Thursday, March 22, 2018

Strathcona Dam campground

Its just over 2 years since I discovered the Strathcona Dam. I've been back several times, but always stopped on top of the dam itself to look out over the lake. But there's more!

BC Hydro created a recreational site on the far side, at the very foot of the dam: spacious campsites, outhouses, open fields, a boat launch. When I looked over the dam in the summer, it was full, every campsite occupied, day users parked in the fields. I didn't go down.

This week, it looked empty and I drove down to explore.

Water races out of the spillway, foaming and splashing, hurries down a narrow channel, turns a corner and settles down, forming a serene lagoon. Here, the water reaches that first corner.

And just around the bend, a quiet little lake.

All the way around the edge of the campsite, an alternate spillway. The dam end is rocky and dry at the moment; the water is still. In the distance, white ducks dive for their supper.

One of the two Canada geese.

Back along the active spillway, from the first campsite. Ghostly winter branches warmed by the light on rosy catkins.

Directly below the dam, the setting sun prisms across the top, tinting the water green, pink, cool blue.

Sign from the information area.

Text of sign: You are standing below the largest hydroelectric dam on Vancouver Island. Strathcona Dam is part of the Campbell River Hydroelectric System which includes the Ladore and John Hart developments and the Salmon River, Heber River, and Quinsam River diversions. 
Strathcona was the last dam completed on the Campbell River Development project. This 53 meter high earth-filled dam created Upper Campbell Lake, a 48 kilometer long reservoir for water storage. The water that flows through this dam will drop over 200 meters, passing through three generating stations, Strathcona, Ladore and John Hart, before it reaches the ocean. As you drive towards Campbell River, you will pass near two other reservoirs, Lower Campbell Lake created by Ladore Dam and John Hart Reservoir created by John Hart dam. This major project was started in 1945 and took over 13 years to complete.

Map of campground and spillway channels, from info centre. With shadows of overhead cables and towers.

Map of the three dams. Campsite shown just beneath the first dam. The road crosses the dam at the top, re-crosses at the base, between the spillway control building and the dam.

Here and there, spotted around the campsites and the recreation areas are signs: DANGER! KEEP OUT! SIRENS!. The danger, I understand, is only on the water and the shores of the spillway; at times, a large volume of water is released, and the current could be lethal. The sirens are to warn people who have ventured into the channels. The land is safe.

I would have trouble sleeping there, though. A daytime, very much alert, awake visit is enough for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Beaver Lodge

Last fall, I discovered (but only by poring over dark photos) a beaver lodge near Echo Lake. I passed that way again this week, and the light was better. Besides, I now knew where to look. The beavers are still there.

I think it's bigger than it was last fall. Looks cozy.

I searched on Google maps and found the exact spot. On the street view, taken in September of 2011, the lodge is just visible.

Google street view from Hwy. 28. The lodge seems to be smaller than it is today.

I waited, but saw no sign of the beaver family this time. Other than their home, of course.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Blue water

... and a few birds. Photos from various points along the shore.

Logs, waves, distant mainland

This stretch of shore, near Salmon Point, gets the brunt of any wind or storm that blows up the channel. And I think because of that, it has built up a wide log barrier, difficult to climb over, especially carrying a bag for trash and a camera. This is an "easy" spot; some include huge tangled root masses, upside-down, and precariously balanced, teetering trees.

Mallards, objecting to my approach. Off Shell Road beach.

The third erratic, that I haven't reached yet because I was trying to keep my feet dry. What treasures lie beneath?

Great blue heron, just before he left, too. 

A small flock of wigeons. At the boat launch near the 50th parallel marker.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

For St. Pat's Day

A pink-tipped green anemone.

On a green, pink, and orange-algae coated moon snail shell.

Food on the way! Opening an eager mouth. With a young grainy-hand hermit's pincer tip.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Caught in passing

I was watching hermit crabs in the aquarium when a red worm zipped by.

