Victoria Butterfly Gardens

I had been wanting to go to the Victoria Butterfly Gardens for awhile now but we never seemed to have enough time when visiting the Island. This trip we factored in a bit of extra time and put it in the schedule. I’m glad we did.

We caught a morning ferry over to Swartz Bay and arrived at Butterfly Gardens not long after they opened. The building seems quite small from the outside, but inside it contains quite a lot. Just past the admission counter we explored the newly opened (January 2017) Insectarium. This area houses a collection of unusual looking and interesting insects. I was fascinated by the leaf cutter ant colony and seriously could have watched them working for hours.

Leaf Cutter Ants

Some of the other insects were camouflaged pretty well.

After moving slowly through the insectarium we entered the tropical Rain Forest area which houses the butterflies. I immediately noticed how hot and humid it was. I’d definitely recommend wearing layers when visiting. The change in temperature may cause your camera (or glasses) to fog up but there an anti-fog station right by the door to help visitors deal with this.

The Gardens were smaller in area than I expected, but they are large enough to spend time meandering around or even to just sit and watch the butterflies fluttering by.

Susannah just chilling with the butterflies

The educational component of the Gardens is really good and there’s plenty of interesting info to read while you walk through.

Signs tell you to watch where you put your feet and it’s good advice. I almost stepped on this pretty little guy.

Tailed Jay

They have 70 different species of butterfly. Me and my macro lens had a lot of fun!

Tiger (or Golden) Helicon
Brown Clipper
Giant Owl Butterfly
Mexican Sister

The Gardens has a variety of lush tropical vegetation and there is a waterfall at one end which runs into a pond. The pond contains fish and ducks and two resident flamingoes. There are also tortoises, parrots, frogs, iguana, and geckoes. All of the animals there are rescues, donations or adoptions.

Flamingo

Red Footed Tortoises

Victoria Butterfly Gardens is located in Brentwood, about 15 minutes drive from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal or 30 minutes from Downtown Victoria. It’s only about 5 minutes from Butchart Gardens so it would be great to do both in one visit.  I would suggest allowing about 1-1.5 hours for the Butterfly Gardens and Insectarium, depending on how fascinated you are by small things.

The ticket prices may seem a little high for the size of the space, but no other place on the island offers the same experience and parking is free, so factor that in. I definitely felt it well worth a visit and if I were local I’d consider an annual pass which is just under the price of two visits.

Thoughts on losing a best Furry Friend

We’ve been very lucky. I know that. We have had the most beautiful, loving, entertaining black cats in the world. Until recently, when we lost one, and my heart was broken.

Rudi (left) and Whitey (right)

Rewind to 2005

Free to a good home: Susannah found our two cats listed on Craigslist. The ad described them as large, black and friendly; indoor boys who would love to be out. They were about 14 months old, neutered and up to date on all shots. We had just moved to a slightly unkempt, pet-friendly, heritage townhouse in East Van and we were looking for some furry friends to share it with so we arranged to meet them.  Right away both cats came over to inspect us and let us pet them. This was unusual for one of them their owner said. For her, I think that sealed the deal. She dropped them off to us a few days later and they were ours!

They came pre-named as White Spot and Runti (the runt of the litter). We wanted to rename them but White Spot had a certain ring to it and we couldn’t find anything with the same tone, so it kind of stuck. Whitey for short. Runti became Rudi.

Rudi hid under the sofa for about a week, sneaking out to eat or to do his business when we weren’t around. Whitey was friendlier and after a very short time he appeared at the top of the stairs to say hello. Rudi eventually followed and we quickly became a happy foursome.

After a couple of weeks, we let the boys outside. They had new collars with ID tags and we had begun rattling a metal cookie tin with kibble inside at meal times so we hoped they would associate that sound with home. They did and we could open the door, rattle the tin and see our two boys run down the street towards us. Although they would roam, they always came home for food and cuddles.

Just a small kitten at heart

These cats were awesome! They were the size of dogs, very confident, friendly to all, and very affectionate to us. They followed us everywhere. If we were going for a walk we’d have to run down the street in order to leave them behind. They were curious, adventurous and provided hours of entertainment.

In the 12 years since we got the cats, we have lived in 5 different spaces. Each move has been stressful but each time we have all settled in and made the space our home. Through ups and downs, it’s all been ok as we’ve been a unit of 4.

There have been many adventures along the way.

