Happy Canada Day 2018

There are many reasons to celebrate Canada’s birthday and it has been my usual habit to post a pretty picture to illustrate the natural beauty of this great land.

Another reason to be proud of this country is the people who helped make it great.

With my father’s recent health issues we have been going through some of his things and coming up with some amazing finds about the father I never knew (because we children were not yet even a twinkle in his eye).

Dad, Portrait before going overseas

Dad, Portrait before going overseas, one of the “in case you don’t come back portraits”

Dad was born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan one of ten children and also spent summers working on his maternal grandmother’s quarter section farm in Alvena, about 40 miles northeast of Saskatoon.

At the ripe old age of 16 in 1943 he decided it was time to enlist and he wanted to learn to fly so joining the RCAF became his immediate goal. He made his way by train to Oba in the wilds of northwestern Ontario. Oba was just a train stop about half way between White River and Kapuskasing but it did have a lumber camp in the bush that was hiring.

Five weeks of working in the lumber camp as a “peeler” (not that kind…., stripping the bark off the logs was his actual job) earned him enough money to travel to Ottawa. There he would join his twin sisters Helen and Carol who had already enlisted and proceed to the RCAF recruiting office.

Here comes one of my favourite stories that he has recounted many times and always with a slight chuckle and an unmistakable mischievous twinkle in his eye:

August 10, 1943

RCAF recruiter: “Son, you don’t look to be 19, sorry we can’t take you”

Dad: “Well sir, I am 19, here look I have my driver’s licence and everything.” (Driver’s licences apparently did not have a date of birth on them in Saskatchewan back then)

RCAF recruiter: “Sorry son, I still don’t think you are 19, we can’t take you”

Dad: “Well sir, there’s a Navy recruiting office right across the street and I am pretty darn sure they will take me.”

RCAF recruiter: (Shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes) “Sign here son, welcome to the RCAF.”

The New Recruit

The New Recruit, the second of the “in case you don’t come back portraits”, likely pinned on his mother’s wall or his yet to be wife’s.

May 25, 1944

After basic training Dad started flight training and completed 21hrs. 30min. total flying time in the Harvard single engine type trainers which was the basic training plane for most WW2 fighter pilots.

Dad, Pilot Training May/June 1944

Dad, Pilot Training May/June 1944

June 27 1944

Pilot training was cancelled, apparently the RCAF did not need any more pilots at this point in the war.

Dad’s question to his commanding officer: “Which course will get me in to action the quickest?”

Commanding Officer: “Gunnery school, we need gunners.”

Dad: “Sign me up.” (Also followed by about ten of his classmates)

Dad, RCAF Service and Pay Book

Dad, RCAF Service and Pay Book

Dad, Pay Book, Wills pages

Dad, Pay Book, Wills pages, How many first jobs require you to make out a will and list next of kin?

Oct 7, 1944

Started gunnery training on all 6 of the various gun positions on a B24 Liberator heavy bomber.

November 27, 1944

Completed 62.50 total hours flying and target practice time. Promoted to Flight Sergeant during training, graduated top of his class 86.3% average, earned lead gunner status, chose the tail gunner position.

(Dad said he liked this position because if the shit hit the proverbial fan all he had to do was rotate his gun turret and bail out the back end of the plane)

Some interesting notes from his flight log book:

Oct 24, 1944

“First flip with skipper” (Flip = flight or mission, Skipper =  Sub Lieutenant Vic Stuart)

Nov. 04, 1944

“Flew at 27,000’, nearly froze”

From there it was on to England for further training while awaiting deployment instructions.

Deployment time saw him attached to 99 Squadron, a joint RCAF/ British RAF squadron and deployed to Kolar, India (April 25, 1945), and later Duhbalia in Bengal (May 29, 1945), Kankasanturi, Ceylon (July 02, 1945), and final base of operations in the Cocos Islands (July 24, 1945).

The Cocos Islands are a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean south of Indonesia and west of Australia. The islands were just large enough to support the length of runway needed for takeoff and landing of the big B24 Liberators. Pilot and navigator both needed to be spot on with location and fuel consumption as ditching in the shark infested waters surrounding the islands was not an option.

The B24 Liberators were put to task bombing Japanese supply routes in Burma and shipping lanes around Indonesia. The bomber group came to be known as the “Burma Bombers”.

