Friday, September 04, 2015

Charlotte Lake and road

In the Chilcotin, the people are hospitable; the land is not. Even at the best, the mildest of times, the end of summer, the soil is hard and littered with dead wood, the trees hard-edged, the mosquitoes vicious. The sun burns painfully, even through fabric. When it retires for the night, the frost sets in. (In winter, the temperature will drop to -40 Celsius.) It's a hardy folk that live there year-round.

I went down to Charlotte Lake, on the edge of Tweedsmuir Park, to spend a day with family in their cabin. The road in starts off the highway as a good gravel road, but gradually narrows, develops ruts, lumps, roots, and rocks, slides down slippery hills. The car fish-tails in the dust. As the crow flies, it's 15 kilometres to the lake; the road meanders, covering 29. Occasional hand-made signs tacked to trees confirm that yes, this is really a road, and you are going the right direction.

It's worth the trip.

Charlotte Lake, in the afternoon. Mornings, it's glassy smooth.

The last straight stretch, at the beginning of the road in.

The trees here grow tall and close together, reaching for sunlight. In spots, most of them are blackened poles, left behind by the fire 5 years ago; green or black, they're all vulnerable to the next spark, the next lightning strike. Along the road, fire prevention crews have cut the forest to make a fire break. Nearer the lake, they are busy thinning the trees, cutting over half of them, leaving several metres between each standing tree.

The residents down at the lake harvest some of these fallen trees for winter fuel, but most are left to rot on the ground; they are the nutrients for the next generation of trees. And hiding places for insects and larger animals, out of the glare of sunlight and the bite of ice.

The trees stand straight, but when they fall, many of them seem to twist, so the grain spirals around the log.
New pine, out in the sunlight at the edge of the road.

Deer, watching me from a safe distance.

Gray jay. Many of these flitted from dry branch to dry branch, never coming very close.

Strawberry blite, aka goosefoot, strawberry spinach.

These grow on disturbed ground around the cabins. All the plants are tiny, in this high and dry valley; the lake is at 3855 feet above sea level.

The red clusters are fruits; edible and juicy. I picked one, and it bled red juice over my hands. The black spots are the seeds. The leaves are also edible. I didn't try them, because every leaf counts in this barren soil.

At the top of Boot Hill on the way out, I stopped to take a photo of the boot tree:

I was tempted to add my shoes to the bottom, but I didn't have spares with me.

Zooming in. The piece of tire reads, "Here Jun 25, 2005 V. (unreadable) lost their boots)

And their flip-flops, their slippers, and their sneakers.

A Skywatch post.

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Dry country weevil

The weevils I see in the Lower Mainland are dark brown or grey, almost black; a good colour for invisibility against wet soil under cloudy skies.

When I stopped for lunch at the side of the road near the Coquihalla Summit, I saw this weevil only because I was watching ants collecting my crumbs; so well he blended in to the browns and the glare of this dry country that when I went for the camera, I had to look hard to find him again, although he was in the same place, playing dead.

Knapweed root weevil, Cyphocleonus achates

This is an introduced species, brought over from Europe to help control knapweed infestations in rangeland. (The knapweed was also introduced, and tends to become invasive without native pests to keep it under control.)

I brushed the weevil over to a spot where there was a bit of green and shade for contrast. He was still playing dead; weevils are good at that.

The adults eat knapweed leaves; the larvae burrow into the roots.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Salad bar

North of Spences Bridge, the highway, two lanes with narrow shoulders, winds along the dusty hillsides beside the Thompson River. In the summer, the river and the road are fringed with ribbons of greenery, in stark contrast to the brown slopes above.

Murray Creek waterfall, Spences Bridge.

A small herd of ten mountain sheep, (Ovis canadensis californiana) had come down from their heights to drink and to nibble on a bit of fresh salad. Traffic slowed, then stopped as they ambled across the road, one at a time, then seemingly dropped over the edge, down towards the river.

Bighorn, probably a young male. A full-grown male's horns make a full circle.

Female, on the river side of the road.

The tips of both horns are broken.

