Sunday, December 21, 2014

Swept off her feet

The big male hairy hermit crabs pick up a new girlfriend almost every day. Then they carry her to a high spot, away from rival males, where they wait until she's ready to mate. Or he sees some interesting food. Or his mind wanders and he forgets to hold on and she drops to the floor.

The hairies aren't as patient as the grainy hand hermits; they'll hold the girl for days.

She's game. I wonder if she was impressed by his fancy pants?

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Something old

I have three small antique Chinese ginger jars, the everyday, cheap earthenware pots that were used in every home. They were found on Vancouver Island, buried in a garden, and are much the worse for wear. I use a couple of them to hold small tools and brushes that I use in the aquarium.

Today, I was looking more closely at the old glaze, and took a few close-up photos. Laurie says they look like fields of flowers.

Glassy crystals, pitting, and old earthenware showing through.

Almost like frost patterns.

The third pot holds some real flowers; dried pearly everlastings from a few years back. They seem to fit in with the pot design.

Pearly everlastings, Anaphalis margaritacea.

These grow by the roadsides in dry spots, and are dry and stiff even freshly picked. And they keep for years, as bright as the day they were picked. I always have a jar of them somewhere around the house.

The small whitish to yellowish flower grows in a corymb inflorescence. The inflorescence's most conspicuous part is the numerous white bracts that surround the actual flowers. (Wikipedia)

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Just a rock

In a new pile brought in to reinforce the seawall at Boundary Bay, where the high tides had found or forced a gap.

And the latest tide had already wrapped a mound of eelgrass around the bottom rock. This one is about half way up the pile, and some 4 feet long. Big stones!

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

A rescue and a rant

The tides are at their peak for the year in Boundary Bay, reaching to over 14 feet at high tide, in the middle of the day, and dropping to as low as 1.5 feet around midnight. Compare that, for example, to last July, when the high tide was around 12 feet, and the low just over 7. (And in the daytime, for our wading and exploring pleasure!)

The king tides occur when the Earth, Moon and Sun are aligned at perigee and perihelion, resulting in the largest tidal range seen over the course of a year. So tides are enhanced when the Earth is closest to the sun around January 2nd of each year. They are reduced when it is furthest from the sun, around July 2nd. (Wikipedia)

That's still not an extreme rise and drop, as tides go, but the water has to race in over a mile of flat beach, so the current is strong. Even on a calm day, the waves pound hard on the shore at the high tide line, bringing a load of vegetation, critters, driftwood, and unfortunately, junk with it, and then scouring the sand clean again, as the water roars back out.

A few days ago, at the boat ramp, a tangle of eelgrass was tumbling back and forth, just within the reach of the highest waves. And rolling with it was an unlucky hermit crab, caught without his shell, and unable to get his footing before each new wave caught him and tossed him back onto the cement. I waded in and caught him, and deposited him gently on the wet eelgrass in my bag. I couldn't find a shell for him, but he'd be safe there.

He was hiding under the eelgrass in the bag when we got home, and very jittery; I let him rest in a bowl under a piece of Turkish towel until I found him a selection of shells. A couple of hours later I transferred him, in his chosen shell, to the tank. And he immediately attacked the nearest hermit, a big, no-nonsense male twice his size, and wouldn't let go. I separated them, and he jumped on the next in line, and bullied her out of her shell, which he appropriated.

Not the mild, agreeable hermit behaviour I was used to seeing!

Put it down to panic. By the next morning, he was fitting in fine, sharing food, taking his turn, allowing others to ride on his back. He'd found his spot in the pecking order and all is well.

Other animals weren't quite so lucky. We found this dying nudibranch, still plump and glossy, dumped at the high tide line.

A mid-sized Melibe leonina, with her hood spread out, the teeth still firm at the rim. She's been eating something red or pink.

On the last two trips, I passed dead gulls. No, I didn't take photos; they were a disgusting mess. Maybe I should have. Because I was also collecting bags full of plastic, the stuff that kills seabirds.

There were the usual bottle caps, bits of broken toys, abandoned water bottles - "Pure Spring Water"! - one flip-flop (did the owner hop home?), and candy wrappers. Birds' guts end up full of that stuff; it looks bright and appetizing, and is swallowed too fast for them to realize it's inedible.

