Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Canada East Coast Adventure - Part 1

Canada: My Maiden Wildlife Watching Trip to the New World
27 September to 18 October 2009

Trip Participants: Gloria Seow & Timothy Pwee
Written by Gloria Seow

Canada, Tim’s intellectual homeland, was our playground for three weeks where we explored her cities and provincial parks on both her Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Tim wanted to show me McMaster Universtiy in Hamilton, located approximately 70km from Toronto, where he studied for some years. For me, my main agenda was to see Canada's fabulous fall colours and of course her attendant bird and animal life. We were lucky, arriving right at the height of autumn, where we got to soak in the spectacular reds, oranges, yellows and greens of the leafy hues in Algonquin Provincial Park. This flaming forest phenomenon lasts for just two weeks before the deciduous maples, birches and oaks shed their stunning kaleidoscopic leaves.
Coniferous evergreens line the shore of Little Mink Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park, while their flaming deciduous cousins dominate the interior. I was constantly sighing with pleasure everytime I stepped outdoors, utterly captivated by the reds, oranges and yellows of the fantastic fall foliage.

Flying straight to the east (Atlantic) coast of Canada calls for endless hours in the plane (7 hours to Tokyo, 9 hours to Vancouver, 5½ hours to Toronto on WestJet with some transit hours in between), but thankfully, the personlised inflight entertainment system on our JAL plane helped passed the time. I greedily gobbled up four movies.

Our first four days were spent in Algonquin Provincial Park (10 times the size of Singapore, 270km from Toronto) where we stayed in a cosy log cabin, canoed some of the park’s 1,000 lakes on a package trip with tour operator “Call of the Wild”, enjoyed sightings like Beaver, Moose, White-tailed Deer, 3 species of frogs, and a paucity of birds (most have left for the winter) and ate magnificent meals including game (White-tailed Deer shot by a neighbour 15km away). Was quite upset though with the logging and hunting allowed outside the park’s boundary.

The view from the little island next to Algonquin Eco-Lodge where we stayed for three nights. While on the island, we enjoyed the company of a beaver that swam nonchalantly to and fro to feed on the reed beds. At one point, this dam-builder came so close that I could see his distinctive paddle-shaped 'beaver tail' (which incidently is also a pastry speciality of Ottawa). Our guide Traver said that they saw an 'otter' when we first arrived, which Tim and I missed. The tiny shed next to the pontoon jetty held canoe supplies (life jackets/paddles) while the 'house' on the left provided rooms for boarders.

The Algonquin Eco-Lodge is a splendidly isolated establishment with the nearest neighbour located some 15km away. Its founder owner, Robin Banerjee who also runs the outdoor tour agency 'Call of the Wild', told us that White-tailed Deer, Moose, Timber Wolf, Black Bear, Northern Flying Squirrel, salamander, raccoon, chipmunk and other wildlife have been seen wandering around the grounds of the lodge. Tim and I were lucky. On one evening walk, we flushed a nervous White-tailed Deer grazing in the tall reeds that grew at the edge of the lake. This jumpy ungulate then bounded away in spectacular arched leaps through the shallow water towards the deep end, with its usually loppy tail held erect, exposing the white underneath (hence its name). Then it gracefully swam the full length of the lake, looking back only when it was safely across. I was hoping to find my first salamander in the wood stack (Eva our 22 year old housekeeper saw one there), or a slinky marten (again Eva reported this critter roaming beneath the raised lodge), but no such encounter for us.

We were the last few guests before the lodge closed up for the summer/autumn season in mid October. It would reopen again in the thick of winter when the snow is deep enough for cross-country skiing. This well-maintained 30 plus year old log cabin has next to no electricity except in the common areas, where there was dim lighting at most, powered by a generator. Robin was going to build something that could harness the 'free energy' of the cascades nearby. Solar panels provided very scant lighting in the shared toilets. Our rooms were pitch black at night - luckily we brought along torches.

