Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Beach finds, new and old

Rotting sugar wrack kelp, stranded on the sand at mid-tide:

From a distance, I thought it was a dead fish.

We brought home a bag full of goodies for my hermits and crab; two varieties of sea lettuce, fresh eelgrass, one of those delicate lacy red seaweeds, a long rope of bladder chain. All of it was coated thickly in hydroids and diatom fuzz; the hermits are in heaven!

As usual a fair number of animals came along for the ride. There are more hermits, one a pretty greenmark in berry, and a few speedsters, those very hairy hairies. Amphipods, of course, and copepods. Some skeleton shrimp, a dozen or so limpets on the eelgrass, and several species of snails. Worms; green and red, smooth and paddle-footed. Unidentifiable egg cases. The usual.

The "home" hermits that aren't climbing the eelgrass to stuff themselves with hydroids are busy cleaning diatoms and green algae off the shells of the newcomer hermits and snails. I won't need to feed them tomorrow.

And -- oh, the amazing surprises the shore always has for us -- out of the mess of leftover torn dark fuzz crawled a half-dozen baby nudibranchs, barely a few millimetres long! Story and photos tomorrow.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Update on the instant antique trees

I've been keeping an eye on those new "antique" trees along our street. The flower buds have opened in the last couple of days.

White and green

The flowers are very like an apple blossom, maybe a crabapple, but they are smaller than most. There is a faint hint of pink on some, but at a distance, the impression is of a pale green cloud, maybe because the leaves are so very green, and glowing.

I don't remember seeing any fruit last year, nor as many flowers, but these are very young trees, merely saplings, notwithstanding their coat of lichen and moss, and the cracked and weathered bark on the trunks.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring fever season starts.

It was sunny and warm for the second day in a row. So of course, we went out and bought oodles of dirt and compost, a hose hanger and lavender just ready to flower. And Laurie spread manure and raked, while I lazily sat on the ground in the sun and took photos of tiny wild violets.

Volunteers; no fussing needed. My ideal plant!

And I found a strange fly on the rhododendrons.

Another one for BugGuide.

All in all, a productive afternoon.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter quarters

Another few old photos; these are from last October.

Woodbug in rotting pine cone, with snail.

Every fall, I pile some of the current crop of pine cones underneath a potted cedar, to help keep the cold out. In a pot, without the insulation provided by the surrounding soil, a plant is more vulnerable to cold, so even when the plant itself is winter-hardy, I wrap and cover its pot.

Over the winter, the centers of the cones rot, liberating the seeds. Some of these sprout, but that's not the point. The tightly-closed cone becomes a mini-compost pile, its own heat source; even when the ground is frozen hard, the center of the cone stays cool and moist. So it's a winter home for the small animals that don't necessarily go into stasis during these months.

Several times during the cold weather, I bring in a few cones and break them up to see who's living there. There are always a fair number, all wide awake.

In this batch, I found several snails, a family of woodbugs, a few baby slugs, earthworms, two species of springtails, millipedes, and one plant louse. Smaller things scuttled and slithered out of sight as fast as I broke off the scales of the cone; probably more 'pedes, and a spider or three.

Cyanide millipede

Another millipede, sleeping. And the head of a long earthworm, plowing through the composted wood.

Plant louse, exploring a sheet of paper on my desk. Seriously cute.

A pinhead snail, not the same species as the one above. He hid when I moved him to the paper, but a minute later, set out to explore the desk. I put him back in the cone.

When I was done, as usual, I collected the remains of the cones, critters and all, and replaced them under the tree, covered with a layer of duff for warmth.

They made it through the winter; this afternoon, when I moved a couple of pots in the garden, they were all there, with a crowd of their friends and relations.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grey-eyed dragonfly

Another lost photo: I must have put this dragonfly aside to send in to BugGuide, and filed it in the wrong folder, along with kitten and baby photos. It's from 'way back in May of 2008, found in Queen's Park, New Westminster, and taken with my little Canon point-and-shoot, then cropped close.

Interestingly patterned abdomen and cat-like backwards "nose".

I couldn't find this in my bug books, nor on BugGuide. Still can't, after a couple of hours of searching tonight. It's unusual, with those bright colours of the abdomen, and the pale grey eyes.

I'll have to follow through on my original plan, and send it to BugGuide. They'll know.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Edible glass

Another forgotten photo: hydroids on eelgrass in my aquarium.

