Cathedral Park hiking – 14-18 September 2020

Smoke from the huge fires in Oregon and Washington was making southern BC rather unpleasant and at times downright unhealthy. We had booked much earlier to go up with the Cathedral Lodge transport – so we decided to go anyway and we were really glad we did. This was our fifth (Andrea) and fourth (Alan) trip to Cathedral Park, and as usual we camped in the lovely Quinisco Lake campsite. This is very convenient for “luxury” camping, meaning that we only have to carry all our gear 300 m from the lodge and can take a big cooler and two-burner cookstove etc.

Camping at Quinisco Lake, Cathedral Park. The smoky conditions caused many people to cancel their visits, so the campsite was very quiet and peaceful all week.

On our first morning, 15 September, we awoke to drizzle. But this soon cleared and the rest of the day was beautiful, warm and sunny. The rain had cleared away the high elevation smoke.

Sunshine and blue skies on our first morning at Quinisco Lake.

Hiking the trails in the lower spruce forest. Unfortunately many of the older spruce trees were killed some years ago during an outbreak of spruce bark beetle.

Early autumn brings lovely colours to many plants – here mainly fireweed.

Dying fireweed and blooming Paintbrush make a colourful carpet in open forest glades.

Fall is also the time for berries – here Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).

Along the streams there were many Rosy Twistedstalk (Streptopus roseus) with their bright red berries.

A late-blooming fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

We encountered several Lincoln’s Sparrow in the forest.

Cathedral Park is a great place to see Spruce Grouse. I found this male on our first morning in the forest.

One reason for visiting Cathedral Park in early fall is to experience the glorious golden vistas as the Larch trees change colour and start shedding their leaves. Larches are one of the few conifers that are deciduous, and they are the dominant tree in the sub-alpine forests – at higher elevations than the spruce forests. Before our visit there had been relatively little frost so many of the larches were only just starting to change colour – but we still enjoyed some beautiful patches of gold.

Alan in the larches on the Diamond Trail – 15 September 2020.

Andrea in the larches on the trail from Quinisco to Glacier Lake – 17 September 2020.

Another primary reason for hiking in Cathedral Park is the easy access to the alpine areas (relatively speaking, of course, it is still an uphill slog!).  On our first day of hiking we did the Diamond Trail which gives an amazing variety of scenery and habitats.

Sparse vegetation on the exposed slopes leading up to Red Mountain.

Looking down at Scout Lake from the Diamond Trail. Notice the smoke in the valleys while we are enjoying clear air and sunshine in the high elevation. 15 September 2020

Fall colours in the alpine shrubs.

On the alpine portion of the Diamond Trail we enjoyed spectacular cloud formations that changed by the minute.

More interesting cloud formations.

Hoary Marmots were preparing for their long winter hibernation. Many that we saw were very fat but were still guzzling down huge amounts of leafy vegetation.

A Hoary Marmot among the rocks where it will find a cozy den to hibernate all winter.

A close-up view of a catchfly bloom, probably Parry’s Campion (Silene parryi). The name “catchfly” refers to the sticky glandular hairs that members of this genus often have – these will sometimes entrap small insects. Notice the tiny flies sitting on the flower.

Paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.) are notorius for hybridizing and being difficult to identify to species. This is probably Cliff Paintbrush (C. rupicola), or maybe the widespread Scarlet Paintbrush (C. minuata). Or maybe a hybrid?

Grassy sub-alpine meadows turning golden as fall approaches.

Another male Spruce Grouse in the forest near Quinisco Lake.

A female Spruce Grouse.

On our second morning the smoke unfortunately returned, but at our elevation it was only a moderate amount, unlike in the valleys below, so we still did lots of great hiking – including the wonderful Rim Trail which runs above 2400 m for much of its length.

A view along the high elevation Rim Trail. Easy hiking (once one reaches the rim) with spectacular scenery.

High alpine shrubs on the Rim Trail.

Stunted shrubs – mainly blueberry, mountain avens and dwarf willows – give spectacular fall colours.

The seeds of Arctic Willow (Salix arctica) are shed in cotton-like masses, as the leaves turn red.