I loved its cosy all-timber interior - even our beds were made of the same type of softwood. There was a fireplace where we often sat around to warm ourselves while sipping hot cocoa and nibbling on a freshly-baked cake by Eva. I never thought that I would ever get to stay in a log cabin - something that I had always associated with the movies, ie beyond my reach. We were supposed to be out camping (with outdoor temperatures hovering around 5 degree celsius!!), but thank God to the power of infinity that it rained heavily on the first day, and we were offered replacement lodge accomodation which I gladly took. Better yet, the rain in the part of Algonquin we were in (one and a half hours drive from the usual tourist areas) was just a light patter. We heard later that the main part of the park (Highway 60 between the West and East gates) was utterly rained out, with school kids in the latest models of heated tents so cold and soaked that they had to abort camp. The lakes there also swelled dangerously (not advisable for canoeing). Had we gone with another tour company (say Algonquin Outfitters), we would have suffered the same fate as those soaked kids.

Bunch berries. Canada has all kinds of edible and inedible berries growing wild - blue berries, strawberries, black berries etc. Our canoe guide Traver entertained us with many camping stories and fed us with daily Canadian trivia.

We went frogging half an hour before sunrise, and found this Northern Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota) at the water edge. It is distinguished from the American Bull Frog by the parallel dorsolateral folds or skin ridges that extend from the eye down the sides of its back. We only saw this once.

Mink Frog (Rana / Lithobates septentrionalis). We found it floating spectacularly at the water edge, also in the wee hours of the morning. I love its spotty blotches. According to ID guides, the Mink Frog is often mistaken for the Northern Green Frog. It has less pronounced dorsolateral folds, no banding on the legs, more developed hind foot webbing, and there is dark blotching present throughout its back and legs. It releases a foul smell of rotting onions when handled. We came across three specimens on three frogging attempts. One pre-dawn walk to a stream in the woods produced no frogs. All frogs were seen at the edge of the big lake fronting our lodge.

American Toad (Bufo americanus). We came across it twice. I found the first one while on a forest walk behind the lodge (on the 45 min cross-country trail). I suppose the moist earth and a nearby stream provides enough water for it. Tim found another toad in Cootes Paradise near his old campus, also on the trail in the forest. Both specimens were seen in the day, fitting the toad's diurnal lifestyle. According to reference materials, its skin is thick and dry, adapted for living on land. Large bean-shaped paratoid glands lie on the back of its head. Above its eyes are two well-distinguished cranial crests.

Tim with Christina, our German canoe mate who lives in Switzerland. Like Tim, she had studied in Canada in the past (for one year) and was back to experience the glorious fall colours of the 'Indian Summer'. Here, they are standing next to the monster canoes that we used. Had we gone on the planned camping/canoeing trip, we would have used lightweight kevlar canoes (1/3 the weight).

We explored the lakes near our lodge on two full-day canoeing trips, taking in the exhilarating leafy beauty that encircled us. I tried birding from the canoe, but only got to see very little

Christina partnered with Traver, who was constantly 'training' her to be a better paddler. Tim and I were content to drift lazily behind, taking in the scene at a leisurely pace: beaver wood piles, birds, water insects, fishes and plants. We tried to find ourselves a water snake but to no avail.

While trekking towards a beautiful waterfall, we came across many mushroom species that flourished on the damp mossy ground and on tree trunks (both alive and dead). The park sold guidebooks that helped in identifying these mushrooms, most were predictably inedible.

The peeling trunk of a birchwood tree. This tree was important to the native Indians, who cored out its trunk to construct sturdy canoes.

The splayed out waterfall at the end of the uphill hike where we enjoyed a delectable picnic lunch (spinach spread, hams, cheeses, berries, pitas, and juice) put together by Traver who is also a highly-qualified chef.

Puff-ball mushrooms - breaking the thin membrane of these mushroom balls releases a puff of spores.
Flaming forests followed us wherever we canoed.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Algonquin Provincial Park. Taken from the canoe by Tim.

