Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's summer, after all.

I'm back from Tahsis: an amazing trip, with intriguing plants and mushrooms, wonderful scenery, and many stories to share. And now I have unexpected company for the next four days. We're going low-tide beachcombing in the morning.

So I'll probably not be blogging until Monday.

For now, have an apple. And a bit of lichen.

Ripening apples, Oyster Bay Shoreline Park.

See you next week!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So soft!

The path through the protected area at Oyster Bay Shoreline Park is lined at this time of year with pale, pinkish, fuzzy balls, about the size of beans, held ankle height on stiff stems. Down on my knees, they looked like a clover, but no clover I'd ever seen before.

Mini cotton candy flowers

Yes, definitely a clover.

It isn't in my Plants of Coastal BC, but an image search on Google found it quickly. It's commonly named hare's foot clover or rabbit foot clover, obvious choices for names because of it's soft hairiness. Or stone clover, which seems a misnomer.

It's scientific name is Trifolium arvense, which means "three leaves in the field". It's an introduced plant from Europe, but has spread throughout the world. it likes dry, sandy soil like the Oyster Bay dunes.

Growing, in this field, in close company with wild strawberry. A bit confusing. The leaves of the hare's foot clover are small and narrow.

Wild strawberry, without the clover.

There will be no post tomorrow, I hope: weather permitting, I'll be going to Tahsis for a couple of days. I'll be back with more Oyster Bay plants Thursday. (And another couple hundred photos to sort, I'm sure. I'll never catch up!)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sticky mud, sticky flowers

The Oyster Bay Shoreline Park stretches along a narrow strip between the highway and the ocean. The beach is stony and steep, difficult to walk on, but a good place to sit on a log and listen to the waves rolling in.

At the northern end, protected from the rush of water in the channel by a rocky spit, is the slough, with its ancient, rotted pilings left over from a long defunct marina; now they hold nest boxes for purple martins. The slough is bare mud at low tide, gluey, foot-swallowing mud. It looks solid enough until you step on it; under the crust, it oozes. A skin of rotting seaweed covers large patches, and the whole area stinks. Shorebirds love it.

The inner end of the slough. Somehow, without the stink, it looks prettier. Assorted peeps are foraging in the shallow water. The pilings with nest boxes are off to the left, in the deepest mud. I tried to walk closer to the birds, but the mud wanted to keep my shoes, so I gave up.

From the pathway above the water line, looking down on a piling housing an adventurous elderberry shrub.

Between the parking lot and the slough is a dry, flat plain covered with dry, often prickly plants. Signs at intervals warn us off; some of these plants are rare, some are sensitive.

I've been spending time recently sitting or kneeling on the moss and stones, looking at plants, some thigh-high, others in mats fingertip deep.

The most obvious at this time of year is the bright-flowered gumweed:

Gumweed, Grindelia stricta. Grows on dry land or sea shores. Salt tolerant.

The white exudate on the buds is really sticky.

Half closed at the end of the day.

Typical gumweed plant, this one among the driftwood lining the beach.

Tomorrow, an unusual clover.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Coffee break drop-in

She waits by the coffee press ...

"None for me, thanks. A juicy fly would hit the spot, though."

I always feel like petting the cheetah-skin back; they look so soft!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Perfect fit

(Catblogging interlude)

Cats always know how to make themselves comfortable.

Chia in her favourite spot.

After the kitten dumped three breakable ornaments off the table, I gave up and put an old basket there. She adopted it right away.

The pink "blanket" is a sweater that I foolishly left draped over a chair back. Chia dragged it up to line her bed.

I had forgotten what it's like to live with a kitten. My last cat adopted me when he was already middle-aged, and lived a good, long life. A good, long, peaceful life. Chia is only peaceful when she's sleeping.

But she's good company when she's awake; we have interesting conversations. For example:

Me: Why are there shreds of something pink all over the carpet I just vacuumed?
Chia: Mrrrow?
Me: Good question, eh? Do you know anything about this?
Chia: Yawns, stretches, wanders off to the next room. Comes back dragging the remains of a sock.
Me: Oh. Good thing I found the other slipper, then, isn't it.
Chia: Mmmmmm. Drags the sock into a safe corner under a chair, shakes it a bit - just a warning to behave - then rushes out to attack the vicious monster lurking behind the mirror. I am well protected.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Good camouflage

At the high tide line on Oyster Bay, the ground is mostly gravel or grey sand. Below, there's drying, and stinking, seaweed; above, a wide barrier of driftwood. This afternoon, I was walking along this bare stretch in the middle, and every now and then something flickered in the gravel. When I looked, there was nothing there.