The first sheep above looks as if he had black patches on his face. These are open scent glands; in the other two sheep, they're closed but visible as indentations just below and in front of the eyes.

Caprids (dwarf antelope, such as the sheep, goats, muskox, serows, gorals, and several similar species) use their preorbital glands to establish social rank. For example, when competition arises between two grazing sheep (Ovis aries), they have been observed to nuzzle each other's preorbital glands. By sending and receiving olfactory cues, this behavior appears to be a means of establishing dominance and of avoiding a fight, which would otherwise involve potentially injurious butting or clashing with the forehead. (Wikipedia)

The last sheep, a youngster, paused for another bite or two of drying grass. Idling cars started to move forward; the lamb grabbed a mouthful and dawdled across the road, chewing as he went. We waited again until he had pushed through a clump of sagebrush and bounded down the hill after his family.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Checking in

I'm home. I've got three cameras and the computer full of photos, and some stories to tell. But first things first: sleep. I drove over 12 hours today.

Highway to Bella Coola, at Green River, in Tweedsmuir Park. The road is gravel from here on to the Bella Coola valley.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dry country

Heading for the Chilcotin, my route sticks to freeways through the Fraser Valley, over the Coquihalla summit (4,081 ft), and down into Merritt, where I turn off onto a narrow, curvy road through the Nicola valley. It's the first chance I get to slow down and really see the land.

The Nicola River. Rattlesnake Bridge on the right.

This is dry country in the best of times. This year, the river is low and the small farms along the valley floor are suffering. Cattle graze in small green patches near the river's edge. Some farmers seem to have given up; their land lies brown and empty.

The native vegetation can handle dry weather. Pines dot the slopes; coarse, scratchy grasses hold down the soil. Willows, alders and birch line the river banks. And in between, there is always sagebrush.

Hardy pines

Sagebrush in flower

Away from the hum of traffic, the first impression is of silence, but then the voices of the land begin to catch my attention. The river mutters to itself, the wind whispers in the birches; stones rattle on the hillsides or in the river bed. Unseen among the willows, small birds chatter and peep.

A flock of magpies crosses the river. one or two at a time, perching briefly in the pines while the rest catch up, then going on to disappear behind the next hilltop.

Magpie on a dead branch.

Silhouette, showing the long, long tail.

And then, there are the hoodoos. But they'll have to wait until I get home.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Least chipmunk

So tiny, and so perky! The Least Chipmunk weighs 66 grams or less, and can run at almost 8 kph. Wherever I stopped for more than a few minutes in the Chilcotin, I met up with one or more.

On the side of the road near Cache Creek

... least chipmunks are commonly found in sagebrush habitats and coniferous woodland, and along rivers, but they also occur in alpine meadows, and on the edges of the northern tundra. (Wikipedia)

A breakfast of rose hips. Near Tatla Lake.

Rose hips; tomorrow's breakfast

(I've been using the pocket camera on the road. And the laptop's iffy screen for processing, so the photos may be too bright or too dark; I can't really tell until I get home.)

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Precarious crossing

I've arrived safely in Bella Coola; it's been an adventurous drive, including a side trip well off the beaten track, following garbled instructions down unmapped roads.

I gave this bit of road at Spences Bridge a miss, even though it's still on my maps. The sign on the highway said only, "Old bridge closed".

Old Spences Bridge, crossing the Fraser River

I've got oodles of photos and stories to tell, now that I have electricity and internet access for a few days; scenery, rocks (not flippable), animals tiny and big, etc. No bears, yet; I'm going to look for some tomorrow.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Heading north

In a few hours, I'll be on the road, seeing the traffic and smoke of the Lower Mainland fade away behind me. Hope, the Coquihalla, Nicola Valley, Spences Bridge, Cache Creek, Lac LaHache, Bull Canyon, Kleena Kleene, Tatla, Caribou Flats ... the names call to me; I must go. I'll be ending up, eventually, in Bella Coola for a few days, then turn towards home again; the names in reverse.

Crossing the Chilcotin. Photo from 2010.

A flattish spot on the Bella Coola hill. 2010, with smoke.