Whitey once got stuck on a neighbour’s roof and had to be rescued. He also got trapped in our landlord’s storage basement below our house – we could hear him meowing pitifully through the floorboards. In one apartment he snuggled into an open chest of drawers where we kept blankets and lovely warm fabrics and got stuck inside the chest. Eventually, we had to take the back off the chest to rescue him. Silly kitty.

Whitey’s encounter with a baby crow. He was a great hunter but this unafraid and demanding crow was interesting to him.
The Mighty Whitey

One winter Whitey went missing. We were very worried. We made posters and distributed them everywhere. We cried and cried but refused to give up and for three weeks we wandered the neighbourhood in ever increasing circles, rattling the tin and calling for him. I’m pretty sure people thought we were mad. Then early one morning we opened the door, and there he was – a super skinny version of himself, but our Whitey was home!

Whitey would sleep between us with his head on a pillow and snore away!

Rudi also disappeared once. Only for 3 nights, but it was enough to make us go out searching. He turned up at 3 am yelling at the door. Susannah rushed downstairs and let him in and he collapsed exhaustedly on the floor. He was covered in dirt and his tail was a little bent. It is still crooked but we’ll never know what happened.

Talk about 9 lives!

In 2013 we moved to a really nice apartment in East Van with a lovely patio. It’s sunny and comfortable with lots of spots a cat might like. The boys became indoor cats again. They settled here well and as they were aging and slowing down a bit, we felt it much safer for them to be inside.

The cats sat on the mat

Our unit of 4 continued on. Then suddenly, a few weeks ago Whitey started dropping weight. It was quite rapid but the weather had improved and he had quickly dropped winter weight the year before so we weren’t too worried. But then he stopped eating. He appeared at mealtimes, looked at his food and then walked away. We tried to tempt him with treats and delicious smells which worked for a couple of days. After that, he refused food entirely and went and lay in a space in the wardrobe. Always a social cat, this was unusual so we made an appointment with our vet.

The vet couldn’t see anything immediately wrong. Whitey was alert, social, and didn’t seem to be in obvious distress. He did react a little when she felt his belly so she decided to do some blood tests. The results came back the next day. Whitey had pancreatitis and fatty liver disease. In order to assess his case, the vet recommended an ultrasound. We booked him in. As he was still not eating and drinking they hooked him up to a fluid IV so he wouldn’t get too dehydrated. In the evening we went to collect him and were told that he had a tumour which had started on his spleen and had now spread to his pancreas and liver. The vet had given him painkillers which she said seemed to make him more comfortable. We opted to have the tumour tested before deciding the next move and took Whitey home.

We hoped that he might respond to encouragement to eat if he was in less pain but unfortunately he immediately retreated back to the wardrobe. He would let us pet him and he would try to eat and drink, but only a nibble or a small lick of water – not a sustainable amount. He looked awful. His eyes were glazed and distant and he’d lost his spunk.

The next day there was no improvement and we began to talk about the “what ifs”. We agreed that the aim was to keep him as comfortable as possible. This conversation was very hard.  We were only just beginning to realise that we might lose him.

That evening Susannah administered his pain medication while I was on the patio. Whitey heard us talking and looked up. I waved his brush at him and he responded by coming out to the patio to say hello. I brushed him lightly for awhile then stroked him gently. He stayed very close to us for about an hour or so and then once again retreated to the wardrobe. We felt hope that he had rallied a little.

Whitey visits one last time

The next morning we got a call from the vet with the worst news. Whitey’s tumour was cancerous and as it had spread to two other organs it was not operable. She said we could try medications to shrink the tumour and to increase his appetite but Susannah and I both knew that it would be merely postponing the inevitable. For what quality of life? Whitey had become a wardrobe-cat, drugged up on pain meds. That was just not him. We tearfully made the decision to euthanize him and took him in for one last trip to the vets.

The procedure was made bearable by the staff at the Vancouver Veterinary Hospital who were very understanding and let us have whatever time we needed with Whitey, both before and after. Dr. Cheung explained every step and was very gentle. Whitey did not suffer. He was not scared. He just put his tired head down and went to sleep. Our unit of 4 was broken.

I have cried pretty much every day since he died. At first it was the pain of losing him and the guilt of having made the decision to end his life. Even though I know we made the right decision for him, to end his pain, I still questioned myself. Could he have recovered? Did we move too quickly?