Until the stone I happened to be looking at suddenly up and left, and then landed on a frazzled fir cone. And now I could see it.

Grey and green grasshopper, gravel coloured.

I took photos from where I was, then, moving slowly, sat down on the stones to get a closer view. Of course, it leapt away. And try as I might, knowing it was within a metre or so, I could not see any sign of it.

It was about an inch and a bit long. I haven't been able to identify it. GPS coordinates: 49.897914, -125.149469.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


A young male deer, one of a pair browsing on a residential street. Both had growing antlers.

He seems to have an injured knee, but was walking without a limp.

Deer grow their first set of antlers when they are approximately one year of age. (IWLA)

The antlers start growing in the spring, as the days are lengthening. At this stage, they are bones covered by a soft, nutrient-rich skin, called velvet. In the fall, the skin will dry and fall off, leaving only the hard bone. Later still, the knobby part at the base will deteriorate, and the antler will fall off. Next year's antlers will probably be bigger than this year's.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A few roadside flowers

Along the seawalk:

Bee on blackberry. With green blackberries.

I never noticed before how the petals have hairy edges.

Bee on beach pea.

Bindweed and red mites.

Bindweed climbing a post. I don't know what made those nice round holes.

Palest pink Queen Anne's lace, Daucus carota.

The central flower of the umbel is commonly purple or pink. (Not seen in this photo, but they were there.) Buds may be white or purplish.

Further inland:

Bird's foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus. The triple leaf looks sort of bird footish, but the name refers to the seed pods on their stalks.

More bird's foot.

St. John's Wort, Hypericum perforatus. The flowers have little black dots along the edge of the petals. (Click for full size.)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Turkey vulture party

6:40 PM. It was past supper time, but too beautiful an afternoon to waste it cooking. I was driving north on the highway out of Campbell River. Just driving; not going anywhere. And there, in the middle of the southbound lane, a turkey vulture stood. I parked and took photos through the window.

Looking me over; was I going to steal their dinner?

A half-dozen vultures were standing around something in the roadside weeds, while a few more stood guard in a tree and on the overhead wires. When I opened the car door, they all lifted off and moved to a more distant tree.

The underside of the flight feathers is paler than the rest of the bird.

I went over to look at their meal. A young deer; roadkill, rotting, oozing, stinking. Somehow it was difficult to imagine anything eating that. But there they were, a dozen or so big birds, just waiting for me to go away so they could get back to it.

I got back in the car and drove on for 15 minutes, then turned back, hoping to catch the vultures back at the deer. But they were smarter than I; the whole flock was perched in a bare tree behind the roadside alders.

Seven turkey vultures here. The rest were below the tree line.

Turkey Vultures eat carrion, which they find largely by their excellent sense of smell. ... They prefer freshly dead animals, but often have to wait for their meal to soften in order to pierce the skin. They are deft foragers, targeting the softest bits first ... Thankfully for them, vultures appear to have excellent immune systems, happily feasting on carcasses without contracting botulism, anthrax, cholera, or salmonella. (Cornell)

About the stink; driving back, with the window closed, I could smell the rotting carcass a couple of curves before I arrived. I wondered how far away the vultures were when they first sensed it.

All the birds I saw were adults; juveniles have a grey head, while the adults' heads are pink or red.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Turkey vulture!

On guard.

"It's our supper. You're not invited!"

More photos, and the story, tomorrow.

Saturday, July 09, 2016


The area I've been exploring for the past couple of weeks follows the valley of the Oyster River. On the map, it looks simple; empty forest or grassland with a winding blue streak through it. But zooming in, and zooming in further, it gets bluer. Water is everywhere; there's the Little Oyster River, a bunch of creeks and mini-creeks, sloughs, bogs, miniature lakes, pools, and at least one beaver pond. Any little dip in the terrain is full of water.