The dreaded 'P' word - Portage - ie. having to carry the monster canoe (>25kg?) across land to reach the next lake. Our longest portage was 400m. Portage distances in Algonquin can be as long as 2 to 3 km, but with kevlar canoes (one third the weight of the monster variety). The canoe rests on one's shoulders and head - very heavy - I almost died the first time I tried carrying one with Tim. Being the shorter person, most of the weight invariably came to rest on me! Subsequently, poor Tim did all portages alone - he claimed it was less torturous. The girls didn't have it better - we had to carry the super heavy bags (2 or more bags secured in a dry bag) + paddles + life jackets. I sprained my back the first time when I carelessly swung the full weight onto myself when not properly postured.

Hairy Woodpecker, a denizen of the Canadian Woodlands. We found one pecking close to ground level near our lodge in Algonquin. Photo by me.

Breakfast at Algonquin Eco-Lodge. The thermometer stuck onto the window pane showed that temperature outdoors was a chilly 5 degrees celsius. The falcon shadow on the window is a clever tactic to desuade birds from crashing into the invisible glass. To birds, the shape looks just like the shadow of a predatory falcon flying just above them.

A roadside flower, Algonquin.

Moose! One of the animals I desired, seen at the last possible instance. I was told that moose was easy to see in summer (nibbling on aquatic plants that proliferate by the water edge) and winter (licking salt used to melt ice on roads, esp on Highway 60), but not in autumn when we were there. In the fall, moose are mostly scattered in the woods seeking out the twigs, barks, buds and leaves of trees. There are only about 3000 to 4000 moose in Algonquin, which itself is ten times the size of Singapore. As such, when Christina suddenly turned to me and exclaimed with eyes wide open 'Moose!', I was shocked and thrilled. We were already driving the last stretch back to Rock Lake. Traver wisely asked us to ready our cameras. He then backed the car up, and true enough, there was a female amongst the trees, casually grazing away. I was a little disappointed that it was not a male with full palmate antlers. On hindsight, our moose could well be a male that had shed its antlers. Incidentally, moose is an Algonquin Indian word for 'twig eater'. It is the largest member of the deer family and the tallest mammal in N Amercia, standing 2m high from shoulder to feet.

American Black Ducks, male and female. The male swimming in front has a yellow bill while the female sports a dull green bill. Both have violet speculums bordered in black. I have witnessed the behavioural difference between animals living within nature reserves and those living outside. As with the case of these ducks which were seen on Rock Lake (within the protected part of Algonquin), they were totally comfortable with the presence of humans, even allowing a canoe to pass within 5m of them. In contrast, the Common Loon I found near our Lodge (just outside the protected part of Algonquin where controlled hunting is allowed) scrammed the moment I arrived, when I was still some 30m from it. This Loon did the classic running on water sequence before flapping off, giving me fab views of its attractive black-and-white plumage. We also photographed an Amercian Black Duck x Mallard hybrid which had an intergrade blue-violet speculum.

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is a tree squirrel native to the southerly portions of the eastern provinces in Canada, as well as eastern and midwestern US. It is common in urban areas, often seen bounding along the ground, assisting the street cleaner in his job. I photographed this furry nibbling on a cracker salvaged from a rubbish dump next to the high school outside our hotel (Grange Hotel). Notice its nipples and prosperous belly. On a separate note, Grange Hotel, off Dundas Street West in Toronto, offered studios complete with kitchenettes (which was pretty novel to me). Visitor's Inn in Hamilton where we stayed also had a kitchenette. Says something about the Canadians' eat-in mentality.

Then it was three days at Long Point, a 41-km long sand spit that protrudes into Lake Erie and one of the top birding spots in North America (species list of 370 birds). This entailed a 200km road trip down south, with me driving for the first time on the right side of the road, a stressful but fun experience. We were most impressed with the gorgeous beach at Lake Erie, the smallest of the five Great Lakes . With frothing waves and an endless expanse of fine sand, it did not look the least bit like a placid lake, but was more reminiscent of the sea. I have experienced a storm at Lake Michigan in Chicago , it too had waves that rose higher than a man, crashing thunderously onto the shoreline.
At Long Point (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve), we collected a good number of classic lifers including a Bald Eagle hunting a duck, a thermalling mass of 30 Turkey Vultures, a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a roadside tree and the redder-than-red Northern Cardinal. We also visited the Long Point Bird Observatory’s bird banding station at Old Cut Road , part of Birds Studies Canada, the oldest institution of its kind in the Western Hemisphere specialized in migration monitoring.

