Thursday, August 25, 2016

A couple of posers

A harvestman came down the wall in front of my desk, and posed there, waiting until I noticed.

Legs and leggy shadows.

Zooming in. She* was very patient, sitting absolutely still while I tried to get all of her in focus.

*Arbitrary choice of pronoun. How do you tell a female harvestman (harvestperson?) from the male? It's difficult. The male has longer legs and a smaller body than the female, but that's hard to calculate, unless you have a pair side by side. And females have a long ovipositor at the back, but usually this is hidden in a sheath, and only extended when they're laying eggs.

Their relatives, spiders, are easier, with the male's "boxing gloves" always held ready for action.

Later, I was preparing the camera for a few shots testing different settings, when this fly dropped in to sit right in front of the lens. I didn't even have to pick up the camera.

A very shallow depth of field got his hair, but not the face in focus. But at least I got the colour of the eyes.

He was not as patient as the harvestman; when I moved the camera, he up and left.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Because my priorities are sadly askew.

"Hey, who's important around here, limpets, or ME?"

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Not a pinhead

The camera's one eye is better than my two, even augmented by a big lens. I spent the afternoon searching for the pinhead hermit crabs in my tank, trying to get them to come to the glass, and then to sit still for a minute, long enough for the camera to find them and focus. (Okay, half a minute? Please? If I give you some yummy food?)

They weren't interested. But a couple of their slightly larger friends took the bait. And the shrimp pellets make a good measuring stick, 3 mm. (1/8 inch) long.

The pellet is almost larger than the hermit (sans shell).

These tiny hermits are orange and white. They have the eyes, antennules (those waving flags in the middle of the forehead) and banded antennae of the hairy hermits, but an adult hairy is green or brownish, with blue patches on his knees.

A young adult hairy hermit, turning green already. Big enough now to hold the pellet in her chelipeds.

Side view of the same hermit. Look closely: the shell is populated with tiny tentacled critters, visible from the side and also from the top. The "tail" is one tentacle of a two-tentacled worm who has taken up residence in a tiny hole. 

I'll make another attempt to get photos of the pinhead* hermits. Their colours are contrasting dark brown and white.

*And I measured a standard dressmaking pin's head; it's 1 mm. across. Now, how will I convince a hermit to pose with a pin?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

While I've been poking around weedy fields and stony beaches, life goes on apace in my aquarium. Snails are laying eggs, the amphipods are pairing up, and the anemones splitting up. (That's fine; that's how they multiply.) I counted 39 hermit crabs tonight, when I changed their water. About a third are youngsters; some are barely pinhead size - a small pinhead, at that. And there are two new crabs, a couple of millimetres across the carapace.

I've begun to bring in water from the shores at high tide again, instead of using the commercial aquarium salt and filtered water, since I learned that the local aquarium is using water from their doorstep. And my animals are much happier! Their colours are brighter, they're more active, a few that were damaged by the marauding crabs have recovered. The commercial salt has (probably) all the minerals and trace elements sea creatures need, but it's all dead stuff. Sea water is alive; it's swarming with planktonic plants and animals, the base of all marine food webs. And so is my aquarium, now.

Limpet on the glass, scraping away at spots of green algae. The pointed extension is its gill. And the bright green tube just inside the shell is limpet poop, digested algae.

A small chiton, about an inch long. It arrived on a rock with barnacles for my snails.

Another recent addition. The crabs ate his companion before they were deported.

Several small anemones have appeared in the tank. This one, I think, is an orange-striped green anemone, well to the back of the tank on the old abalone shell.

That limpet again, still eating, with its antennae extended; celebrating that wonderful feed coming up!

Down at the beach, looking for water, I took this next photo. The incoming tide usually is carrying something: driftwood, ripped up eelgrass, long kelp whips, scraps of sea lettuce, and this last week, hundreds of lions' mane and moon jellies. This time, the algae was the colour of yellowed sea lettuce, but instead of sheets, it was a thick paste, with thicker blobs.

Green scum, unidentified algae.

I waded in and collected my two gallons of water, pushing aside the algae. It was fine; my anemones received it with enthusiastically waving tentacles.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


On sandstone exposed when the river goes dry, underwater come the fall rains, a bluebell plant homesteads in a sheltered corner, digging its taproot deep into the stone.

Common harebells, in the Oyster River bed.
Oyster River sandstone beds.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Decisions, decisions!

My grandkids were visiting, and we were coming home from exploring Woodhus Creek, when we met a deer family, two adults and a fawn, beside the road. The kids got out of the car and walked over, and to my surprise, the deer looked at them and went on browsing.

I stayed in the car, taking photos through the windshield.

The larger adult, looking well fed, chewing a mouthful of greens.

The fawn, and, I think, the mother. She's skinny, as if she's been nursing her baby.

Mother and fawn

The girls were sensible enough to keep quiet, move gently, and not approach too closely. The fat adult moved back into the bush, came up against a chain-link fence (visible in the top photo), and returned to go on with his meal. But the mother was nervous, and after a few minutes, she crossed the road, where the bush went on, without barriers, all the way down to the river.

She waited. The fawn tiptoed timidly out onto the road, and almost all the way across, before he started to wonder if this was the right thing. Here he was, halfway between one adult and the other, and not sure where to go. Neither of the adults moved to call him.
We humans all held our breath.

Which way? Which way?

(Aren't those the cutest little toes?)

Thinking it over

Eventually, the fawn went back to his starting point. The mother dithered, debating her next move. Back across the road to her fawn? Or stay there, on the path to safety, calling her baby to come on? She couldn't make up her mind, and we were not helping, just being there.

We loaded the kids back into the car and drove on.

Luckily, no other car came down the road, hurrying around the blind corner ahead, while the youngster stood, doubting, on the centre line.

We were here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

How old is a flower?

Bees can tell.

An older flower, and a honey bee with full bags of pollen.

And a young flower.
And this gumweed flower is half-way between the two above.

Gumweeds are composites; their flower heads contain many smaller flowers, the petal-like ray flowers around the edge, and a mass of disc flowers in the centre. The individual flowers mature first at the outer edge, then progressively inward, with the youngest flowers in the middle.

Look again at the flowers above; the younger flowers are still closed, the recently mature ones, where the bees are busy harvesting, have protruding anthers loaded with pollen, and on the outer edge, the tiny flowers are busy making seeds. Each single flower will produce one seed.

The ray flowers are sterile.

Still here. Moving on tomorrow.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Last November, I posted photos of a plant I'd found on the shore at Oyster Bay, tentatively identifying it as a stonecrop.

Fat, yellow leaves and stems, crusted with frost.*

Last week, I looked for the plant again, to see it in its summer colours. I'm not sure I found the precise one; they're growing all along the shore, in the sand, up against the logs, and in the first few metres of the grassy belt. And the logs move about during the spring tides.

Red stems, leaves thinner than they were in winter.

I have to re-evaluate my identification. It seems to be the Seabeach sandwort, Honckenya peploides. This plant forms large mats where there's room, or twines among logs and other plants further inshore, growing from a deep taproot. The stems are often buried in the sand. It tolerates periodic immersion in salt water.

Sea sandwort stabilises and fertilizes the land it is growing on, thereby helping more demanding sea-shore plants. In time it changes the conditions in a way that they meet more plants’ demands and it eventually finds itself in retreat from the ever-increasing competition. (NatureGate; a Finnish site.)

I found plants only within a dozen or so metres into the weedy belt above the log line. Beyond that, the gumweed, burweed, and sea rocket crowd them out. The only plant growing here lower on the beach, where it gets even more salt, is the pickleweed, Salicornia pacifica.

Large mat. Out in the open, away from other plants, many mats take this doughnut shape, with bare stems in the centre, and leaves towards the outside.

"Stacked" leaves on upright stems.

Side view.

More red stems.

And this is another of the edible beach plants. The leaves can be cooked or eaten raw, or pickled. Here's an easy recipe. The seeds are tiny and hard to collect (I haven't seen any), but are also edible.

*I'm wondering, now, if the winter frost could have been frozen salty water. I'll have to check back this winter.

The sandwort plants are all along the outer edge of the bay and park.

As always, on any of my identifications, I could be wrong. Corrections are always welcome.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Gone to seed

It's mid-August, and in our short northern summer, the nights are cool again. Leaves are turning yellow and red; below big maples, brown leaves crackle under my feet. In the sunny meadows and along the shoreline, the rush is on to get next year's seeds into the ground.

Some seeds are welcome:

Wild cherries. The birds will love them, and spread the seeds all around the meadow.

That tiny rabbits-foot clover, still good to look at, with tiny orange seeds on each bit of fluff.

Field pennycress, Thlapsi arvense. The flowers are white, but on some of the plants, the seed pods have turned pink.

Two different plants, both unidentified.

Sea rocket, Cakile edentula. Look good enough to eat.

According to Wikipedia, the leaves of sea rocket are edible. Another one to try.

And some seeds are not so pleasant.

Large-headed sedge, Carex macrocephala. Those spines are hard and sharp, enough to scratch an ankle as I walk past.

And this is the worst I've found this year:

Silver burweed, Ambrosia chamissonis, looking innocent.

These are the male flowers. They line up in clusters on the tall stalks. A bit hairy, always speckled with sand because they're slightly sticky and catch anything blowing in the wind, but otherwise attractive enough.

The female flowers are towards the bottom of the spikes, crowded into leaf bracts, and soon crowned with the growing burrs.

Developing seed packets.

The burrs dry, turn brown and hard, and fall to the ground, where they become invisible and where they soon find a passing sandal and dig in. Those spines are sharp! Several times, I jumped and yelped, feeling as if I'd been bitten by something dire, then hopped to a support, took off my sandal, and had to pull the spines out of my skin. They don't just shake off.

Rabbits frequent this area. I've found their droppings everywhere. I wonder how those spines feel on their tender feet.

Still here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

One out of three

I drove 40 kilometres to wipe the wax off a berry.

Sticky currant, Ribes viscosissimum. UPDATE Red-flowered currant, Ribes sanguineum

I had found several of these shrubs at Oyster Bay, and they looked like currants or gooseberries to me, even if they were the "wrong" colour, and had no spines. I came home and looked them up; the only currant without spines was the Sticky. But the berries are a deep bluish-black.

Not black, even in the shade. Black specks all over, but that's all.

I looked at all the small berries in my guide and on E-Flora, and kept coming back to the stickies. But the colour was still wrong. I had been mistaken about another plant from here, (more about that later) so I wanted to be more careful this time.

Pale blue berry. With black hairs.

Then I read in PNWWildflowers that the fruits are covered in a bluish wax. So I drove back to Oyster Bay and wiped the wax off a berry. And, sho 'nuff, they're bluish black underneath.

Next question; what do they taste like? I tried one. It was mildly sweet, a bit seedy. Palatable, but nothing to drive 40 km. for.

Then I looked at my guide. "Not edible," it says. Wikipedia goes further:

The fruit is a blue-black berry a centimeter (0.4 inch) long or longer. It is said to cause violent vomiting shortly after ingestion.

I ate another berry today. I'm still fine.

Red-flowered currant leaf. 

The leaves of the stickies are supposed to have a chemical odour on hot days. I pinched one, and smelled nothing more than green and drying leaf, but this was in the cool of the late afternoon.

The map is never the terrain.

Update: I've been sent to look at the red-flowered currant, and it turns out that it is also unarmed (no spines), has the same waxy, polka-dot berries, and is more suited to this terrain. Wikipedia has photos of the berries, and they're strongly purplish blue, but on E-Flora, they're waxy and pale. So red-flowered it is.

The red-flowered currant is supposed to be unpalatable, according to my guide, but a friend on Facebook just made jam with them, blackberries and Oregon grape berries, using, as she says, a lot of sugar.

And here's the map, again.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Happy as kings

“The world is so full of a number of things, I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Funny how you miss things when you think you're paying attention, because there is just too much to see. Laurie and I tramped over this area of Oyster Bay Shoreline Park several times, even stopping to take photos (of the moon in daylight), but hurrying to get across it to the shore. And since I've been living here, I've been back a half-dozen times, seeing everything, I thought. And now I find that I have to go back again to look for a few supposedly obvious details that somehow I didn't notice.

At least wild strawberry is easy to recognize.

Yarrow and wild strawberry.

Yarrow in bloom.

And moss, as long as I don't ask too many questions.

Tiny, hairy moss. Greenish when damp, brown, but still hairy as it dries.

And pickleweed, growing on the sand just beyond the protected plant area.

Pickleweed, aka glasswort, sea asparagus, Salicornia pacifica. Doesn't mind salt water.

Flowering spikes. The miniature flowers are hidden in pits on these spikes.

A closer look.

Caterpillar looking for a bit of salty salad. The leaves are visible (barely) in this photo; they're reduced to scales at the joints of the stems.

Still here.

And if the weather holds. I'll be there tomorrow, looking at berries and smelling leaves.