In sheltered areas there were still many alpine flowers blooming – Golden Fleabane (Erigeron aureus). Note the bumblebee doing its pollination duties.

Alpine Lupine (Lupinus lyalli) thrives in the rugged gravelly high alpine areas.

Moss Campion (Silene acaulis) is a classic high alpine cushion-plant. It is also common across the Arctic in N. America and Eurasia.

The Devil’s Woodpile – a wonderful example of columnar basalt.

Just a few hundred metres further along the trail the black volcanic basalt gives way to yellow sandstone resulting in a totally different landscape.

Rounded outcrops and gravelly flats are features of the sandstone areas in the Stone City portion of the Rim Trail.

Frost shattering in the sandstone zone.

Wind, ice and snow have sculpted the sandstone into wonderful formations.

Ladyslipper Lake provides a welcome and beautiful resting place, after negotiating the slippery gravel of the Ladyslipper Trail down from the rim.

White-crowned Sparrows seemed to be everywhere – from dense forest to bare alpine. I even found one dead on the highest point of the Rim Trail. It had a head injury, likely caused by one of the resident Prairie Falcons.

On day three we paid attention to aging joints and did more modest hiking, but still in the wonderful sub-alpine area around Glacier Lake and in the spruce forests below.

Sub-alpine meadows near Glacier Lake.

A long-dead remnant of a large conifer in the sub-alpine meadow.

Pikas were abundant in the rocky screes at all elevations. These cute little animals, the size of guinea-pigs, are relatives of rabbits. They do not hibernate, but instead spend much of the summer collecting grass and other vegetation which they lay out on the rocks to dry . They then store this dried hay in  underground rocky hideouts to keep them going all winter.

A Pika soaking up the morning sun.

While we were watching the Pikas, this Long-tailed Weasel appeared. This vicious little predator can easily negotiate the rocky crevices in which the Pikas live, and must be a constant terror in Pikadom.

The Long-tailed Weasel was quite curious to see us and allowed a few photos.

Where small creeks cut through the meadow there is lush vegetation with flowers, butterflies and many other insects.

I got quite excited to follow this white butterfly, but I then discovered it was a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), an introduced species that is common in nearly everyone’s garden. It is obviously an adaptable species to be successful in an alpine meadow.

The striking Milbert’s Tortoiseshell (Aglais milberti) is a common butterfly in the moister meadows.

Mountain Goats are a regular feature of Cathedral Park. They are attracted to campsites – mainly to seek salt in the places where campers have urinated at night. There have been a few cases of goat aggression so BC Parks is urging the use of nocturnal pee-bottles (we complied). They have also put GPS tracking collars on 14 females to get a better idea of their movements and hang-outs, and are asking hikers to report sightings of all goats. Over 4 days we encountered 6 different groups of goats.

Collared female #12 and her kid visiting the Quinisco campground.

This group, led by a big male, blocked the Ladyslipper Trail for 20 minutes while they bedded down for a nap, chewed the cud, or browsed on the nearby trees.

Female #2 with her young kid. Females usually give birth every second year. She still has remnants of last winter’s coat – this is shed through the summer and a new coat grown in time for the snowfall.

Sibling rivalry? The one on the left is an immature male (I know that because I watched him urinate) and the one on the rock is probably his younger sibling.

Big Billy. These muscular males can weigh well over 100 kg.

A couple of Hoary Marmots digesting their latest big meal and getting ready for a 7-month sleep.

Yellow Pine Chipmunk – common in most parts of Cathedral Park, and especially around campsites.


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More wildlife from Mamit Lake – September 2020

Here is another batch of photos from my kayaking excursions on Mamit Lake, 12 km from our home in Logan Lake. By early September 2020 the lake level had risen almost a metre, so there was somewhat less area of mudflats and fewer shorebirds. But still interesting – each time I go I see something new.

With September comes cool foggy mornings until the sun hits the lake. Quite lovely to be out on the water with wisps of foggy mist along the shore.

