Today is a day spent on board a train, with no significant stops and rather monotonous scenery. Since I can’t do much else, today counts as another Interlude day, and I’ll talk about some general features of Part II of my summer of fieldwork.
The Daily Grind
There is exactly 1 Pilot station in Canada, in Tilsonburg, Ontario, nowhere near my travels in Canada. The daily schedule in Part II was very different from that in Part I. For one thing, we spent 5 nights in one place, a pair of campsites in Pukaskwa national park. This meant no driving, and because we were far from such town-related amenities as “restaurants” and “gas stations”, meals and snacks were prepared and consumed in or near the RV. There is no coffee maker on the RV, and I never gathered the necessary courage to try to drink the Maxwell House instant coffee that was available. I had tea on occasion, but I think I consumed less caffeine during all of Part II than I did in one typical day of Part I.
Mornings were also much later than during Part I. While Matt and I were typically on the move by 8:00 or earlier, nocturnal moth collecting and the associated up-until-3:30am specimen processing dictates a much later start each day. Somehow, I think I gained a reputation as a morning person on this trip; those who know me even in passing must surely realize how surprising such an assessment must be.
I had access to 2 vehicles during this part of my trip. I mostly drove and was a passenger in a large white van owned by the University of Guelph, and travelled with the “Bio-bus”, a medium-sized recreational vehicle (RV) modified for use as both transport and residence for researchers working with the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) at the University of Guelph.
The Bio-Bus, parked at our campsite at Bird Hill provincial park, just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Driving the van was quite different from driving the Pontiac Grand Prix that Matt and I put so many thousands of kilometres on in the USA. Obviously, a full-size van is much taller and momentum-laden than a full-size sedan. Additionally, having “University of Guelph” emblazoned on the side meant most people didn’t ask us questions about what we were doing, rather they asked us what we were studying. My answer hasn’t really changed: “bugs”.
As I mentioned, we mostly camped. I slept in one of two large tents, with some of my companions, while a few others slept in either the RV or the van. We stayed at one private campground, one national park, and one provincial park, as well as motels in three separate places.
We met relatively few other people on this trip. I don’t think I saw anybody fishing, for example, and most of the people at the campgrounds kept mostly to themselves. At Bird Hill we spoke briefly with a small child who was also trying to catch dragonflies and butterflies, but otherwise most people seemed to ignore us. Parks Canada staff treated us very well, and seemed quite thrilled that somebody was conducting basic scientific research in our national parks.
Perhaps my only surprising encounter was at the Tim Horton’s in Wawa, Ontario. As we were pulling ourselves out of our vehicles and walking inside, a man who was also heading into the store asked me if I believed in Intelligent Design*. I said “Me? Uh, no, I’m afraid not”, to which he replied along the lines of it being a “major debate”. I was expecting such comments in the “bible belt” of the Southern USA, not at a highway pause in Northern Ontario.
* For those unfamiliar with the term, Intelligent Design (also known as “ID”) is a form of creationism; the belief, usually religiously-motivated, that the Theory of Evolution is inherently flawed and that only appeal to some supernatural entity can explain patterns and processes of life on Earth. Not surprisingly, as an Atheist and an Evolutionary Biologist, I find ID, its political side, and its loudest promoters highly distasteful and annoying.
Northern Ontario is quite different from Southern Ontario, and obviously different from the landscapes of the South-Eastern USA that I travelled through earlier this summer. I was surprised at how much like the West coast of British Columbia the shoreline of Lake Superior appears – if not for the absence of large tides, barnacles, and echinoderms, I could easily mistake most of the headlands I walked on in Pukaskwa for the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island.
Manitoba is about as flat as one would expect of a Prairie province, but there are many more trees and forests in Southern and central Manitoba than I have seen in Southern Saskatchewan or Southern Alberta East of the Rockies. The population density of both Northern Ontario and all of Manitoba that I saw is much lower than that of Southern Ontario or any part of the USA I have visited. I think there is nowhere along the entire Atlantic seaboard inland to the Appalachians in the USA with signs that say “Next fuel 150 km” (or, obviously, a comparable figure in miles). There are no roads that directly connect many towns in this part of Canada, such that there really are only 1 or 2 routes to take if one wishes to travel in a particular direction.
Collecting Sites and Maps
In the USA, Matt and I avoided state parks because of access fees and collecting restrictions, and came close to no national parks. In Ontario, as I was travelling with the Bio-Bus on its journey specifically for some national parks, I collected primarily in parks. The majority of my collecting in this part of the summer was at Pukaskwa national park, on the North-East corner of Lake Superior.
The excellent backcountry maps made by DeLorme for all 50 American states do not exist for any part of Canada (yet, I hope), but because I was travelling with other people and had to accommodate their schedules as well as my own restrictions, such lovely maps would probably have not been particularly useful anyways, except during our trip Northwards from Winnipeg to Thompson.
As we entered Pukaskwa, we saw a black bear cross the road in front of us, and a fox a little later. I saw several deer at the side of the road, or almost on my front bumper at one point as we drove North up Manitoba highway 6. There were chipmunks and red squirrels in the campground at Pukaskwa, but ground squirrels (aka prairie dogs aka gofers aka ground hogs) at Bird Hill, and of course a variety of small birds.
There were a large number of mosquitoes at Pukaskwa, and fewer but still lots at Bird Hill. I broke out my bug jacket a couple of times, especially in the particularly mosquito-rich areas near Halfway Lake. The weather was often cool enough that I could wear a sweater or hoodie that at least kept the flying parasites away from all but my head and hands.
At Lake Manitoba, we saw pelicans, which were also around in small numbers on several other bodies of freshwater in Manitoba.
A few pelicans flew over us as we stood on the shore of Lake Manitoba.
While not as productive in terms of specimens collected as Part I, this was still a successful trip, and was certainly more useful than would have been the alternative of flying or driving directly from Guelph to Churchill. This trip also reminded me that I have some roots in Northern Ontario, and that I’d like to spend some more time there.