But what was worst was the plastic film, the transparent food wrap that, drifting in slow water, looks exactly like a lazy jellyfish. Appetizing, if you're a duck, or a gull. And deadly; it either chokes the bird outright, or clogs up his digestive system so that he can starve to death in the middle of a feast.

I got a full bag of that wrap, along with a few disposable gloves; their fingers fill with water and they wash to and fro, looking juicy. Sort of like that nudibranch above; about the same colour, too.

Why do people leave that sort of stuff on a beach?

A woman saw me dumping my load in a handy garbage container, (put there for that purpose, people!) and thanked me. Good; but wouldn't it be better if everyone put their junk in the barrels in the first place?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I found this mysterious beastie in the aquarium tonight. Can you identify it?

Looks like he has the regulation 8 legs, although one pair is awfully fat. All he needs now is another 6 eyes.

And then he moved, and the illusion was no more.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Flying ducks, flying mountain

Another calm winter day on Boundary Bay.

Blue water, blue sky, Crescent Beach across the bay, and Mount Baker, soaring above the foothills.

Jagged peaks, and a hint of pink.

I love to see flocks of birds, even when they're going away.

I think they're ducks. Except for the hitchhiking gull.

"Can I join you?"

(The gull is much closer to us; those aren't mini-ducks.)

Over the border marker now, heading south.

Not exactly a V formation.

And 'way far off, in the distance.

Another Skywatch post.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

11 minutes before sunset

Sunset from our parking lot this afternoon:

4:02 PM, facing east-south-east.

The sun set here at 4:13 PM. And tonight, Monday, it will be 4:13 again. And then - yippee! - it starts getting later, with Tuesday sunset at 4:14.

The sun will keep on rising on its old schedule, though, later each day until January 5th, at 8:06 AM, with the next day's sunrise at 8:05. By then, sunset will be falling after 4:30.

But the solstice, with the shortest day of the northern hemisphere's year, falls this year on the 21st. We are scheduled to get 8 hours, 13 minutes, and 42 seconds of daylight today. (Those 42 seconds are precious!) By the 21st, we'll be down to 8 hours, 11 minutes, 57 seconds.

(We're lucky; up in Inuvik, directly north of us, today they'll get a total of zero (0) seconds of daylight. It won't be until January 6th that they'll have a sunrise.)

This is all very confusing. Why are the sunset and sunrise times, and day lengths, on different schedules? I found an explanation on the Royal Museums Greenwich site (UK).

The winter solstice is the time when the Sun reaches its southmost distance from the celestial equator and hence, in northern latitudes is the day when the Sun is lowest in the sky at noon. This is, naturally, the shortest day of the year in northern latitudes. To many people it seems odd, therefore, that the time of sunrise continues to get later in the day after the solstice.

The reason for this is that the Sun does not cross the meridian (when it is highest in the sky) at precisely noon each day. The difference between clock-defined noon and the time when the Sun is on the meridian is called the Equation of Time and represents the correction which must be applied to the time given by a sundial to make it agree with clock time.

There are two reasons why the Sun is not on the meridian at noon each day. The first is that the path of the Earth around the Sun is an ellipse, and not a circle. The second is that the Earth's equatorial plane and its orbital plane are inclined to one another. The two effects add together to yield the equation of time which can amount to some 16 minutes difference between solar and mean time.

Oh, but here's a bit more info to add to the confusion!

The Equation of Time 

Very simply, the equation of time is the difference between time that is measured using a sundial (true or apparent solar time) and time that is measured using a watch or a clock (mean solar time). 

Most clocks work on the idea that a day - the time between one noon to the next - is exactly 24 hours. 

Scientifically, however, a day is defined as the duration between 2 solar noons. A solar noon is the time of the day when the Sun is at the highest point in the sky, and a solar day is the duration between two solar noons. 

A solar day is not exactly 24 hours long. Its length varies throughout the year. In fact, the solar day is longer than 24 hours around the summer and winter solstices and is shorter than 24 hours around the spring and fall (autumn) equinox. This means that the length of the solar day does not always match up to the length of a day as measured by a clock. 

That's from

My head is spinning. But at least I still know what day it is. I think.

