Trash Tales

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A plastic water bottle falls upon the river valley trail. Its owner was aiming for the recycling bin, but missed, initiating this bottle’s journey to new lands. A wind gust pushes the cylinder down the steep valley. It rolls uncontrollably, smashing into trees on its journey through the forest. Tall grasses trap the bottle on a ledge overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. Rain starts to pour down, dislodging the bottle from its new home and it falls into the river with a splash. Slowly, very slowly, it breaks down over the next 450 years. As pieces break from the bottle, inquisitive fish taste the small shards of plastic, while other fragments settle in with the sand along the banks of the river as the bottle’s remains journey over 1,000 kilometers towards Lake Winnipeg, and eventually the Hudson Bay.



This story is made up, yet water pollution is a very real threat. The banks of the North Saskatchewan River are beautiful places to be enjoyed. However, they are also home to plenty of garbage that threatens the quality of the North Saskatchewan River. Plastic pollution is a particularly large threat to the diverse aquatic species living in the river. Microplastics have been found in almost every waterbody, have been consumed by almost all aquatic species, and have been found in tap water in Europe, Japan, and Russia. These plastic pieces 5mm or smaller come from microfibers in clothing, plastic pellets for manufacturing, microbeads that used to be in toothpaste and body wash, and break from larger pieces of plastic. Plastic harbours harmful microbes as well as chemical pollutants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyls (PBDEs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can be harmful to the aquatic species consuming them, as well as humans ingesting impacted water and fish.



Less than 9% of all plastic that’s ever been made has been recycled. Therefore, the remaining 91% are housed in landfills, are incinerated, are found in bodies of water, or are located in other environments. Instead of dwelling on the plastic that’s not recycled, let’s shift our focus towards recycling. Edmonton has a massive waste processing facility called the Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC) which offer free tours of their recycling and garbage processes. To learn about how recycling works and what happens to waste that’s being diverted from the river, Riverkeeper joined a tour of the centre.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Who knew recycling could be so complex? Recyclables collected at the EWMC are sorted at the Materials Recovery Facility into the different categories including paper, cardboard, glass, metal, and plastic type. It was eye opening to learn that the recycling industry is driven by its own market and economy. When there are people willing to buy the items being recycled they will get recycled. But there are challenges in finding demand for some types of hard-to-recycle (or expensive-to-recycle) materials. When there is no demand for a recyclable, they often end up in landfills or sent to other facilities at the EWMC. 



The 3 Rs that we are taught in elementary school are increasingly important as the quantity of waste continues to grow. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s no mystery that the order matters. Reducing consumption is the most important R. Rethinking every time we make a purchase might make us reconsider what we need in our lives. Reducing comes next but is also super important. For example, using a reusable water bottle saves water since plastic water bottles take over double the water to make. But finally we can recycle and properly dispose of our waste to make sure that our amazing river can be trash-free!


Join Riverkeeper this Spring and Summer for river valley cleanups to make sure that the garbage making its way towards the river is diverted and properly disposed of. Sign up for our newsletter above to stay informed of upcoming cleanups. The next time you are visiting the river valley, bring a garbage bag to keep our source of water (and life) clean. If you find pollution that you can’t clean up, report it on the Swim Guide and participate in an exciting and important citizen science initiative




Is There An Unlimited Supply of Water?

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It’s no secret that the Blue Planet has a lot of water. Approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, amounting to about 1,386,000,000,000,000,000,000 L. This amount is so large, it’s hard to even imagine. The amount of water on Earth is equal to 554 trillion Olympic-sized swimming pools and could cover the surface of the moon 9 times.


Now that’s a lot of space for breaststroke!


Despite this astronomical quantity of water, only a tiny proportion of that water isn’t salty. An estimated 3.5% of all water on our beautiful blue planet is freshwater. This water can be found in lakes, rivers, water vapour, ice, glaciers, and groundwater. However, less than 1% of Earth’s water is considered accessible freshwater, since water locked away in icebergs and glaciers is not easy to get to.



