Monday, September 25, 2017

In the pink

I see them often on the beach at low tide: small, white, randomly branched, calcareous tubes. When I pick them up, cautiously, they start to break up. Put in a container to bring home, they make the trip in pieces.

I took a photo of this one as found, without touching it.

Coralline red algae. A seaweed, recently deceased.

These small algae are red or purplish pink, but turn white when they die. This one is still fresh, with only the tips of the branches showing white.

The algae deposit calcium carbonate in their cell walls, which helps to protect them from browsing by snails and other animals. To be flexible in the surging tides and waves, each little node is separated by non-calcareous "knees"; when the alga dies, these knees quickly deteriorate, and the nodes begin to scatter themselves across the beach.

Alive, the algae stay attached to the sea floor by holdfasts. Wikipedia has a photo of one, still alive, still attached to its rock.

Photo by David R. Ingham, California.

In this specimen, the nodes are shorter and fatter; it is probably a different species,even a different genus, but identification is almost impossible except during the reproductive stage, and then only with a microscope. (Kozloff, p. 158)

I picked up my find, gently. It survived. Because it was still pink.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lace doily barnacle

On a section of beach that I hadn't visited before, covered with great sandstone slabs and round, polished rocks, I found many large, empty barnacle shells with lace doily edges, detached from their homes, tossed hither and thither by the tide.

It's not often that I get to examine the underside of a barnacle.

Lacy edge. Compare to the smoother, smaller barnacles on the surrounding rocks.

This is the large thatched acorn barnacle, Semibalanus cariosus. They grow up to a couple of inches across; most of the ones I found were about an inch or so across.

The small barnacles living on the rocks are the common acorns, Balanus glandula, which, at their largest, are less than an inch across; most are much smaller. These, when they die, slowly crumble away, leaving a lacy scar on the rock. The thatched acorn barnacle, instead, has a membranous base, not heavily calcified. When this rots, the shell is released, exposing the frilly rim.

Detail of the shell edge.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

These toes are made for walking

I followed a great blue heron down the beach, trying to get close enough for a clear photo. I was walking on sand; he waded over drowned rocks, through tidepools, and over the dry rocks - big ones. While he was at it, he caught and ate several fish. And after an hour of patient stalking, I finally got close enough. For two whole minutes.

3:11:10. In rocky water. He's noticed me.

5 seconds later. He's faster on rocks than I am on sand.

35 seconds later. He's stopped to check for fish. And to show off his long rock-walking toes.

And then he flew away, complaining as he went, about nosy people cluttering up his stomping grounds.

Friday, September 22, 2017

In a sunny window.

Last June, I bought a couple of living stones.

Aka λίθος (lithos) and ὄψ (ops) "Stone face"; Lithops.

Succulents like the cacti, but from a different family, these tiny plants grow in hot, extremely dry climates. They are originally from southern Africa.

The leaves grow in pairs; when one pair grows out of the gap between the two, the old ones dry up and drop off. Slowly, though; this one has had the four leaves since June. Flower buds will also grow out of the gap, one per year. (If I'm taking proper care of them, and I'm lucky.)

Leaf surface.

Cacti protect themselves from grazing herbivores with sharp, often nasty spines. Lithops pretend to be stones, growing almost flat against the dry soil. The top of the leaf is like a window, allowing light to penetrate without exposing much of the plant to view.

Dissected Lithop. Photo by CT Johansson, on Wikipedia.

Longitudinal section of a Lithops plant, showing the epidermal window at the top, the translucent succulent tissue, the green photosynthetic tissue, and the decussate budding leaves growing between the mature leaves. (Wikipedia)

Instructions on the care of these plants is confusing. Some sites say to water only in summer; others say only in winter. Wikipedia tells me to water only after the old leaves dry up, but to stop before winter. So far, I've been watering once a week, but I'll quit now for the winter.

I'm hoping for flowers.

The flowers are often sweetly scented. (Wikipedia)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pink, fading to brown

Hardhack is one of my favourite shrubs. It grows profusely along streambanks, in soggy soil, on dripping hillsides, forming dense thickets up to 2 metres tall, crowned in season, with showy pink flower spikes. When picked at the height of bloom, these flowers fade to a dusty rose, and last all winter in a dry vase. With pearly everlasting, they make a beautiful winter bouquet.

Spent blooms, left in place, dry to a warm brown, and last all winter on the plant. The leaves drop, leaving wiry stems and the brown heads.

This year has been too hot and dry for most of the hardhack thickets; I saw very few pink blooms, although they must have flowered, passing quickly from bloom to brown seed head.

I picked two flowering heads that I found within reach; they're well past their sell-by date, and dried to brown seeds overnight.

Hardhack is well named: the much-branched, wiry stems form dense tangles that are almost impossible to break through without proper tools. A wall of salal and hardhack, a common combination in our forests, is as effective a barrier as a brick wall with glass on top.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Packed with seeds.

I saw these seed pods beside the highway to the island's west coast.

Unidentified plant, bare-stemmed, about 1 metre tall.

The seed pods are about 1 inch long. The stems stood tall above the surrounding vegetation, salal and ferns, in open, logged-off land.

What are they? Do you know?

Update: They're Tiger lilies. Here's a photo of the seed pods, taken by a friend in 108 Mile House, and posted on E-Flora. She also has a photo of the individual seeds, shaken out of the pods, here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Another red alga

This one washed up on the shore of Tyee Spit at high tide.

Single blade with ruffled edges. I'm holding it by a short stipe.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A few metallic waterfowl

They fly, and they float. And sometimes they make an awful racket. Must be waterfowl.

Harbour Air floatplane, taxiing into the dock at Tyee Spit.

Vancouver Island Air Otter, about to splash down, Tyee Spit. These little birds serve work sites and residents from Campbell River north to Bella Bella.

Getting ready to take off. They have to line up with the wind, the waves, the fast tidal currents. Each flight starts from a different spot. Quadra Island in the background

Across the island, on the west coast, at Gold River. Nootka Air has been serving settlements up and down the coast since 1981.

I've noticed that our local estuary sleepers, the gulls and ducks, accept these little flyers as one of their peer group; they don't even bother lifting their heads when one goes by.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Easy on the eyes

As the clouds drop down, the view becomes minimalist.

Gulls and geese on a sandbar at the mouth of the Campbell River. Looking north from Tyee Spit.

And now, it's raining. A regular, day-long, steady, September rain. About time! When it stops, I'll go mushroom hunting.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


Canada geese, passing Quadra Island.

Hurry, hurry!

Sometimes I wonder what the geese are thinking. They're sitting calmly on a sandbar, half asleep. Nothing is happening. Nothing changes, there's no sign of eagles or airplanes. There's no wind, no blazing sun. Peace, peace, nothing but peace.

And suddenly, the whole flock will rise up into the air, as if in a panic, and speed away, honking wildly as they go. Why?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Road to nowhere

On the map, the highway north to the tip of Vancouver Island is a single, wavy line, with a few side roads, at Woss (pop. 200), Sayward (311), Brown's Bay. Zoom in further, and pale lines appear: logging roads, mostly, or roads to camp or picnic sites. These are private roads, gravel or mud; they do not turn blue when you try to move Google's little observer to them. Many have warning signs: watch for logging trucks, which always have the right of way, even if there's no passing lane; head for the ditch, or the bush.

On the ground, however, roads into the bush multiply. Some are little more than a two-rutted path, with weeds growing in the ruts. Some have been carved out and gravelled. Most have no indication of where they lead, or who made them. On Google, they're dark or light lines among the hills, becoming invisible where the trees close in.

I follow one or two on each trip north. Some peter out after a couple of turns, ending up abruptly at undisturbed bush. Some go on and on and on, winding up hill and down; when the road becomes too rough for my little car, even at a crawl, I find a wider spot, and turn back. Once, I found a tiny lake, with a house on the far side; the road would have reached it, but I needed a 4x4 truck.

Some seem completely meaningless. A nicely gravelled entrance, a road leading down a hill for 50 yards or so, then a few swipes with earth-moving equipment, and nothing more. Why? Someone prospecting for building sites, this far from nowhere? Hopeful handloggers? I can't imagine.

At one of these, I stopped and hiked to the end of the cleared "road", too rugged for my car. There was a hill, a creek, some plastic trash (why is this always present, even out here?), a few mounds of debris, as if a backhoe had been scraping out a construction site until the order came through; "You're in the wrong spot, go home, contract cancelled." Or something to that effect.

Ma Nature's contracts are never cancelled. She was hard at work, re-populating the site.

Lichen on a log. There's always lichen.

Assorted lichen (the "big" pillars are Cladonia), and moss.

Haircap moss and lichen.

Eastern eyebright, Euphrasia nemorosa. I found these near Nimpkish Lake in July but wasn't sure of the species. This, I identified by the size of the flowers, counting the grass stalks as more than 1 mm across. E. nemorosa's flowers are from 5-10 mm long.

Bird's foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus.

And there are always slugs. Banana slug, watching my camera.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


With the cooler nights and the rainy days, deciduous leaves are starting to change colour. The bracken ferns are first in line.

These ferns like open, disturbed sites. This is a logged-off area, populated now by huckleberries, salal, trailing blackberries, mosses, and the ferns. A few trees are moving in.

Detail of fern branches.

Salmonberry is next. They're among the first leaves to show up in spring, and the first to disappear in the fall.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ahhhh! Grey again!

The Vancouver Island paint box relies on blue, green, and grey. Mostly grey. But over this dry, smoking summer, that has changed. Lawns are yellow and crispy; the air has been brown, the sunshine orange. Distant mountains, instead of blue and purple, were a smudgy mud colour.

When the rains finally started last week, I went out to the woods to rest my eyes on the new greys.

From Race Point, Looking across to Quadra Island

Mist over a valley. Near Brown's Bay Road, Hwy 19.

Muted rainforest greens

"The woods were lovely, dark and deep ..." (Robert Frost)

It was pleasant there, wandering in the slow rain, under the evergreens. The air was cool and damp; it smelled of moss. The only sounds were the quiet tree conversations; creaking and whispering; and the gentle pattering of falling fir needles. Far overhead, eagles circled, crossing and re-crossing the patches of visible grey sky.

Farther north, the rain had been and gone, but the mist remained.

Deciduous trees, blasted by unaccustomed heat, basking now in a blue-grey mist.

Not everything is grey. Blackberries, still green, are red.

The blackberries this year are ripening slowly. I've tried a few ripe ones; they're acid and hard. They need water, lots of water, and sunshine; this summer has been missing both.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Just dropping in

... to say hello.

Hanging by a thread finer than spider silk.

Amour de Cosmos Creek, Highway 19

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Hollyhocks and petunias

And blue skies.

Seeds for next year coming along nicely.

And rusty birds.

A small bright spot between the doom and gloom of this week's news.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Sleeping quarters

A year ago, in mid-July, I posted a photo of Chia asleep in her favourite basket.

Chia, at 4 months old.

She slept in this basket for months. I moved it from the table to a chair, to a trunk, to the top of a cabinet; she followed it wherever it went. But, eventually, it needed to be washed, and while it dried, I put it away; it was too small for her by then, anyhow. She slept, instead, on a chair.

I cleaned and re-organized my cupboards last week, and the basket ended up for a while, back on the table. Chia claimed it immediately.

"Ahhhhh, now that's comfort!"

She can still fit inside, sort of, with only a bit of overhang at the back, if she scrunches herself up really tight.

Check out that raspy tongue!

So, for now, she has her basket back. She's purring!

Friday, September 08, 2017

If wishes were horses*

It's raining. My geraniums are blooming.

So red!

And I feel vaguely guilty over feeling happy for the coolness and the clearing air, and over my annoyance at finding muddy cat footprints across my desk, while wildfires rage up and down the west, hurricanes play tag in the Atlantic, a major earthquake shakes Mexico, floods drown South Asia, with malaria and dengue fever following in their tracks, the Koreas prepare for war ...

"Stay safe, everybody!" doesn't cut it. I am so sorry.

*"If wishes ..."

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Rust in peace

(continued from A bit of logging camp history.)

Simpson's Folly, they called it. Al Simpson, of the Iron River Logging Company, had built the causeway out into Georgia Strait, but the waves were too strong, and broke up his log booms. He added pieces of derelict ships to make a breakwater, starting with a 68 year old, three-masted clipper ship, the St. Paul, in 1942. The winter storms shifted them around, so he had them dynamited to the ground.

Remains of one of the Oyster Bay derelicts

Near the top of the breakwater, the old iron doesn't collect seaweed.

It wasn't enough. This is open coast, and the currents are strong.

In 1944, H.R. MacMillan bought the logging rights and camp. He expanded its operation, and brought in over one hundred worker's cabins. A cafe, the Blue Grouse, opened next door. And he began an ambitious program to protect the bay, adding, over time, a whole fleet of drowned ships.