Pumpkins! I was delighted to stop by this pumpkin field on the 200km drive to Long Point. Many stores including 7-11 were selling pumpkins for Halloween. Some houses had these orange balls lined up 'do re me' style (from smallest to biggest) on their porch stairs. Fast food chains like Tim Hortons offered seasonal 'pumpkin spiced' dishes including tea, soups and pies.

Tim's best shot of the iconic Bald Eagle, which shares the same ecological niche as Singapore's White-bellied Sea Eagle, often seen flying above water bodies. We witnessed it catching a huge fish at Long Point, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve (wetlands) located 200km south of Toronto.

A beaver lodge (house) at Long Point. There were around three to four such mounds in the calm waters, within 20m of each other. I spotted a beaver (Castor canadensis) swimming towards and clambering on his lodge for all of ten seconds. It subsequent ducked under the wood/mud pile to the underwater entrance of its dry chamber where it lives during the winter, feeding on the underbark of these woodstacks. We saw beaver twice, once at Algonquin, another time at Long Point.

Possibly juveniles of the Eastern Box Elder Bug (Boisea trivittata), Long Point.

Possibly adults of the Eastern Box Elder Bug, Long Point. Could also be Assasin Bugs, but I doubt it.
A pretty headstone featuring nesting and humming birds in the cemetery next to the Bird Studies Canada (Etudes d'Oiseaux) grounds at Long Point Bird Observatory, Port Rowan, Ontario.

We walked part of the 41km sand spit that Long Point is named after. Long Point is the largest barrier system in the Great Lakes, extending from the north shore of Lake Erie. After a brief shower, we experienced one of the most beautiful play of light on the freshwater lake. We were amazed that the lake felt more like the sea with its never-ending sandy beaches and stormy waters. Long Point is an important staging area for the annual Monarch butterfly migration. It also supports a varied bird life in its marshes, grasslands and woods, with an enviable checklist of 370 birds, rivalling that of the more famous Point Pelee (which is another 100 plus km away). Campers in their RVs (recreational vehicles or campervans) were quietly scattered along the spit. One thing spooked me though - the risk of catching Lyme Disease (infectious Borrelia bacteria) carried by deer ticks. As with Panti, we tucked our pants into our socks and prayed for the best.

Long Point. Walking on the soft sand, taking in the majesty of the crashing surf, with no one in sight was therapeutic to say the least.

Shellfish at Long Point attached onto aquatic plants. So that's what the birds were feeding on.

As we were there during the low season, most acommodation options were closed. However, we enjoyed the drive-up convenience of staying two nights in a luxury container provided by atPlay Adventures, complete with an all-plastic bathroom. It even offered satellite TV with a million channels to choose from. As mentioned earlier, most Canadians had their own RVs to call home, so there was no one else around.

I spotted a Monarch butterly half buried in the sand at Long Point. It was probably tossed by the erratic winds of a rainstorm, and was possibly the runt of the Monarch population that had long migrated south. Monarch migration takes place in August and September where butterflies congregate by the thousands at Long Point to feed and rest, in preparation for their long crossing of Lake Erie, onward to Mexico. We brought it back, brushed off the caking sand and soon, it was attempting to walk around.

Poison Ivy, an innocuous looking three-leaf plant that grows close to the ground (as ground cover) in most of North America. It can also grow as a 1.2m tall shrub or a climbing vine. Upon contact, it usually induces an itchy rash due to the presence of the skin irritant urushiol. Photo taken in Long Point.

Acorns are the nuts of Oak trees that form part of the forests near Long Point. They are an important source of wild food for animals like jays, woodpeckers, squirrels, deers and even bears. Aside from tonnes of Blue Jays, we did not spot anything significant here. Rather, hunting took place in this patch of woods, perhaps explaining the avian silence.