Human bodies are 50-65% water and rely on it to survive and thrive. Water is a vital resource to all forms of life. Without freshwater, we (along with countless plants and animals) would cease to exist.


Water is life.


20% of the Earth’s freshwater is located in Canada. However, when considering renewable water in Canada, that piece of the freshwater pie shrinks dramatically. Canada houses about 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater. Water can be renewable or nonrenewable since water is replenished at different rates. Waters from rivers and some sources of groundwater are barely depleted, as they are rapidly regenerated by the water cycle (flashback to elementary school science class). But Canada is also home to deep underground aquifers, glaciers, and lakes that take a long time to replenish through the water cycle, specifically longer than a year. These types of water are not always where we want them when we want them, and are therefore considered nonrenewable.



Where is Canada’s water? While 85% of the population lives in the South, over half of Canada’s water flows North towards the Hudson Bay and Arctic Ocean. Suddenly this seemingly endless supply of water starts to appear more and more scarce to those who need it. It may be easy to take water for granted as it flows continuously from our taps. But water is precious, and is extremely important to protect.


The Blue Bristles

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Walking though Edmonton in the winter you’ve probably seen them. Maybe you’ve wondered where they come from. Perhaps you’ve even wondered where they go. I definitely wondered what they were and why they are all over the place. What are they? The blue bristles.

In the winter, one of Edmonton’s snow removal strategies are snow sweepers that brush away snow. These sweepers are quite effective at sweeping away light ice and snow, which is important for keeping the sidewalks safe. However, through the process of clearing the streets, these brooms also shed their bristles, littering the snow with blue plastic pieces. These bristles are made of a dense recycled plastic, which is very effective at sweeping snow, but not as effective at remaining on the sweepers.

While walking to work in the winter, I stroll along a path cleared by these sweepers. This path is located on the corner of Gateway Blvd and 86th Ave NW, creating a shortcut through End of Steel Park. While I enjoy the lack of deep snow on the path, I find myself picking up these blue plastic bristles that line the sides of the sidewalk. The first day that I noticed them, I picked up 30 blue plastic bristles, which resemble a thick blue plastic coffee stir stick. Following the next snowfall, I collected another 29. The next day I picked up 15. Then, this morning I picked up another 35. You might be reading this wondering why I feel the need to pick up all of these bristles. The first time that I had heard of the blue bristles was during a river valley cleanup in which we found a collection of them along a sewer outfall. These bristles are small enough to fall through the storm drains, and are washed out into the river with stormwater. I have taken it upon myself to pick up these bristles to divert them from their fate in the North Saskatchewan River, and if possible I would encourage you to do the same. By picking up these blue bristles you can help to keep them out of the river, where they can harm fish and wildlife. The city of Edmonton is exploring other ways to clear snow and ice in the winter. While these sweepers are the most cost effective way of keeping our pathways clear from snow, they are not free from environmental impact. If you see blue plastic bristles along your paths, pick them up and throw them in the garbage to save them from ending up in the river.

It takes a long time for plastic to decompose. As plastics break down they don’t disappear right away, they break into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic absorbs bacteria, microbes, and chemicals, and can harm fish and wildlife that consume them. Hopefully Edmonton will discover a biodegradable version of these bristles that will have less of an impact on the river. But, for now I’ll keep picking up these bristles and I hope that you can too, and together we can help to keep the river free from these blue plastic bristles! A student group at NAIT is studying the impacts of these bristles, so if you are collecting them please contact us to share your blue bristle data (even if it’s not 5 kilograms like this Edmonton citizen).


Water Literacy: What is it And Why Does it Matter?

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Water is one of the fundamental human necessities. We consume it every day to survive. Most of us choose to live near water. Many of us have a love for water. But do we know water? Do we understand water? Are we water literate?