Early morning fog on Mamit Lake, B.C. – 3 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

In the early morning misty light an Osprey keeps a lookout for its fishy breakfast. © Alan Burger

A big flock of Black-billed Magpies working the mudflats at Mamit Lake in the early morning. © Alan Burger

This Coyote emerged from the long grass to snuffle around the mudflats, frightening off a bunch of ducks. © Alan Burger

For some minutes the Coyote never noticed me sitting quietly offshore in my kayak. © Alan Burger

The first bits of sunlight starting to burn off the morning fog – Mamit Lake, 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

The first touches of fall colours – Mamit Lake, 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

Once again, several Least Sandpipers were feeding on the mudflats but far off so hard to photograph. © Alan Burger

A Pectoral Sandpiper was a nice treat on 3 September – in the BC interior this species is usually found in the fall, migrating south. © Alan Burger

Pectoral Sandpiper – Mamit Lake, 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

A Green-winged Teal is reflected in the early morning sunlight. © Alan Burger

Takeoff! – Green-winged Teal. © Alan Burger

Canada Geese arriving at the lake from some overnight grazing site. © Alan Burger

Canada Geese relaxing in the sunshine. © Alan Burger

A recently-fledged Red-necked Grebe still showing the striped head of its chick phase. © Alan Burger

On 3 September, dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the lakeside bushes, on their southward migration. Wilson’s Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler were also seen. © Alan Burger

Elegant Lesser Yellowlegs were once again foraging along the muddy shore – 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

Yellow Pine Chipmunks are quite common along the lakeshore, coming down among the shore boulders and beached logs to forage.  © Alan Burger

A Yellow Pine Chipmunk curious about me sitting just offshore in the kayak.  © Alan Burger

This leg action was part of its grooming – Yellow Pine Chipmunk.  © Alan Burger

Yellow Pine Chipmunk – Mamit Lake, B.C., 3 September 2020. © Alan Burger

Losing confidence, the chipmunk scrambles off to the safety of the bushes. © Alan Burger

A couple of Common Mergansers – fish-eating ducks. © Alan Burger

Common Mergansers. Notice how the upper beak can flex upwards as the bird opens its beak – that extra gape is useful in catching fish and aquatic insects underwater. © Alan Burger


On 10 September, another lovely morning on the lake. The 15 pelicans that had spent most of the summer at this lake had disappeared by 3 September, except for one lone bird who tended to hang out with the Canada Geese. But on 10 September there were five pelicans.

Five White Pelicans at Mamit Lake – 10 September 2020. © Alan Burger

A juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper – a fairly uncommon sandpiper in the B.C. interior. Distinguishing features include long wings (extend beyond the tail), pale scaly-looking back and wings, straight thin bill, buffy upper breast and black legs. 10 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

A Pectoral Sandpiper (left) with the Baird’s Sandpiper – Mamit Lake 10 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

Pectoral Sandpiper – one of three at Mamit Lake on 10 September 2020.  ©Alan Burger

Killdeers on the mudflats forage by rapidly tapping one foot on the ground and then bending down to pick up any small organisms that might emerge from the mud. That is what this bird is doing. ©Alan Burger

A Killdeer backlit by the first light in the morning. © Alan Burger

The tall dead snags around the lake are attractive perches for birds – especially raptors on the lookout for potential prey.

An immature Red-tailed Hawk perching on a dead snag. ©Alan Burger

An Osprey using a lofty perch to scan for fish out on the lake. ©Alan Burger

A Great Blue Heron roosting on a tall snag at Mamit Lake. ©Alan Burger

A Cooper’s Hawk using a dead snag to watch for potential prey – other birds. ©Alan Burger

A closer look at the Cooper’s Hawk. The streaky breast indicates a juvenile bird, hatched this past summer. ©Alan Burger

The Cooper’s Hawk saw something and swooped down to disappear into the forest. ©Alan Burger

A flock of 12 American Pipits was a new addition to the species list for this summer at Mamit Lake – 10 September 2020. ©Alan Burger

There have been 15-30 Black-billed Magpies foraging on the shoreline during my September visits. ©Alan Burger


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Kayaking Gulf Islands – August 2020

Between 23 and 30 August, Andrea and I spent several days kayaking in the southern Gulf Islands, based with friends on Salt Spring Island. One day took us past Wallace Island to Galiano Island and then a loop through the southern Secretaries Islands. Another day up to Thetis Island via the Secretaries and Penelakut Island. A third day around Ganges Harbour and Long Harbour. Here are some photos of the wildlife seen from the kayak. It was fairly quiet for seabirds and shorebirds but we did have a few interesting sightings.