Tiny, glassy structures waving in the current. Some of the spots are bubbles, but at least a few are the new medusas just released by the hydroid parents.

Ephemeral beauty; the hermit crabs polish off the hydroids overnight, and the millimetre-wide jellies are swept into the pump and smushed into the black ooze.

The orange-brown tentacly circles are anemones on the aquarium wall.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The lettuce eaters

Winter in the intertidal zone is difficult, even here where it barely gets cold. The water is often turbulent, the nights are long, the daylight dim. The plants and algae, the seaweeds and eelgrasses, die back, leaving no shelter from the flocking thousands of sandpipers foraging in the shallows.

We see little more than worm tubes and holes, snails, those everlasting invasive Asian mud snails mostly, and the hermit crabs that use their abandoned shells, fewer hermits than we would see in warmer weather. Many don't make it through to spring.

My tank residents have it easy. The temperature stays the same year-round. The current rarely changes, except when I'm cleaning the pump. There is daylight 16 hours a day, always bright, never clouded over. And there are no birds. No birds!

The one small bump in this easy road is the intermittent supply of greens. Often, on a trip to the beach, I manage to bring back only a few handfuls of skimpy eelgrass and a bit of half-dead kelp. It's rare that I find sea lettuce for them in the winter, or Turkish towel that isn't all torn and rotting. Sometimes their tank is almost empty of vegetation; when I then bring the hermits a mess of hydroid-covered eelgrass, they climb on it and never leave until it's bare.

This winter has been exceptionally hard for them; they have been getting a small taste of what their cousins on the beach go through every year. What with one thing and another, the weather, and the state of our health, and other time constraints, we haven't been down to the beach since mid-February. I did bring back a couple of pieces of fresh sea lettuce then, and I found a big leaf of fresh Turkish towel, which lasts well in the tank. But there was little eelgrass to go with it, and no replacements since then. The tank is bare; an underwater desert, decorated with small shreds of fading Turkish towel, stripped of any food value.

One of the smaller hermits, on a barnacle-covered stick.

I read somewhere that hermits will eat ordinary people-food lettuce. Worth a try; I tore off a bite-sized piece and anchored it in the sand. Within a minute, the largest hermit and the crab were having a tug-of-war over it, yanking and pulling and at the same time tearing off pieces and shoving them into their mouths. (It's handy having so many grabbing mouth parts.)

I added a few more pieces of lettuce for the rest of the crew. That was a couple of hours ago. They have eaten it all, leaving only a few floating shreds, as thin as soggy tissue paper.

Hermit on lettuce leaf, all stretched out to grab as much as possible before the rest get there.

Hermit on the far side of a scrap of lettuce. His shell is showing through the hole someone has already torn.

As far as I can tell, all the hermits got a chance at the lettuce. The largest one stuffed himself so much, finishing off one piece and going to the next, and the next, that I wonder how he fits into his shell now.

I saved a leaf for them tomorrow; I ate the rest.

Hurry, hurry! Dinner is served!

I wonder if they like cilantro? I've got a big, fresh bunch.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Blood-red eyes, and fly babies

Sorting photos from last year, I found several folders of still-unprocessed raw files. I've been plowing through these, and struck gold:

6 legs and 1000 eyes. (Or thereabouts.)

Syrphid, or hover fly.

These are from last July. In a later folder, of tiny critters holed up under rotting maple leaves, waiting out the cold snap, I found the next generation.

These are such pretty flies, but the larvae don't have any of the appeal of the adults. My photos are fuzzy; the larva was sopping wet, and I hadn't even seen it on the leaf until I was processing the photos. But I've looked them up on BugGuide and other places, and they don't get any better looking.

Spiky, splotchy, segemented larva. Eats aphids. Even in winter.

We're looking at it from the rear. Those pointed tubes at the back are its spiracles, or breathing tubes.

More discoveries to come...

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Free lunch

It hasn't been a good winter for birds around our place. Whether it's the weird weather, or the unusual lack of insects, or something else, I can't tell. But only a few chickadees have been using the sunflower seed feeder, and a mere handful of juncos has been feeding on the ground in the sunny patch. Apart from those, we've seen a pair of varied thrushes, a sparrow or two, and one little wren that comes occasionally to use my birdbath.

I set out a suet cake on top of a winter-bare planter, hoping to attract more birds, and possibly to help them over the freezing days. One junco came, almost daily. Last week he brought a partner for a few minutes.