Someone can be financially literate, digitally literate, artistically literate, or literate in any number of diverse topics. To be considered literate in a subject, you can understand specific jargon, be able to proficiently express yourself in that topic, and recognize when something is or is not working properly. Similarly, you can be water literate.



A water literate person understands water terminology, is aware of events affecting bodies of water, and can read the water. Generally, it means that you know where your water comes from, how you use and affect the water around you, and can recognize and report threats to water. If you know and understand water, and are therefore water literate, you can contribute to keeping it swimmable, drinkable, and fishable.

When you are water literate, you are able to make choices that protect your waterbody. As a result, you may find improvements to your sense of wellbeing and to your physical and mental health. With a community of people that are able to understand their waterbody, people are better able to care for it. A water literate community can bond over their passion and knowledge of water. While working to protect swimmable, drinkable, and fishable water, a community may find they are simultaneously strengthening their relationships, creating social bonds that benefit the water as well as the people relying on it.



The North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper is working to build a water literate community. If you are still on the search for a resolution, why not strive to inform yourself on water literacy? There are many useful materials available for those looking to become water literate. Through reading articles, watching videos, staying up to date with the news, and by visiting local bodies of water, you can learn interesting, important, and surprising facts while improving your understanding of water. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date with the latest water literacy information.

Looking for a New Year’s Resolution? Become a Water Guardian!

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Canadians overwhelmingly care about their waters. We can think about fond memories of time spent by our waterbodies. We appreciate the safety and cleanliness of our drinking water. We can enjoy the splendour of seeing aquatic wildlife thriving in their habitat. But the real question is: do Canadians care for their waters?


Caring for water is not only enjoying what water provides us, but enabling it to thrive by protecting it. In other words, caring for water is becoming a water guardian. Water guardians are protectors of our lakes, rivers, and streams. Becoming a water guardian can seem like a daunting task, but it takes easy habits to make a significant difference. There are the 6 important steps (in any order) that can help you become a steward for your waters:


  1. Spend more time on the water more often
  2. Discover your connection to water and share it with a Watermark story
  3. Join a water community (like the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper and Swim Drink Fish)
  4. Learn the basics about your local waters
  5. Document what you see on the water (take photos, submit pollution reports, share on Swim Guide)
  6. Participate in decision-making when it affects your waterbody


One of the best ways to protect your waters is to get to the water. Spending time on the water can help to form a connection. This connection leads to care and will create experiences with waterbodies. Sharing those experiences through stories via the Watermark Project contributes to an important database of water stories. Joining a water community, even if it’s family and friends, and having events by the water or about the water can help to protect it. There are also many groups and organizations that you can join to form a water community. By caring for water, it can lead to a general interest in water, so you will seek out information about your body of water (like the information in this blog). By becoming informed, you are able to recognize when something is wrong with your waterbody, such as recognizing pollution, and have the abilities to report problems to the Swim Guide. There are also opportunities to share your opinion on how your waterbody is managed in order to keep it swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. Most waterbodies have decision-making groups and events that you can get involved with to protect your waters. For example, the city of Edmonton often has public engagement opportunities like open houses and online surveys for you to voice your opinion on decision-making that impacts the North Saskatchewan River. Be sure to engage in some or all of these 6 behaviours to care for your waterbody.


As 2019 approaches, we are faced with the annual tradition of selecting our resolutions. This year, why not strive to become a water guardian? These habits are very attainable and benefit not only your favourite waterbodies, but you as well. There are numerous health benefits to spending time in nature with an engaged and informed community that document what they see and participate in decision making. Choose one water guardian behaviour at a time, and watch your watershed thrive!


May your 2019 be filled with swimmable, drinkable, and fishable waters.

Happy New Year!