The B24 Liberators were put to many varied uses in the Pacific Theater. In Europe the German Luftwaffe fighters and anti-aircraft fire took a terrifying toll on the heavy bombers flying their missions.

Most Japanese fighter planes were only equipped with .303 calibre machine guns whereas the B24’s had ten .50 calibre machine guns. Dad always said the Japanese fighters had to get within 300 yards in order to be effective with the .303’s but he could start firing when they were 1,000 yards away. Japanese fighter pilots knew this and generally steered clear of the B24’s. Ground based anti-aircraft was not nearly as well established as in Europe.

Some of Dad’s missions included shipping strikes and even ground strikes at low enough altitudes for Dad to be able to see the devastating effect his twin .50 calibre machine guns had on enemy ground personnel.

Another of Dad’s stories: (Being the lead gunner in the tail position he had one of the best views available of any of the crew so he was in direct radio contact with the pilot on missions in order to pass on relevant information.) Returning from a successful bombing run Dad spotted a group of Japanese VAL fighters keeping a respectful distance and tried to talk his skipper in to going after them. His skipper declined, even though he knew the VAL’s would be outgunned, they could outrun the heavier bomber.

Ten total sorties totaling 128.55 hours were completed. One mission had the crew in the air for just under 24 hours loaded with sea mines and extra fuel tanks in order to drop the sea mines in Japanese shipping routes in the South China Sea.

Some more interesting notes from his flight log book:

May 29, 1945

“First Op. trip, Ack Ack, Moulmein, Burma” (First operational bombing run, ran in to anti-aircraft fire)

Aug. 7, 1945

“Special Duty, Supply dropping area N.W of Singapore, Malaya. Intercepted by two VAL aircraft (first fighters)”

The most important entry from his flight log book:

Aug 14, 1945

“Standing by to attack Japanese convoy, (peace delivered)” (peace delivered was crossed out and replaced with a bold) “WAR OVER”

Dad, Log Book "WAR OVER"

Dad, Log Book “WAR OVER”

Aug 20, 1945

“Special Duty, Supply dropping area N of Singapore, saw seven enemy aircraft”

(It would appear that even almost a week after the war had officially ended things were still a little tense in the area)

The last operational entry in his log book:

Set 9, 1945

“Supply dropping, Changi Airfield, Singapore, successful drop, large British convoy in harbour, part of occupation force”

Just one story of one young boy who quickly grew to be a man, one of the greatest generation who helped make Canada one of the greatest nations.

Back from the war

Back from the war

More Bald Eagles

Well time to hit the road again to see what the eagles are up to on the Nipigon River.

The owner at The Lodge has authorized me to offer a 25% discount for any last minute bookings for the Red Rock-Nipigon Eagle Photo Safari. Call Ray Rivard to confirm available spots (807) 886-5603, mobile (807) 621-6342. Package details here: www.photographybygaryblake.com

Would love to show a few more avid wildlife enthusiasts what northwestern Ontario has to offer!

Click on any photo to see a larger version.

Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Bald eagle, immature

Bald eagle, immature, I think he spotted the photographer

Bald Eagle, adult

Bald Eagle, adult, youngster checking his landing technique

Bald eagle, immature and adult

Bald eagle, immature and adult “face time”

Bald eagle, immature

Bald eagle, immature, crowded airspace with more incoming

Bald Eagle

A crowd of ravens attempting to intimidate a young bald eagle (Didn’t work)

Bald eagle, immature

Bald eagle, immature

Bald Eagle, Juvenile

Bald Eagle, Juvenile, striking a pose

Of course if you get tired of the eagles, there is always the scenery….

Sunrise at Red Rock

Sunrise from The Lodge at Red Rock

Nipigon River

Nipigon River

Jessie Lake

Jessie Lake

Nipigon

The long and winding road, near Nipigon

Save

Save

Inverted Eagle

“Ninja Eagle” If Bruce Lee were to be re-incarnated as an eagle this would be him. (Bit of a story to go with this one)

I have been watching and photographing eagles on the Nipigon River for five years now. Eagles are usually territorial and spread out over large areas based on available food. When an excess of available food presents itself (such as a salmon spawning run) they tend to congregate in large numbers in small areas. As such they need to develop social skills and a hierarchical system. The abundance of food means that each meal is no longer a life and death survival issue so they generally tolerate one another to a certain extent. They still seem to like to challenge one another though and one of their favourite games is to try and knock the other eagle off of the fish they happen to be feeding on.

