Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Decorator spider

Years ago, I was given the smokestack of a foundered tugboat, all that was worth salvaging, it seemed. It has served me variously as a "conversation piece", as a flower pot, with tendrils of bacopa hanging out of the mouth like smoke in a downdraft, and, more recently, as a dry spot to store recycled garden bags.

It had been painted in successive coats of marine orange, red, and green. In recent years, the paint has been dropping off in chunks, layer by layer.

Old photo of morning light on my wall, with half the smokestack.

I'm almost finished packing; we're loading the truck two mornings from now. I brought in the smokestack to clean off the dust and bugs, ready for transport. When I up-ended it to see if any plastic bags were still stuck half-way down, I found, instead, a fat spider and a web across the entire width of the smokestack, and loaded with paint chips, orange, red, and green.

Spider and her paint chips.. Maybe she's planning a re-decorating job?

"Hmmm. Green is good, but red looks warmer, and winter's coming. Or would orange be better? Decisions, decisions ..."

I dusted the outside of the smokestack, but I left Ma Spider and her paint chips alone.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Blue hills

I still have a few photos left from the Bella Coola trip: these are from the beginning of the start of the run-up to The Hill (always capitalized like that.

The mountains of the Bella Coola Valley, from near Heckman Pass.

Zooming out to show the gravel road, and a bit of the car motor.

From here, just inside the eastern edge of Tweedsmuir Park, the road goes down, down to a bridge over a creek, then up over a ridge, down again, up again, with each drop more precipitous. And then the road goes stark raving mad, dropping in grades up to 18% (7% is considered a steep hill), twisting and reversing, sometimes down to one rutted lane around blind rock faces, with nothing on your left but a sheer drop down, down, down to the tops of trees and your road below you. And then there is a river, and the road levels out, and you're at the foot of those mountains in the distance of these photos.

Kids drive up and down The Hill for fun. I white-knuckle it, but it's still exhiliarating.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Double rainbow

A rainy afternoon ended with a burst of brilliant sunshine from underneath the rainclouds. I crossed two bridges watching this display, and finally pulled off the highway where I found a half-decent shoulder so I could take some photos. The outer rainbow was already fading; it had been almost as bright as the inner one as I crossed the first bridge.

Left half of rainbow, through the open window.

Left half of the rainbow, through the windshield.

I could have taken a single photo of the whole thing, if I'd just been a little less picky about wet feet. The "half-decent shoulder" was in a deep puddle.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Farewell party?

My aquarium critters needed eelgrass. Lots of eelgrass. I'm going to take them, tank and all, on a 5 hour trip, probably bumpy at times, and they'll have to leave most of their water behind. Several gallons of water sloshing back and forth unpredictably can cause quite a bit of damage, so I'll leave them an inch or so, and pack the tank with wet eelgrass. The anemones and snails will hide under the sand, and the hermits will cling to the eelgrass, and all will be well. I hope.

Very tiny hermit, climbing the eelgrass.

Down at Boundary Bay, I found everything all laid out for me; piles of fresh eelgrass, with roots and the diatom fuzz the hermits love, big sheets of sea lettuce, even a fresh holdfast, just the right size for the tank. The wind and tide had been working in my favour; the tide was high and still coming in, and the wind had whipped the waves into a froth. Together, they'd dug up an eelgrass bed from the lower intertidal zone and deposited it, still fresh and barely tangled, at the water line for me.

My hermits are happy.

So were the wind surfers.

I had another item on my shopping list: I wanted photos of spiders for the Arachtober group. So I poked around the fences and alleys of Beach Grove, peering into cracks and under shrubs. (The residents there are very tolerant; mostly they smile. One man told me there were many wolf spiders along his fence. I didn't find any.)

I found, first, a couple of abandoned paper wasp nests.

Look at this (click) full size to see the texture of the paper.

And yes, I found two spiders.

Large cross spider.

These get their name from the cross shape (sort of) on their abdomen. The scientific name is Araneus diadematus, meaning "crown spider", which doesn't sound quite right. I don't see a crown. This one looks more like a Christmas tree, all decorated. The ones here in North Delta are mostly orange and brown; both the Beach Grove spiders were brown and grey.

And then I drove home, saying, "Goodbye, see you later," to all the old favourite landmarks on the way. Next week at this time, I'll be on the Island.

