Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ripe berries!

It's huckleberry season!

I tried a few. They're sweet and juicy now.

Tiny red jewels in an emerald and lime-green forest.

And I saw my first Saskatoons of this year.

Serviceberry, aka Saskatoon, almost ripe.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Two Boat Pond

Now this is just strange.

A few miles out of Gold River, there is a pond beside the highway. Just another of hundreds of nondescript water holes in the rainforest; half swamp, half brownish water, shallow enough to wade if the bottom is solid, which I doubt. There's no pathway to the edge, anyway; the water starts somewhere under a hardhack thicket. It's probably full of leeches or mosquito larvae.

Last March, I was driving by slowly, rubber-necking, looking for ducks, or I would never have seen the boats. There were two of them; foot-long, two-masted, flat-bottomed wooden boats, anchored at either end of the pond.

In March, the hardhack was bare, the grasses brown. Dead trees line the pond, their roots drowned in the wet winters.

We passed the pond again a couple of weeks ago. I had to stop and see if the boats were still there. One is. The other has disappeared; foundered and buried in muck, stolen by a curious bear, retrieved by someone in hip waders?

Boat # 2, in June. The grass is green, now, and the hardhack has leafed out. Otherwise, nothing has changed.

I took a series of photos to make a panorama of the ghostly trees on the far shore. There were too many conflicting colours, too many variations in the light as I turned. A black and white is closer to what I saw than a colour photo.

Boat # 2 is at the far left. Last March, boat # 1 was in the corresponding position on the right.

Who put the boats there? Why? How? I wonder.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Moon jellies

At the marina, one afternoon last week, the currents had brought in a swarm of moon jellies. I discovered one in the deep shade between a boat and the dock.

Aurelia labiata. Large male, about 5 inches across.

Out in the open, the jellies are foggy blobs with pale pink horseshoes at the centre. In the dark, even the radial canals that transport liquids through the body are visible.

The pink circles are the gonads; the frilly stuff below (above in this photo, as the jelly turned upside-down for a moment) are the oral arms, that catch the jelly's food and move it up to the mouth in the centre. The stinging tentacles on this jelly are confined to a short fringe around the rim of the bell.

Right side up.

Everything is in multiples of four; four gonads, four oral arms, eight lobes, each divided into two, making 16 scallops along the outer fringe. At the outer corners of each lobe, sensory organs, rhopalia, are just visible in this photo. Each rhopalia contains eyespots, sensitive to light, and statocysts, which alert the jelly when he's off-kilter. (There's a good photo of the rhopalia on E-Fauna, here.)

Moon jelly as seen out of the shade.

GPS: 50.035183, -125.244761

Monday, June 27, 2016

When purple is green

When they're babies, purple shore crabs come in all colours from creamy yellow to green to red or even bluish. Most adults are purple or green.

Green shore crabs are mostly in shades of green, although some are dark red or purple. Otherwise, they look like purple shore crabs and live under the same rocks. It's usually easy to tell them apart, though, because the purples have polka-dotted pincers. The greens have plain pincers.

But then, there are the colour morphs. Some purple shore crabs are all over green, and they don't wear polka dots.

Green purple shore crab with a cracked carapace.

(I don't know how she got hurt, or how old the injury is. One of my students, a 9-year-old boy, brought her to me as is. He says that's how he found her. She was quite lively, in spite of the damage.)

So how do I know she's a purple? Because green shore crabs have hairy legs; purples are "nude". Their Latin name is Hemigrapsus nudus.

Side view. Clean-shaven legs.

She only stayed on my hand for a few seconds, then she scrambled off and dropped into the rocks. But before she went into hiding, she stopped to warn me off:

"Go home, huge monster!"

... thereby showing me her green, non-polka-dotted pincers.

These crabs lose pincers and legs with no noticeable disruption of their lives. The cracked carapace won't heal, but at next molt, she'll have a nice, new one; she should be ok.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Then a raven said, "Wow!"

I was running errands; groceries, hardware, and a last, quick stop at the beach to collect driftwood for a cat tower. I had loaded the car and was just about to leave.

But then, a raven said, "Wow!" It was a clear "Wow", but louder and hoarser than most humans can manage. I grabbed the pocket camera and went to see what was going on.

Down on the beach, a half-dozen ravens were visiting, parents with their youngsters. Hungry youngsters, according to the older of the two.

"Mommy, I'm starving!"

The adults weren't paying attention to him. As he called and called and called, they kept moving farther down the beach, talking among themselves occasionally. He would follow and keep on complaining. They moved on.

"What did I do to deserve this?"

Another chick, still downy about the head, was quieter, but wasn't getting fed either.

The other juvenile was identical to his elders, but slightly smaller. This one was the smallest of the bunch, with a soft hairdo, and wearing newer shoes.

I never thought I would say this about a raven, but isn't he cute?

Adult, giving me the evil eye. Time to make myself scarce.

None of the ravens repeated the "Wow!" nor any other human word. They had plenty to say, however, in grunts and croaks and gratings and gargles, along with the screechy cries of the begging teen.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

More, more, more!

These warm days, the bees are like kids at a birthday party; too excited to rest, diving into a bowl of ice cream, bustling off to the next treat, and the next, never stopping. Until exhaustion sets in and they (the kids and the bees) buzz more and more slowly, still cramming treasures into their goodie bags.

These four in a patch of yellow asters were burdened down already with heavy leg packs, jammed full of pollen to take home, but still busy collecting.

The fat leg sacs are the same colour as the flowers.

Same flower, different bee. Bee # 1 is checking out another source.

Two bees. Hurry, hurry!

Friday, June 24, 2016


I don't know. I just don't know.

In my little patch of dirt, I dig and rake, I cultivate and weed. I provide bags of fresh topsoil and peat moss; I build compost and pour on fish fertilizer. I check the requirements; sunshine and shade, water, eggshells, bug protection; and then buy seeds that suit the spot. Or even bring home pre-grown specimens, coddled and fed for maximum vigour. I check them daily. Need more water? Sure, here it is! Don't like that bit of shade? I'll trim a branch; whatever their little green hearts desire.

And then they limp along, turn yellow, lie down and moan. Or invite in a friendly blackberry, entwining the stems and roots so that I rip apart my fingers trying to help. Some actually grow, but most just go.

And then I go out and look at a bare rock face; if there's a speck of rock dust in a crack, or a leftover fragment of moss, a seed will settle in, grow and thrive.

I don't get it.

Here's Tsuxwin Falls, just west of Gold River, streaming down a rock face.

The top half of the falls. 49.72992, -126.09537

Among the rocks beside the pool at the foot of this section, red columbines dance in the wind. And all the way up the rock face, an assortment of wildflowers and ferns cling, trembling, to cracks barely big enough for a skinny root.

An assortment of mosses, green, thready, and red-brown. A smooth alumroot, Heuchera glabra, just to the right of a deciduous fern. Above it, something with red stems, and a spreading plant with tiny leaves at the top. To the left, there are a few wood saxifrages, Saxifraga mertensiana. They like the spray zone beside waterfalls, soil or no soil. There's even a bit of grass.

At least these get watered. The rock garden a few steps down the road doesn't even get that.

Wooly eriophyllum, grass, and something with hairy arrow leaves.

And one of yesterday's photos turned out to be a Silverleaf Luina. It was growing just beyond the eriophyllum.

No fertilizer needed, thank you!

The waterfall drops into a pool beside the highway, flows through a big pipe, and drops into the Gold River far below.

The bottom of the falls, in the distance. Taken from a viewpoint down the road, in March, before the leaves got in the way.

And even in the early spring, there was no shortage of vegetation on those lower rock faces, either.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Wild and sweet

June is the month for flowers in the north woods. The growing season is short; the snow has barely melted along the higher slopes, and the days will be getting shorter from now on. Time's a-wasting! And the bears want their berries!

(I tasted my first huckleberries of the year Monday. Small and seedy, and not at all sweet yet. The thimbleberries are pale pink and hard; the blackberries are green. They'll all be ready in a few weeks.)

These wildflowers were blooming beside the lakes and rivers across the top of the island last weekend.

Red columbine, Aquilegia formosa. On the rocks by a waterfall. 49.72992, -126.09537. Hummingbirds love these.

Unidentified flowers, growing on rock face.

Does anyone recognize these? There were many of them, all growing out of cracks in the rocks above our heads, none within reach.

UPDATE: Found it! Silverleaf luina, Luina hypoleuca.

Oxeye daisies, Leucanthemum vulgare, Strathcona Lodge, Upper Campbell Lake.

"The young leaves of oxeye daisy are edible and very sweet." (Plants of Coastal BC)

I didn't know that.

Fireweed, Epiloblum angustifolium, Strathcona Lodge. Also edible.

Hardhack, Spiraea douglasii, just coming into bloom beside a swamp. They love wet feet.

Pacific ninebark, Physocarpus capitatus, beside Crest Lake,49.84377, -125.91223.

Self-heal, Prunella vulgaris spp. lanceolata. Gravelled pathway beside highway near the columbine.

These self-heal flowers were like the ones in my lawn, but about twice their size, and more intensely purple. I wondered about this, and looked them up in E-Flora.

Two subspecies occur in BC:
1. Principal stem leaves egg-shaped to oblong (averaging half as broad as long), broadly wedge-shaped or rounded at base.................... ssp. vulgaris
1. Principal stem leaves lanceolate to egg-shaped (averaging one-third as broad as long), narrowly wedge- shaped to abruptly pointed at base.................. ssp. lanceolata

The leaves on this plant are long and narrow, and pointed at the base, so this would be subspecies lanceolata, and is a native plant. The other subspecies (the one in my lawn) is an import from Eurasia.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Buttle Lake

Lake. Hills. Sky.

What more can you say?

From the north end of the lake, looking south. Mt. McBride?

Looking north.

Reflected sky

Daisies at the Lupin Falls trailhead.

Another look at those rock faces. With small waterfall.

A Skywatch post.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On shrubs and subs

In the cities, we plant floral borders to our walkways. Alongside our human paths in the deep forests, where we've cleared away the duff and rotting branches, the borders plant themselves. Seen this trip; lichens and mosses, wild strawberries and the tiny native trailing blackberry, vanilla leaf and wild columbine. And the tiny twinflowers and tidy bunchberries.

Twinflower, Linnaea borealis

These little flowers stand less than 4 inches tall. I went through my guide to wildflowers twice, page by page, from lilies to broomrape; the twinflowers weren't there. I checked the index, which I should have done first, but never do, and there they were, among the shrubs.

I always think of shrubs as being larger plants, smaller than trees, but at least knee-high. And the twinflower doesn't look shrub-like. But a shrub is defined as a woody plant, usually multi-stemmed, usually under 20 ft. tall. No lower limit.

The twinflower has woody stems, but they trail along the ground, sending the short flower stalks up into the light above. Each stalk ends in a Y, and bears two bell-like flowers. Look at the photo above; a half-dozen or so "clappers" dangle below their "bells". The leaves are evergreen, to match the forest above.

Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis, aka Dwarf dogwood. With twinflower for size comparison.

If the twinflower is a shrub, why isn't the bunchberry? It has trailing, somewhat woody stems, is in the same genus as the Pacific dogwood, a tree, and the red-osier dogwood, another shrub. Maybe it's that the stems are only somewhat woody. Wikipedia calls it a subshrub.

The actual flowers are small, greenish yellow, with purplish centres; four bluish white bracts at the centre of the leaf whorl upstage them, at least to our eyes. The bees aren't fooled.

The leaves are semi-evergreen, and the fruit is a red berry, edible, they say. I haven't tried them. Yet.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Beggars and Thieves

I took another trip to Gold River and back, this time with my daughter and her husband. We were in no hurry; we drove down inviting side roads, dawdled along trails with interesting names, crawled over rocks and poked through the duff under evergreens.

Three connected lakes look, on Google maps, more like a fat river, rarely more than a couple of kilometres wide. They end up just out of Campbell River (the town, but also the river) coming from the west via Campbell Lake, then the southwest via Upper Campbell Lake. At the southwest tip of the Upper Campbell, it joins Buttle Lake, coming up from the south, making a total of about 70 kms or 45 miles in all. The highway to Gold River follows the first two lakes, crosses the narrows between the Upper Campbell and Buttle, and hies away to the west, following other rivers.

On our way home, the road down the shore of Buttle Lake called to us, and we had to follow. 3 kilometres down the road, there was a trailhead sign: Lupin Falls. In the parking lot, an informational poster sent me off into the bush, poking about in the dark.

"Beggars and Thieves" A faded, stained, damaged poster. I have repaired as much as I could, to make it readable.

Text of the poster: Beggars and Thieves.
Growing in shade and darkness are some most unusual plants! Lacking the green pigment clorophyll used for manufacturing food from sunlight, they must scrounge or steal.
Some, as parasites, steal food directly from a host plant upon which they are completely dependent. Others, as saprophytes, beg for left-overs (dead organic matter) using special fungi associated with their roots. Some even obtain food from these fungi who in turn have received it from a nearby tree!
Please "Let Them Be" for with your help, these "beggars and thieves" will continue to be an important part of this park's heritage.

The plants shown are Ground Cone, Spotted Coral Root, Western Coral Root, Indian Pipe, Pinesap, Pinedrops, Gnome Plant, and Candy Stick.

Of these, I had seen the Indian Pipe and maybe the Ground Cone. So while the others stuck to the trails, I searched the forest floor. And found Pinesaps!

Pinesaps, Monotropa hypopitys.

Another pair, nearby.

Clorophyll is the pigment that makes leaves green, and allows plants to get energy from sunlight. (And by extension, allows us to get energy from those plants. We're in the same boat as these pinesaps; no clorophyll of our own.) Pinesaps have no green pigment. The whole plant is in shades from a yellowish white to pink or red.

The plant is an epiparasite. A parasite feeds off another organism. An epiparasite gets its food from another parasite, one step removed from the original producer of nutrients. Pinesap roots tap into a fungus which attaches itself to the roots of a tree. The tree, far above, converts sunlight into sugars, while down in the earth, the fungus spreads itself through the soil, collecting water and nutrients for the tree. The pinesap takes the sugar and the nutrients, and does nothing but look pretty. But that's enough. isn't it?

The young flowers start off hanging downward, then gradually turn upright as they mature. The plants in the second photo, then, are older than the ones above.

A closer look at some of the flowers. The inner surface of the petals is very hairy.

Zooming in.

I didn't see any lupins, falling or not. Probably because they like the sunshine and I was prowling in deep, deep shade.

GPS coordiantes: 49.82082, -125.60267

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Very blue

Flowers so blue that the name of the shrub just had to be "blue blossom".

Ceanothys thyrsiflorus, aka California lilac. Native to California and Oregon, common here.

The lilacs have bloomed and faded. Now, the blue blossom takes over and will bloom through June. The blue is more intense, the tree denser than the lilacs. But they don't perfume the neighbourhood like a lilac does. 

A few other tidbits of information about Ceanothus thyrsiflorus: the blue flowers can be used to make a green dye (though why green rather than blue?), and all parts of the plant can be crushed and worked into a lather to use as a gentle soap, as the plant contains saponins. (From UBC Botanical Garden)

And butterflies and bees love it, too!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Purple pea pods

Beach pea, already making seeds.

Lathyrus japonicus, Frank James park.

The pods are black when they're ripe.

GPS coordinates, 49.97, -125.2. I just learned that Google maps will give me this info if I just click on the map. Very handy.

Friday, June 17, 2016


An earwig walked down my lampshade.

And the light shines through.

Later, she was checking out my screen. I recognized her again by the broken antenna.

Earwig females have smooth, slightly curved forceps (those pincers at the rear); males' forceps are wider at the base, with a tooth just before the strong curve. (See BugGuide photo.)

The name earwig, which literally means “ear creature,” originated from the widespread superstition that these insects crawl into the ears of sleeping people. Moreover, many individuals believed that once the earwig gained access into the human ear, it could bore into the brain. Actually these insects do not crawl into the human ear. (Penn State, Dept. of Entomology)

I heard that when I was a kid. I didn't quite believe it, which saved me a bit of worry; we had earwigs everywhere.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Little green apples

On a rainy afternoon at Willow Point:

A odd spot for an apple tree. Maybe it's a volunteer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Shifting shapes

The many shapes of intertidal beasties.

Long and twisty:

Long-armed brittle star, Amphiodia occidentalis. Aka snaky-armed brittle star. Disturbed in sand or mud, they stretch out and twist out of sight, gone in seconds. In my hand, they curl and twist into a knot. This one hadn't decided whether to go left or right.

Tubeworms, hiding from the light.

Saddleback gunnel. Accompanied by another of those kelp crabs with a sea lettuce hat.

Round and spiky:

Green sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis. (That name's a bit of a tongue-twister, isn't it?) Topside. Those spines are in constant motion.

When I was a kid, someone told me that sea urchins were good to eat. You just broke one in half, and ate it, raw, on the half-test. With a spoon.

I had to try it. I brought home a green sea urchin from the beach, cracked it down the middle, and tasted it. Not bad. I took another bite, and another. And while I spooned out that first half, the second half walked itself across the counter and dropped to the floor.

That did it. I apologized to the urchin and returned it to the beach. I never ate another.

Sea urchin underside, showing the mouth.

Mouth open, showing off his five teeth.

Blobby shape-shifters:

Pink-tipped green anemone, Anthopleura elegantissima, half-way between the ball form and the flower shape.

Compact and round:

Probably a stubby isopod, Gnorimosphaeroma oregonensis. Also a shape-shifter; they curl up into a ball and roll away when I touch them.

All of these were in the mid-tidal zone, 50th parallel north.