Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Look out below!

I've been on the road all day, highways and byways and trails in the bush, to lakes and bays and piles of rock.

Rock face beside McCreight Lake

"Watch for fallen rock," a sign said. Nervous-making.

More photos later. For now, bed.

Monday, February 08, 2016

So blue

Away from the light pollution of cities, night falls quickly. The last colours to go are on the blue/violet end of the spectrum.

Brown's Bay Marina, 6 PM.

Fish boats, Brown's Bay

Small lights, orange and white, reflecting over water have always carried the connotation, for me, of welcome, food, conversation and warmth. So I was disappointed to find the Brown's Bay restaurant closed for the season. Next visit, I'll carry a bag lunch.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Lake X

"Brown's Bay Resort", the sign said. Only 5 km. off the main highway north. It was after sunset, and I should have been heading home, but what's 5 km?

An hour's drive, it was, there and back. The road is potholed gravel, sometimes one lane only. It winds through dark forest, past rocky outcrops covered with moss, over rushing creeks, and passes two tiny lakes glittering through the trees.

The last of the light. 5:45 PM. 

The lakes are pictured on Google maps, but have no names. This one's a small triangle; I was standing on the bottom edge.

By the time I got to Brown's Bay, the stars were out. I looked around, and drove back home for supper.

I'll be back, in daylight.

A Skywatch post.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Not a warm fuzzy

Every week, Digital Photography School lays out a new challenge for their readers. Shiny things, heavy things, panoramas, etc. I try to join in when I can; it's a way to keep learning. This week, the challenge was "Warm Fuzzies". The sample photos and the submissions were as expected: kittens, babies, ducklings, blankets.

If only I had a cat!

I thought about it a while, then decided this was not for me. My critters are not fuzzy, they're not cuddly, they live in ice water. Not a match.

Later in the afternoon, changing the water in my tank, I found the 15-scale scale worm (an inch long) hiding in a bit of sea lettuce. And yes, he was cute, and fuzzy, and a nice, warm colour; maybe he'd fit the bill after all.

He didn't agree. First, he hid under a shred of eelgrass. I took that away.

Then he insisted on hanging out upside-down.

I turned him right side up, using that eelgrass. Then he hated the light in his four eyes, and kept running and running, twisting and turning, round and round and round, looking for a dark corner, never stopping because the saucer had no corners.
Blurry, not fuzzy at all.

What he was supposed to look like, except darker. Photo from 2010.

But then, as I was looking at the photos before I deleted them, I noticed something odd. Scale worms often lose a scale or two, and this one had lost most of one near the tail. And underneath those scales, he's an entirely different worm, with contrasting black and white stripes.

Zooming in on that tail.

Another look. Is that a spark plug on the end?

I looked at umpteen scale worm photos on the web, and didn't find any showing the body without scales. What I did find was scale worms from warmer places, all in bright, showy colours. Ours are dull browns and blacks, but maybe they're just as showy under their coats.

And I'll skip this weeks photo challenge.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Forgotten worms

I was tidying up my files, and found this batch of photos, stashed in the wrong folder since last year. I had been changing the water in the tank, with the assorted residents waiting in bowls and trays of water. A few worms hiding in empty barnacle shells got a whiff of the treats I'd put out for the hermits, and came out to see if they could snag a bite.

Head of polychaete

A different one, reaching.

Mouth, with jaws showing.

The polychaete worm has two black, chitinous jaws. Usually, they're hidden inside the mouth, which is retracted behind the palps and tentacles, but to feed, they reverse the order, pushing the jaws out in front.

Polychaete head with jaws everted. From U. of Cal, SC.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Tarry confusion

Just below the upper tidal limit, the rocks often are slippery, covered with a blackish, tarry, oily-looking crust, treacherous to step on, unappealing to touch. It's worth stopping to look at it, though: it had scientists stumped for years, not knowing what it was.

Turkish washcloth, Petrocelis phase.

More Turkish washcloth, Mastocarpus papillatus

The crusts are about 1/4 inch thick, well glued down; they don't scrape off or stick to curious fingers. Dry, they're almost black, but otherwise they are usually a dark, bluish red. They grow around, not over barnacles. (Something in the barnacle chemistry that they don't like, maybe?)

In older books, they're assigned to the genus, Petrocelis. Eventually, they were discovered to be a phase in the life cycle of Turkish washcloth seaweeds.