A Skywatch post.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Remembering sunshine

Another grey and foggy day. At least it has stopped raining, for the moment. Days like this, it's good to find a photo or two from sunnier times.

This one is from last September, in Bear Creek Park.

Tibouchina, aka Glory bush, Princess flower.

And one more week until our earth relents and starts to bring our northlands around to face the sun again.

(That's an awfully long way to say "the winter solstice", isn't it?)

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fat sparrow

From the BirdCam, while I was hoping to catch, instead, a fat raccoon:


Later, it caught the fat raccoon's tail, just leaving. I'll get it, though. Patience!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

They are what they eat

It's wet and rainy, and the days are dark. Our weather people tell us to expect 2 hours of sunshine tomorrow. Watery sunshine it will be, at best. My garden is mourning.

Down on the beach, the seaweeds we see all summer are gone, ripped up, dead, or in some sort of hibernation. This last visit, I found one shredded piece of sea lettuce, one rotting rockweed. But the high winter tides and the storms brought in large sheets of Turkish towel, and two different red algae, which I've planted in the aquarium.

And all my critters are eating red veggies, and turning pink, to match their new diet.

One of the red algae, growing on an old clamshell.

One of the little white-fleshed (normally) Nassa snails, between two different red munchies. Only his siphon retains the usual hint of cream.

One of the little orange hermits, now sporting pink and violet tones around the mouthparts.

The crabs refuse to eat that red stuff; they're still green and white. Or grey and black, in the case of the tiny black-clawed crabs.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014


I always know where my bubble shell snails are; all I have to do is look for the trail of slime bubbles and follow it.

Bubble shell, Haminoea japonica, and Nassa snail, at water surface.

Bubble shells wear their shells inside the body; not much use for protection. Instead, they produce a prodigious amount of mucus and often shelter inside a circle of the stuff. When they leave, it remains stuck to the surface, sometimes on the glass of the aquarium, sometimes rolled into a blob of sand.

The rest of the slug and snail tribes, from our garden slugs to nudibranchs and limpets, are slimy beasts, too, if not as productive.

In snails and sea slugs (nudibranchs), each species has a unique chemical composition to their slime, and within each species, individuals can even be identified. (Ucluelet Aquarium)

This slime is useful stuff. On land, or underwater on scratchy rocks and sand, it serves as a lubricant for the tender foot as it slides along. For going up vertical walls, and sleeping on the underside of a rock, it's a glue.

But that's not all it's good for.

  • It's a road map. A snail can follow her own trail home at the end of the day's hunt. Or another may follow her trail, hoping to mate when he catches up with her. I see the Nassa snails doing this often, on the wall of the tank.
  • Or a carnivorous snail (or a worm) can follow the slime trail of his prey.
  • The slime coating keeps an intertidal critter moist at low tide, when he is exposed to the air.
  • It serves as a defense. Some nudibranchs, some sea stars, and other critters exude a thick layer of slime, really sticky slime, when they are disturbed or threatened.
  • It may protect the skin against bacteria and parasites.
  • And don't forget reproduction! Remember the leopard slugs, that hang from branches on two threads of their own slime to mate in the air? (Video) Other snails transport sperm in a mucus environment, if not as dramatically. And then the moon snail uses her slime to glue sand grains together to build her big "sand collar" egg case.

Bubble shell slime trail on aquarium wall

And I've discovered another function of the slimy goop. When a bubble shell is knocked off his blade of eelgrass, or off his spot on my tank wall, he rappels down to the sand on his slime rope, landing gently at the bottom. Helpful, when your shell is so fragile.

And a couple of days ago, a hermit crab knocked a zebra leafslug off the top leaf of the seaweed. As I watched, the slug floated across to the far side of the tank on a thread of slime, rather like a ballooning spider on her silk.

Handy stuff, that slime!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Texture and pattern in the mud

The mud-coloured, mud-loving, mud-slow Asian mud snails everywhere underfoot on our beaches are usually ignored. Frankly, they're boring; billions of half-inch cones, half buried, doing nothing while the tide's out, and not much when it's in.

Occasionally, to reset my sense of wonder, I need to get down nose to nose with one or two.

Two mud snails; the foot of one, the nose of the other.

Two feet and the underside of a chin.

