Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Snail at midnight

I've been out in the cool of the night with the camera and a flashlight. This snail was eating the leaves on a hanging flower pot. (How did he get up there?)

Who wants to eat in the daytime when it's so hot? Not this guy.

More later. I just went out again and discovered a ten-striped June beetle floundering in a bucket of water. And, of course, there are slugs. There always are.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Three arms and a half.

A month ago, the 25th of May, I brought home a three-armed starfish and posted his photo here.

3/5 of a star, an inch eye to eye. (The eyes are on the tips of the arms.)

I kept him in a hospital bowl for a week, and he seemed to be doing well, so I transferred him to the tank, where he went into hiding under a shell for another week. Now, he's out most days, eating barnacles and growing a leg.

And just look at him now! Fat and happy, and a little more balanced. An inch and a half eye to eye.

I don't see any buds for a fifth arm. I wonder if he's going to stop at four, or will start on the fifth when #4 is full size.


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Sunday, June 28, 2015

White knees

I was busy taking photos of a starfish in my tank, when I looked up and saw this harvestman on the lamp base overhead. Good thing I had the camera in hand; one quick shot, and he took off, down a crack and out of reach.

Wide photo, from toe to toe.

Zooming in. I'd never noticed the white knees before. Maybe the blue lamp base brings them out.

And I went back to aiming at the starfish.

(And it looks like I need to dust a bit more often.)


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Saturday, June 27, 2015

BirdCam upgrade, with sparrow

I bought my backyard Bird/RaccoonCam three years ago. It is a bit primitive; three distance settings, no viewfinder, fixed size, and strange colour balance, so when I saw a new model in the Lee Valley catalog I ordered it, and set it up yesterday.


It's still a bare-bones camera, but the resolution is better, and there are a few options, like shape and size of the image, and more distance settings. The first batch of photos, with the camera set to 11 inches, turned out more or less ok; noisy, but more or less in focus, and the right colour.

White crowned sparrow, with hulled sunflower seed.

And I learned something.

Chickadees are very polite birds. They take turns dropping down to pick up one sunflower seed, and fly away to hull and eat it on a branch, leaving the rest for others. When they're done, they come back, pick up one seed, and go away again. Everybody gets their share.

This white-crowned sparrow is not so considerate. He stays put, eating until there is nothing left. And in photo after photo, he had stuffed his bill with three or four seeds at once.

"Mine, mine, mine!"

Just like a kid with candy. Or Tex, the hermit crab. Is it greed, or gluttony? Or just bad table manners?

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Hanging in there

A pretty cross spider. She sits in her web between the wall and a post all day, all night, every day. And every time I look closely, she's munching on a tiny fly.


The dark spot underneath her head is the latest meal.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dotted line with eyes

I think I could spend a lifetime on one small area of our intertidal shelf, looking, looking more closely, and looking again, and never run out of something new to discover, And for each basic body plan, Ma Nature, who loves to tinker, has devised an almost infinite round of changes.

The latest critter I have found looks, at first glance, like an ironed amphipod. He has long, pointed antennae, a good collection of legs and other assorted limbs, a segmented body, prominent eyes. But he lies flat and swims in a straight line, which no self-respecting amphipod would ever do.

Tanaid, about 1/8 inch long

The last two collections of fuzzy eelgrass and clamshells from the tide flats carried dozens of these tiny beasties, all about the same size. Without a lens, they look like short dotted lines, with a darker dot at the front. ...

Side view. The antennae have a reddish spot halfway along their length.

I checked out all my references. I spent hours Googling. (Why, when asked for planktonic crustaceans, does Google give me umpteen photos of walruses?) I checked E-Fauna, for BC; there are 389 species of amphipods in their list, 75 species of isopods, very few with photos. But this is neither amphipod nor isopod, but something in between.

ASnailsOdyssey didn't have anything on these. They weren't in Beachwatchers. I finally found an image that led me to RealMonstrosities, and the Tanaids.  (But these aren't monstrosities at all; I think they're cute.)

Face view; breaking the surface of the water, and heading into the shadow of the camera. She didn't like the light.

Once I had a name for them, I did find some information.

There are more than 700 species of this family, several thousand of the larger order. (From Crustacea.net.)

In some areas their population size has frequently been measured at more than 10,000 individuals per square metre and, on occasion, over 100,000! In the abyssal plain they are often the most abundant crustacean and their numbers almost rival that of polychaetes. (From RealMonstrosities)

Most are very small, part of the almost invisible base of the food chain that starts with tiny swimmers and ends with us.

The abundance of tanaids is strong evidence of their ecological importance. Despite this, they have been neglected in most ecological surveys (Baldinger & Gable, 1996). This ecological ignorance of the Tanaidacea is caused by the immense difficulties associated with identifying these animals. (From Crustacea.net)

So I'm not sure of the species of these beasties. Nor of their lifestyle. Some families are tube-dwellers, others are free-living, some live in burrows. Some are filter feeders; others are predatory.

Some species are hermaphroditic. Others start out life as sexless neuters, then turn into females. After their final molt, they change into males, stop eating, reproduce, and die.

The males of many species have very large pincers, sometimes as long as the rest of the body. Here's a photo, taken on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Dropped in my tank, the little dotted lines swam happily away to burrow into the fuzz on the eelgrass. A day later, after the hermits had eaten their fill of fuzz, there was no sign of them. A couple turned up in the filter when I cleaned it a week later; a temporary shelter for them, free from hungry hermits and dancing shrimp.



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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A few more garden delights

And June's not over yet!

Hydrangeas, close up, look like water-colour paintings.

And roses look like roses. One of these days, they'll figure out how to transmit scent over the web. So sweet!

I was kneeling on our excuse for a lawn, taking photos of a buttercup (too vibrantly yellow, too glossy, too dancing-in-the-wind happy for my camera) when a baby leafhopper dropped out onto a leaf below.

Leafhopper nymph, almost completely colourless. Against drying moss, with a few spare blades of grass.

Passion fruit flower. Or is it a visiting mini-ship from outer space, parked in a neighbour's garden? Or just Ma Nature using up leftovers from beetle production?

Tomorrow: anther unexpected beastie in my tank.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Purple starfish! Healthy purple starfish!

I've found about a dozen of the purple starfish, the ones most affected by the sea star wasting syndrome. And they look healthy!

The way it worked out was this: on the most recent trip to the low tide line, when I found all those six-armed and mottled stars, I waded as close as I could to the border marker. Couldn't get quite there; the water would have been up to my waist, and I wasn't dressed for that.

But I stopped there to take photos of an eagle, and then a pair of eagles perched on the top of the marker.

One eagle

Two eagles. He seems to be doing some sort of dance.

They sang a duet for a while, him squealing and her burbling, while I tried to find solid footing underwater to get a good shot. I gave up and backed off, to take a photo of the whole marker with the reflections in the water.

Striped zones: watermarks, bare cement, barnacles, and a layer of seaweed, then the shelf. Then the whole thing reverses in the water.

At home, I had other photos to sort, and too much to do; the eagles got set aside and forgotten. It wasn't until tonight, cleaning up the recent files, that I saw the starfish.

Do you see them? Look on the right-hand end of the shelf for a pile, and then scan left.

From here, they look healthy enough; properly spread out, wearing all their arms. There's even at least one young one, just under the ladder.

This makes me happy.

As I trudged back towards the distant shore, one of the eagles passed me, in a hurry.

Things to do, errands to run, chocolates (or fish) to get for her ...




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Monday, June 22, 2015

Pink clover

In a well-composted and manured, but long-unweeded garden next door, a patch of clover is thriving.


I like the V markings on the leaves.

The patch includes a stand of thistles, hawk-weed, grasses, and dandelions, crowding out the lilies that the landscaper put in. Better in their garden than mine, but the clover at least will improve the soil.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Totally immodest

The gardens and sidewalks are full of exhibitionists these days, shamelessly advertising their sexual availability, sending come-hither messages far and wide.

Flowers, in other words.

Dogwood, Cornus nutallii, probably.

The flowers are clumped together in a tight ball in the centre of the arrangement, sort of like a bride's bouquet. Each one looks like a greenish little tub with white petals, tipped with purple; the whole posy is surrounded by tethered satellite anthers.* The white "petals" are bracts; they're coarse and leathery to touch.

Zooming in on one of the flower clusters.

Pink and orange rose.

My columbine keeps on flowering as long as I remember to deadhead frequently.

The first flowers on my tiny salal, Gaultheria sp. The first one has a swollen ovary; she's building a purple berry in there.

I bought three baby salal plants a couple of years ago, each one a different species. Only two survived, and now I don't remember which of the survivors was the native, Guaultheria shallon, and which was an import.

Unidentified, so far. *Update: it's Olympic Bellflower, Campanula piperi. Thanks, Sara!

This plant had escaped a pot and was crawling along a wall in Beach Grove. Laurie took its photo a couple of years ago. A couple of months ago, I went to see how it was doing, and the owner of the house was there. I asked him about the plant; he didn't know what it was, told me it was likely to be invasive, and insisted on digging up a good-sized chunk for me.

I put it in a wide hanging pot and forgot to water it until I noticed it had almost died. Since then, I've remembered, and it has grown. And grown. It has filled the pot and is loaded with flowers.

I've looked it up on Google (who can't count and doesn't know its colours) but I can't find anything to match. Do you recognize it?

Two flowers, the roundish, jagged-edged leaves, and a bonus orange spider.

And I've got another batch of blooms waiting in the camera.

*How's that for mixed metaphors?

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inconvenient moths

When I opened my curtains in the early morning, I woke up this moth, on the far side of the glass.

Green moth, doing her morning stretches, through a double-paned window and a bird-protection decal.

Her wings are badly torn and frayed; looks like she's tangled with a chickadee or two. From the shape and colour, though, I think she's another Common Emerald moth, Hemithea aestivaria.

The long curved line crossing her body and wings is the edge of a transparent decal that is supposed to keep birds from banging head-on into the glass. I think they work; since I put them up a couple or three years ago, only a few young chickadees, too inexperienced to know better, have hit the window. They reflect ultraviolet light; we don't see it, but the birds do. It's probably a good place for a moth to rest, if she must be in an exposed spot.

I tried to get a photo of her back, but I had to move that green table, and she left before I could get close enough for a decent focus. But on my way back inside, I noticed this one hiding in a dark corner between the door and the potting shelf.

A very tidy little moth. Unidentified, as yet.

I got the photo, but also got spider webs from the potting shelf in my hair.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

On the prowl

A male spider, looking for a mate, carrying his big boxing-glove pedipalps ready for when he finds her, stopped to rest a moment beside my desk.

So I took his photo, of course.

Spider and carpet fibers.

"Hello, there! Have you seen my girl?"

I think he's out of luck; I haven't seen any big females around yet this year.


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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fish on the sand

In the eelgrass beds at the bottom of the intertidal zone, fish dart through the thickets, usually visible only as a flash of movement, a streaking silver shape dashing from shadow to shadow, or a panicked thrash to escape my clumsy foot. They're usually not the fish I see in the upper zones, the sculpins and the flatfish, but they speed away so fast that I haven't been able to recognize any.

This last trip to the low tide line, though, the shallows were littered with dead and dying small fish; I was able to identify three species.

Another Pacific sand lance, Ammodytes hexapterus. These grow to about 11 inches long, so this is a youngster.

In one small area, I counted over 50 of these, all dead, but still fresh, surprisingly still untouched by gulls or crabs. They were all young; the adults spawn and die in mid-winter here. I am wondering what caused this die-off.

A larger sand lance, still alive, but barely. The back is a glittery blue-green, which should help with camouflage in the eelgrass beds, at least from above. At night, they burrow into the sand, to hide from predators.

Mixed with the sand lances, a few darker, larger fish stood out.

Pacific snake prickleback, Lumpenus sagitta. About 8 inches long.

Another. This was still alive, but not able to swim away.

Again, these were young fish; the adults grow to 20 inches long and spawn in the winter.

One more; a beautiful singing midshipman, no longer able to sing.

A steampunk fish, looking as if he were made of riveted plates. Plainfin midshipman, Porichthys notatus, about 8 inches long.

These are night-swimming fish; during the day, they hide under rocks. I found a male, guarding eggs, about this same time three years ago, under a rock at the boat launch. He was fatter and longer than this one.

The "rivets" are lines of photopores, cells that emit light. They may help to attract prey at night. (Although we don't really know that; it's human speculation. We do like to imagine that we understand Ma Nature.)

Belly up, showing the pattern of photopores, and his delicate colouring.

Zooming in to the tail end, to show the little lights, and - look closely - tiny waving three-fingered hands, all in a row.

I didn't pick this one up; some midshipmen have poisonous spines. I'm not sure if this species does, but I'm not risking it.

And I'm left wondering why all these suddenly showed up dead, all at once. The water was clear, it smelled fresh, there was no scum or oil sheen. There is construction going on 'way back at the shore, but that's a full kilometre away. Worrisome.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Another handful of fish

This one's a Pacific Snake Prickleback, aka Eel-blenny.

Lumpenus sagitta, about 8 inches long. Alive, but sluggish, so I'm holding him underwater.

Again, more on these later; I'm still sorting fishy photos.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A fish in the hand ...

is worth any number in the sea.

Pacific sand lance, Ammodytes hexapterus

More on these later.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Those famished eyes!

A very hungry racoon, a nursing mother, came to my door yesterday night, begging. But first, she climbed my potting shelf and turned over a basket to get at a bag of shells, saved for drainage material.

Disappointing! All the shells are empty!

(Photo is in black and white, because, taken through double-paned glass, it was polluted with colours reflected from inside. A green raccoon? With pink eyebrows? Not good.)

I opened the door and chased her away. She went reluctantly, looking back, hoping I'd relent. Later, once she was gone, I went out and tidied up the mess. While I was at it, I looked up, and there she was, looking wistful, barely a foot away. I dashed back inside; I don't want to tangle with a desperate coon. And she tried to follow me through the door. I slammed it in her face.

And then she sat there, staring at the latch, looking soooo sad. She broke my heart; it's awful to have babies and not enough food.

"Please? Pretty please?"

No, I didn't feed her. Eventually, she wandered off, disconsolate. I hope she found some good eats somewhere, just not on my doorstep.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Greedy pig!

The hermit crabs have eaten all the fuzzy eelgrass, and the aquarium is bare. I'll bring home more goodies in a couple of days, but meanwhile, I've given them their winter substitute; dried shrimp pellets. All my critters love these, but they do bring out the worst character traits.

Like greed. And dog-in-the-mangerism. And outright thievery.

The second largest hermit. Doesn't answer to Tex.

If you look closely, you can see that he is holding two shrimp pellets, one that he's chewing on, and the second held in his extra mouthparts for later. Other hermits approach him, asking for a taste, but he flashes out that big pincer and knocks them backwards. He's not sharing.

Furthermore, ...

"I want it all!"

Now he has three pellets; one in his mouth, one held beneath, and one in his smaller pincer. He rolled another hermit to get this one, yanked it out of the other's mouth. And he's not sharing this, either.

Except ...

"Stop, thief!"

While he was busy chasing away another hungry hermit, this little guy snuck up underneath him and stole his third lunch. He made a run for it, dragging the food beneath him, but only made it about four inches before he was captured, rolled, and the shrimp pellet confiscated.

And Tex retired to a handy clamshell with all three pellets, to eat at his leisure. The others will have to wait for his crumbs.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

More sixes!

Strange: up until a month ago, I had never seen a six-armed starfish. And this last trip to the low tide mark, they were everywhere. Almost all the clamshells I picked up held at least one, and I even found a small one floating, holding onto fine algae hairs.

Baby star, belly-up

Dark brown star. They all seem to like the hinge end of the clamshells.

Two-toned six-armed star.

Pale brown, dark brown, and grey patterns.

I also found many mottled stars, all young. And none, not even one of our usual orange or purple stars, which were the ones most severely hit by the sea star wasting syndrome. Their loss may have been the opportunity for these less common stars to expand their territory.

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