Spiny polychaete. Each "foot" is tipped with a brush, and armed above with a long spine.
He's tiny; on the right, three copepods are playing. They're about a millimetre long. The round dots along the edge of the shell are oyster eyes. And I don't know what that yellow and black striped creature (or tentacle, or foot) is, peeking out from between the folds of the oyster shell.

A large isopod reached out from a seaweed clump to investigate a mass of green-centred bubbles, probably disintegrating algae.

These isopods are plentiful under rocks and clutching rockweed in the intertidal zone. Sometimes they come home with me; they live happily in the tank for a while, until a crab catches them for dinner. As long as there is at least one branch of rockweed, they stay out of reach.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Miniature orange hermit

I bring home a handful of seaweed; sea lettuce, rockweed, maybe some Turkish washcloth, a blade or two of eelgrass; food and gym equipment for my hermit crabs. Before I add it to the tank, I wash it off in seawater, to remove any beach trash. And a sprinkling of apparent sand grains fall off, sprout legs, and race around the washbasin.

These tiniest of hermits grow to fill an approximately 1/4 inch long shell, never more. I thought at first that they might have been immature hairy hermits that would darken as they grew, but I never see them move on to larger shells.

They have orange legs with white bands. Sometimes they are big enough for me to see the antennae with the naked eye; it is green, with white bands. The legs and body are very slightly hairy.

I've struggled, over the years, to find a clear identification of these hermits. At first, I was calling them greenmark hermits, Pagurus caurinus. A sort of match, at least for the orange colour and the size. And maybe some were greenmarks. But not all.

One of the larger ones, still tiny, on an oyster shell. Not a greenmark.

The greenmark hermit sometimes has the orange legs, and are tiny, but their antennae are red and unbanded. These have green, banded antennae and white pincer tips.

I saw one out of his shell, freshly molted, and out looking for a larger (grain of rice sized) one.

Pink striped body, purplish rear end, green banded antennae. Not a greenmark. Another in the background. Their legs are always clean, the colours sharp.

I've searched everywhere I could think of; I can't find the match to this. There's another tiny orange hermit in this area, growing to 0.6 cm as an adult, the Brilliant, Parapagurodes hartae, but he is a brilliant orange all over, with little white banding. And I think, from the photos, that the antennae are orange, too.

Another. The one in the background from the previous photo.

The last crop of rockweed and a shell-full of sand brought a fresh batch to my tank. There must be at least a dozen, all racing around, climbing on and over everything. Cute little critters!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


One of my largest hermits found a new shell I'd donated. He tried it on, and, as they do, fussed about for a while, squirming, disappearing into the back spirals, checking the fit and the weight. A second hermit noticed and hurried over.

"If it doesn't fit, can I have it?"

Hermit crabs are usually polite. Hairy Harry, in back, waited patiently while Big Red thought it over, still holding onto the old shell, just in case. When BG decided that the new shell suited him perfectly, and wandered away, HH examined the old shell, realized that it was broken (on the far side, not visible here), and gave up.

No hard feelings.

The hermits are: Hairy Harry, a hairy hermit, Pagurus hirsutiusculus. They like smaller shells that enable them to run and climb easily: and Big Red, a grainy hand hermit, Pagurus granosimanus. They love a shell big enough to completely hide inside; they don't mind if it's heavy and awkward. They're in no hurry.

Hairy Harry is still in his old shell, waiting for me to provide another.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Decorator colours

The plumose anemone in my tank has a brown column and  beige tentacles, a common combination. Often, though, they are white on white; a white column, and whiter tentacles. I had never seen one with a green head before.

Plumose anemone, Metridium senile in the tidepool under the glacial erratic. With green tentacles.

I browsed images on Google; I found a few white "Mets" with pale green tentacles, always in photos taken during a dive. This one is in a few inches of water. And that was the colour as my eyes saw it; I used the flash, because the anemone was in shade, but those tentacles were a definite blue-green.

Another. This one has white tentacles, but the base is a pale blue.

This one matches the one in my tank. Some of the red blotches around it are tubeworm "flowers".

Another "normal" M. senile.

Deep under the rock, starfish wait out the dry spell. The flat, spread out anemone seems to be a burrowing anemone, with its mouth exposed. Must have just eaten something. Maybe one of those little fish?

More vivid colours. A deep pink tubeworm, still fishing while the water lasts. The pink-tipped green anemones below have shut down for now.

Even the hermit crabs are wearing party colours. I spotted this one with those bright blue pincers, like the one I brought home last week.

Three hermits, a dead kelp crab,and limpets. The deep red  critters at bottom right are not fish; they're shreds of seaweed.

Kelp crabs are usually a dull olive green, sometimes greenish brown. I don't know if this one was joining the explosion of colour in his lifetime, or if there's some sort of blue-green algae that took over his carapace and legs after he died.

This photo was taken aiming straight down into a foot-deep rounded hole. There are many of these near the bottom of the intertidal zone; circular holes, smooth-walled, looking like someone at some time removed a bowling ball from the rock. What causes this? I don't know.

I am always on the lookout for nice whelk shells for my hermits at home. Here, around this erratic, there are many whelks, all healthy and shiny, but no empty shells. And almost every hermit crab I saw was wearing a smashed and broken shell. What happened to the fresh shells?

I feel sorry for these hermits; the ones I brought home were quick to switch into intact shells; they do know the difference. I almost feel like collecting some decent shells from my tank and spreading them around this tide pool. Or would the tide immediately haul them off and slam them against the rocks until they were full of holes?

Questions, questions.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Just out of reach

I'm fascinated by the pool under the erratic boulder; I went back again today, and discovered new and amazing things again. More photos to be processed!

So far, I've not found the area dry, so all the photos (and what I saw) are warped under a hand's length of wind-blown water. Some look like abstract paintings:

A cozy home to assorted chitons, various anemones, starfish, encrusting pink algae, barnacles, whelks, and many hermits in smashed shells.

5 or more chitons here. Look for the reddish girdle, with a paler central oval. 

A sample red-girdled chiton, very tiny, found on a rock. 8 pale shell segments and a red-brown girdle.

Another of the black leather chitons. Several species live under this rock.

The view from the access point. The second erratic, where the pool is, is on the far, far right.

Today I walked around the point to a third, slightly smaller erratic, but couldn't quite reach it because the tide was too high, and I was keeping my so-called "waterproof" shoes dry. They can handle an inch of water, but no more, and it's a long walk back with squelchy socks.

Another day, another low tide. At least the weather is finally cooperating.

I brought home another Giant Pacific chiton, very dead; it's soaking now in hydrogen peroxide. If all works out, I'll eventually have photos of the internal shells.

Next: surprising anemones.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Sand trap

Another find on the same flat beach:

Unidentified sponge, as found at the top of the intertidal zone.

At home, dried and cleaned up. Sand still fills many of the pores. 7 inches diameter.

The sponge had evidently been ripped out of its home and tossed up by the waves. It was still damp, and on the underside, where the sunshine didn't reach, it was orange. The green spots seem to be the green algae that grows on everything. Once the sponge was dry, the orange colour disappeared.

Sponges are difficult to identify, especially out of context. (The Encyclopedia lists 26 undetermined sponges after their photos of named species.) I think this may possibly be an Orange Finger sponge, Neoesperiopsis rigida, a sponge I remember seeing on the underside of a local dock. They may be quite varied in shape and colour: INaturalist has a series of photos demonstrating this: pale orange, pink, brownish, but not green; long and skinny, or in rounded clumps.

A sponge is an animal that is basically a filtration device. The "fingers" are hollow; water flows in through the porous walls and is pumped out through the larger upper opening. Food particles, tiny plankton, shreds of organic material, get filtered out along the way.

A closer look at some of the "fingers".

Wednesday, March 07, 2018


On a third visit to the sandstone and erratics beach, I discovered two of the largest chitons I have seen so far, unfortunately dead, left behind by the retreating tide.

Giant Pacific chiton, aka gumboot chiton, Cryptochiton stelleri. This specimen was a bit over 6 inches long. Adults may grow to 14 inches.

Quoting from my Encyclopedia:
"The largest chiton in the world! The giant Pacific chiton's eight shells are completely and cryptically overgrown by girdle."
No other chiton in this area has all 8 plates covered by the mantle, nor grows this large. (From

The mantle was eroded, firm and slightly porous. The shells were only visible as ridges underneath the flesh of the mantle. And from the underside, where the meat had been torn away.

Upside-down chiton. Three shell shapes are exposed.

This chiton has gills along the sides of the foot. The white lines in the grooves here may be bits of the gills. The mantle covers the whole top and laps over the edges, leaving only the foot exposed. Here, it has retracted somewhat as it dried.

These chitons (at least other, less unlucky, members of their families) may live up to 20 years, never straying more than a few metres from home base, at the bottom of the intertidal zone and a bit further out to sea.

Google image of the beach. Access is from a driveway-length road, Shell Road.

Shell Road Beach location

Friday, March 02, 2018

Making do

On a wide, flat beach, the tide races in and out, even as it creeps up more sloped shores. The current polishes rocks, re-shapes sand structures, digs holes behind stones. On sandy shores, mobile critters hurry to grab onto stones, scramble underneath seaweed, or burrow deep into the sand. On Boundary Bay, I have seen an incautious hermit crab, caught in the open as the water receded, swept off his feet and out to deeper water, rolling over and over helplessly.

On a hard sandstone base, the challenges are tougher. Where to hide? A scrap of broken stone, a clump of rockweed, maybe a ledge between sandstone plates. But the safe spots are few and far between. Life gets difficult.

On the sandstone flats last week, I was again looking for whelk shells for my growing hermits. In an hour of walking, I saw a half-dozen live whelks. But only two empty shells, both smashed and useless. (Or so I thought at the time.)

There were other snails, plenty of them, all tiny and tinier. Many of them turned out to be leftovers now being worn by tiny hermit crabs. I picked up a teaspoon-full to examine at home.

In a tide pool, I noticed a couple of larger hermits. And these demonstrated the difficulty of finding proper clothing in a whelk-shell desert; the shells they were wearing were all badly broken, some barely there. I took pity on several and brought them home.

In a tray at home. Grainy hand hermit in holey shell, and one of the tinies, also in a broken shell.

Hairy hermit in half a shell.

Another hairy hermit, in the tank now, on the prowl searching for a better shell.

At home, I looked them over, then added them to the aquarium. A few minutes later, one was wearing a new white shell. Several others were busy inspecting the assortment on offer. By evening, they were all properly dressed.

Amazing blue pincers on this grainy hand hermit! He's wearing one of the newer shells, but still wondering if another would fit better. In the end, he stayed with the first one.

The tiny hermits, some just bigger than a pinhead, are mostly black and white-legged ones, with a few of the tiny orange hermits. Many of them also needed new shells, but my tank is well stocked; they are all happily trundling about in their new outfits.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Leopard skin and sequins

I found this sculpin lying on the beach, still bright and richly patterned, even as he lay dead.

He's about 8 inches long.

The belly and tail are a black and tan leopard skin print, the head is decorated in sequinned sunbursts, continuing down the sides with shiny chevrons. And look at those icicle-turquoise spines at the sides!

Zooming in.

I think this is a buffalo sculpin, Enophrys bison; these are extremely variable in colour and pattern, but the raised scales down the sides and the long spines at the back of the cheeks are distinguishing features. Most of the buffalos have several white or light-coloured bands across the body; this one has two.