Sunday Snapshots – landscapes

Gulls nesting on island in Big Clear Lake
Gulls nesting on island in Big Clear Lake in Frontenac Provincial Park. There's also a Great Blue Heron nest with two young in the tall tree on the right.
Sunrise on Big Clear Lake
Gull island in Big Clear Lake at sunrise. We paddle through here en route to our Rock Ridge MAPS station. It's always so serene.
Hawkweed blooming in the meadow
Hawkweed blooming at Tay Meadows. It's the predominant wildflower out right now, wide patches of it lending bright colour to the meadows.
Cloud formations at sunset
Clouds backlit at sunset, behind the meadows northwest of the house.


Playing in the snow


I’ve been distracted this weekend, at my parents’ new place; between the regular chores and fussing about the computer situation, I haven’t been looking at things closely enough to blog about them. I also haven’t been out too much, preferring to stay within the comfortably warm house. Though beautiful and sunny, today was a chilly -16 oC (3 oF) before windchill. The sort of weather that one likes to enjoy from the inside.

Tree in a field

I did venture out a couple of times to let Raven play, and of course I had to take care of the horses and stoke the wood furnace. I took my camera with me on the final run out today. The landscape is so different from the rocky lakes and forests where Dan and I live – here it’s flat and open. My mom calls it Big Sky Country, because compared to where they used to live, on the forested Niagara Escarpment, the sky stretches out to near infinity, finally meeting the earth at the far side of what seems, comparatively, like the endless expanses of the open prairie.


The sunsets here are always interesting, since you can watch the sun sink so low to the horizon, unimpeded by trees or buildings. Today the lower sky was shielded by hazy clouds, subduing the colours of the setting sun, but beautiful in their own right.

Raven in the snow

The snow here is considerably deeper than it is back home. In some areas it’s up to my knees, as high as Raven’s chin. I really wished I had a video camera as I watched her bounding like a deer through the snow. Still photos just don’t do the boing-boing-iness justice.

Raven in the snow

Raven had a blast. She loves snow. At home, when I take her for walks down the road, she can’t resist rolling in the snowbanks, or flopping around like a fish out of water when we go down to the thick snow blanket on the lake.

Raven in the snow

Here, she bounded about, kicking up snow with a big grin on her face.

Raven in the snow

Her ears flying in the wind.

Raven in the snow

And a goatee of snow from snuffling for voles.

Today not at Kingsford – Holiday sunset

Christmas Sunset

Sunset on Christmas Day. It was a quiet family gathering with just the immediate family this year, at the new house east of Brockville. The landscape out that way is very flat and agricultural through most of it (my parents’ place backs onto a largeish tract of young forest in the middle of all these fields). For all that I tend to find flat agriculture somewhat boring, one thing you have to say for these regions is the sunsets are amazing. You get to see the sun right up until it dips to the horizon, and the final flash of brilliant colours created by the low angle as it slips over the edge. Here in the Frontenac Arch the landscape is so rocky, full of ridges, and covered in trees, that you only ever see the sun dip toward the horizon if you live on the east side of a wide lake, and even then you still never see it touch the edge of the earth. My sisters and I went for a short walk while waiting for dinner, but returned inside before the final red rays of the setting sun washed over the lower sky.

I’m back home after a few days away for the holidays, and should be back on a more regular schedule again. Also, back to work! The holidays were a nice excuse for a break.

Christmas Sunset

Today at Kingsford

Sunset over Birch Lake

While Raven and I waited on the shore for Blackburnian to come and find us the other day, we were treated to a quiet sunset. I haven’t been out on the water at dusk much lately, so have missed the sunsets. It’s also been fairly rainy recently, so there hasn’t been much colour in the sky. That evening the wind had picked up, and I sat perched on a rock at the edge of the shore, where I could be easily seen, but where I was also glad that Raven was still small enough to fit on my lap to keep it warm. The clouds on the horizon heralded more rain; it had been drizzly most of the day, and drizzled again overnight, but that evening period, at least, was clear.

This evening as I sat on the couch wondering what I should post for Today at Kingsford today, Blackburnian came around on the deck and tapped on the window. He had something in his hand, and I looked at it and thought, “Perfect!” I grabbed my camera and took a series of photos, but when I got back to the computer I couldn’t decide which one I liked best and wanted to use. So now it’s tomorrow’s full-length blog post, instead of today’s Today at Kingsford. Which means you’ll have to wait.