Skate Your Way Across the Prairies at These 5 Majestic Skating Rinks

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As the chill of winter sweeps across the prairies, our memories of summer water sports seem distant. But instead of reminiscing of warm days spent by the water, why not warm your heart with one of Canada’s favourite winter activities? It’s that time of year where we dig through our storage to grab our skates. Waterbodies across the prairies are solidifying into stunning crystallized rinks for us to glide on. To make the most of this season, lace up your skates and twirl your way across the prairies’ most beautiful and inviting skating rinks.


The Forks Red River Mutual Trail


Winnipeg hosts the impressive Red River Mutual Trail that reached 10 km in length last year! This expansive skating rink is the longest IN THE WORLD! Even longer than the Rideau Canal. There was also a Guiness World Record broken on this rink for the longest skating chain, with close to 400 people holding hands while skating. The trail is speckled with unique and architecturally impressive warm-up tents, as well as food vendors and ice activities such as curling hockey, and broomball. This year they are building Pavillion Sub-Zero, an amphitheatre on the rink that will be featuring music, including that of Norwegian ice musician Terje Isunget. Check out the winning hut designs for 2019 here! The skating trail is located at the fork of the Red River and Assiniboine River, hosting over 4 million visitors every year.


Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink


Skating in Saskatoon is a splendid sight. One of Canada’s most spectacular rinks must be the Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink. Overlooking the South Saskatchewan River valley, this Bessborough rink is beloved by Saskatonians and tourists alike. Don’t have a pair of skates? Never fear! This rink has on-the-spot skate rentals by donation. Getting chilly? There’s a warming shack with a wood stove to defrost your toes. Test out your triple axels (or just try not to fall) on this well-lit rink in the heart of Saskatoon. It opened on December 18th, so now the only thing missing from this picturesque rink is you!


Olympic Plaza Calgary


The 1988 Calgary Olympics didn’t only bring home 5 medals for Canada (shoutout to our President Karen Percy Lowe for winning 2 of them), it also brought some famous infrastructure. What was once the Olympic medal ceremony venue is now one of Calgary’s most beloved skating rinks. The Olympic Plaza, located in downtown Calgary, is still used for activities year-round! You never have to worry if it’s cold enough in the winter, thanks to the refrigerated surface ensuring skating from November to March. The urban setting makes for lovely scenery framed by skyscrapers and public art. Grab a warm beverage from one of the numerous cafés in the area (Phil & Sebastian, Rosso Coffee Roasters, Deville, Good Earth…) and skate to your heart’s content!


Victoria Park Iceway


Edmonton has a majestic rink straight out of a fairytale. Skate your way through the river valley along the tree-lined Victoria Park Iceway. At night, the colourful lights guide you through the twisted path off of the Victoria Park Oval. This magical maze is nestled in the forest of Victoria Park, overlooking the North Saskatchewan River while being a short distance from downtown Edmonton. Be sure to bring a camera, because the kaleidoscopic lights make for some stunning pictures!


Lake Louise, Alberta


It sounds like a dream to skate while surrounded by 360 degrees of towering mountains. The spectacular Lake Louise freezes in the winter to become the ultimate winter wonderland! If you’ve ever visited during the summer, it is dramatically different when frozen, but just as spectacular. The summer’s turquoise waters transform into pristine ice. This wanderlust-fantasy-come-true is situated in Banff National Park. It comes as no surprise that this skating rink has been named the World’s Best Skating Rink. You can enjoy the majestic mountainous backdrop during the day, or under the twinkling stars (and rink lights) at night. If the Rockies aren’t picturesque enough for you, they also build an ice castle from blocks of ice directly on the skating rink every year.


Tag us in your skating photos this winter for the chance to be featured on our social media pages @saskriverkeeper on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.


Happy skating!