The most confusing stage is the tetrapsorophyte, once thought to be a different alga altogether.  It is encrusting and looks like a patch of soft tar on a rock.  Once the life cycle was figured out the species became known as Mastocarpus papillatus.  However, common synonyms still exist such as Gigartina papillata.(*) (Joe Lutz)

Either Turkish towel or Turkish washcloth. The towel is much larger, but otherwise similar. The bumps are reproductive structures, which give rise to the crustal phase.

I've been calling all the Turkish variants "towels", but they are distinct species. I Googled them for a bit of clarity, and got more confused; not only are the names changing, but even the number of species is in the process of being sorted out. And there are other seaweeds that have a crust phase, as well, difficult to distinguish on the beach. So for now, I'll stick to towels (big) and washcloths (small).

Another crust, with small patch of another seaweed, possibly Endocladia muricata. (I could be wrong. Easily.)

It commonly forms the top-most conspicuous band of seaweed along that coast. (Central California) E. muricata often grows with Pelvetiopsis limitata (dwarf rockweed) and Mastocarpus papillatus (Turkish washcloth), on rocks in the high intertidal. (Wikipedia)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 
(Shakespeare -Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

*Kozloff, 1973, was still calling the washcloth Gigartina, but recognizes the crust as a stage in its life cycle.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Shy cormorants

Far down the beach, a rock full of cormorants beckoned.

20 cormorants visible on this side of the rock.

As I approached, although only two flew away, there seemed to be fewer birds on the rock.

13 cormorants.

The tide had gone out by the time I arrived to a point opposite the rock. The cormorants seemed a bit nervous about me.

9 cormorants. And what is that one doing?

Zooming in. It looks like he's holding his head upside-down. And then he righted himself, and dropped out of sight.

7 cormorants. And one gull, now that there's space on the tip of the rock.

When I had walked back a fair distance, farther out from the shore now that the tide was lower, I turned to look at the rock. All the cormorants were still there, but they were jammed together on the seaward side.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016


Oysters do.

Toothy, clownish smile.

Oysters are filter feeders. They "inhale" water, pumping it over their short tentacles and their gills, trapping small particles and swimmers in mucus, which they pass on to the mouth. The "teeth" in this photo are tentacles. The gills are right behind them.

Oyster anatomy. Gif from East Hampton Aquaculture.

The food travels through the stomach and intestine. What is rejected out of hand, before it enters the intestine, such as bits of sand, is wrapped in mucus and expelled, much as we spit out fish bones without swallowing them. Of the rest, indigestible food particles travel through the digestive system, and are also expelled into the surrounding water, where the busy janitors (aka hermit crabs) collect them and reprocess them.

An oyster can filter up to 5 l (1.3 US gal) of water per hour. ... Excess sediment, nutrients, and algae ... Oyster filtration can mitigate these pollutants. (Wikipedia)

So the three oysters now in my tank may be filtering 15 litres of the water every hour, 180 litres a day. The anemones will be happy; they hate polluted water.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Side by side

Here's one of the new pink-tipped anemones, feeding and growing, standing tall.

Anthopleura elegantissima

And, right next to it, one of the Leafy Hornmouth snails:

Ceratostoma foliatum, with the Warty tunicate behind it.

I love the contrasting textures, the rough, craggy shell of the snail, and the creamy greens, pinks, reds, and yellows of the soft tissues.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cave dwellers

The morning brought a faint hint of sunshine, a promise of more. I loaded the camera, grabbed my coat, and hit the road. By the time I'd run a couple of errands, it was raining, but not too hard. I drove down to the shore to look at the water from the shelter of the car.

The waves were high and pounding in; as soon as I parked, I could hear them roaring. Rain or no rain, I had to be on the beach.

Waves, and a duck, resting calmly in the trough..

The tide was out farther than I've seen it so far this fall and winter. I went down to the water's edge, turned over a few rocks: crabs, crabs, crabs, and tiny barnacles.

Barnacles on the bottom of a rock. One limpet, one mussel. The crabs all ran for cover.

Sandpiper, just out of reach of the waves.

It was raining a bit harder now, but off in the distance, I could see the strange sandstone formations we had explored in bygone summers. I sheltered the camera under my coat and went to look at them.

Round rocks, and a dark row of flat sandstone, on a dark, rainy day.

This part of the beach has a solid underpinning, not sand, but flattish sandstone, with occasional "tables" fringed with seaweeds, rimmed and topped with small round indentations, up to about an inch in diameter. In between the sandstone tables, smallish, round stones  cover most of the lower slab. Large rocks are scattered randomly across the whole area. An unusual mix.