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Friday, October 09, 2015


A trio of forgotten photos.

Fireweed, near Heckman Pass, Hwy 20.

In the high Chilcotin hills, here around 5000 feet, where the nights are chilly even in August, the fireweed flowers are smaller than those we see in the Lower Mainland, the colours more intense.

Sea rocket, Boundary Bay dunes.

Pink aster in a Beach Grove garden.

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

I don't understand

How it can be that a small spider, however well nourished she may be, can lay two bags full of eggs, when each bag is bigger than herself, at her fattest?

"Don't touch my babies!"

I found this proud mother on the backside of a plywood board leaning against the wall in my backyard, and she never so much as twitched a hair while I laid the board flat and fussed around with lamps and the camera. She is guarding her second egg sac; the first is that blur in the bottom left of the photo.

When I'd finished taking photos, I carefully put the board back in the same position. I hope the next tenants ignore her until the babies hatch.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Morning light

9 more days. I'm sure I'm ready to go, but at the same time, I'm totally sure I've forgotten something essential. I can somehow manage to believe two opposite things at the same time, but I'm chewing my nails over it.

Remembering an early morning at the rest area looking over Pinto Lake in the Chilcotin calms me. The whispering silence! The air; pine-scented, fresh and clean, with just a hint, a remembrance of road dust! The slight chill in the shadows, and the gentle warmth of the early sun! The road ahead, the road back; been there, going to go there, and it will all be good! Ah!

Morning sunlight on birch

There will be more mornings like this. And sunny afternoons. And sunsets over Georgia Strait. Yes, the road ahead looks good.

9 more days and I'll be on the ferry.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Study in browns

Western conifer seed bug on Bosc pear.

He loved the pear; kept walking around and around it.

10 more days. This time the 15th, I'll be settling into Campbell River. I'm packed and ready; what's going to be difficult is moving my little aquarium, critters and all, without stressing them. I'll discuss my preparations for this in a day or so.

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Mother and kit

I'm going to miss these two!

An old friend, a raccoon I once called "too tame",* brought her baby over to look for any sunflower seeds the chickadees might have missed. When I opened the door, she called her kit and left; she's learned caution. Having a kid (or kit) will do that to you.

Ma and Baby Fuzz

Too cute!

I noticed last year that her left eye was damaged. The surrounding area looked weepy and inflamed; whether she was blind in that eye or not, I couldn't tell. By now, the surrounding area has healed, but the eye itself has not recovered. I doubt that she can use it at all. At least it's probably not painful any more.

"Managing quite well, thank you. And my baby liked your treats."

When I followed her out to the lawn, she was standing tall against a wall, turning her head from side to side, looking with that one good eye, making sure it was safe.

"It's just us three here, then?"

I'm an old friend; she decided I'm ok, after all. She collected her kit and took him past me and on into the cedars.

* I called her "him" then, but I guessed wrong.

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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Reindeer, pixies, and no bears.

In the upper Bella Coola valley, I stopped at Burnt Bridge to look for mushrooms. The forest floor here is often thick with boletus (edible if you can find them without worms; they make a nice, beefy gravy), Russula (they say they're edible, but you may as well eat erasers) and fly agaric (definitely not edible). But my timing was off; there were no 'shrooms, not even puffballs.

But there were lichens, and a bear tree; even better.

A reindeer lichen, with mosses.

More reindeer. The dark specks on the tips are fruiting bodies. (Click for a better view.)

Mosses, evergreen needles, and a densely curled lichen.

Leaf lichen on a dead tree branch.

Many lichens on a rock. Large leaf lichen, tiny pixie cup cladonia, a smaller leaf lichen, and several species of tiny crustose lichens.

And the bear tree? I've seen these several times in this patch of forest; dead trees that the bears have been using to sharpen their claws on and maybe to scratch their backs with. This one was ripped from knee-height to well above my head.

Do the bears choose a dead tree, or is it dead because the bears chose it?

I didn't see any bears.

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Friday, October 02, 2015


A few years ago, a few spider fanciers started a Flickr group specially for the Hallowe'en season. During the month of October every year, we try to post one spider to the Arachtober pool each day; 31 spiders in all. And we find some amazing spiders!