An eagle feeding on the ground is at a huge tactical disadvantage to an incoming eagle in the air. The eagle on the ground knows this and the general rule is to put up a bit of a fuss, squawk a lot, and then get the h___ out of the way or you are going to get seriously hurt.

This particular eagle has figured out a unique defense to this problem. He would crouch down, precisely time the arrival of the incoming eagle, leap in to the air and go completely inverted to present his talons to the incoming eagle. Tactical advantage is now almost equal, the incoming eagle still has an airspeed advantage but our Bruce Lee eagle has the advantage of surprise. This seemed to work well for him, I watched him do this three times before getting this shot as it happens lightning fast.

Bruce would then finish his acrobatics by completing a somersault and land back on his feet, straighten his feathers and finish eating his lunch.

Look at the picture and realize that this eagle stands about 2 ½ feet tall and has a wingspan of about 7 feet. Look again (particularly at the wing feathers) and you can see that he appears to be able to control every feather individually in order to accomplish this pretty amazing maneuver.

Nature never ceases to amaze me……

Bald Eagle, Adult

Bald Eagle, Adult

Artist & Artisans Show & Sale presented by A Gift of Art

I will be exhibiting at Newcastle’s 9th annual Artist & Artisans Show & Sale presented by A Gift of Art. The show runs this Saturday and Sunday, July 9-10, 10:00am- 4:00pm at the Newcastle Memorial Arena.

I will be showing a video promoting the Red Rock-Nipigon Eagle Photo Safari , for anyone interested in wildlife photography, bald eagles in particular.

Juvenile bald eagle landing at sunset

Juvenile bald eagle landing at sunset

Recently I have been printing some of my images on canvas and I will be bringing some of the results to the show. The prints are made with archival inks on canvas specially prepared for ink jet printers. This provides photographers with another option for displaying their work as the canvas print can be stretched and mounted in the same manner as a painting done on canvas.I have been playing with my own custom made wood framing for the canvas prints and have developed a double frame that is constructed from four separate frames. The first frame is a simple pine frame to stretch the canvas on. This is followed by a support frame that attaches to the stretcher frame and two outer frames surround the image.

Support frame, inner and outer frames assembled

Support frame, inner and outer frames assembled

Frame parts dyed and finished

Frame parts dyed and finished

Corner detail, double splined mitre joint

Corner detail, double splined mitre joint

Front view, finished frame

Front view, finished frame

The same image, tradition framing, matted and behind UV glass.

The same image, tradition framing, matted and behind UV glass.

Great Grey owl on canvas, custom maple frame

Great Grey owl on canvas, custom maple frame

Barred owl, black and white on canvas, custom oak frame

Barred owl, black and white on canvas, custom oak frame

Hummingbird, Early Morning Light, on canvas, custom oak frame

Hummingbird, Early Morning Light, on canvas, custom oak frame

Moonrise, on canvas, custom oak frame

Moonrise, on canvas, custom oak frame

Should be a good show, lots of artists displaying their wares, an ice-cream truck outside and some talented local musicians performing, come on out if you are looking for something to do this weekend.

Bald Eagle Photography

I will be at the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show at the International Center this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (February 19-21, 2016). Along with The Lodge and Nipigon River Adventures we will be promoting The Red Rock Nipigon Eagle Photo Safari, a 5 day all-inclusive wildlife photography package.

Package details and videos are here: http://www.photographybygaryblake.com/default1.htm

The package is a unique outdoor adventure and photography workshop. You will have the opportunity to watch bald eagles in their natural environment as they feed and interact during the fall salmon spawning run. You will on average be only 30-35 feet away from the eagles so the sights and sounds are quite spectacular. You will learn how to set up and shoot from a simple effective blind, undetected by the eagles you can observe and photograph natural behaviours and interactions between the birds.

Some interactions can get quite intense:

Bald Eagle, Adult

Bald Eagle, Adult

Our setups work! This eagle was photographed from a distance of 5 feet and was not aware of the photographer….

Bald Eagle, Juvenile

Bald Eagle, Juvenile

The package has been designed to accommodate any level of photographer from beginner to professional. Instruction is available based on your experience level. Shooting from a blind and from close proximity means you can get great shots with very basic equipment (A 70-300mm telephoto zoom will work just fine)

Forecast is for a rainy wet weekend, perfect for an indoor show, drop in and see us, booth 637, Nipigon River Adventures.

