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cloudbank

Cloudbank

Southbound Stopover

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When I was driving into town recently, I did a double take as I passed a field of foraging geese and noticed two tall birds accompanying the flock. Canada Geese are common migrants at this time of year, but this pair represents my first sighting of Sandhill Cranes! What a cool sight!

Sandhill cranes are more commonly associated with the prairies, but there is also an eastern population. In Ontario, they mostly breed far north in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and south to Sudbury through Sault Ste. Marie and Manitoulin Island, with a sprinkling of pairs across the rest of Ontario. In autumn, Sandhill cranes come together into flocks, or stage before heading to Florida and other southern locations for the winter.

Sandhill cranes were extirpated from southwestern Ontario in the 1920s. Today, their numbers are thought to be stable or increasing slightly. Bird Studies Canada estimates their numbers at 40,000 to 80,000 birds.

Googling for information about cranes in Ontario brought up sites suggesting a hunting season should be considered. While I was thrilled to be able to photograph this pair, such sightings make trigger fingers itch for a multitude of hunters. Crane numbers are still infinitesimal when compared to the human population. In 2011, the population of the Greater Toronto Area exceeded 6 million. That’s a lot of people. It’s pretty obvious which species is excessively represented, and it’s not cranes.

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Cross Canada By Rail

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We’re back from our cross-Canada odyssey. Well, halfway across Canada. We left Union Station in Toronto on Thursday evening, September 11th and rolled into Vancouver on Monday morning, the 15th. Here’s RailGuy, seated in the Via lounge in Union Station as we await the 10:00 PM boarding call.

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Since the train leaves late in the evening, the bunks are already made up for sleeping when you arrive. We had an upper and lower berth. The beds were very comfortable and dressed with fresh white linens and a warm comforter. The berths open onto the public aisle and are draped with heavy curtains closed with snaps. Quite cozy.

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Here’s RailGuy getting settled in.

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In the morning, usually when you go for breakfast, your steward comes by and folds the beds away so that you have a seating area for the day. Several berths share washrooms and a shower.

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Cabins are also available. This is the double cabin with the beds folded up. The beds are actually a bit smaller, but the cabin offers a little more privacy and its own washroom.

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Here’s the hallway that runs along the side of the cabins. A few times a day, we walked up the train to the Skyline Dome car where coffee and tea and snacks are available, though our own windows offered a good view, and to the dining car.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served at tables for four in the dining car. It takes 3 sittings for each meal to serve all the passengers. The food services staff start early in the morning and work hard all day. The meals were all delicious. A menu is presented for each sitting and you can choose from 4 main entrees. Salad or soup is served with lunch and dinner and the desserts were yummy. I gained 3 pounds on the trip.

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Of course, the highlight of the trip is the scenery. Travelling by train certainly gives you a grasp of how very big our country is. As you leave Toronto at 10:00 PM, when you get up in the morning you are in Northern Ontario.

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You can often see the front or rear of the train as it weaves through the landscape.

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We stopped briefly in Hornpayne and were able to stretch our legs on the platform.

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The derelict Hornpayne station is a sad reminder of the bygone days when rail travel was more commonplace.

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Once we were into the prairies, I was surprised by the number of little wetlands and pools, sloughs or slews, that dotted the railside. Most featured a pair of ducks or more.

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When we arrived in Winnipeg, the train stopped for several hours and we had the option of taking a bus tour of Winnipeg, which we enjoyed. Here’s the new Museum of Human Rights as seen from the bus. We visited Assiniboine Park, saw the legislative buildings, drove past one of Canada’s most famous intersections, Portage and Main, and visited St. Boniface cathedral. Louis Riel rests in the churchyard.

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I was surprised by how rolling the land is on the northern plains. Much of the rail line is limited to one set of rails. Freight trains have the right of way, so we were often delayed as we waited on a siding for a freight train to pass.

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Here’s a potash facility in Saskatchewan. It certainly stands out in the otherwise agrarian landscape.

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In Edmonton, we stopped briefly to pick up an observation car, which offers an enhanced view.

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Before long, we were heading into the mountains.

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We made another short stop in Jasper, just long enough to check out the gift shops along the main street across from the train station.

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The train travels through the mountains overnight, but there was still plenty of time to view the rugged landscape as the train crisscrossed the Fraser River as it flows out to Vancouver.

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More mountains.

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Here’s the train pulling into Vancouver. We arrived about 10:30 on Monday morning. It was a great trip, fun to do, excellent service, great scenery. I have hundreds of photographs of the latter, but this sampling gives you an idea of the trip. If you’re looking for a different sort of holiday, I can recommend the VIA Canadian journey.

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Asters and goldenrod

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Prairie Morning

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Prairie Evening

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Immature meadowhawk on New England Aster

Garden Vignette

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What an amazing transformation. By the end of summer, the bare earth, newly released from its cover of winter snow in April, is unrecognizable. The mature garden is verdant and lush. Here’s a snapshot of one section of the September riot, a triumph of prolific summer growth.

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To the right is the fountain grass ‘Redhead’ (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Redhead’). It may be my favorite grass. Its fuzzy seedheads have a pretty blush color, and when backlit by the sun, they’re absolutely breath-taking.

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Behind ‘Redhead’ is a hyacinth bean vine. This is the first year I have tried this annual. It has yet to flower, but the vine itself is impressive. It is clambering up a ladder, but the vine is so rampant, the ladder is no longer visible through the leaves!

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The tall yellow flowers near the center belong to rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstsonne’, or Autumn Sun rudbeckia. Autumn Sun is an apt name for this tall, brilliant yellow flower.

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These airy seedhead sprays belong to the switchgrass Panicum virgatum ‘Thundercloud’. Thundercloud is the tallest of several switchgrass varieties in the garden, but at 6 feet it is dwarfed by the Giant Silver Grass (Miscanthus giganteus) growing behind it, which will reach 11 feet.

Playing supporting roles to their taller neighbours are an assortment of phlox, coreopsis, and a tumbledown hollyhock that seeded itself here. Pictured below is agastache ‘Blue Fortune’.

Tomorrow, we will be leaving the garden to its own devices for a couple of weeks as RailGuy and I head out on vacation. To celebrate RailGuy’s retirement, we are taking the train from Toronto to Vancouver and spending a few days on the west coast. I’ll have pictures to share when we return!

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