This is my third year, and this will be the third spider for this October, to be posted there tomorrow:

Mosquito patrol, on my bathroom ceiling.

It's been a relatively spider-free summer, and I have no backlog, so I'm sort of hoping for a spider invasion.

And now, go see all the lovely spiders! And if you're so inclined, join us and add to the fun!

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Thursday, October 01, 2015


Salsify, Bull Canyon

Seed parachutes, ready to fly, and empty seed head.

This is a common roadside weed all across the Chilcotin. The yellow flowers open in the early morning, and close in the afternoon.

(These plants hybridize readily. This could be Western Salsify, Tragopogon dubius, but I am dubious about this because the flowers don't quite match the Wikipedia sample.)

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Marine biologist?

Lantern bearer?

Or spider fancier?

On pilings at the Bella Coola wharf.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

And nary a crab

At the end of the road, where the Bella Coola river meets the ocean, I went to explore the tide flats, to discover what lives there.

The river is that thin line to the right, the inlet is on the left.

No two intertidal zones are alike. This one, though it is river meeting ocean, like the beaches I know on the lower mainland, is unlike any other I have visited. For one thing, though I turned over stones and logs, parted underwater grasses, I saw no snails, no crabs, no worm piles. And no eelgrass.

The river is glacier run-off, silty and cold. And Bentinck Inlet is long, narrow, and deep; though the tide runs up to the base of the hills, the river also runs far out to sea. The salinity is low. The currents are strong. The grasses on the tide flats are land-based grasses, not eelgrass. The only seaweeds are those the tide ripped up and dragged in; they don't live there.

This whole area is covered by the tide. Plants growing here are moderately salt-tolerant.

Besides several varieties of tough grasses, I found silverweed, blue sailor, and yellow gumweed, all in the area that is covered by salty water twice daily.

The tide rushing in, laying the grasses flat.

Rockweed tossed on top of the flattened grasses. A few leaves of silverweed poke through the grass.

Deep in the channel, where the water is heavier and saltier, there are crabs and anemones, sea cucumbers and starfish, all out of reach without diving gear. The tide flats are home to plants, birds, and flies, come to feed on dead salmon. And if I'd been carrying a shovel, maybe I'd have found worms.

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Monday, September 28, 2015


What would it be like to live here? Someone did, long ago.

A sturdy little cabin in the upper Bella Coola Valley, with window, wood stove, and curtains; log walls, good chinking. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it's still furnished, too. A plank table, a chair, maybe even a cot. Big woodshed, because the winters are cold.

Needs some patching on the roof.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The glare

On a ruined tree, torn apart as the hillside swept down to the river in the last Bella Coola flood, an eagle was surveying the river on the far side of the highway. He didn't appreciate my presence, nor the camera poking out the car window.

"Hmmpph! Intruders, always intruders!"

I eased the car forward a few feet, hoping for a closer shot, and he dropped off his perch and flew away, up the hill and over the trees beyond.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Green River

Once upon a time, long, long ago it seems, back in the 1970s, when I first drove into the Bella Coola valley, the pavement stopped a few miles out of Williams Lake. From there to the bottom of "The Hill", the road was dust and gravel; washboard, ruts, and dust traps deep enough to snap an axle, fish-tail-inducing powder, more dust; 400 kilometres of dust. Meeting a car coming the other way, we could see its dust cloud long before the car itself came over the next rise. We learned to hold our breath as we passed; even so, we were coughing mud for a day after we finally arrived.

The road has been paved, a few kilometres every year, so that now we drive comfortably on pavement up to the edge of Tweedsmuir Park, and then it's a mere 60 kilometres of dust before we reach the valley floor and pavement again.

Still, the memory persists, and the bridge at Green River promises some relief from dust, dust, dust. Coming and going, I always stop for a few minutes.

It's a gentle river, shallow and slow; the better to green up its surroundings.

Rock and reflections

View from the other side of the bridge.

In the shallow water, green speckled fish (trout?) hover over the silt.

Pine cone and needles

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Two peaks

In the Klinaklini River basin, taken from the car window:

Rolls of hay, winter fodder for cattle.

Stony mountain peak. I'm told it's called "The Finger".