Bald Eagle, Juvenile

Bald Eagle, Juvenile, dropping in on a rainy, foggy day

Remembrance Day 2015

As we freely  travel around this great country of ours we are reminded of the great sacrifices made by so many during the two world wars through the many memorials and monuments erected to commemorate these events.

There are also some far more obscure reminders that are slowly fading from memory, and their former physical presence torn down or naturally decaying.

Just back from a trip to northern Ontario I had the chance to visit one of these places.

One of the 40 Canadian prisoner of war camps was located In Red Rock, Ontario and operated between 1940-1941. This particular camp also had a satellite labour camp in the bush about 25 miles north of the town of Dorion on the Wolf River system. The camp was a logging camp and prisoners were sent here and put to work.

There was little chance of escape from these camps as they were so far in the bush there was no place to go and basic survival would have been a key issue. The other side of this is that they were treated and housed so well few or none wanted to escape, an interesting read about his here:

https://legionmagazine.com/en/2012/03/the-happiest-prisoners/

Little remains of the camp today, the buildings are all gone, the clearings slowly growing over. I found a few remains from the cookhouse, old tin cans, a piece of the an old cook stove, some broken bottles and dishes.

The camp itself was located on the top of an escarpment, a small tributary of the Wolf River flows over the escarpment at Talking Falls. A truly beautiful small waterfalls with a straight drop cascade of about 70 feet that you can actually walk behind. I was told that the remains of a log structure visible in the first photo was once a sauna. The stream then flows out in to a series of ponds which apparently holds some very nice brook trout.

Seems these POW’s were dropped in to a little bit of paradise.

Talking Falls

Talking Falls

A couple of alternate views of the falls:

Talking Falls

Talking Falls

Talking Falls

Talking Falls

In retrospect a far cry from how our POW’s were treated. (An uncle returned weighing only 75 pounds on being liberated and barely surviving after forced “death marches”)

So on this remembrance day I am very grateful to the greatest generation who fought for our freedom and have provided us with the opportunity to explore such beautiful places.

Lest we forget.

 

 

 

 

 

New Camera and Hummingbird Yoga

I have been breaking in a new camera, testing it out on one of my favourite subjects before a fall trip. These little hummingbirds are endlessly fascinating to watch. Energetic and feisty, and packed with quite a bit of attitude inside such a tiny package. I watch and photograph these little birds most of the summer.  Photographing them at very close range I have come to able to identify most of them as they are all slightly different in size and markings.

The new camera is a Sony A7R2. This is Sony’s latest model and is 42.4 megapixel mirrorless camera. Lots of very positive reviews so I thought I would try one out. I have basically been an Olympus user all my life and use a pair of Olympus OMD EM1 cameras.

What impressed me most about this particular camera is the fact that is very similar in size and layout to my Olympus cameras and the fact that I can customize the buttons so it will work in almost the same way as the Olympus camera. Bonus is that I can use all of my older Olympus OM lenses on it with an adapter (manual focus though).

Initial impressions are that the Sony engineers have really done their homework on this one, very impressed so far. Will be putting it through its paces in Northern Ontario shortly.

Here is a few on the first results. For those that are interested these are the full resolution images just slightly cropped from 2:3 to 4:3 format (Takes a little off the sides to better fit paper sizes for printing)

The thing about a 42.4mp camera is the incredible amount of detail it is capable of capturing. These pictures are taken in my backyard where I can control the lighting and background better. It is hard to tell from images resized for the web but on the computer at 100% I can see the back of my house and count the floorboards on my deck – in the reflection of that tiny little eye! Awesome!

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird, first red gorget (throat) feather showing

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird, stretching

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird, streching the other way

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird,
yoga position

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird

Juvenile male ruby throated hummingbird, resting after all that stretching

I think the little guy stretching must have spent some time outside someones window watching yoga lessons (not mine though). Most of the hummingbirds I have seen do this stretching do it very quickly like everything else they do. This little fellow was working at a very slow and relaxed pace.

Gary

Barred Owl at Sunset, canvas print, exhibition details

I will be exhibiting at A Gift of Art’s annual Artist and Artisan’s Show and Sale at the Newcastle Memorial Arena Saturday and Sunday July 11th-12th, 10am-4pm.

A Gift of Art is a not for profit charitable organization whose main purpose is to support and promote local artists and artisans. You can check them out at their website www.agiftof-art.com.