The only moth we came across in Canada chose to land on Tim's blue vest. Long Point.

Our rented Ford Mercury Sable. We were recommended by our hotel to rent a wreck from Ryder, a used car rental agency located five blocks away. I presented my Sg driving licence (did not get an International Driving Licence since Sg's licence is in English anyway) and was allowed to drive off. Big car, cheap rental (C$35 excluding gas I think, with 200km mileage per day) and it got us around (though the car trembled somewhat above 120kmh). My first time driving on the right side of the road, a rather stressful ordeal as I had to keep reminding myself not to stray onto the left.

While driving to our last birding destination in Long Point, we came across four road kills, three were raccoon and one was a Virginia or North American Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) as in the photo above. It is the only marsupial found in N America. As a successful opportunist, its range extends throughout Central and N America east of the Rockies from Costa Rica to southern Ontario, and this territory is slowly marching northwards. Like the raccoon and grey squirrel, it regularly raids garbage dumps. Interestingly, it has a prehensile tail and opposable thumbs on its rear limbs, and rides it young on its back. The term 'playing possum' (playing dead) originated from the opossum's (sometimes shorterned to possum) ability to involuntarily enter a near coma which can last up to four hours when threatened or injured. In such a state, it lies on its side, mouth and eyes open with tongue hanging out, and emits a green fluid from its anus, as well as an odour repulsive to most predators that prefer live prey. OK, I'm as disgusted as you at this truly dead opossum, what with entrails spread all over the road. To take this photo, I held my breath, quickly snapped two shots and dashed back to the car.

After depositing our rented car back in Toronto , we hopped on the Greyhound to Hamilton, Tim’s university town. Here, we toured McMaster University (bursting with Asian students), visited a real Farmer’s Market, spent time with Tim’s old school mate Susan and her family over a home-cooked dinner, and checked out nature spots like Webster’s Fall and Cootes Paradise where we obtained lifers like the Solitary Sandpiper and Eastern Wood Pewee, and laid eyes on a raccoon with baby walking the swamps. Hamilton was also a good base to check out the Niagara Falls located 72km away. The Falls separate Canada from the USA and are the start of the Niagara Escarpment which extends some 700km north to end at Tobermory. I was only mildly impressed partly due to the touristy nature of the whole place. As the general opinion goes, the ‘Canadian’ (Horseshoe Falls) side of the Falls was more spectacular than the ‘American’ one, but both cascades were an arresting sight at night when changing coloured lights were projected onto their rushing waters. Niagara the town itself was plastered with Hollywood kitsch, with a multitude of entertainment options including Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

A more palatable photo of cute cherry-sized apples that grow in people's garden. Out of curiosity, I took a crunchy bite and had difficulty swallowing its acrid overly-sour pulp. Tim said that Canadians tend to create tart jams from these. Notice the orange polka-dotted ladybug at the top of the photo - came across it a few times.

City of Hamilton (population: 505,000) in Ontario, where Tim attended school at McMaster University. He makes pilgrimages back to McMaster every couple of years just to reminisce and catch up with old pals. This is the quiet street in the environs of the Uni. I was quite surprised to find large concentrations of Asians (mostly Viet, Koreans, Chinese and some Indians) studying and living in Canada.

Chapel in McMaster & Tim.

The charming Chipmunk actually came close to beg for handouts. Photo taken just outside the McMaster chapel. I searched high and low for a chipmunk in Algonquin and came up, chipmunks searched me out. Cool! From another angle, this stripey can be identified as the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) as it has a uniformly greyish tail. Another chipmunk photo taken at Long Point was that of the Least Chipmunk (Tamias minimus) as it had stripes extending down its tail.

Canadians have a culture of riding their bikes everywhere. In urban areas, there are bike park structures (circular metallic bike stands attached to the ground, good for one or two bikes) every few metres, even downtown on Yonge Street. Some public buses come with bike hoists that can fit two bikes in front of the bus. Bus drivers actually help one secure the bike. They do the same for wheelchair bound passengers - they have to raise certain rows of seats to create space and lower the boarding platform to act as a ramp. Very passenger friendly indeed. The transport system by TTC (Toronto Trasit Commission) is also impressively integrated. One pays a flat fare of say C$2.75 per trip, no matter how far or near the distance travelled. The ticket stub or coin token is machine processed when one first boards, and if you need to change tram (aka streetcar), subway or bus, one gets a time-stamped transfer slip (valid for half-hour waiting time).

Webster Falls / Spencer Gorge is part of the Niagara Escarpment in Dundas near Hamilton. Susan, Tim's univeristy pal, kindly showed us around. Fall colours are just starting to show here, a place 3-4 hours south of Algonquin.

Wasps feeding on fallen apples in Susan's garden.

We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon touring capped by a nice dinner (pies, boiled asparagus with melted cheese, apple cider etc) at Susan's and Andrew's cosy open-concept home. We contributed double-yolk lotus paste Moon Cakes from home, something novel to their tastebuds and they took to it pretty well. On a separate note, char siew (roast meat stained red) and dim sum are well-liked by white Canadians. Tim wanted me to try takeaway N American Chinese food (which he warned was bad). We never actually tried those. However, we ate at several Chinese restaurants all over Canada (in Toronto's Chinatown, Niagara Falls, Tofino etc) and the food was, contrary to expectations, excellent. This puzzle was solved when my friend Dawn, who is married to a Canadian-Chinese from Vancouver, told me "Of course the Chinese food is good - many Canadian immigrants are top chefs from Hong Kong!" Ah, no wonder!

We particularly enjoyed the 'Wanton Soup' in Tofino, cooked up by Gary's Kitchen. Instead of just plain old dumpling soup, we counted some 17 ingredients including four meats (char siew was one of these). Also, serving portions in Canada are HUGE, good for two persons. At Gary's we were advised to order just one bowl with rice. On many occassions, we forgot and ordered two portions, no wonder my clothes couldn't quite fit when I returned home. Another reason for trying out Chinese food - I could not bring myself to eat cold sandwiches, burgers and Western fare everyday. The same compliments cannot be applied to Vietnamese restaurants in Canada - watered-down cuisine to say the least. Some Canadian food I liked: poutine (fries doused in cheese), chilli (chilli con carne), hot sauce (Tabasco like sauce which replaces chilli sauce), and the soups from Tim Hortons.

This is the spot where I saw my wished-for raccoon in Cootes Paradise. Tim could not believe his eyes when I spotted a mother-and-child pair ambling along the lily pads in broad daylight. Before this, we had searched unsuccessfully at garbage dumps at night for raiding raccoons in Hamilton. We saw raccoon again in Tofino.

Solitary Sandpiper, an uncommon bird. Photographed in Dundas from a bridge.

An unidentified dragonfly. Very big, at least 12-14cm long. Again photographed at Dundas.

We think that these are wild grapes growing by the roadside in Dundas.

The chilly windswept waters of Nigara Falls.

The ubiquitous Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), an adult in winter plumage. Photographed at 1m range in Niagara Falls.

The sun-lit Niagara escarpment just next to the 'American' side of the Niagara Falls. We were in Canada in mostly drizzly weather, so any sun is a welcome change.

The brief patch of sunshine on the gushing cascades of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls produced a breathtaking double rainbow, so ephemeral that I could only take three shots (10 seconds) before it completely disappeared. I was amazed that the colours of the rainbow rapidly faded right before my eyes. We were lucky enough to see this rainbow phenomenon twice within fifteen minutes. Apparently, the waterfall spray (tiny droplets) acts as a prism and separates white light into its constituent hues.

The Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side has a humongous tower of spray right at its centre. We estimated that the height of this plume can be nearly ten stories tall, especially when carried upwards by the strong winds. The Niagara Falls is arguably one of the the most famous sights in the world and it felt good to be there. However, the tourist town itself is very kitschy, reminding me of my trip to LA in 1995 where animated Hollywood trash lined the street. There was even a talking cobra complete with Indian accent.