Sample arrangement.

This one got tipped on an angle. How, I don't know; it's heavy.

Holes around the rim of two tables. They remind me of cave dwellings I have seen on a Mexican mountainside.

When we investigated rocks like these a few summers ago, most of the pits were occupied by small, green anemones. I couldn't see any now, in the winter; instead, small periwinkle snails are hiding there. Maybe the anemones are underneath them, waiting for warmer weather.

Barnacles out in the open, snails in the tubs.

Anemones in sandstone pits, summer of 2010.

The rain picked up, and my camera was getting wet. I clutched it under my coat and hurried back to shore. I'll be back, next sunny day at low tide.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Janitorial staff

Just another couple of hermit portraits ...

Hard at work, cleaning the fuzz off barnacles.

Hairy hermit, Pagurus hirsutiusculus. He's lost one pincer, but he still keeps busy.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Unexpected guests

I was hunting for barnacles. My leafy hornmouth snails were hungry, and that's all they would eat. And I wasn't having any luck. I walked miles down the shore, over several days, finding nothing. Not a barnacle in sight, except on huge rocks. At the higher tide levels, they don't like small stones that can be rolled around by the waves, crushing their shells. For critters with only feet and an intestine, they're remarkably smart.

Last Saturday, I was out searching again. Nothing, nothing, nothing. I gave up and started walking at the extreme high tide line, where seaweeds and bits of driftwood tossed up by the recent stormy weather were drying. And there, far above their normal haunts, I found three large oysters, covered in barnacles.

They had to be dead by now, cast up this far above the usual water line for several days. But the barnacles would be ok, and I could open up the oysters, scrape them out, and put the clean shells with their load of snail food into the tank. I brought them home.

Except that they weren't dead. When I put them in water to wash them off, they opened up. When I touched them, they closed down. Alive and healthy; they're hardier than I imagined.

Oysters in the aquarium. With happy leafy hornmouth snails and hermits.

The snails got busy right away, eating several big barnacles each every day. And the scavengers, hermits and crabs, swarmed over the shells, picking away all the rotting seaweed, cleaning out dying barnacles. (The snails won't touch those: they like their meals very fresh.) The oysters pumped water in and out as the hermits cleaned off their lips.

Under the detritus, the hermits discovered a couple of anemones, looking miserable, shut down and fraying. The hermits took over, tearing away all the dead flesh, cleaning out the wounds. A day later, the anemones were as good as new.

Anemone # 2. Looking good. Smaller than a barnacle. Pink-tipped anemone, Anthopleura elegantissima, maybe.

Yesterday's anemone, once the minor surgery was finished, went for a walk and ended up parked on one of the snails. In the top photo, above, it's on the snail on the right.

While I was at it, I took a few more photos of the warty tunicate (the orange tubes in front of the oysters above). It has also been thoroughly cleaned by the hermits; they're busy little beasties.

Warty tunicate, Pyura haustor, showing the "warts", now that the old gunk is gone.

Zooming in on one siphon. It looks like a smaller tunicate is growing there.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


An unexpected new addition to my tank.

Just a baby, starting to explore his world, riding on a Leafy Hornmouth snail.

More photos, and the story, tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Water always wins

Since I was a child, so long ago, I loved to sit on the shore or a dock, just watching the waves. On they came, one after another, never ceasing, always changing and never changed. On and on and on; they'd been rolling in since time immemorial, and they'd be rolling in when we were long gone. More than the mountains, more than the stony cliffs, more even than the stars above me, the ocean settled me, gave me a sense of permanence, of something to count on.

Two old pilings catching a wave; constant  movement meets stolid resistance.

I've grown old, and the waves still roll in, as always. And I'm still awed by their power; such a soft, yielding substance is water, yet it hammers away, year after year, rolling stones, crumbling breakwaters, consuming pilings, rocks, cliffs, entire land masses.

Rolls, circles, droplets, and Velcro hooks (Far left)

I walked on the quiet beach the other day; the only sounds were the constant swish, swish, swish as each wave landed on the beach. And the rattle and rumble of stones pushed to and fro, the shore being shaped, yet again, by the encroaching tide.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Desert isle

South of Campbell River, the highway follows the shoreline to Oyster Bay, then veers inland. From here on south, access to the shore is via occasional roads through the forest to resort areas or parks. Keeping to these roads, I'd missed something important.