A Brief History of the North Saskatchewan River

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History is constantly changing. We uncover new accounts of past occurrences every day, revealing interesting stories of how our lands used to be. Like its history, the North Saskatchewan River is constantly changing. The ebb and flow changes from year to year, meandering along different paths at different times. The Saskatchewan River’s name comes from the Cree, kisiskâciwanisîpiy, meaning “swift-flowing river”. Much of the kisiskâciwanisîpiy is on Treaty 6 territory, which is a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Ktunaxa, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Anishinaabe, Inuit, Tsuut’ina, Assiniboine, and many others. There is evidence of Indigenous peoples in the North Saskatchewan River valley from over 10,000 year ago. People’s livelihoods were interconnected with the river and the river valley. Many Indigenous peoples fished in the kisiskâciwanisîpiy, hunted bison, woodland caribou, moose, and smaller mammals in the plains, and foraged for roots and berries in the river valley.

While today the river is often viewed as an obstacle when travelling, the North Saskatchewan River used to be the main vessel for travel and transportation. The highways of the past were the river and its tributaries. Nowadays, we may canoe or kayak on the river as a way to connect to our past, since paddling used to be the easiest and fastest way to get around. Kisiskâciwanisîpiy twists and turns from its headwaters of the Saskatchewan Glacier in the Columbia Icefields across Alberta and Saskatchewan into Lake Winnipeg, then through the Nelson River into the Hudson Bay. This journey was taken many times throughout the river’s history.


As the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was developing, people working in the fur trade began exploring the Hudson Bay’s tributaries. In the 1690s, the first European fur trader of the HBC, Henry Kelsey, explored the Saskatchewan River in pursuit of Cree trade partners as well as medicinal plants and minerals. Other HBC traders made their way across the North Saskatchewan River, such as Anthony Henday along with Cree guides in 1754. This group made their way to the river’s headwaters in the Rocky Mountains. As the HBC and fur trade developed across the river, it impacted many Indigenous communities. Many First Nations people began hunting furs for European trade instead of hunting for subsistence. As well as bringing the fur trade to the river, Europeans unfortunately brought diseases, including smallpox, that killed many Indigenous people.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, cities including Rocky Mountain House, Drayton Valley, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Battleford, and Prince Albert developed along the North Saskatchewan River. With the introduction of new populations living in settlements along the river, as well as increased industrial practices, significant amounts of pollution were being introduced into the North Saskatchewan River. The rise of environmental awareness and integrated water resource management in the 1970s led to laws protecting the quality of the North Saskatchewan River. While the water is still impacted today, there are efforts being made to minimize the effects of urban, agricultural, and industrial development on the beautiful, ever-changing North Saskatchewan River.

Photo credit Shannon1


Newton, Brandi. “North Saskatchewan River.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2 May 2017,

“Marketing & Communications Toolkit.” University of Alberta,

“The Rivers.” Canadian Heritage Rivers System,  

Partners For the Saskatchewan River Basin. “From the Mountains to the Sea: the State of the Saskatchewan River Basin.” 2009.

Royal Alberta Museum.


A Serving of Pancakes on the North Saskatchewan River

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The North Saskatchewan River looks so beautiful this time of year. Analyzing the surface of the water, it seems to bloom with frozen lily pads. This blossoming phenomenon is not unique to this river, but it’s certainly a captivating event. Every year, as the cold sweeps across the prairies, these discs appear and proliferate, covering our river with pancakes. I did not just create a new word, the official name of this ice is, in fact, pancake ice!

jomilo75 / Flickr

Pancake ice forms on waterbodies across the world including Scotland’s River Dee, Antarctica, and even the Great Lakes! These round plates are observed from 30cm-3m in diameter and can grow to be 10cm thick. They form on water that has some wave action and temperatures that are just below freezing. The agitation of the river, paired with the slowly dropping temperatures create an ideal environment for grease ice (a very thin layer of ice) to form in somewhat circular discs with a raised edge. While watching these pancakes glide downstream I could hear them bump into each other with an audible slosh.