Part of the time, I'll be camping, with no access to the internet, or, in places, even to a cell-phone signal. I'll log in here when I can, store photos and stories when I can't. And I'll be back the first of September, in plenty of time for Rock Flipping Day.

When I pulled my suitcase out of its storage space, it tore the spider web it was attached to, and the owner came out to complain.

"Hey! That was my house! I built it with my own spinnerets!"

Yes. It's about time I got moving.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rock Flipping Day coming up!

It's that time of year again; here in the north, the summer heat is dissipating, the rains are coming (YMMV). Back-to-school sale flyers are showing up in our mailboxes. And the rocks are beckoning!

It's time for the annual International Rock Flipping Day (IRFD), this year as usual, on the second Sunday of September, the 13th.

I love rock flipping day, in part because people find classes and even subphyla of critters that they've never encountered before. (Sara Rall, commenting after last year's RFD.)

No-one has volunteered to host it this year, so we're back here for another year.

I'm getting lazy: I'll post, again, the instructions and history as before.


Rock Flipping Day was started by Dave Bonta and Bev Wigney in 2007. The idea is simple; in Dave's words,
... we pick a day for everybody to go outside — go as far as you have to — and flip over a rock (or two, or three). We could bring our cameras and take photos, film, sketch, paint, or write descriptions of whatever we find. It could be fun for the whole family!

37 bloggers joined in that first September.

On 9/2/2007, people flipped rocks on four continents on sites ranging from mountaintops to urban centers to the floors of shallow seas. Rock-flippers found frogs, snakes, and invertebrates of every description, as well as fossils and other cool stuff.


If you're joining in for the first time, here's a quick rundown of the procedure.

  • On or about September 13th, find your rock or rocks and flip it/them over. 
  • Record what you find. "Any and all forms of documentation are welcome: still photos, video, sketches, prose, or poetry." 
  • Replace the rock as you found it; it's someone's home. 
  • Post on your blog, or load your photos to the Flickr group. (Even if you don't have a blog, you can join.) 
  • Send me a link. Or you can add a comment to any IRFD post. 
  • I will collect the links, e-mail participants the list, and post it for any and all to copy to your own blogs. (If you're on Twitter, Tweet it, too; the hashtag is #rockflip.) 
  • There is a handy badge available for your blog, here. (Or copy it from this post.) 

Important Safety Precautions:

A caution from Dave:

One thing I forgot to do in the initial post is to caution people about flipping rocks in poisonous snake or scorpion habitat. In that case, I’d suggest wearing gloves and/or using a pry bar — or simply finding somewhere else to do your flipping. Please do not disturb any known rattlesnake shelters if you don’t plan on replacing the rocks exactly as you found them. Timber rattlesnakes, like many other adult herps, are very site-loyal, and can die if their homes are destroyed. Also, don’t play with spiders. If you disturb an adjacent hornet nest (hey, it’s possible), run like hell. But be sure to have someone standing by to get it all on film!

About Respect and Consideration:

The animals we find under rocks are at home; they rest there, sleep there, raise their families there. Then we come along and take off the roof, so please remember to replace it carefully. Try not to squish the residents; move them aside if they're big enough; they'll run back as soon as their rock is back in place.

Previous Rock Flipping Days:

  • 2007 (In the halls of the mountain millipede) 
  • 2008 (IRFD #2) 
  • 2009 (The early bird gets the worm.) 
  • 2010 (Mongoose Poop?) 
  • 2011 (We Haz Critters) 
  • 2012 (Great Expectations) 
  • 2013 (And in 2013, I totally forgot until it was too late. Never again!) 
  • 2014 (At the Edge of the Ordinary) 

Last year, a total of 18 Rock Flippers posted their findings; a collection of four-, six-, eight-, and multi-legged critters. What will we find this year? Put it on your calendar, go flip some rocks, and we'll see!

Random stones, White Rock beach

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Orange and yellow

Woodland Skipper on tansy.

Comes with his own "bendy straw" for sipping tansy nectar.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tidal moods

It all depends on where you're standing.

I was walking eastward, following the tide as it came in on the Semiahmoo flats. And the water eased in gently, barely disturbing the sand patterns.

Rockweed and eelgrass, drifting in with the tide

Three minutes after I took this photo - three minutes! - I had reached the long breakwater from the old shingle mill. There, the waves rumbled in, splashing and rolling seaweed and small stones.

From the breakwater, looking over the border to Semiahmoo Spit.

Wave breaking over the remains of a piling. In the cut of the wave, you can see the tangle of eelgrass and sea lettuce the wave is bringing in.

At the top of the breakwater, I ducked under the railroad bridge to look at the old slough and shingle mill pilings. There the tide was running strong and fast, but so smoothly it looked static.

Six minutes later. Semiahmoo Reserve slough. Most of the eelgrass has been abandoned on the breakwater.

If you look closely, you can see several yellowlegs on the muddy island. And you may even find the killdeer, in the shadows. The high tide will cover the mud, but since the slough is the mouth of the Little Campbell River, the water is brackish. The vegetation here, and on the breakwater, is mainly Salicornia (aka pickleweed, samphire, saltwort, etc.)

A map may be helpful.

The border marker, visible in the second photo above, is somewhere under the Canada/United States label.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Such patience!

This crane fly sat on the cabinet above my kitchen sink all day. She never moved, even when I opened her door to take out supplies, not even when I banged about, washing big pots right underneath her.

"I'm waiting!"

She was still there when the day's work was done, and I finally got around to paying attention.

Rainbow wings and orange stripes. The pen-nib tail end is her ovipositor.

Zooming in from the side:

"It's about time you showed up with that camera!"

Zooming in more, to show those cute moustaches, and one of the pale yellow halteres. These take the place of the second pair of wings, and serve as stabilizers in flight.

I took the photos she was waiting for, and went to put the camera away. When I came back, she was gone.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sunny interlude

Walking west from White Rock beach, I left a trail of goodies for the crabs and hermits. I couldn't help it; the stones and rocks are crowded with barnacles; at every step, I heard the crunch of another dozen crushed shells. Barnacle steaks, ready to eat as soon as the tide covered them.

Once the tide comes in, with or without my clumsy footsteps, the barnacles are in danger. Whelks drill through their shells and eat them, crabs pry their protective plates off, starfish evert their stomachs over them and digest them even inside their little castles. Flatworms ooze inside to eat them. Even the vegetarian limpets bulldoze the new homes of the youngest barnacles.

It's better out in the sunshine. At least they can sleep in peace!

Barnacles and miniature periwinkles on a rock face. Most of the barnacles have been eaten already.

There's safety in numbers; the odds of being missed are greater. But building sites are hard to come by.

When acorn barnacles are crowded, they grow tall, reaching for open water. And then other barnacles grow on their tips.

Barnacle scars on a stone, all that's left of somebody's dinner. There's enough meat in one of these large ones to interest a gull.

The rock face again. More barnacles and periwinkles.

Zooming in. Barnacle scars, empty barnacle rings, and a few sleeping barnacles.

Billions of barnacles and nary a sign of starfish or whelks. But wait 'till the tide comes in; they'll be there, ready for supper.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

There and back again

I walked from White Rock almost to Kwomais Point, looking for purple starfish and Lion's Mane jellies.

Kwomais Point, from the Southeast.

I was aiming for that big squarish rock near the point. It has always been loaded with interesting critters, including a family of purple and pink starfish. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, stumbling over rolling rocks in unfamiliar wading shoes, it was unreachable;

Starfish Rock

I did see two Lion's Manes, both very dead. No starfish.

On the way back, following the easier path at the top of the tidal zone, I collected a big bagful of plastic and styrofoam. If I'd had more bags, I could have filled them, too. What is wrong with people?

Green fishie on dried eelgrass. Probably left behind by mistake.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Unwelcome bedmate

I love spiders, but not in my bed, please! This one woke me up in the middle of the night by tickling my cheek.

A very small jumper, with green eyes.

He loved the camera; one big, round, shiny eye, as round and glittery as his own.

Except that he's got more of them, even in the back of his head.

While I went for a container to trap him in, he disappeared. I went to sleep the rest of the night in a chair.

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