The HCMS Matane, Royal Canadian Navy

... British Columbia's first Chief Forester. MacMillan reportedly gained considerable experience in world lumbering during World War I. With his colleague Whitford Julian VanDusen, another forester, MacMillan incorporated a company in 1919 to sell British Columbia lumber products to foreign markets. In 1924, they established a shipping company that would become one of the world's biggest charter companies. ( In response to competition, they began) ... to purchase mills and creat(e) the first truly integrated forestry company in British Columbia.
During World War II, MacMillan acquired numerous small mills and timber tenures on the south coast of British Columbia. (Wikipedia)

When World War II ended, many of the ships used in the war effort became redundant, and were sold off. In 1947, MacMillan bought and beached the Matane (almost new: built in 1943), the Levis, and the Charlottetown, from the Royal Canadian Navy.

Another view of the Matane. This was a large ship.

More ships followed:

  • the WWI destroyer President Burns, 
  • the Union Steamship steamer Lady Pam, 
  • the Consolidated Whaling Company tender Gray (b. 1889), 
  • the Island Tug and Barge Company’s chip barges Drumwall (aka. Puako) and 
  • Betsey Ross (b. 1943), 
  • the San Francisco car ferry Golden Bear, 
  • the steam freighter Chatham, 
  • the car ferry Border Queen, 
  • two tugs (Cape Scott was one), 
  • the 245-foot Muriel (built 1920), and 
  • a large floating drydock.

The ships rested there, slowly rusting, until the mid-1950s, when rocks were brought in to replace them; the ships then were "removed". A 1956 report from the Campbell River Museum archives claims that "Removal of the hulks of old vessels has been underway for some years ... will be completed in 1956."

"Hat guy". Not much left of this ship.

Their footprints are still rusting peacefully today, in 2017.

Rust and barnacle remains.

As to how much they rusted and deteriorated, I put it down to the fact the tide goes out past them and exposes them entirely to air, twice a day, whereas sunken ships are entirely underwater forever and thus somewhat protected from oxidation (rusting.) (From Fransen CR; Graveyard of the Canadian Navy, Flickr.)

(Also see Ted Boggs collection, Campbell River Museum, for photos of logging camp and booming grounds, 1942 - 1945, and Helen Mitchell collection, for typical bunkhouses.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

A bit of logging camp history

In 1923, a pair of loggers set up a small logging camp at Oyster Bay, just north of the outlet of the Oyster River. The land is flat here; streams and creeks dawdle down to the coast, stopping here and there to make sloughs and flooded meadows. Roads across the wetlands were corduroy; cut logs laid across the road bed (or swamp bed), sometimes with sand or gravel fill. It made for a bumpy ride in those old logging trucks.

The bay itself is more a slight dent in the coastline, open to the waves and currents of Georgia Strait. Better a semi-bay for mooring log booms than none, and the flat surrounding land was a good place to lay out workers' cabins and logging machinery.

Looking inland from the tip of the breakwater. Flat river bottom land ahead.

The flatlands had other residents in those first years. Around the depression years, a relief camp housed young men otherwise out of work. They cleared land, worked on the roads; the cordwood road was gravelled; there were bridges to build and repair.

In 1938, a dry year, sparks from small logging operations set off dozens of small brush fires in the Campbell River - Courtenay area. Oyster Bay is in the centre. One fire grew into a raging blaze that eventually consumed 470 square kilometres of Vancouver Island Forest; at the end, over 2000 men fought it, hopelessly until the rains came.

When that was over, the Forestry department hired 40 men to cut a road through from Courtenay to Campbell River; they also replanted trees that had been lost in the fire.

The breakwater, today. Rocks and rust. Simpson's ship pieces.

As World War II was getting underway, the need for lumber grew. Al Simpson, of the Iron River Logging Company, bought the old logging camp and built a causeway out into the bay to enclose his booming ground. As added protection from the huge waves kicked up by winter storms in Georgia Strait, he sunk parts from dismantled ships as a breakwater.

Rusted ladder. One of Simpson's collection?

The causeway was here. Looking straight east across the channel.

And now, we have a real bay. Coastal currents have been bringing in sand and debris, piling up along Simpson's causeway at first, then on the added breakwater, changing the shape of the shoreline, even building bird habitat.

Three pilings left over from the causeway, with flying kildeer.

Google map. Oyster River at the bottom, the wide-open "bay", with the modern, enclosed bay at the star.

Tomorrow: MacBlo, the war's remnants, and today's hulks.