These ice discs have long remained a mystery to lovers of the river valley. The dynamic season of winter is fast approaching, and everyday we encounter new formations appearing on the surface of the North Saskatchewan River. Our river is known for gently freezing into soft ice crystals since the water is constantly moving and being stirred up. The name for this clumpy ice is frazil ice! Today you may be learning some new words for ice. English isn’t the only language with many words to describe ice. In Nunavik, a dialect of Inuktitut, there are about ten words that describe ice and another dozen or so describe snow. When dealing with winter, we often need to be able to communicate the variability of conditions, and by exploring icy vocabulary we can uncover a lot about our surroundings.

Stanisław Węsławski

I’m getting hungry thinking about this phenomenal phenomenon! Could I get a serving of iced pancake with extra maple syrup? Enough pancake talk… go out and enjoy our beautiful river valley during this icy season!



Prehistoric Creature of the North Saskatchewan River

The North Saskatchewan River is home to a wide diversity of fascinating creatures. Some are feathered, some are furry, and some are scaly. One of the most interesting of these creatures has been on Earth for at least 100 million years. This animal existed while dinosaurs were still walking the planet. This creature is known as a living fossil, since it has lived for many Eras relatively unchanged, while its relatives have gone extinct. They can reach 2 meters in length and 90 kg in weight. Also, these species can live for up to 150 years! This creature is: Lake Sturgeon.


These fish are recognizable by their shark-like tail, their thick skin with armour-like plates (called scutes), and their barbels that hang down like a moustache in front of their retractable mouth. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, meaning that they feed on creatures on the bottom of the lakes and rivers in which they live. Their barbels are used to detect food, which they suck up with their toothless mouth, which is located under their head. They mainly feed on small fish, insect larvae, mollusks, crayfish, and fish eggs.

@Tomas Tuma


Sturgeon are famous for their expensive eggs, which are considered a delicacy, known as caviar. Lake sturgeon caviar is not as desirable as the beluga, osetra, and sevgura species of sturgeon which live in the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. These species are all Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list. Female sturgeon reach sexual maturity after 14-33 years, and are killed for their caviar, often illegally. While their caviar is not as consumed as other sturgeon species, the lake sturgeon’s eggs and meat were overexploited in the 1800s. Today, they are considered Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and At Risk under the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. Sturgeon are also threatened by dams, habitat degradation, contaminants, deformations, destruction of spawning grounds, and invasive species. The populations of lake sturgeon are endangered in the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, but the populations are on the rise due to habitat management and fishing regulation. In the North Saskatchewan River, Lake Sturgeon are a catch and release species for sport fishing. There are many locations in Edmonton along the river that anglers report catching sturgeon, including Dawson Park (a known sturgeon spawning location) and Rundle Park.

USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr


It can be quite surprising to learn about what lives within the river. Sturgeon are incredible creatures that capture the imaginations of anglers, conservationists, and people of all walks of life. In the news we hear about endangered species going extinct almost every day. Extinction rates on our planet are occurring 1,000 to 10,000 faster than natural extinction rates. It is rare yet affirming that lake sturgeon, which had almost been wiped out of the North Saskatchewan River, are increasing in both population and size. As they grow, this indicates that they are living longer since they never stop growing during their lives. We may not be able to bring dinosaurs back, but with hard work in conservation we can maintain these prehistoric creature’s presence on Earth.



Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2002. Status of the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Alberta. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Fish and Wildlife Division, and Alberta Conservation Association, Wildlife Status Report No. 46, Edmonton, AB. 30pp.

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. “Lake Sturgeon (Saskatchewan River).” Government of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Statistical Services, 2006,


Dove, Laurie L. “How Caviar Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 8 Mar. 2018,


Grant, Travis. “Here Be Sturgeons: Fishing in Edmonton.” Vue Weekly, 27 June 2018,


“Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens).” South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Information | AEP – Environment and Parks,


Snowdon, Wallis. “Big Fish Story: Sturgeon Make a Comeback in North Saskatchewan River | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 24 June 2016,


“Sturgeon.” WWF,


“The Extinction Crisis.” Centre for Biological Diversity,


Featured image: USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr