Beware of wildlife on the roads
(work in progress)
Ucluelet is surrounded by forest, so I suppose that we shouldn't have been surprised to see a deer grazing on the verge of the road as we entered town - clearly the animals are pretty habituated to people and human activity.
The deer look endearing (if you'll excuse the pun), but can be quite a pest as they tend to regard gardens and vegetable patches as a sort of buffet arrangement provided for their personal delectation. They're also quite sizeable animals, so be careful if you're driving in conditions of poor visibility - outside of daylight hours or during foggy or rainy conditions - as you could do your vehicle (and yourself) considerable mischief if you were to hit one on the road.
So what's the prevailing wind direction?
(work in progress)
... just take a wild guess!
Vancouver Island has a maritime climate, which is significantly moderated from extremes of temperature by the ocean, and I have seen numerous claims that it has the 'most pleasant/most liveable' climate in Canada. Which is probably true given that the temperature doesn't often drop below zero, but somewhat concerning when you consider that the west coast gets over 3m of rain a year!
The other downside of being on the west coast of the island is that there is literally no protection from the wind that roars in from the Pacific: travelling westward, the next landmass is Japan, so there are several thousand kilometres of uninterrupted fetch for weather systems to really pick up a head of speed. You would therefore be wise to keep a waterproof jacket with you: even on those 40% of days when it doesn't rain, it can still get blowy and the jacket will help protect you from the wind chill.
On the upside, the forests grow down to the shoreline along the majority of the coast, and thus offer a good measure of protection from the wind unless you're actually on the beaches or headlands. So if things get a bit breezy, it's a good idea to retreat inland a bit until things calm down - only a couple of kilometres will make a big difference. Another saving grace is that the coastline is very indented - particularly around towns such as Ucluelet and Tofino - so if it's too blustery for your liking, simply seek out a stretch of coastline with an orientation that's more protected from the wind direction.
Always give bears a wide berth
(work in progress)
By the entrance to the salmon hatchery, there is a notice warning visitors that bears access the boardwalk, and they're not joking!
In this instance, this young bear popped up from underneath the boardwalk and unexpectedly found itself sandwiched between two sets of visitors. It was clearly looking for a way out, but as the tourist in the background of the photo refused to heed advice to move slowly backwards in order to provide the bear with an 'escape route', the animal became visibly stressed. After a couple of minutes, it made a dash for it (if you don't believe that bears can run fast, then think again!) and careered past us, back down into the streambed.
Needless to say, a stressed animal is a dangerous animal, and if a bear feels as though it's been cornered, then it's unsurprising if it becomes aggressive. Under these circumstances, the right thing to do is to retreat slowly and calmly to provide the animal with an escape route, keeping quiet and avoiding eye contact (which, as with dogs, is seen as a sign of aggression).
Black bears are an absolute bugger to photograph
(work in progress
Let's be blunt, black bears - and indeed, black birds - are a bugger to photograph.
Firstly they're - well - black, and have dark brown eyes, so there is very little color contrast for your camera to pick up on. As a result, even photos that are perfectly composed and in focus can look unreal, because the image is of one large, homogenously black shape with little other definition.
Secondly, black bears live in dense forest, where the light is subdued, and even when they venture out along streams and rivers, these are often lined by dense vegetation that filters the light. Worse still, the weather on Vancouver Island - particularly along the west coast - is frequently overcast or downright rainy, which contributes to even dimmer light conditions.
Experienced photographers will doubtless be able to endlessly tweak exposure lengths, aperture widths and all sorts of technological bells and whistles to overcome these challenges. But what does that mean for rank amateurs such as myself who belong to the 'point and fire' school of photography?
Well, firstly, try to photograph the bear where the light is best - ideally when the light is catching its eye to highlight the contrast. However, spotting a bear in the first place is a privilege, so you may get no choice in this.
Secondly, if your camera is on an automatic setting, it will lengthen the exposure time to compensate for poor light conditions. In layman's terms, this means that the photo takes longer to be taken, and thus, you need to keep very still to avoid the picture blurring. This is one instance where a tripod (or some other support) is a great help: in this case, if you don't have a tripod, then leaning on the handrail of the boardwalk would serve as a good alternative. If there are no supports that you can use, then a trick worth trying is to take a deep breath in and then hold it as you take the photo, which tends to steady your stance.
However, for most, the most straightforward solution is to simply take as many photos as possible, which will hopefully maximise your chances of taking a few decent snaps - if you fear that your bear encounter may be fleeting, then also consider using the sports photography function (if your camera offers this) which will take many photos in very swift succession. Take heart from the fact that professional photographers often take literally hundreds of shots in order to produce a single photo that is worthy of publication, so you shouldn't be ashamed of adopting the same strategy. This is where digital photography is such as blessing for amateurs and professionals alike, so just be sure that your camera is armed with a photo card that has a high storage capacity.
In the interests of relationship maintenance, just make sure you weed through your photos in order to select the best few before inflicting 300 out-of-focus snaps of a blurred black bearlike shape along a dark stream on your friends and family!
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