The third shell, on the right, is an empty, of a species not often seen here any more. The mud snails have taken over.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Lazy day photos

I've been down with the annual winter sniffles, but managed to make a quick trip to Tsawwassen to collect eelgrass and Turkish towel for my tank critters. I took the slow road home across the lower delta, staying off busy highways where unexpected sneezes can be dangerous.

So I got to count birds; 5 hawks, on trees and light poles; half a dozen eagles, and as many nests; hundreds and hundreds of ducks and Canada geese in soggy, muddy fields; small flocks of starlings and pigeons roosting on trees and wires; and a constant stream of gulls overhead, heading southwest to wherever they go at dusk. I miss that, now that the new highway system is open and I have to keep my eyes on the road.

I pulled off, twice, to take quick photos with the little point-and-shoot.

Gazebo and branches. A bare hint of sunset, which quickly faded to grey.

Mount Baker and blueberry field. The plants turn red for the winter.

I've got the tank cleaned and refurbished. My critters are happy with their new climbing equipment/nibbles. And I'm tuckered out. Goodnight!

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Keeping dry

This moth and a few of his friends were at my door this morning:

"It's wet and cold out here, but your glass door keeps our feet warm, at least. Hope you don't mind."

At least the snow has melted and the backdrop is green again.

The moths are night fliers; they were warming up their wings when I came home at supper time, and were gone next time I looked. Out into the evening rain.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Beauty or war?

I mentioned the other day that a teeny, tiny crab was living in the kelp holdfast. I was mistaken; there's a whole family hiding in those roots. I've caught three, so far.

The largest is 5 mm. across the widest part of the carapace. The smallest is less than half that, a mere crab-walking speck, even in a white bowl.

I took a few photos of the two largest in a bowl, and then in the holdfast, dodging behind the roots.

Three "teeth" are visible at the corners of his carapace.

This one looks pinkish. The little striped "flags" he waves constantly flash bright red when they catch the light. 

Then tonight, doing routine maintenance on the tank, I found a freshly molted carapace; a good chance to get a look at those black claws!

Top view. He's lost some of his colour; the carapace is actually translucent, so much of the colour of a crab is from the body underneath.

And bottom view, showing the pincers and black claws.

This is the black clawed crab, Lophopanopeus bellus, aka Xanthteo bella. The species name, "bella" or "bellus" comes from the Latin, "beauty", although it has also been mis-translated as "war", from "bellum". Not without reason, in this case; these are aggressive crabs.

The crabs are variably coloured, ranging from whitish or grey to purple, but they all have black claws. They may grow to about an inch and a half across the carapace, and are known to give quite a hearty pinch for their size. (This one drew blood!) They live in sand under rocks, or in the holdfasts of kelp, eating a bit of everything, from algae to other crustaceans.

The holdfast also is home to a fair number of worms. Food for the crabs, or competition for the food available? Or both?

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Sit and rest awhile

... on a winter beach.

Boundary Bay, November.

Sunny and freezing today; warm and rainy tomorrow, they say. Ain't BC weather grand?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014


I always loved Sunday dinners when I was a child. No, there was no roast, no set menu; it was Mom's day off, she said, and we would eat her specialty. She called it "Srevotfel*", said it was a Swedish dish. Or at least, the word sort of sounded Swedish. Good enough.

I was a picky eater, but on the table set with rows of little plates of Srevotfel, there was always something that I would like. Cheese, or gravy on toast, or re-heated scalloped potatoes; and double dessert, to boot! Yum!

It's not Sunday, but it's the beginning of a busy month, so here's my version of Srevotfel; aquarium photos from the last few months.

A rolled-up end of kelp, coated with an encrusting sponge and a small bryozoan patch. Three weeks later, the sponge is still growing; I'm not so sure of the bryozoans.

The biggest of the hairy hermits, with his chosen mate of the week. She's too small to escape his clutches, and looks thoroughly cowed.

An anemone has settled down in a tiny, abandoned snail shell. There's a hermit's eye on the left, for scale. And look at all those spiky hairs! On an eye! Looks uncomfortable to me.

This worm is about half an inch long. He's similar to the other polychaetes, except that his spines seem longer.

And he's a wriggler; this is a more typical pose.

