I’m still a struggling photographer, so more than an art exhibit, it is the memories and the delight of the wildlife we have encountered over the past two years in particular that inspired this public share of my Christmas gift to Julie for 2021, which is the canvas prints of all the images you see here. This wall previously featured nothing but the giant west coast rainforest image, now it has lots of company!
As for the photos, they all tell a story of our pandemic times together. In the summer of 2020, we started taking drives in the country as a way to get out and about. The experience reminded us that incredible natural habitats are very close by. After I picked up a cheap tandem kayak from Canadian Tire, we hit the water in September and October, and although we are not new to kayaking and had previously spent many years enjoying countless lakes and rivers, our renewed appreciation for being in nature has fueled a new passion for being in the wild.
A long drive followed by the traversing of harsh conditions is not always necessary for experiencing amazing wildlife encounters. In fact, our maiden voyage in “The Place To Be” (that’s the name of our kayak) took place on the Rideau River, about a 15 minute walk from Lansdowne. We saw every type of heron just in the stretch between Bank Street and the 417! We see great blue herons on almost every kayaking trip, but what a thrill to see green herons, least bitterns, and night herons!
When we started to venture out further, we took advantage of the Mississippi and the Madawaska, these are remarkable river and lake systems. The Mississippi is about 200km long with more than 250 lakes! Although not certain, the name likely comes from the Algonquian language of the Anishinaabe (roughly translated to “rive like a picture” noting that the Mississippi River in the US comes from Ojibwe (roughly translated “great river.”). There is no direct connection between the rivers sharing the same name, it seems in both cases, white folks changed the original word to something they could more easily pronounce. The Madawaska is no joke either, it is more like 230km, and generally, it flows faster than the Mississippi (so more drops and rapids), on average it moves twice as fast (they both end up at the Ottawa River).
This great blue heron in flight took off from a marsh near Fergusons Falls (don’t look for a waterfall, there isn’t one, but it’s a lovely stretch of river). We made several trips to different Mississippi launches, including an amazing day in and around Stump Lake, and also put it at Morris Island on the Ottawa River, where the Mississippi comes to an end.
Our biggest adventures of the fall of 2020 were definitely spent on the Madawaska system, including Norcan Lake, Black Donald Lake, and Centennial Lake. We saw river otters on Norcan, after we were drawn to check out a bay full of stumps, we found a family of otters crunching away on crayfish, and managed a few photos, like the one below, with a crayfish meeting its demise! On Centennial Lake we circumnavigated Big Island, and when we stopped in a quiet bay for lunch, a pair of otters bobbed up in front of us and put on a show. Our amazing day on Norcan Lake almost never happened, because dark clouds appeared out of nowhere 5 minutes after we launched, and huge waves were pounding our kayak – we are very capable paddlers but we were getting soaked! We were debating turning back when suddenly the skies cleared. Not only did we get to watch the family of otters for about 30 minutes, but on our way back, just before sunset, we saw a majestic bald eagle leaping from the trees to go after a fish. He didn’t get the fish, but I got the shot!
Closing out 2020, we also visited some fairly isolated lakes in Lanark County and Lanark Highlands, including Woods Lake and Upper Park Lake, in late October. We were surprised to see a few turtles out despite the cold – they were clearly enjoying a last bit of sunshine before hibernation.
Of course, before we purchased The Place To Be, Julie managed to cobble together a trip in and around Killarney Provincial Park (not the Killarney in Algonquin Park, the Killarney near Manitoulin Island on Georgian Bay of Lake Huron). We rented a kayak from Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, and through that experience, figured out that sharing a kayak was actually a lot of fun (and it certainly helps with photography!). But since this paragraph mentions Algonquin twice, here’s the only photo from the Christmas gift collage that isn’t from summer/fall 2020 or 2021 – this moose photo is from a short trip we took to Algonquin Park in the summer of 2019. We had checked off every animal but moose (we didn’t see, but we did hear some wolves, we saw a black bear and otters) and on our very last day, we spotted this moose near the 60 on our way to pack up and head home. Fortuitous!
OK, back to Killarney and 2020! We spent a week in a rustic cabin inside the park on Bell Lake, a week at the rustic Charlton Lake Camp (family-oriented cabins) and finally a week at a cottage on McGregor Bay. Every week had its own special wildlife memory! Week one, we saw a fox eat a muskrat (pictured here after the last bits of flesh were down the hatch). Week two we were charmed by loon chicks riding around on mom or dad’s back.
But our most memorable journey was probably our determined trip to the end of Charlton Lake and through the Murray Lake creek, which went on for many kilometres and came to an end (for us) at the bottom of a set of rapids where we sat on rocks in the sunshine, ate our sandwiches, and watched schools of fish, snapping turtles, and dragonflies putting on a majestic show. As a reminder that they are not there to entertain us, a crayfish slid down the rapids and was ripped apart by a hundred small fish right before our eyes! But the real showstopper was the ebony jewelwing damselflies as pictured below.
Week three we were in disbelief at the look and sound of a pair of sandhill cranes, and also the ever-present minks who seemed to thrive in the endless channels and small islands of McGregor Bay.
The last week was probably as close to a perfect experience (for us) as possible, as we found ourselves temporarily lost amongst the many islands and secluded bays. This included a journey into Splitrock Channel, where we found ourselves completely isolated but felt that someone was watching us…eventually we spotted this white-tailed deer, who stared back at us and then sprinted for the woods as soon as I grabbed my camera.
As a result of our late fall paddle trips of 2020 with The Place To Be, we discovered the lakes of the North Frontenac Parklands, and also learned about their unique Crown Land reservable campsites. We were enchanted with the area and during the winter, booked sites on Long Schooner Lake, Round Schooner Lake, Mair Lake, Govan Lake, and Redhorse Lake. We saw many different birds of prey, including eagles and hawks, we saw a pair of trumpeter swans, numerous mink, water snakes, loons, loons fighting with mergansers (not a fair fight for the merganser), and more. So you might think the photo I chose to remember these adventures is an odd one – a red squirrel?!? But that’s a very special red squirrel, from Site 6 on Govan Lake, a tiny island (Bean Island) and smallest campsite in the system.
As you see in the photo, Bean Island does offer a source of food – cedar tree nuts! This little fellow was nonstop eating and storing these things…day and night! Our first night in the tent we thought it was raining or hailing – we couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on, until the next morning when we saw all the cedar nuts on the tent, and we thought it was just the wind. Then we realized that other forces were at work – Big Red was up in the tree and in the process of consuming and hording these things, he also ended up knocking a lot of them onto the ground, the tent, our heads, our cup of coffee…and interestingly, unlike our other campsites that always had chipmunks or red squirrels that would beg for food, this guy was not interested – he loves his cedar nuts and that’s his thing!
But we do have one more squirrel (chipmunk in this case) story – our final campsite of they year was on a small island on Redhorse Lake, inhabited by a chipmunk. On day two, we heard a bizarre noise early in the morning and found him just running around and around our storage tent (no food in it, just clothes and such). Then he disappeared but the noise continued – because he was on the inside! He punched a hole through the screened window, and, being a chipmunk, a second hole (always have two ways out!) and was just having the time of his life running around inside of the tent. What can you do? We laughed and spent a week with this little guy, wondering what he’d try next. Mostly, he just tried to steal our food, including punching a hole into a pouch of soup. Here he is enjoying the last of our breakfast oats. Memories! We’ll be back to the North Frontenac Parklands in the summer of 2022 for more adventures.
Some of what we saw just sitting in our camping chairs on Redhorse Lake: