Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dressed to the nines

Spring is coming. Not quite yet, of course, but the mallards are going to be ready for it. They're busy pairing off, getting ready for the early egg-laying. And they're wearing their brightest, gaudiest, flirtiest colours.

A toddler had a bag of bird seed, so the mallards joined the pigeons in the park.

Greens, blues, purples, deep burgundy, orange and yellow, warm browns. And a pigeon's red eyes.

And they return to the estuary to primp. Gotta look your best! 

The water's about 2 feet deep here. But a flapping mallard can stand upright on top.

Two males and a female.

Courting couples spin, bobbing up and down, bending and stretching alternately in a ritualistic dance.

Happy pair.

I remembered to hit the video button just in time.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Failed camouflage

Golden-crowned sparrow, with rose hips.

On Tyee Spit

For most of the year, these wild rose bushes on Tyee Spit are full of the twitterings and flittings of small birds, mostly invisible, though I stand straining my eyes to catch a glimpse of one. There are fewer in the winter; I expect most have moved inland to the backyard bird feeders. But at least those few hold-outs are visible. For now. Until it snows and fills in the gaps between branches.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Green lichen on rock

In the tiny woods at the end of my street, a block square, a tossed salad of big-leaf maple, Douglas fir, salal, Oregon grape, huckleberry, evergreen ferns, and the odd street weed, I was looking for lichens. Portable lichens; something to show a kid who couldn't remember seeing one. I zig-zagged through the bush for a while, but if there were any lichens - and I remember finding some here in the summer - they were buried under a layer of mushy maple leaves. Or still up in the trees.

The only lichens I found were not quite portable.

A crust lichen, probably a pimple crust.
On another rock, closer to the edge of the bush, more exposed to occasional sunlight, paler green

These were finer-grained, smoother and greener than the whitish grey bulls-eye lichen I see on many rocks, usually in more exposed areas. In this shady patch of forest, there are few exposed rocks, but most of them carried the green patches. I couldn't identify them.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Foggy feeders

A thick fog settled in yesterday afternoon. At first, I couldn't see Quadra Island three kilometres away; by 4:00, even the shore beside the road disappeared. A pedestrian crossing the street ahead of me was just a blurry, darker area in the fog.

This morning, they're warning us not to drive unless it's necessary. I'm reduced to looking out the window at the fog.

I can just about see my bird feeders from the kitchen window. The camera sees much better; at least I can identify the chickadees; other LBBs are mere shapes.

Chickadee and, I think, a junco. Photo brightened and contrast increased.

Chestnut-backed chickadee.

Over on the mainland, most of our chickadees were the black-capped 'dees. Here on Vancouver Island, the only chickadee is the Chestnut-backed. They don't seem to be as  chatty as the black-capped were. Maybe it's just that there are fewer of them around my feeders; why stay around to dee-dee-dee at me when there are so many other trees to visit?

They take both the suet and the black-oil sunflower seeds, but ignore the mixed bird seed, leaving that for sparrows and juncos.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Wise old eyes

Every week or so, I remove all my hermit crabs from the aquarium while it is being cleaned. And while they're milling about in the holding basin, I count them. I brought 19 with me from the mainland two years ago; there are 19 today. The smaller ones may or may not survive the first few months; it's a risky time, with all the molts and other growing pains. New babies arrive; some grow up. But the larger ones just keep trundling along, occasionally switching into larger shells.

Some species of hermit crabs can live up to 30 years. How old are my big grainyhand hermits? I don't know; they're not telling.

But they have wise eyes.

Ol' Fuzzy, at the front of the tank, checking me out. On red Turkish towel.

"Waves, Hi!"

These are smart beasties.*

The common intertidal hermit crab Pagurus granosimanus learns in one or two trials to reject an attractive, novel food (beef) when illness is induced ... Food aversion learning has never before been reported in a crustacean. (Wight, Keith, et al. “Food Aversion Learning by the Hermit Crab Pagurus Granosimanus.” Biological Bulletin, vol. 178, no. 3, 1990, pp. 205–209. JSTOR, JSTOR,

*Smarter than some humans I know.**
** At least, as far as food choices go.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Temporary quarters

This past week or so, the tides have been much higher than usual. The cormorants' accustomed hangout is underwater much of the time, so they've had to settle for a rock much closer to shore, near enough for me to see their feathers ruffle in the wind.

Cormorant rock, gull rock. No sharing!

Among the dozen pelagic cormorants, the one double-crested cormorant stands out; he's larger, and has a bright yellow bill and throat patch. The pelagics have thin necks, small beaks; their plumage, when the light is right, gleams with iridescent greens and purples.

Zooming in. The light was right.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Supermoon road

It gets dark early around here this time of year. Coming home in pitch-dark at 7:30, the street-lighted road ahead of me continued on across the channel, painted in place by the full moon.

Yellow light, white light. Taken through the windshield with the pocket camera.

I went home for the other camera. 7:43. The moon is now too high to capture both road and moon at once from this hill.

I drove south, trying to escape streetlights and spill lights from the houses and hotels along the waterfront. The first dark spot was at Oyster Bay: 8:30 PM; by now the moon was high above, the glow on the water fading.

Looking south, over Oyster Bay. The car tail-lights never stopped.

Three stars. The night was clear and just above freezing.

The moon shining through trees. And taillights, of course.

Looking back, northwest towards Stories Beach. Quadra Island in the distance on the right.

Two photo sites marked. Google maps.

A Skywatch post.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Clouds over Quadra Island

A brief moment of sunshine over the water ...

Blue clouds, white clouds

In mid-channel, a loon and mostly invisible diving birds are fishing.

And then the rain came back.

A Skywatch post

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Scribblings and pumpkin tarts

Once the fall leaves are busy making mulch on the ground, it's a good time to stop and look at the exposed tree trunks and stumps, each with its own crop of mosses and lichens. The unnamed trail I was following passed through a mixed forest, half evergreens, half deciduous trees, mostly red alder, cottonwood, and various maples.

Black cottonwood; mid-size tree, with its mossy earmuffs.

Two persistent leaves. Cottonwood.

Orange jelly fungus. Looking closely, the surface even has the bumpy texture of an orange peel.

Lipstick cladonia on a rotting log

And these miniature pumpkin pies are a barnacle lichen, Thelotrema lepadinum.

The genus name, "Thelotrema" comes from the Greek for "perforated nipple", which accurately describes the immature "barnacles". "Lepadinum" means "like limpets". Someone got their intertidal critters mixed up.

Red alder, Alnus rubra. With bark barnacles and pencil script lichen.

Red alder, moss, and lichens

Zooming in. The little branching lines are the fruiting bodies of Pencil script lichen, Graphis scripta

The pale patches are the main body of the lichen; it's a crust lichen, making smooth writing surfaces on trees in shady woods.

The path. Well travelled, wide enough for the occasional vehicle.
Still round the corner we may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone.
(From JRR Tolkien, "Walking song")

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cold-weather aphid

In all the cold weather, most of my garden has shrivelled and shrunk. The nasturtiums are a smear in the mud, the hydrangea rattles pale brown heads in the wind. Only the alyssum still blooms, draped over the wall, scorning the rain that tries to grind it into the cement.

And the invasive (but still tolerated for its scented leaves) lemon balm, cut down to the ground a month ago, has sprouted new leafy stalks. I cut them down again and brought a handful in to make tea. But they turned out to be a home for aphids, and the whole kit and kaboodle ended up in a glass of water, growing under my window.*

Lemon balm leaves and aphid, on my kitchen counter

The plant is used to attract bees to make honey. It is also grown and sold as an ornamental plant. The essential oil is used as a perfume ingredient, but the plant has other culinary and medicinal uses. Lemon balm is used in some toothpastes. ... as a flavouring in ice cream and herbal teas, both hot and iced, often in combination with other herbs such as spearmint. It is ... also paired with fruit dishes or candies. Additionally, it can be used in fish dishes and is the main ingredient in lemon balm pesto. (From Wikipedia)

*I am too soft-hearted for my own good, sometimes.

And tonight, the evergreens are all glittering with new frost. Proper winter weather, finally!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017

Upside-down trees.

It stopped raining. Just for the day; we even had blue sky for part of the afternoon! I went to explore a new trail, dodging puddles most of the way. Puddles full of trees.

Study in greys. The cloud cover was still thick.

Branches going every which way. And the sun trying to break through.

Looking at the bush, the trees become a tangle of competing branches and fallen leaves; in the puddles, they're reflected singly against the sky.

I heard a frog couple croaking back and forth, and stood a long time with my toes in the creek, trying to see either one of them; no such luck! Wet leaves, wet branches, wet moss, wet mud, wet feet; no wet frogs. I was glad to hear them, though.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

While I slept

Rainy, cold, stormy. And an unexpected day off. A good day to sleep.

This morning, between breakfast and going back to bed for the day, I spotted this family of spiderlings, just emerging from behind one of my framed pictures.

Spiderlings and their shadows

They were already starting to disperse; when I got too close, a couple more took off running. I counted 27 in all. There were probably more behind the picture.

This evening, when I looked again a few minutes ago, only 4 spiderlings remain. Searching the walls and ceiling, I found 4 more. And a newly-fat cellar spider in a nearby corner. How many spiderlings has she eaten today, I wonder.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Beast of burden

It's all about location; find a perfect site and settle in, and you can thrive. Hide off in a corner, and life's a struggle. The pink-tipped anemones in my aquarium know this, so they're always moving about, searching for the ideal spot, where the food is plenty and the diet varied.

This one seems to have the right idea. But the poor snail!

Heavy load

The snail, here browsing among the algae halfway up the wall, is one of the mud snails, Batillaria attramentaria, about half an inch long. And he's been completely encased in the base of the anemone, twice his size. And to add to his burden, the anemone has brought along its pet rock, and couple of pieces of clamshell; together the anemone's decor must weigh more than the snail.

And yet, the snail goes about his business, tranquilly scraping up the algae, moving on to the next patch; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, he says, flexing his weight-lifting muscles.

(I've cleaned the algae off the glass in the photo, for visibility. It's still there, where the snail and his burdens are: those yellow-brown patches between the rock and the glass, for example.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rain lovers

From my computer's weather people:

11:46 PM. 11 degrees Celsius. Tomorrow's high, 13 degrees. Record high over the last 30 years, 12 degrees.

Warmer, then. A tiny bit.

And wetter?

It's raining. It has been raining. It's going to keep on raining. But in the last 30 years, it has rained 25 out of 30 times on this day. Nothing new here.

The cat goes out, comes back in dripping and purring madly. Stands over my keyboard and shakes herself, as a dog does. Raindrops spatter over the screen; I dry it off, wipe muddy footprints off the desk. Chia purrs. She loves this weather.

Slugs love the rain, too. I ventured out to refill the bird feeders (the birds don't seem to mind the wet), and found a baby slug on a rock. I brought him in to see his pretty patterns.

Hunkered down, moaning.

Under the light inside, I discovered that he was covered in racing mites. He didn't look happy about them, either. These mites, if the infestation is heavy enough, can kill a slug.

I took a few photos, then washed him off with chilled, filtered water. The mites ended up on the rock, and I washed them away before they could climb back on board.

"That feels better!"

Immediately, the slug woke up, stretched to his full 2 inches, and set off to explore, obviously happier. I took a few more photos, and carried his rock out to the garden again.

"Bye! And thanks!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A size too small

Spider kids grow out of their clothes, too.

Young cellar spider's cast-off leggings and T-shirt, hung out to dry.

Immature spiders molt frequently; they've got a lot of growing to do, from pinprick spiderling size to fat adult. This one was about half-grown, a spider teen. Well-fed, so he grew out of the leggings while they were still new-looking.

To shed the old exoskeleton, the spider has to bust out from the inside. It increases its heart rate to pump a lot of hemolymph (the spider's blood) from the abdomen into the cephalothorax. The pressure expands the cephalothorax, which pushes on the old exoskeleton until it cracks. The spider flexes its muscles until the old exoskeleton falls away. (HowStuffWorks)

One of my crabs molted this morning, too; I found the old carapace and legs up against the glass. When I returned with the camera, after morning chores, it was gone. The hermit crabs collect these, break them up, and clean out any edible remains. The remaining chitin is eaten by bacteria; starfish and certain fish can also digest it.

I don't know what, if anything, eats old spider molts. Something must; in nature, nothing is ever wasted.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Tulip tree leaf in fall plumage

The wind brought this leaf to my door, out of the rain.

Tulip tree leaf, Liriodendron tulipfera.

The source tree is not a tulip, but a tree from the magnolia family, Magnoliaceae. But the flowers look somewhat like tulips. It is also known as the yellow poplar, though it is not a poplar.

The tree is originally from the east coast, but it seems to have adjusted happily to our milder climate; about a third of the leaves that clutter my doormat are tulips. The other two-thirds are mainly a variety of maples, with a few alder leaves as filler.

Texture. Interesting, sharp-cornered cells.

The underside of the leaf, zooming in.

"They" say it will stop raining tomorrow. I'll believe it when I see it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rainy day surprise

My prayer plant is blooming!

First flower, and a bud.

The tiny (1 cm.) flower lasted only a day, but the next bud is getting ready to open in the morning, and there are two new buds coming along. A nice treat for a rainy, stormy weekend!