)

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Public Gardens, Halifax, NS (29/06) – Victorian era. One of the trees in the garden was planted by King George XI in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. I ain’t showing that picture.

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Peggy’s Cove, NS (30/06) – it was an extremely foggy morning, but the sights were still very beautiful. Instead of showing a picture of the more famous sights, here’s one of a leaf found there.

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Here’s a picture of the fog, kind of. The black rocks are NOT to be stepped on. It has claimed many lives.

We dropped by the Magnetic Hill near Moncton NB, and didn’t have enough time to visit Hopewell Rocks. Maybe next time! We got home right in time for the Canada Day fireworks at 9 pm.

It was a very memorable trip. Strangely, I feel like it changed me. I’m not completely sure in what way, yet.

Facts that make the day a bit brighter (maybe)

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“…recent depletion (of flower nectar) by other pollinators may be indicated by scent marks or electrostatic “traces”” (doi:10.1093/beheco/arv010). – So what are electrostatic traces? Bees become + or – when approaching their colony depending on whether the colony is filled with + (on a sunny day) or – (on a rainy day). This helps bees decide whether to go out or not! They also transfer their + charges to the usually negatively-charged flowers, rendering them slightly positive for a short time and signaling to other bees that the flower is rewarding. One last thing, pollen molecules literally fly up and stick to bees because of the opposing charges. Look that up; cool pictures! (Mar 16 2016)

 

“starlings…deliberately choose specific plants (that they find with their sense of smell) to include in their nests. The aromatic compounds emitted by these plants boost immune systems of chicks and reduce their bacterial loads” AND “Corsican blue tits also add plant material to their nests…lavender (Lavandula stoechas), mint (Mentha suaveolens) and an aster (Helichrysum italicum)….add fresh plant fragments throughout the nesting period. When researchers experimentally removed these aromatic plants from their nests, the birds quickly replaced them.” (link, a friend shared, Jun 20 2016)

 

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Are Shorebirds or Bears more Bearable?

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I was sent to Little Piskwamish Camp, James Bay as part of the James Bay Shorebird Project. I was so excited! I didn’t know much about shorebirds, well, other than the famous Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper common near Ottawa center.

So I left on the 28th of July 2015, and was back home on the 15th of August. The route: Ottawa-> North Bay-> Cochrane (~9-hour drive),  -> Moosonee (~5-hour train) and -> James Bay (~30-min helicopter). More transportation action than I’ve ever experienced before.

Moosonee is a beautiful little town. The roads are sanded, the people are very friendly, and the atmosphere is quite fresh…the price of groceries is roughly twice/thrice of what you would pay in Ottawa. In our MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) house, we learned how to make shorebird bands (dip the band in hot water, circle it around a nail, and then dip it in cold water. Voila.).

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Fast forward to Little Piskwamish Camp, the four of us got to know Doug, the leader of the camp. He greeted us with brownies! We put all our stuff in our cabin and went on an introductory walk.

Starting the next day, we did what we went there to do. Survey the mudflats for shorebirds, find flocks of Red Knots (endangered), read their bands (three characters+colour), and stay away from bears. Groups of 2-3 did daily rotations of heading north (~3 km) or south (~6 km)–until a victory flag was within reach–before heading back. Despite having studied like crazy in Moosonee with experts and at home with a shorebird book, I was clueless about shorebird ID. Thankfully, Doug had awesome tricks/mnemonics that got us ID-ing shorebirds in only a few days.

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High tides and low tides. We needed to make sure we weren’t far from camp during “top” tide, because we might have to cross something like this while going back:

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Well-named “Bitch Creek”. Hey, I didn’t name it!

Most often during our walks, we met fearless-ish shorebirds. This picture captures nothing of the abundance of shorebirds around us:

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Dunlins. “Shorebirds with an awkward, cute black square on their belly” – a friend (paraphrased)

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See those specks? Exactly.

So after our walks, we would go back to camp and eat delicious meals. We all contributed to a part of the meal process. We would also filter water taken from an “outbound” stream. Filter once for dishes, twice for drinks.

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Relatively tamed Gray Jay at the camp

On the before last day, we headed north beyond the usual route to look for bears. We all had our bear bangers/flashers ready. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any.  At least we were entertained by the numerous true stories told about black bears around James Bay. And we got to fire our bangers for fun.

That was it! We headed back home. Once back in Ottawa, I was “downed” by all the technology that surrounded me. The cars, the TVs, the weird laptop that was in front of me…. I was in a daze for at least 3 days. Thankfully, Emily, a post-doc. in Dr. Forrest’s lab, had me work in fields filled with Solidago plants full-time from the 17th to the ~30th of August. Those fields were also filled with bees/wildlife and other good and soothing stuff. I think that really helped me readapt to civilization. When Dr. Forrest first saw me after the summer break, she didn’t look very pleased (at all)…at least on the outside! I’m sure it had something to do with my lack of academic work during the summer. Meh, I’ll try to make up for it. James Bay brainwashed me.