The organization was founded in 2008 by Ann Harley who has invested much of her time, money and inexhaustible energy into creating a wonderful community and artist resource center. A Gift of Art originally started with 22 artists and has now grown to over 100. The new location is 187 King Ave E, Newcastle in a renovated circa 1850’s house. There are two full floors of gallery space as well as space for workshops, art lessons and children’s art camps.

I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with this organization from the beginning as one of the original artist members and currently serve as a volunteer member on the board of directors. Highly recommended as a great place to visit and shop if you are in the Newcastle area.

This weekend show and sale is an open show featuring many of the artists from A Gift of Art and is also open to other visiting artists. Some talented local musicians will be entertaining throughout the show.

One of the pieces I will be exhibiting will be a custom framed photograph of a barred owl. This image has been inkjet printed on archival canvas and measures approximately 15”x20”. The canvas has been gallery wrapped on a 1 – 3/8” thick pine frame. The gallery wrapped frame has in turn been inset into a custom handmade birds-eye maple frame accented with walnut splines at the mitre joints. (Woodworking is another pastime and I make my own frames)

Framed canvas print, barred owl at sunset

Framed canvas print, barred owl at sunset

Corner detail, bird's eye maple with walnut splines

Corner detail, bird’s eye maple with walnut splines

The image itself was taken in a local conservation area in late winter at dusk. I had been following the owl from about 10:00 in the morning. It was a very bright winter’s day and the light was quite harsh. The owl was quite inactive and slept most of the morning and afternoon. A few awkward roosting spots added in to the mix resulted in not many real excellent photo opportunities. Late in the afternoon the light was getting better and the owl started to move about and went in to hunting mode. The owl investigated a few different places where it was probably hearing mice or moles moving under the snow.

Barred owl, preening claws

Barred owl, preening claws

The owl then moved to a very nice position and sat and watched the setting sun for a while. Perhaps contemplating the night’s hunting that lay ahead.

A couple alternate images at the same location

Barred Owl

Barred Owl at sunset

Barred Owl

Barred Owl at sunset, profile view

The final printed image shows the setting sun and trees reflected in the owl’s eye. The owl picked a very nice perch with a snow covered background. Low light conditions required a large aperture setting which renders the background nicely out of focus. The low light and nice background gave this image a painterly quality which seemed to lend itself well to printing on canvas.

 

Happy Canada Day 2015

A great day to sit back and reflect on the beautiful country that we live in.

I happen to have a particular fondness for my own province of Ontario, and in particular the northern reaches of this province and it’s mostly unspoiled wilderness.

Although there has been significant development in the north in the way of logging, mining and hydro electric development, sometimes the impact on the natural beauty can be kept to a minimum.

Case in point, Aubrey Falls on the Mississaugi River north of Sault St. Marie. Probably one of northern Ontario’s prettiest waterfalls.

When the Mississaugi River was being developed for hydro electric power, the planners must have had the same opinion of the natural beauty of the falls and the gorge. The intake for the hydro electric plant was diverted to the dam from far upstream, the dam was constructed beside the falls and gorge and the out take is returned to the river downstream from the gorge.

The end result is that we have still have Aubrey Falls to enjoy in all it’s unspoiled beauty.

Path to Aubrey Falls

Path to Aubrey Falls

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this waterfalls is that it has an on/off switch. The water can be diverted to the dam for hydro-electric power generation and in times of low water flow the water can be completely shut off to the falls in order to build water reserves behind the dam. The water is released to flow over the falls during the day and the falls goes from a mere trickle to full flow in a little over an hour. (A schedule for the release times is posted in the parking lot at the entrance to the hiking trail leading to the falls) Watching the transformation makes for a very unique experience, at full flow there are 22 individually separated rivulets flowing over various areas of the falls face.

Aubrey Falls, before the water is turned on

Aubrey Falls, before the water is turned on

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls, about an hour later

Ultra wide angle view looking straight down from the ledge on the north side of the gorge – taken while hanging on very tightly to the camera.

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

There are so many facets to this falls that is almost impossible to photograph the entire falls in one image.

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

Early morning mists add a different mood to the lower part of the falls.

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls

Aubrey Falls, bridge to upper viewing area

A short hike in and lots of different viewing areas makes for a wide variety of photographic opportunities – well worth the visit if you are in the area.