Humans are rare on the Chilcotin Plateau. Driving the highway at the busiest part of the day, I have counted, repeatedly, an average of 4 minutes between cars. At night, I can drive for hours rarely seeing a light. I find the sense of space exhilarating; it's me and the stars and the empty land. I can breathe.

Coming past the town of Kleena Kleene (named after the river) in daylight, I see green fields, a few haystacks, a scattering of houses. About 20 people live here year round. A minute later, the road curves, and I'm alone again.

Kleena Kleene is one of the driest locations in British Columbia because of the rain shadow effect of Coast Mountains located directly to the west. The temperature is cooler than the other similarly dry locations in the province. (From Wikipedia)

In spite of the dryness, the bottom of the valley is green, because the river snakes along gently, winding and looping around the hayfields. The few houses, up on the slopes, sit on dry, baked dust.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Abandoned nurseries

Along the fence around the campsites at Bull Canyon, a small stand of aspens has sprung up. Most are still under 8 feet tall. And most, this year, are sporting lumpy blackish growths along the stems.

What lived inside this? About 2 inches across.

I broke a few off. They were all hollow and dry, as thin and fragile as eggshells. There was no sign of their previous occupants.

This one seems to incorporate a dried leaf.

I looked up aspen galls, and found leaf galls;, small blobs that grow right at the base of the leaves and twig galls; small, smooth balls lined up along a twig, but nothing like these.

Most of the galls had several holes that looked more like chickadee predation than insect exit holes. I have watched chickadees with thimbleberry galls in the winter, pounding away at them until they crack open. Somehow they know there's good meat inside that hard casing; maybe the larva inside moves around, makes some sound that we can't hear, but the chickadee can.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Prickly smile

If I were to choose one adjective to describe the Chilcotin, I would have to go with "scratchy". Everything seems to be sharp-edged, jagged, unforgiving. Itchy, like one of those rough wool sweaters Mom made us wear in the winter.

Even the spiders are prickly.

Spider in her web, Bull Canyon

I tried to get her to move, so that I could get a clear photo of her shape, but all she did was pull her legs in closer, even fold them across her back. Maybe, in her environment, it is wiser to look like a piece of dust than a threatening, leggy spider.

But, otherwise, she's friendly enough; do you see the smiley face on her back?

Update: She's Araneus gemmoides, the Cat-faced spider,

They come in varying colors but are easily identified by the two horn shaped growths on their relatively large abdomen. (Wikipedia)

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bull Canyon, 2015

On my second trip across the Chilcotin, 'way back in the 1970s, I stopped for the night at the campsite in Bull Canyon. And on every trip since, except that once when the whole area was on fire, I have dropped in, if only, as on this trip, to take a few photos, pump some water, listen to the river and the wind in the aspens.

First, a bit of scenery:

Blue sky, silty green water. This is the Chilcotin River, which drains the Chilcotin Plateau, flowing from Itcha Lake, near Bella Coola, to the Fraser River, near Gang Ranch.

Mixed vegetation; soft deciduous trees and shrubs by the river, evergreens on higher ground, thinning to scattered barren slopes, rock cliffs. (Note vertical wall in background.)

The Chilcotin Plateau is old volcano country, much of it covered by the Chilcotin Group, a volcanic field of overlapping vents, and further west, the Anahim Volcanic Belt, which reaches out to sea beyond Bella Coola. For millions of years, lava spread over the surface; later, glaciers scoured the top layer, exposing the old granite to erosion; now winter ice, freezing and thawing, crumbles the old faces, leaving a skirting of scree at the base. (My old house in Bella Coola was at the bottom of one of these scree slopes.)

Driving the road, we are treated to an ever-changing view of tall mountains, odd-shaped peaks, sheer rock faces, "painted" hills, crumbling granite, cones of scree. There are lava flows and hot springs; obsidian is found in some areas. Trees cling where they find cracks in the rock; mountain goats hop up and down impossible rock faces.

Rock formation, Bull Canyon. At full size, some white spots may or may not be mountain goats.

Crumbling hill, from near the river bank.

Zooming in to show the strata. 

Not all is towering rock: in between, we find fruitful river basins, and eroded, gently-sloping grasslands. But if you scratch the surface here, you'll find the granite bones not so far underneath.

Lone tree

Coming up: Bull Canyon greens.

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