No-one else was interested.

Until today; the juncos have gone, but a squirrel followed his nose to the planter, and I found him chowing down with gusto.

"This is yummy! And wasted on silly birds!"

Showing his teeth.

In other years, the squirrels and I were at loggerheads; they kept trying to steal the suet, and I kept chasing them off; that was bird food!

That was then. This little guy is welcome to finish up the whole cake. I don't think the junco will mind.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Red pondweed

Another forgotten photo, this one of an unidentified* pondweed for sale last August in our local nursery.

The large green leaf is an average waterlily, about a hand's breadth across. The pondweed leaflets are a bit larger than those of the wild pondweed we find in ditches around here.

*Update: it's Azola caroliniana, native to the east coast, all the way from Ontario to Argentina.
(Thanks, Bronwen!)

And I'm going to have to take another short break; I'm having some minor surgery on Friday. Nothing to worry about, but I'll be out of commission for a couple of days. I'll be back Monday.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

(Almost) Wordless

'nuff said.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Sidewalk ornament

Finally, a sunny, warm day! All day, too! We spent a couple of hours walking around the neighbourhood, looking for early flowers.

I'd never noticed this little beauty before:

Squill or squill hybrid, possibly Scilla bifolia, nestling close to a sun-warmed log.

It's a spring-flowering European import, related to the hyacinths. It grows from a bulb, but also self-seeds, is winter-hardy and tolerant of shade or sun. Here, it was growing beside the sidewalk, in a weedy patch. (You can see dandelion leaves in the background.)

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Mine! Mine! Mine!

I'm still sorting photos. I keep running across files that I had put aside for later, and then forgotten. I've started a list to be processed and posted; some are from as far back as 2009.

I found this tiny spider on a rock this afternoon, in a photo series from 2012:

"Hey! Who are you? And no, you can't have any of my lunch! Scram!"

Did she know she had such a large, threatening shadow? I doubt it, because when I came a bit closer, she dropped her meal and jumped back to assess the situation. I stopped moving, and she came right back to pick up where she left off.

"Better grab it quick or that nasty one-eye will take it. She can go catch her own. I'm not sharing!"

Looks like her meal was another spider, or maybe a small harvestman. She was welcome to it.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stone chicken and barnacle tentacles

It rained again yesterday and the day before. The sun came out for a few minutes at noon, just long enough for us to decide to go to the beach; it's been too long. We didn't make it. Before we went for our jackets, the weather was back to wet and windy.

Just as well; we've been making great progress on sorting and clearing out years of photos, film and digital. Laurie's prints are down to two trays (from 21), and I've got a few extra Gigabytes to play with on the hard drive. Another week of this weather, and I'll have everything in some logical order.

But I do miss the beach!

These two photos are from 2012, on the White Rock beach.

I see a chicken in that egg.

Just an ordinary barnacled rock, but I could easily imagine it to be a large camouflaged cuttlefish.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Instant antiques

A couple or three years ago, the city planted a row of saplings along the street behind our house. I haven't been able to identify them, but they are covered with pale creamy greenish flowers in the early spring.

I went out to see if there are any buds yet, and discovered that all the trees, now about twice our height, are covered with lichens and moss; the bark and even the wood itself is cracking, as if from extreme age and weathering.

There are a few buds here and there, at the tips of branches.

I'm wondering what went wrong, or is premature aging a characteristic of these trees? Did our weather have something to do with it? The climate? Pollution from a busy street? Come to think of it, last year, the whole lot were warming with ants. Did they cause this, or were they attracted by the growing lichens?

Questions, questions. I'll be watching the trees closely over this spring and summer.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Cherry blossoms

The rain stopped. The clouds blew away. And just before supper-time, the sun came out.

So did the cherry blossoms.

The first open flowers on the tree.

Only two days ago, all the buds were mere swollen pink tips, tightly closed. All they wanted was a few warm hours.

Bumper crop coming up!

Now, if it would only stay dry for the weekend, we, and half the Lower Mainland, could head for the beach.

A Skywatch post.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

180 calories

Laurie's pop can airplane, one of two that he bought some 8 years ago at a collectibles fair.

The propeller spins with the least little breeze. But it never goes anywhere.