And where the ground is always wet, I keep seeing stands of Devil's Club, its wide leaves serving as stern "Keep Off" signs. Oplopanax horridus, they call it; it's well named, both in English and scientific notation.

The leaves get up to 15 inches across.

And the plant can be 15 feet tall, or more. This one was a new plant at the edge of a recent clearing, and only about 8 feet high.

The whole plant is covered with vicious spines.

Really vicious. Up to an inch long, very sharp. They break off easily to an incautious touch, sting and fester.

Even the leaves are spined, top and bottom.

"A piece of Devil's club hung over a doorway is said to ward off evil." (Wikipedia)

But you'd need thick gloves and strong boots to harvest that piece safely. I think I'll stick to vanilla leaf.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Beside the still waters

"There's a beaver pond just up the road a ways," I was told. "It overflows the road sometimes." I knew the place; the road had a gravel patch.

Reflections, beaver pond.

The pond runs along beside the road, looking more like an irregular ditch. I couldn't see a dam.

But the reflections were interesting.

Water striders skated across the surface, and a frog croaked; when I moved, there was a "Plop!" and then silence, except for the whine of hungry mosquitoes.

Further down the road, in the backwaters at Woodhus Creek, there were fewer mosquitoes, and the light was better for watching water striders.

Three water striders and a caddisfly larva underwater.

Another three. And two caddisfly larvae.

Caddisfly larvae build cases for themselves of different materials, such as pebbles, twigs, bits of leaves. These ones are using evergreen needles.

One seems to have lost his case.

Caddisflies are good indicators of river health. Most species have a low tolerance to water pollution, so a substantial caddisfly population indicates that the water is clean and has low levels of pollution. Finding caddisfly larvae indicates that the ecosystem is healthy and functioning, ... Trout feed on all stages of the caddisfly during its life cycle: larval, pupal, and adult stages. (WWF-Canada)

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Valley of invisible birds

I was looking for birds, without much luck. I could hear them, even driving if the windows were open. A woman on the road had pointed out a couple of good birding sites; there were tanagers and goldfinches, she said. I saw nothing but flashes of yellow, rustling leaves.

A swatch of once-cleared land for the power lines looked like a good bet. I parked and hiked down the hill.

Birds gossiped and called all around me. None were visible. But ...

Deer in power line valley.

A well-travelled trail led off the main route into deep shade. I followed that, then another trail, this one barely visible, branching off down the hill. And came out onto the shores of the Oyster River.

Sandstone and shallow water.

I stopped at Woodhus Creek, which enters the Oyster a short distance upriver from this point, in the early spring. The water was up to the top of the banks, racing and tumbling down, roaring. The sound was deafening.

This week, the banks are dry, although the creek is still too deep to cross dry-shod. The Oyster River is wider and deeper, but shows the same pattern; sandstone banks, swept clean by the winter surge, smooth and dry under the summer sun.

The current is still strong enough for a good tumbling wave or two.

Sandstone rocks, carved and polished by water power.

More bird-free birding pics, tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Spotty baby

A curve or two from the end of one of the outlying roads I've explored, there is a wide, park-like field up against the hillside. There is usually a deer or two grazing under the trees. And today, one of them was a fawn, still wearing his baby spots.

The fawn is a lifer for me!

The doe saw me, but allowed me to tiptoe, hiding behind tree trunks as often as possible, half-way across the field before she took her baby off into the bushes.

Made my day!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Monday, July 04, 2016

Drop in

I had been digging hawkweed out of the lawn for a couple of hours, and was finishing up in a corner when something made me turn around. And there was a young deer, standing on my freshly-cleaned grass, head up, ears perked, hesitating; nibble or run?

And I stood there, both hands full of hawkweed roots, afraid to breathe.

My landlord drove by with his dog in the car, and stopped to look. A long, paralyzed moment, and the deer made up his mind. He pivoted, walked two steps, then broke into a run and disappeared around the house towards the apple trees.

I see a deer or three every time I go for a drive, but I never hoped to see one on my front lawn, here a stone's throw from city centre.

Deer among the daisies. Not on my lawn.

I think I'll plant some lettuce for him.