More worms:

Feather duster tubeworm. Barely visible to the naked eye.

Here's another; he'd glued himself to the glass, instead of making a tube, so I got a view of the whole worm. Still barely visible.

One of the two-tentacled tubeworms, sharing a shell with a hermit and a slipper shell snail. It works out well for the passengers; they get access to good food sources, and a steady stream of crumbs. The hermit doesn't seem to mind.

A green eelgrass isopod, in a rare visible position. A couple of minutes later, he'd moved to a greener part of the blade, and I couldn't find him.

This one's an older photo. I liked the pink eye.

Dessert: a mud snail eating algae.

Munch, munch, munch.

I found a tiny, tiny, teeny weeny crab in the holdfast. One with black pincers; not one of our common shore crabs. I'm going to be spending some time trying to get her photo; she's not easy to see.

*Hint: read it backwards.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Dining al fresco

December already! And it looks like winter outside; skimpy snow, melted, refrozen, melted, refrozen; the pavement is treacherous, the garden unhappy, the bird bath solid ice with a fluff of snow on top.

I've been feeding the birds my hulled sunflower seeds and whole-grain bread crumbs for the ones that like tiny stuff; I wasn't prepared with small seeds. My bad.

Before the snow, the birds at my door were chickadees and a few juncos. This week a pair of nuthatches joined the queue at the sunflower seed bowl. And there's a handful of fox sparrows, one with a damaged foot, a few towhees, and more juncos; these mostly stay on the ground, and like their seeds broken up.

I've been trying to get photos, through the double-paned door (and I really should wash that window again), and with the bird camera on the ground. The photos aren't good, but the critters are fun.

Sparrow with a beak full of seed. From the BirdCam.

Caught with flash by the BirdCam. Chickadee coming in for a landing just before his bedtime. 7:30 PM.

Towhee, through the window. He likes the tiny crumbs.

And the black squirrel comes several times every day and eats everything still there, so I have to replenish the seed after he's left. But I've never seen this baby squirrel; the BirdCam caught him, a few inches from the camera.

I'll have to keep an eye out for this one.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Good appetites. No table manners.

It was supper time in the tank, and I had pulled up a chair to watch the action. The hermits and crabs were chasing each other around, trying to grab a juicier shrimp pellet; yours is always tastier than mine is the rule. Hermits were raining down from the eelgrass; it's quicker just to let go and drop, and half the food was already in play.

The crabs, being bigger, bowled over a hermit or two, yanked the pellets out of their pincers, and scuttled away to eat in hiding. They're keeping everything, even the leftovers, for their own selves. "What We Have We Keep".

Val, the big burrowing anemone, had caught her share, but now hermits were crawling through her tentacles, gobbling everything they could reach, and she was folding in on herself, trying to swallow before all her meal had been stolen.

The Nassa snails were bustling here and there, siphons high, following the scent of shrimp in the current, always arriving too late; the pellets kept sprouting legs and racing away. No matter; they'd get the crumbs later on. So will the little orange striped green anemones scattered everywhere, waving open tentacles.

Tiny polychaete worms living in the kelp holdfast were hungry, too, and poking around looking for fragments. One, about the thickness of a fine pencil lead, even dared to snatch a pellet from a hermit's pincers, repeatedly. The hermit fought him off, more angrily with each attempt, until I reached in and brushed her away from the holdfast to prevent mayhem.

The bubble shells were the only ones not interested in food, apparently. They were stacked up in a pile, three-deep, mating. As usual. Later, they would lay another batch of eggs high up on the wall.

At my end of the tank, a wandering worm poked his face out of the sand right by the glass. The ones in the holdfast are a dull red; this was one of the blue and pink ones. But such a blue! And such tiny pink toesies!

He's about 2 inches long.

He slid one way, waved his head about, as if sniffing, pulled back, tried again, pulled back, went the other way, stretching out and out, so slowly, cautiously. "Sniff, sniff ... I smell shrimp! Where is it?"

The best view I've had of those feet, so far.

Zooming in. Three "toes", a couple of spines, and an orange brush on each "foot".

He gave up. The shrimp pellets had all been captured. He pulled himself back down into the sand. A while later, I saw him ease out of the sand deeper into the tank, still sniffing, still hungry.

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