Just wandering around, taking wild shots at anything that strikes my fancy. Waiting for the rain to stop.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rain and mud and flowers

It's been pouring rain again, keeping the birdbath full and the pathways muddy, keeping us looking out the window at garden work to be done when and if it ever dries out. In my shade garden, winter-demolished plants are lifting their heads, putting out new, optimistic growth. The primulas are covered with flowers now, white and yellow, and all spattered with mud. Laurie's lupins, planted from seed last year,are almost six inches high already. (The ones I planted in the semi-shade barely made it through last summer; I don't expect to see them again.)

Baby lupins on the last sunny day

And after budding, being frozen back to the ground, growing and budding again, and being frozen yet again, the various hellebores have rebounded, as if that's the sort of winter they were expecting. One in the semi-sunny garden is in full bloom, even though the plant itself is short; this is its first spring.

I had to clean off some mud, of course. Quite a bit of mud, actually.

And last year Laurie kept saying he wanted a Daphne, and finally found a small one near the end of the summer. I couldn't see his point: the flowers are tiny, stiff-looking, and dwarfed by the leaves; the sap may irritate skin, and they're prone to a variety of diseases like root rot, yellowing, and leaf browning. And they should be planted in the spring, anyhow!

I've changed my mind.

Waxy flowers in a rosette of leathery leaves.

Yes, I see the brown spot. And the yellowing of the leaves. But the buds started forming while everything else was still frozen, and now they're fully open, while the other plants are barely getting started. And the flowers are high enough to be out of the mud, too!

More: reading up on these, they're supposed to be fragrant. I hadn't realized, and so I didn't bend down to take a sniff. As soon as it stops raining, I'll remedy that.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cross-eyed chickadee and alder hieroglyphics

I'm back, rested and in my right mind. If you can call it that. Because I've been seeing strange things around here.

Like a cross-eyed chickadee.

And messages left by a red alder next door, written in discarded male catkins on cement.

One-armed man threatened by an angry cobra?

I can't read this one. Can you?

Maybe the chickadee has been trying to read the sidewalk.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Stretched and frazzled

I've been doing a bit too much this week; this is how I'm feeling.

String, my daughter's garden, June, 2009

I'm going to have to take a break. I'll be back Monday, rarin' to go.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014


I've been working late, chasing a deadline. Good thing it's been raining; we haven't missed any beach time.

This is from a whole month ago, on Boundary Bay beach.

Turkish towel drying out on sand. Well past its sell-by date, and turning purple.

I'm yawning in between every two words.  Goodnight, all!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Greening up

I always love the greens of spring. Even in the rain. They're even better when I can stand inside in the dry, and just point the camera out the window.

The sap is running in my little maple tree. The brown stems winding through are the remains of an old honeysuckle.

New hydrangea leaves, a yummy, minty green at this stage.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Snail, out hunting

A week or so ago, I wrote about a two-tone trophon snail from Boundary Bay. At the time, I had been trying to get a photo of the siphon he extends through the canal at the tip of his shell, but he wasn't co-operating.

He finally showed up near the wall a couple of days ago, and let me get a few photos.

Trophonopsis orpheus, on an abalone shell against the wall. The tip of the siphon is just visible at lower right.

Climbing over a blade of eelgrass. The eyes are near the tips of his tentacles. The siphon is visible, extended through the siphonal canal.

How much he sees with those little eyes is debatable, but his main guidance system is the siphon. He's "breathing" in the water through the tube, and also "smelling" his way. A few hours later, he had found the barnacles on a stick on the far side of the tank, and was busy emptying the biggest.

And now he's back buried in the sand, digesting.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

And early spring flowers!

Still testing the new 85mm lens. These photos were taken in fairly bright sunlight, from a few feet away each time, and mostly one shot only, except for the daffodils, because I was hoping to get that fly. I continue to be happy with the new addition.

White hellebore, growing in a sunny spot. Mine, in the shade, are still in the bud.

Purple-pink crocuses, in the shade.

One solitary crocus in an abandoned garden.

Daffodils against the cement wall of the new church next door. With a fly.

Cropped photo, with the fly still there. This was taken from the far side of the landscaping strip, about 2 to 3 metres away.

Heather. They've got full sun and a warm wall next door, so everything is thriving.

Oregon grape, just getting started in our semi-shade plot.

And a tall tree, which will later convert a semi-shade area to full shade. Not for a few weeks yet, though.

Now, if it would only stop raining - again! - I could take the lens down to the beach and field-test it.

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