Saturday, May 27, 2017

House guests

Found exploring my sofa cushions:

Young female, looking fat and healthy. I wonder what she's been finding to eat behind my sofa.

Side view of the fangs.

I shooed her into a corner, where the kittens don't play. (Yet.)

"Zebbie", at 5 weeks old. Would love to pounce on a running spider.

Friday, May 26, 2017


We call it Big Rock. Of course; the first thing we notice about it is its size: huge. It sits at the top of the beach, looming. 10 metres high, and wider than it is tall; it probably weighs around 8000 tons.

The south face. The poles have been left by climbers and graffiti artists. Every so often, someone erects a driftwood sculpture on the top.

I have been driving by the rock several times a week for two years now, and had never stopped before to look at it properly until a couple of days ago. High time.

North face. Current graffiti includes a dragonfly and umpteen "We were here" messages.

Some 10 to 15 thousand years ago, most of Vancouver Island was weighed down by ice up to 2 kilometres thick, so heavy that it pushed the land down under the sea. And for those thousands of years, the ice collected rock and debris from the mountains and dragged or pushed it down towards the sea.

The ice melted finally, the land rose, and Big Rock was left stranded on the shore, probably hundreds of kilometres from its source. (A glacier moves about 30 cm. per day: calculate that over 1,000 years!) Geologists call these glacier leftovers "erratics".

Grass and moss growing on the inland top side.

A landmark so obvious is bound to collect legends. Some First Nations stories explain the rock as a grizzly that tried to jump over from Quadra Island and didn't make it; others say it's a beached whale, condemned to stand on the shore forever as punishment for swallowing a fisherman off Mitlenatch Island.

Graffiti comes and goes, but the painting of the whale is always renewed.

Lichen on the shoreward side, above the reach of salt water.

I had read that there is a benchmark embedded in the rock. I walked around the rock, searching carefully; on the third circuit, I found it, a metal plaque, about 3 inches across, half hidden under several layers of paint. (I tried to scrape off the red paint with a stone, and just exposed the blue underneath. I gave up.)

I can't read what it says. The horizontal line marks sea level.

(Now that I know where it is, I can see it in the second photo above; low down on the sunny side, near the logs, just under a white curve. All around the rock, the graffiti is faded below this line; it's underwater at high tide.)

Under a rock overhang, I found this perfectly preserved crane fly, in a skimpy spider's web. The sharply pointed tip of the abdomen identifies her as a female.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Just another perfect day.

It looks like summer has (more or less) arrived.

Clouds and sail. Looking east, towards the mainland.

A Skywatch post.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tiny whites.

It pays to stop and sit on the ground, to crouch down to an ant's level; standing tall, we miss so much! These white gems in Kin Park, for example.

Field chickweed, Cerastium arvense, with Indian consumption plant. The larger leaves are Beach Pea, just getting ready to flower.

Another field chickweed, with tiny wasp (I think, because of the long antennae).

And yet another, almost the whole plant. None were taller than a hand's width.

Wild strawberry, with ant. I'm not sure of the tiny white cluster of flowers. A miniature in the Brassica family, maybe?

Another wild strawberry, another ant. But look closely: see the heart-shaped seed pods along the bottom of the photo?

The seed pods, or silicles, look like those of the Prairie Pepper-grass, Lepidium densiflorum. The flowers match and are the right size, but these plants were all barely taller than the moss. Looking closely, these seed pods show up in most of the photos above; the plants were everywhere, but so tiny that I never saw them until I blew up the photos.

Zooming in on the silicles. One stem, at centre bottom, is flowering.

And here's the moss, Roadside rock moss, with their white bristle tips. And a couple of busy ants.

Where the ground is a bit damper, English daisies bloom in a clover patch.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Crayon colours

At Kin Park, between the sandy beach with its log barrier and the mowed grass, lies a sandy meadow, dry and hot under the spring sun, wearing a patchwork cloak of yellow, purple, peach, pink and green. With red and black ants.

Indian consumption plant, Lomatium nudicale (yellow), and Sea blush, Plectritis congesta (pink). With three ants.

Sea blush.

Menzies' Larkspur, Delphinium menziesii.

More larkspur, with Indian consumption plant and red sorrel.

The Claytonia growing here is tiny, most under a couple of inches tall.

Claytonia with running ant, and seed pods.

Ant-level miniature, with additional pink flowers, unidentified. This is, at the most, an inch tall.

There were more flowers in that bit of meadow; I'll post them tomorrow.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The mission: Claytonia

Comox is a beautiful little (pop. 13,000) coastal town half an hour's drive south from Campbell River. I got lost there twice in two days, and enjoyed every minute of it.

I had been asked if I could collect seeds of the Pale Spring Beauty I had found years ago on the Boundary Bay dunes. Not likely, I said, unless I can find the plants here on the Island. And then a friend showed photos of the flowers, taken in Comox. I asked her for the location - Kin Park, just above the shoreline - and planned a trip when they would have gone to seed.

Claytonia exigua, Boundary Bay, April, 2011. Under two inches tall.

The roads in and around Comox wind around, uphill and down, through forests, past open marsh, farm land, residential areas, never keeping to the same direction for five minutes at a time. At this time of year, especially, with the sunlight glowing through new leaves and the signs warning us to watch for deer, it's easy to get distracted.

Friday morning, I mapped out my route carefully, as usual. But I missed my turn and ended up at a dead end, at the Little River restoration project. No sign of Kin Park, but I had to be close; I left the car and walked through wetlands and a housing development to reach the shore. In less than an hour of searching, I found my Claytonia. Two large plants, the largest almost 6 inches across, and gone to seed!