I work a lot from home so I have always had the cats around me, keeping me company or “supervising” activities. In part that’s what makes it so hard. Firstly there were the everyday things. Cuddles in bed with only one cat, not two. Packing up the second food bowl and the blanket he used to lie on. Seeing movement out of the corner of my eye and thinking it was him. Then there were the unexpected things. I shared an elevator ride with a couple in my building last week. We chatted about the weather etc and just as we reached our floor one of them said: “By the way, what are your cats’ names?” I replied “White Spot and Rudi but unfortunately, White Spot passed away this week”. Then I burst into tears and hurriedly retreated to my apartment. Unexpected. Wasn’t prepared for that. Too raw.

Rudi is having a tough time. He’s always been with his brother. Sometimes they wrestled and fought, sometimes they napped together. They were never far from each other. Rudi has been a little limpet, staying very close to me, both giving and requiring a little extra love and reassurance. He is confused.

We’ll adapt. People do. Animals do. Over time we will become a seamless unit of 3. But it will take time. Whitey was a big cat, both in stature and in love. I believe that the last night on the patio was his way of saying goodbye. White Spot was a smart cat, a thinking cat, who spoke very little but communicated in volumes. He knew he was loved and he knew we would never do anything to hurt him. To have that trust and love from an animal is a special thing and it should be honoured.

We are lucky. We had a wonderful cat named White Spot to share part of life’s journey with.

Kayaking at Bowen Island

A few years ago Susannah and I decided to get away from the city for awhile so we moved to Bowen Island. We found an amazing house on the West Side of the Island, not far from Bowen Bay. In the Fall, not long after we moved, I had a medical procedure for back problems and at the same time, I came off some pretty hardcore prescription pain medicine. Our location on the Island was very quiet and peaceful, so it was a great place to recover and recuperate. We went for long walks in the forest, enjoyed watching deer hanging out in the backyard and saw the most amazing sunsets at the beach. After 6 months, we reluctantly decided it was time to move back to the City, so in the Spring our Island adventure came to an end.

One thing we never had a chance to do while on Bowen was kayak, so after we moved back to Vancouver we decided to revisit on a day trip. For my birthday we went back to Bowen Island and across to Bowen Bay. After launching we had to choose to paddle left or right. We headed to the right with the intention of sticking to the coastline but then we heard something amazing.

Across the water, floated a sound of deep exhalation. And again. We looked over the water and spotted a dorsal fin of and Orca as it surfaced. Then another. Then another. We changed our course and headed towards Pasley Island. There appeared to be 3-4 Killer Whales swimming not too far off the Coast.

We were very careful not to get too close (all images here are taken with a long zoom lens). Canadian law states that any vessel should stay 100m away from whales. We paddled to about that distance and then stopped to observe. It was hard to tell where they were going to surface and for awhile they seemed to be heading West but then an Orca surfaced unexpectedly close to us. So close in fact that Susannah had to reverse paddle to retain a respectable distance between us and them.


Orca tailslapping

The sound they made when surfacing to exhale was amazing. Watching them was incredible. There was one large male whose huge dorsal fin was quite intimidating.


We quietly watched them for about an hour before they headed out into open water and we paddled back to the beach.

After a bit of a rest and some “OMG” debriefing time we ventured out again and to the left. This time we were treated to some cool bird life.

Belted Kingfisher (female)



We returned to the beach to watch the sunset and then headed down to Snug Cove to grab some food before catching the ferry home.

An experience like this is totally random and lucky (we could have paddled left and not seen them at all!) and I am incredibly grateful for receiving it. It was a magical day and definitely a birthday to remember.

We took our own kayaks but there are rental kayaks available at Snug Cove. Bown Island Sea Kayaking offers lessons, rentals and guided tours from April till October. Have a go – I’m sure you’ll love it!

Star Trails and Olympus Live Composite

The Perseid Meteor Shower happens every year from mid-July as the Earth passes through the debris trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet. The last meteor shower was visible between August 7-12 with peak viewing on the night of August 11. We decided to head up Burnaby Mountain to check it out. So did half of Vancouver and it was really crowded when we arrived at about 12:30am. Luckily many people were already packing up to leave and within 45 minutes the area had emptied out considerably.

It was too cloudy for perfect meteor viewing so instead of trying to capture meteors I decided to try out the live composite function on my Olympus O-MD E-M5II and to capture some star trails.