Anatomy of a sunset


When I was involved in bird research projects, I would usually be up and arriving at the research site in the pre-dawn twilight to set up our equipment. One of the best things about having to get up so early – okay, the only thing – is that you would get to enjoy the sunrise every day (on those days where the sky wasn’t clouded over, anyway). I have some beautiful sunrise photos from that period. Pinks seem to predominate, though I have a number of striking oranges and reds, as well.


I was mildly disappointed that our new house faced east, such that we wouldn’t see the sunsets across the water, because I did really enjoy watching the colours of the sky. I knew that I was unlikely to be up often enough, at least in the summer and fall, to catch the morning sunrise that we would be able to see from our deck, but I am always up for sunset. I used to admire some that we would see from the apartment in Toronto, but would never take a photo. It just wasn’t an ideal setting, with all the buildings and power lines and everything else in the way.


I guess I hadn’t expected to be out in the boat so often here, or out so late. But some of the best fishing can be had at dusk, so we’ve frequently gone out just after dinner and stayed out till after the sun has gone down, navigating our return by the silhouettes of the trees and the reflection of the water, and tracking our location by the illuminated houses of our neighbours.


I think the best sunrise and sunset photos are those taken across water. It has the dual advantage of a large open space to give you a better view of the sky, as well as the reflective properties of the water that replicate the colours below. Since I’ve been fishing for the smaller guys, using jigs instead of cast-out lures, I really prefer to fish during the daylight hours; early morning is my favourite, when the lake is still and quiet, though it unfortunately requires setting the alarm to be sure I’m up. It’s easier to go out in the evening, you’re up anyway. My favourite part of being out late, after I can’t see my lure in the water anymore, is watching the sun go down and the sky light up.


The reason that the sky isn’t just the usual blue during sunrise and set is because of the angle the sun’s rays are traveling through the atmosphere at. If you move six hours east (in the case of sunrise) or west (for sunset), the sky will be blue under the sun there. It’s the same sun, just the angle has changed. At all angles, the light waves are encountering particles in the atmosphere, and are breaking up into their different components and scattering. The ones that head down to the ground are in the blue spectrum, which is why the sky looks blue. The reds and oranges get scattered sideways. At the very acute angles that the sun’s rays are viewed when the sun is near the horizon, it’s these reds and oranges that reach our eyes.


Almost inevitably, sunsets are more dramatic and more brightly coloured than sunrises. Since the sun is entering and leaving the horizon at the same angles, it’s the amount of dust and other particulates (like pollution) that affect the colours. The more particles in the atmosphere intercepting light waves, the more light that gets broken up and scattered, the brighter the sunrise and sunset.


The reason sunrises tend to be paler, then, is because there’s less in the air. During the course of the day, activity by people puts dust, dirt and pollution into the air; it settles out, to some extent, at night. Also compounding this effect is that as the sun warms the earth it creates convection currents – winds – that stir things up into the atmosphere as well. Clouds and moisture can contribute to bright displays, which is likely the meaning behind “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” A red sky at night is just a reflection of the day’s dust, but a red sky in the morning is probably reflecting off the particles associated with a storm system.


Of course, the sky’s colours can also be affected by natural events such as volcanic eruptions, large wildfires, or dust storms, which throw immense amounts of dust and particulates into the atmosphere, too much to settle out quickly. Some events are so large in scale, such as the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, as to affect the atmosphere of the entire globe. Not surprisingly, though, and perhaps rather thankfully, these events are rare.


What we think of as a typical sunset doesn’t occur on planets other than our own. Differences in atmosphere composition and distance to the sun mean that the light refracts differently than it does in our own atmosphere. This is also why a blue sky is a novelty to our planet, and why the moon has no daytime sky at all (it lacks an atmosphere). High winds on Mars kick up sufficient dust high enough into the atmosphere to sometimes create a lingering red sunset that can last as long as two hours after the sun sinks below the horizon. However, without this dust in the air, the sunset there isn’t much to look at.


Another interesting sunset phenomenon is called the green flash. I’ve never seen it, and I’m unlikely to here. It happens just as the sun dips over the horizon, right at the cusp. The light waves break and scatter in just such a way, and the atmosphere is just dense enough at that angle, that for a brief period the sun’s rays glow green. They’re usually only seen on an unobstructed horizon, such as over a large lake or the ocean, or in the great plains. This is because the light needs to be traveling through the densest part of the atmosphere to create the effect, and this usually occurs close to the ground. Given all the forest surrounding us here I probably won’t be seeing one any time soon.


The problem with taking photos of things like sunsets is that you can amass a huge collection of them, since you’re tempted to photograph each and every one, because they’re all different. But then what do you do with them all? Well, I can share a few of my favourites from the last few weeks here, in any case.