We had plenty of time in Niagara Falls as our bus left only at 930pm for the one hour ride back to Hamilton. As such, we could catch the changing colour projections onto both the American (left) and Canadian (right) sides of the Falls.

Our room at Visitor's Inn in Hamilton. This was one of the better hotels we stayed in - the kitchenette was a novelty as I first mentioned, but the most we did was to fry some hot sausages from the Farmer's Market for breakfast. The room was carpeted and very spacious, and was fairly close to McMaster University. Best of all it had free internet, an indoor pool, and free mineral water dispenser. We found this hotel only after wasting four hours physically searching Dundas for non-existant accomodation, with full baggage in tow. In the end, we located it by thumbing through a yellow pages directory. I was so grateful just to have a room to escape from the cold. Tim's style is to search on the spot. Mine is to book ahead. Next time, I'll stick to booking ahead, never mind if something better value is just next door.

Back in Toronto, we visited the ROM or Royal Ontario Museum. Coincidentally, the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition was on. Quoting from the ROM website: "Since their discovery in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls have rarely toured in order to preserve their fragile parchments. In partnership with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the ROM presents 17 Scrolls, of which four are on display for the first time. Artifacts from Qumran, Jerusalem and the Second Temple, Sephorris and other parts of Judea and Galilee are dispalyed, alongside Jewish and Roman artifacts. The Scrolls include the fascinating Book of War Scroll and the Messianic Apocalypse Scroll." We also viewed the Egyptian 'Book of the Dead' gallery - very fascinating ancient beliefs and fine coloured sequenced paintings. Then Tim disappeared back to our hotel for his belt, while I continued alone. I particularly enjoyed the natural history section, especially when I could finally use my camera. This photo shows the fossils of extinct creatures such as a species of giant Moose, Mastodon, giant Beaver and giant bear. I was glad that the museum opened till 9pm as we arrived only at 3pm after a trip to High Park (not a trimmed affair but fairly wild parkland) where I got lifers like the Wood Duck and Blue Jay.
To get to High Park, we walked two plus hours through the neighbourhood of Dundas Street West near our hotel (Grange Hotel). This was a good introduction to Canadian suburbia. I was struck by the sheer number of Asian immigrants that have settled in Toronto, especially when I witnessed the overwhelming bulk of Asian students (Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans) spilling out of a local primary school. When we popped into a grocer to get blueberries, blackberries and strawberries (cheap), the Chinese National I spoke to assumed that I was an immigrant.

This was the most crappy place we stayed in, College Backpackers in Kensington Market, Toronto (walking distance from Ryder car rental). The redeeming factor was our tiny balcony with a nice view of the CN Tower and the colourful market street below. At least it was a private room on the fourth and highest floor. One sore point - there were no lifts and we had to struggle up and down stairs with our burdensome luggage. We each carried a backpack + a small trolley luggage + our daypacks. Why backpack when I hate it? Because our camping trip to Algonquin required us to. Kensington Market itself is fun, with lots of things to buy, especially cheap souvenirs and fresh produce.

All kinds of Squash sold at Kensington Market. We had tasty squash soup in Long Point, at the coffeehouse opposite our hotel.

We did not know that balls of Brussel Sprouts protrude from a central stem until we saw this.

Toronto has an ancient but still functioning streetcar (tram) system that runs on an electrical grid suspended above the streets. Environmentally friendly I must say. Since the streetcar runs in the middle of the road, all cars have to stop behind when streetcars drop off passengers.

Yonge Street is the longest street in the world, stretching a mind-boggling 1,896km! According to Wiki, it starts on the shores of Lake Ontario, cutting through central and northern Ontario, through towns and wilderness, to end at the Ontario-Minnesota border at Rainy River. Yonge Street serves as a dividing line between the east and west parts of the East–West roads in the Toronto and York region. We stayed near uptown Yonge Street (Novotel hotel in North York) when we first arrived. Towards the end of our trip, we walked a portion of this historic road, which in downtown Toronto is flanked by shops on both sides.
The second leg of our trip covered Vancouver, Tofino and Port Alberni. My complete Canada Bird List will also be put up in my next posting.

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