Home again, hot and tired, still dizzy from the heat, and with a camera full of photos, I checked Google maps again, found my missed turn, looked at Kin Park, and decided to go back the next day.

This time, I turned too soon, drove around in circles until I ended up at a dead end in Kye Bay. Retraced my route twice, found the road I needed, and finally, found Kin Park, and three large patches of Claytonia. Mission accomplished!

The largest of the plants, about 6 inches across, growing near the base of a stump buried in sand. Little River area.

Seed pods, almost ripe.

Claytonia grows, according to E-Flora, in "Moist, open vernal sites,"; where I have found them, each time, has been just at the intersection of dunes and open meadow. The tiniest were in dry spots; the larger ones were sheltering at the base of logs and a stump, where a bit of moisture still remains even on sunny days.

More photos of Claytonias and other shore and wetland plants next.

(And now I have to go back to Kye Bay; chocolate lilies grow there!)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Everything but the kitchen sink

It's that time of year; everything's budding, leafing out, blooming, running, multiplying. And so are my "to be posted later" photos. Before I start processing today's batch (and what a day it has been!), here are this month's holdovers, in no particular order.

New cones on fir spruce, Tyee Spit.

Pollen cones, on pine. Myrt Thompson trail.

Unidentified moss, Elk Falls.

Another view of that moss.

Lichen and moss on a rock face, Upper Campbell Lake

Hyacinth in a dark corner of my garden.

Purple dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum. These are astonishingly pink, growing in large patches along Tyee Spit. Later in the season, they'll be greener.

Service berry, aka Saskatoon. They're in bloom wherever the sunlight reaches.

Crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum. I saw only two of these along the Myrt Thompson trail. When I returned, on my way home, they were gone. I hope the roots remained.

One of many small waterfalls, plunging down the cliffs near Upper Campbell Lake.

Unusual cliff formation. 

Water seeps through the bore holes, made for the dynamite that blasted out the space for a highway. I've been corrected: the holes might be geophysical tests of the lava rock magnetic orientation. Highway 28

Unnamed mini-lake beside the highway. The camera could not record the calls of early red-wing blackbirds.

A wolf spider, running. These are common on the upper beach, but are always running. And they're fast! I chased this one until he was tired. So was I.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Easy pickings

In the Campbell River estuary, two-inch-long fish, salmon or trout, were schooling. A great blue heron stood in the shallows, enjoying a hearty lunch.

Caught another. His long crown feathers dance with each lunge.

Watching for the next bite.

From behind shrubs on the river bank, I approached, step by step. The heron ignored me until I had to step out from behind the last one. Then he stood, watching me, but never ceding his rich fishing spot. I retreated, and he went back to his meal.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Beautiful alien

Scotch broom is horribly invasive, toxic to animals, a fire hazard, and a killer of native plants. Besides which, it makes me sniffle and sneeze.

But it is beautiful, for all that.

Broom against the sky, Myrt Thompson trail.

Broom zoom.

When I was a child in White Rock, (1950 or thereabouts) a large house along Buena Vista street was fenced with masses of broom. In season, I would go out of my way to pass them on the way home from school.

Back then, it was purposely planted, as an ornamental, and to reduce erosion. And it grew well anywhere, needing no care. Its stems are photosynthetic, so it continues to grow through the winter, when most of our other plants shut down.

Now it's taking over the south end of Vancouver Island, pushing out our native berries and evergreen trees, destroying range land and endangering wildlife.

Shrubs grow 1-3 metres in height and have a lifespan of 15-20 years. ... Mature plants can produce up to 3500 pods, each containing 5-12 seeds. As seedpods dry they split and spiral, expelling the contained seeds near the parent plant. Seedpods are hardy, remaining viable in water, soil and gravel for more than 30 years! (Invasive Species Council)

It's too bad it's beautiful.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Red elderberry flowers.

Everywhere I look this week, I see red elderberry in bloom. Usually, it's on the far side of a tangled ditch, or in a mass of those nasty blackberry canes, or just beyond the devil's club. I broke off a small branch in a salmonberry patch, and brought it back to the car.

Sambucus racemosa flower stalk. A conical mass of tiny, short-lived, green-scented flowers.

The car window makes a neutral background.

Zooming in. The flowers are from 3 - 6 mm across.

The flowers will fade soon, and the red berries will be a favourite food for the birds. Not for humans, though; they may be somewhat edible, but raw, they're bitter. Cooked they are said to make good jelly, once the seeds are removed.

In season, my dad used to make elderberrry flower pancakes. He  made up his usual pancake batter, then dipped the flower heads, one at a time, into it. Each pancake held one flower head. We loved these.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tiny, tiny. Tinier.

On a weedy playing field, cropped close, many miniature plants were in flower below the mower line. I collected one entire plant and brought it home. It was, roots to flower heads, less than an inch tall.

The entire plant, with roots. I planted it in a clamshell.

I set the plant in a sunny window and kept it watered for a few weeks. It never grew any larger. The flowers shrivelled, and didn't produce seeds; my window seems to be lacking in pollinators.

It looks like one of the cresses; the basal rosette and flowers are like that of the Little Western Bitter-cress, but that one grows from 4 to 18 inches tall. The hairy leaves look like those of Field Pennycress, up to 20 inches tall.

I needed a magnifying glass, or the camera lens, to appreciate the flowers.

White, pink, and yellow bouquet.

Ant-level view. Small ant, of course.

And to think that I must have stepped on hundreds of these flowers walking across the field!