Paddling near the Secretaries Islands, Gulf Islands, B.C. August 2020.

We mostly passed by rocky shores, often with the beautiful Arbutus trees growing near the tideline. ©Alan Burger

Glaucous-winged Gulls, which breed in this area, were our constant companions. ©Alan Burger

The sandstone in these islands erodes near the tideline to produce wonderful natural sculptures. The round “ball” in this photo is bigger than a person’s head. ©Alan Burger

Pelagic Cormorants and a Glaucous-winged Gull. © Alan Burger

A closer look at the Pelagic Cormorants and Glaucous-winged Gull.© Alan Burger

Glaucous-winged Gull. © Alan Burger

We were surprised to find a small group of Red Crossbills down at the waterline pecking at something in the intertidal zone. Maybe after salt? A big change from their usual treetop habitat. This is a juvenile bird, hatched this past summer. © Alan Burger

An intertidal Red Crossbill – note the unusual crossed bill of this species, an adaptation for extracting seeds from conifer cones. These local birds specialized on Douglas-fir seeds. This is another juvenile bird – notice how wet the tail feathers are from standing right at the waterline. © Alan Burger

Adult Glaucous-winged Gull. © Alan Burger

A Black Turnstone in its rocky intertidal habitat. We encountered several groups of 5-15 turnstones at various rocky points. © Alan Burger

Black Turnstone doing some stretches. © Alan Burger

Black Turnstone. © Alan Burger

A Black Oystercatcher posing in front of a sandstone natural carving. © Alan Burger

A close view of a Black Oystercatcher. Birds are wary of flashing paddles but if one drifts up slowly in a kayak there are opportunities for close photography without disturbing the birds. Notice how relaxed this bird is with one foot still tucked into the plumage. © Alan Burger

A lone Mink and numerous Harbour Seals were the only mammals to be seen …..

Wary but very curious – this Mink was scuttling among the rocks and logs along the shore but had to keep peeking out to watch us. © Alan Burger

A closer view of the Mink among the intertidal boulders. © Alan Burger

Harbour Seals are common throughout most of the B.C. coast. Several of the groups we encountered included large pups. Harbour Seals in the Salish Sea give birth to pups in late July – early August, much later in the summer than those on the outer coast (J. K. B. Ford – Marine Mammals of British Columbia). Females raise a single pup each year and nurse the pups for 4-5 weeks.

Harbour Seals – their coats vary a lot in colour and degree of blotching. © Alan Burger

Harbour Seals are very curious about kayaks and often follow behind us keeping low in the water. © Alan Burger

A female Harbour Seal and pup. © Alan Burger

This pup appeared to be nursing as we approached. Photo: © Alan Burger

Harbour Seal. © Alan Burger


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Birding Mamit Lake – August 2020

Mamit Lake (sometimes spelled Mamette) is a medium-sized lake 12 km from our home in Logan Lake. It is surrounded by private ranchlands so access to the water is limited. From a boat launch next to Highway 97C we’ve been taking small kayaks to explore the lake. This is especially rewarding in late summer when the extensive mudflats attract many shorebirds migrating south after their northern or Arctic breeding seasons. The lake also supports many breeding waterfowl and is a popular fishing ground for American White Pelicans. Here are some photos from several paddling expeditions around Mamit Lake – 8.7 km around the shoreline according to my GPS.

Greater Yellowlegs – in August there are regularly 15-25 of these large shorebirds around Mamit Lake. ©Alan Burger

Greater Yellowlegs. © Alan Burger

Greater (back) and Lesser (front) Yellowlegs. When they are together like this they are easy to separate, but when alone identification is difficult. ©Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs. © Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs foraging in the shallows of Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

Lesser Yellowlegs doing some stretches. © Alan Burger

Small sandpipers (“Peeps”) are the most common late-summer shorebirds on Mamit Lake. The vast majority are Least Sandpipers, but if one looks carefully there are sometimes other species mixed in – Western Sandpipers and Semi-palmated Sandpipers.

A flock of Peeps circling the mudflats at Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

Least Sandpiper – the most common shorebird on Mamit Lake in late summer. © Alan Burger

A Least Sandpiper – a juvenile bird with fresh plumage. © Alan Burger

Compare the Peeps: Least Sandpiper on the left, Semi-palmated Sandpiper on the right. Note the difference in leg colour and the stubby beak of the Semi-palmated – both diagnostic features. Mamit Lake 13 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Semi-palmated Sandpiper – a juvenile with white-trimmed feathers. © Alan Burger

Long-billed Dowitcher. This large shorebird often migrates through the B.C. interior, whereas the very similar Short-billed Dowitcher is along the ocean coast. © Alan Burger

Scratching an itch – Long-billed Dowitcher, Mamit Lake 13 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Long-billed Dowitcher. It takes some skill to preen breast feathers with a bill as long as this. © Alan Burger

Only two species of shorebird breed on Mamit Lake – Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper.

Killdeer – this plover species breeds along the lake edges, foraging mostly on the upper mudflats and grassy verges. © Alan Burger

Spotted Sandpipers are a common breeding species on Mamit Lake – there are likely 10 or more pairs scattered around the shoreline. © Alan Burger

Perhaps the most interesting shorebirds to show up on Mamit Lake are phalaropes. These shorebirds generally feed by swimming, and as a result have evolved unique lobed toes. In our area they also tend to feed along the muddy edges of the lake, just like most other shorebirds. Wilson’s Phalaropes breed within southern and central B.C., but Red-necked Phalaropes breed further north, going up into the high Arctic tundra. So far only juvenile phalaropes have turned up on Mamit Lake.

A couple of juvenile Wilson’s Phalaropes. Very narrow, long bills and yellowish legs distinguish this species. © Alan Burger

Wilson’s Phalarope – juvenile. © Alan Burger

I was excited to find this Red-necked Phalarope on the lake on 5 August 2020. Notice the lobed toes. This species mostly migrates along coastal waters but a few travel inland. © Alan Burger

Red-necked Phalarope – juvenile. © Alan Burger

Gulls are relatively rare on Mamit Lake. None breed here and a few pass by en route to other areas. On 4-5 August there were a few gulls present.

A juvenile California Gull, probably moving from a distant breeding colony. © Alan Burger

Juvenile Ring-billed Gull. There are several breeding colonies of this species in southern B.C. – the nearest is probably at Salmon Arm. © Alan Burger

Juvenile Ring-billed Gull. © Alan Burger

It is not just birds that are of interest here. We often see Mule Deer along the shore and Yellow Pine Chipmunks are common, often coming right down to the water’s edge.

A Mule Deer doe – quite curious about my kayak and flashing paddles. © Alan Burger

Yellow Pine Chipmunk. These little critters are common around the shoreline of the lake. © Alan Burger

And, of course, there are hundreds of ducks and geese, although I’ve been focused mainly on the shorebirds during my visits.

In August one can find 4-5 broods of Barrow’s Goldeneyes on Mamit Lake. I took this photo earlier in the year (27 June) at Logan Lake. © Alan Burger

There is no mistaking the magnificent snoz of a Northern Shoveler. This looks like a juvenile bird. © Alan Burger

Buffleheads – a few of this species might be breeding on Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

Paddling along the shoreline also gives one some good views of land birds. The bushes and rushes bordering the lake are full of sparrows, warblers, flycatchers, wrens and others. Along with those birds I also encountered their predators – Sharp-shinned Hawk and Merlin.

This Sharp-shinned Hawk was hunting small passerines along the lakeshore on 5 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Probably the same Sharp-shinned Hawk, photographed here on 13 August 2020. © Alan Burger

Mamit Lake is a popular fishing spot for anglers, year round – ice fishing is very popular in winter. So too with fish-eating birds when the lake is not frozen over ……

Adult Bald Eagle. © Alan Burger

Belted Kingfisher female. © Alan Burger

For several weeks a group of American White Pelicans makes Mamit Lake their fishing ground. These are non-breeding birds. The only breeding site in B.C. is Stum Lake which is over 200 km away as the pelican flies. Many of them are moulting during their local visit and white feathers decorate the little rocky islets on which they spend much of their time.

American White Pelicans on Mamit Lake. © Alan Burger

American White Pelicans roosting on a small rocky islet in Mamit Lake. Notice that most of these birds have grey on their heads, indicating that they are immatures. © Alan Burger

American White Pelicans. The birds are moulting and spend a lot of time preening. © Alan Burger


All photos taken with a Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon 300 mm EF L F4.0 lens.

To see bird checklists from Mamit Lake click here – eBird Mamit Lake

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Migrating from Montevideo – getting home from a COVID ship

Background: I was working as naturalist/lecturer on the vessel MV Greg Mortimer for Aurora Expeditions (More on MV Greg Mortimer and my Antarctic work). During our second Antarctic voyage the COVID situation around the world became very serious as a pandemic, and we cut the voyage short. Around this time, as we started heading north, one of the passengers developed a fever and was kept in isolation. Argentina and the Falkland Islands had closed their ports. We headed to Montevideo, Uruguay and anchored on 27 March about 20 km offshore in the huge gulf at the mouth of Rio Plato. Over the next 19 days we remained at anchor. Supplies were brought to the ship and a medical team came several times to do COVID tests. Eventually, out of 217 people on board (Aurora staff, ship’s crew and passengers) 128 tested positive for COVID. During our stay 8 people were taken off to hospital in Montevideo. On April 10 we went into the dock and the Australians and New Zealanders (the majority of passengers and staff) were allowed to leave and flew by charter to Melbourne. The 15 of us remaining, excluding the ship’s officers and crew, stayed on board and we went back to the anchorage.

Eventually, with a huge amount of planning and lobbying by our embassies, Aurora and many other people in several countries, the rest of us from Europe, U.S. and me from Canada were allowed to leave. I must give a huge thank-you to the Canadian ambassador in  Uruguay Joanne Frappier and her staff for amazing support and bulldog persistence in working on my behalf. At first the Canadian regulations would not allow me back into the country and it was just a day before we were due to leave that word came that I could go with the others on the flight out.

But then nature played a card and we had a major storm for 2 days which prevented getting a pilot on board, so our departure was delayed by half a day.

Stormy seas at our anchorage off Montevideo delayed our departure. The sea is only 10 m deep here so the waves churned up River Plate sediments making the sea brown.

Finally on 15 April we lifted the anchor and at noon docked at Montevideo harbour

Montevideo harbour

Part of Montevideo city near the harbour.

The wharf where we docked was cordoned off with a police barricade and there was a crowd of officials and media there. Even as we came into the harbour people on shore were waving and hooting their car horns. Our departure was obviously a major media event.

Waiting to leave the ship. Note the barricade and media at the end of the wharf.

After about an hour of waiting the bus approached the ship and we prepared to leave.

Our bus at the Montevideo harbour. A very welcome sight.

After weeks on the ship and 19 days at anchor we are finally leaving the ship. The person on the right in the PPE suit is the Uruguayan doctor who came on board for the final 10 days. Note the appropriate 2 m spacing.

Alan preparing to leave the ship.

As our bus left the harbour an amazing thing happened. We were joined by a motorcade of 6 motorcycle police who, with sirens blaring, cleared a path for our bus through the city – stopping traffic at all the intersections. I thought that the people of Uruguay would have been glad to be rid of us – we arrived uninvited at their doorstep, with COVID infections, and consequently added to the hassles they were already having as a small country dealing with this pandemic. But, it was exactly the opposite – the people were proud of how their country had helped us and were happy to see us finally off the ship. As we drove along the beautiful seafront boulevard that runs for miles there were hundreds of people out on their apartment balconies or in the street – waving and clapping, waving the Uruguayan flag and honking their horns. It was a very emotional experience. Joanne Frappier had told me to sit on the left side of the bus and that allowed me to spot her, on her 4th floor balcony, wildly waving the Canadian flag – what a great send-off!

This Boeing 737 configured for medical evacuations took us from Montevideo to Miami.

In my allotted seat on the 737 from Montevideo

This flight was organized by REVA – a company specializing in medical evacuations around the world. We had a doctor and 2 nurses on board who did regular checkups throughout the trip.

Nurses on our Montevideo – Miami flight. Note the plastic barricades which isolated parts of the plane.

We refueled in Manaus, Brazil, unfortunately in the middle of the night so we didn’t see anything of the surrounding Amazon river and forest. At Miami those of us going to the U.S. and Canada got off and the plane continued to England and Amsterdam with the European staff and passengers. We then went in smaller planes – one to Chicago and one to Phoenix and Vancouver.

The Learjet that took me and two Aurora passengers from Miami.

I have always wanted to fly in a Learjet. This is a Learjet 45. We flew at over 45,000 feet – about 10,000 ft higher than regular commercial jets. Quite spiffy. We landed at Houston to refuel and get coffee and then on to Phoenix where the last 2 Aurora passengers were deposited. At Phoenix the pilot was told that he was not permitted to land in Vancouver as planned (no reason given) so we took off and headed to Bellingham, Washington near the Canadian border.

Alan as the lone passenger in the Learjet. The other person in the seat behind me is the medical orderly who accompanied the flight.

At Bellingham there was an ambulance waiting to take me to the Canadian border. After some delays with lots of phonecalls we set off – Bellingham is about 30 minutes drive to the border. Half way there we received a message that Canada was not going to let me in and to return to the ambulance base. Half way back to their base the driver received another message that it was OK to proceed. Back again towards Canada. At the border another bizarre scene – a line of border guards blocking our way – eventually directing the ambulance to one of the search bays. After a long wait the expected agent from the Canadian public health authority arrived. As the back of the ambulance opened there was a line of 4-5 border guards with black uniforms, visors, and surgical masks and carrying guns in their belt holsters. One doesn’t normally joke with border guards but I thought “What the f..k is this?” and said to them “Are you here to shoot me if I make a break for it?” After a stunned silence they grinned and said “Welcome back to Canada”.

The public health lady was very pleasant and after reading me my rights, “$750,000 fine or three years in jail if you break quarantine”, I was put in a large Mafia-black SUV and we followed the government car into Vancouver. I had to contrast this reception with the joyous send-off that we had received in Montevideo, but I was impressed at how seriously Canada is taking this COVID pandemic.

So I’m writing this from my quarantine hotel in Vancouver near the airport. One of my friends, Nigel, sent me a poem to welcome me back to Canada and that spurred me to respond in kind:

I’m stuck here in this hotel
In a world that has gone close to hell

This Covid thing’s such a bad blight
My sentence is a fortnight

I’m up on the sixth level floor
Not ever allowed out the door

My view of the parking lot is clear
A freeway or two also near

In the distance coast mountains I see
Would love to be up there so free

Of birds I am sad to report
My checklist is awfully short

A robin or two and a crow
Some chickadees flitting below

Gulls sometimes come flying by
On the river a far goose I did spy

Our Antarctic expedition was shortened
So South Georgia visit abortened

A problem of where we could go
Ushuaia and Falklands said no

Montevideo was the next bet
Uruguayans might welcome us yet

At anchor we stayed nineteen days
Our exit faced many delays

When finally told we could leave
Relief like you wouldn’t believe

Our path was Miami-ed and Phoenix-ed
But landing Vancouver was nix-ed

To Bellingham I was then landed
At the border a Covid risk branded

Although my situation’s a curse
I’m ecstatic it isn’t much worse

I’m very much healthy and fit
Beating Covid I’m doing my bit

Looking forward to that happy day
When I’m free to go on my way

One day soon we’ll beat this bad bug
And once more be able to hug


My joy at being back in Canada was somewhat tempered by hearing, a few days after getting here, that one of the ship’s crew had died of COVID in the Montevideo hospital. Quite a sobering reminder of how lucky I have been in not getting seriously ill.


My longtime friend and expedition team-mate Robyn Mundy who was Deputy Expedition Leader on this voyage has written an erudite description with photos of what we experienced on the COVID ship:

Detailed analysis of our ship’s infection published in BMJ Thorax journal:

Our team doctor Jeff Green describes working in this situation:

Article in the Guardian newspaper about the problems the remaining ship crew are experiencing:

Majority of the ship’s crew allowed to leave for Montevideo (11 May 2020)

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