Live Composite is extremely cool. Essentially in this mode the camera takes a series of photos and stacks them in-camera to create one image. With each successive shot, only new light is added to the original image which prevents overexposure in the brightest part of the picture. You can see the image developing on the LCD screen as it happens which means you can stop the process when the image reaches a point that you are happy with it.

The image below took about 15 minutes to capture and is a stack of about 80 or so images.

Stacked images to create star trails – Olympus O-MD E-M5II

The orange glow on the left and right are clouds. The totems were lit by the headlights of cars as they circled around to leave the mountain. Ordinarily, any kind of random uncontrolled light is not desirable in this kind of image but in this case, I was happy with the side light painting the totems as it gave them colour and texture and gave the image depth. This was my second attempt at this shot. My first effort is below and is an example of what can go wrong.

Shot ruined by flashlight
Shot ruined by flashlight

Remember I said each shot added new light to the image? When the man in red stood up in my shot and waved his flashlight around his light was added to the photo. It was dark and he was just trying to find his way back to his car, but it was a little frustrating as the shot was already over 10 minutes into creation. A really cool feature of the Olympus Live Composite mode is that I could see this as soon as it happened, abandon the shot and start over.

For my second, more successful try, I recomposed a little higher to avoid people wandering through the shot and kept my fingers on the cable release just in case. I am pretty happy with the final image.

The following night we went to further away from Vancouver to Porteau Cove Provincial Park to try again. We hoped to get further away from the City lights and light pollution. While we did see a few meteors I decided to have another go with Live Composite. This time, I did not compose with a foreground element in the image, opting instead for the horizon line. Porteau Cove is extremely dark and has really good star visibility which resulted in a much denser set of trails. This shot is about 150 images stacked together and took about 25 minutes to create. Look closely and you can see a couple of meteors as they streak in a different direction to the star trails.

Star Trails over the horizon at Porteau Cove

Due to the extreme darkness, it is difficult to use autofocus so I manually set the focus to infinity. I shot all these images on the Olympus O-MD E-M5II with the Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens. This lens has focus markers which make it easier to set to a certain focus distance.  If you have a lens without distance markers or without a hard stop at infinity you could find infinity focus during the daytime and add a piece of tape or use a permanent marker to mark the exact spot on the barrel of your lens.

Stacking photos for star trails can be done manually in Photoshop or by using software such as StarStax, but what I absolutely love about the Olympus Live Composite mode is, well, it’s live. It saves time, does a great job and also creates an ORF, an Olympus raw file, which means you can edit for colour, contrast etc afterward. This feature is nothing short of awesome and is just one of many reasons I love my micro four thirds camera.

To use Live Composite mode for star trails you will need a stable tripod. I’d also recommend a cable release or remote trigger so you don’t nudge the camera when starting or stopping the shot. You’ll need a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture of at least 2.8. The Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm 1.8 is a great little lens for this purpose, but I would also like to try out the 12mm f2 or a fisheye. I set my exposure for each shot to 10 seconds which kept the stars sharp, but this will vary depending on how dark it is and what you are trying to achieve. Try a few single exposures first to get your settings. Then, get creative and watch your image as it appears!

Summer is coming and with it will be warmer temperatures and clearer nights. I can’t wait to get out and try this again to see what I can create with Live Composite.

Salt Spring Island Getaway

Looking for a relaxing getaway not too far from Vancouver? Try Salt Spring Island – we did, and it was wonderful!

Salt Spring Island is one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It is accessible by ferry, but we traveled by Sea Plane for a different perspective. The flight with SaltSpring Air was great and we had fantastic weather so got to see some amazing scenery.

Flying over the Gulf Islands

The flight only took about 35 mins from Downtown Vancouver and landed at picturesque Ganges Harbour, just a short walk from our hotel.

We had informed the hotel of our arrival time so they sent someone down to the dock to meet us. We had arrived several hours in advance of our check in so we opted to send our bags on ahead and explore a bit on our own.

First stop – quaint little Tree House Cafe for some breakfast!

It’s actually a heritage cottage but is enveloped by greenery

After fueling up we set off on a walk to the other side of the island. It was lovely and quiet, but a bit further than we expected so we were pretty knackered by the time we returned and checked in at the beautiful Hastings House.

Our Hillside Suite, overlooking the Harbour, was gorgeous and well-equipped. Also incredibly private and quiet!

The Privacy Dog hung on our door

We were also very hungry which was good because we were booked in at the Fine Dining Room for dinner. The dining room is set in the historic Manor House, and the Fine Dining is a must experience while visiting Salt Spring Island.  It’s famous for Salt Spring Island lamb, but being non-meat eaters we opted for seafood options.

Wild Salmon with Shaved Fennel
Albacore Tuna and Potato Salad
Wild Pacific Halibut

After a scrumptious dinner and impeccable service we returned to our room to find a couple of bunnies on the bed – a nice touch for Easter.

The next morning we woke and enjoyed some coffee on the patio, surrounded by birds and trees before heading to the dining room for breakfast.

Coffee on our patio

We decided to explore the grounds a bit so checked out the view of the harbour and the property’s gardens.

While strolling in the garden we saw little “bugs” whizzing through the air making a buzzing sound. These “bugs” turned out to be hummingbirds and we discovered that feeders had been hung throughout the garden. We grabbed our cameras and found a spot to watch and record them. It was amazing. We had planned on going shopping, but both Susannah and I found the tiny birds absolutely mesmerizing. We watched for about 1.5 hours and enjoyed it so much that we returned the next day for more viewing!

Hummingbirds are super fast and can fly in any direction which makes them hard to photograph. I recommend a very fast shutter speed if you want to stop them in midair. Here are a few shots.

This little lady only stopped for a split second
Hummingbirds can beat their wings about 80 times a second

See my full gallery of Hummingbird photos here.

Here’s a short video to show you just how speedy they are.


That evening we wandered Downtown and enjoyed another amazing dinner, this time at Auntie Pesto’s which is located in the  Ganges Village right by the water. The meal was outstanding and again we sampled local produce and fresh seafood. So good!

Our last morning came too quickly. We had a few hours before our flight so we decided to stroll through the fields and along the sculpture trail at the edge of the grounds. It’s a short walk but has some cool sculptures as does the Hastings House property itself.

There are a ton of things to do on Salt Spring Island – lots of artisans and workshops, health and wellness retreats (Hastings House has a spa on site), and adventure activities. We went with no definitive plan and although interested in many activities and sights, we basically stayed in the Ganges Harbour area. The Hastings House Country Hotel property is vast and quiet and we found our getaway there to be just what we were looking for. We had such a slow paced, relaxing time – I think it is fair to say that neither of us wanted to go home.

Us looking very chill after the weekend away

Once again we were treated to a lovely SaltSpring Air scenic flight home. It was awesome to be so close and arrive home so stress-free.

Flying back into Vancouver

I’d definitely recommend Salt Spring Island for a few days away. Check out this website for everything you need to know about Salt Spring and plan your own Island getaway.

The Story of Old Bags, New Tricks!

Old Bags, New Tricks…

What kind of name for a blog is that, I hear you ask? Well, here’s my story.

I left my home country, New Zealand, 20 years ago. My plan, like so many Kiwis, was to work abroad for 1-2 years, then travel for awhile before making my way home.

Life had other plans for me. I began my journey in Kyoto, Japan, and loved the lifestyle, the culture and the food (oishii!). One year turned quickly into 6 and I’m sure people wondered if I would settle there.  Then I met Susannah (Canadian, eh!) and my plans changed again.  I was smitten and of course thought nothing of moving across the world to Canada with her. Hey, I was still young!

14 years later, here we are, living and working as photographers and videographers in beautiful Vancouver BC.

I am now well into my 40s and Susannah is a few years older. Neither of us has followed a “normal” or “traditional” path in life. We have been self-employed for most of our time here. We don’t own a home and we don’t have kids. We live very much in the now.

Over the last few years, I think we have both felt the effects of society’s ageist attitude towards what life “should” be like for people of our age. I have also struggled with some recurring physical problems which have impacted our life (more about that later).

I have learned many things and I have much more to learn. But what constantly holds true for me is the saying “you are only as old as you feel”. My version of it is “you are only as old as you think!” The mind has great power.  For me that means it is never too late to challenge myself, to try new things and open my mind to new possibilities and experiences.

Old Bags, New Tricks is about rejecting negative attitudes towards aging. Susannah and I love life’s adventures and we try to find a positive in each experience. We’ll be sharing some of our lifestyle and the new and exciting experiences we have in this blog. We hope you will enjoy them with us.