Saturday afternoon was sunny and warm; the tide was high, but going down. I took a path to the beach from the south end of Oyster Bay Park, and headed south along the shore, past the front walls of a resort, past a wide lawn with notices on the beach for guests of the next resort, heading for a bright spot where sunlight had managed to filter through the trees to a patch of beach.

The wind was up and the waves were choppy. Only two boats were in sight from here, one of them towing a barge laden with bright-labelled boxes.

Boats, barge, and Mitlenatch Island, 5 miles away.

Looking at my photos later, I zoomed in on that island, then searched for it on Google. It's not shown on the maps, but on Google Earth, there it is, in the middle of the Strait, highlighted separately from the water surrounding it. And there's a name: Mitlenatch Island. It's even a Provincial Park.

Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park is home to the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia. Glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and black oystercatchers also return to Mitlenatch each spring to breed. All sedentary marine life, including abalones, scallops and sea cucumbers are fully protected within this zone. Some of the largest garter snakes in BC reside here. These snakes are frequently encountered along trails and in beach and tide pool areas, where they feed on small fish such as sculpins and blennies. This park is a favourite haul out for harbour seals, northern and California sea lions. The sea lions are generally present from late autumn to mid-May. River otters, killer whales and harbour porpoises are often sighted offshore. (Wikipedia)

Cormorants! Garter snakes! Sea lions! Rhinocerous auklets! Guillemots and porpoises and whales and sea cucumbers! And more!

Mitlenatch Island is home to the largest seabird nesting colony in the Strait of Georgia ... (BC Parks)

It's a dry island, which is why it shows up against the background of our coastal rain forests. It's in the Vancouver Island rain shadow, and gets about half the rainfall that we do in Campbell River, just a few miles away. It even has cacti!

Visit in May when the island’s meadows of spring wildflowers are in bloom, or in late May to July when the harvest brodia blooms and in the last half of June when the coastal cactus bloom. (BC Parks)

Most of the island is off-limits to visitors, but there are a few trails and a bird blind. Volunteer wardens stay on the island during the summer to ensure that people stay to the trails and don't harass the sea lions. Fishing off-shore is not permitted, nor is any sort of collecting, except for photos. And memories.

And it's accessible only by boat. The only local boat tour I can find starts from Cortes Island; to get there for a day trip this May, I have to take an early-morning ferry to Quadra Island, drive across the island, take a second ferry to Cortes Island, and take a shuttle across Cortes to Manson Bay, a trip that has to be repeated in reverse in the evening. Expensive and exhausting; but I've already pinned it to my calendar. This is a place I must see!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

People food

In midwinter, the seaweed harvest on the shore is limited; here, it's mostly shreds of red algae, much battered, and mostly rotting. Occasionally, then, I supplement my critters' diet with a bit of people food, from the supermarket. Dried nori seaweed, made for sushi wraps. The brand I buy contains nothing but seaweed; no flavourings or additives. And all my critters love it! (Even the mud snails.)

Here's a green shore crab, hogging a section for himself, keeping an eye out for marauding hermits.

"Mine, mine, mine, all mine!"

I gave them enough for a small plate of sushi last night. This morning, there wasn't a shred left.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


I fed my hermit crabs a special treat today, and spent some time trying to get photos of them swarming over it, chowing down.

So I'm zoomed in there, almost touching the scratched glass wall, with the lens aimed an inch away, and next to no depth of field, the screen amplified to its maximum, following a dancing hermit in swirling water, with hands that insist on shaking. In the screen, I see a bit of leg, a section of antenna, then a blur, then hairs, something splotchy, blur, hair, seaweed, leg ... And then suddenly, an eye swims into focus. And it's amazing how swift and visceral my response is; an eye! Intelligence! Contact!


"I see you there!"

I hadn't noticed before the smaller patterning in a hairy hermit's eye.

Click to see full size. Hexagonal sections, laid down in striped rows.

I wonder what they think of the camera's eye, so close.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Early bloomers

I guess it's spring. The evergreen viburnum is flowering.

Viburnum buds and early flowers. January 13th.

All the websites I've looked at say it blooms from April to maybe July, except for one study that found an outlier blooming in January, on the east coast, 'way back in 1932. (The study was done in 1980.)

It's warmer here on Vancouver Island, and this may become the hottest year recorded so far. (2015 beat all previous records, and 2014 was the warmest previous year; I see a possible trend here.) But given our unpredictable weather pattern, these flowers may be jumping the gun. It could freeze hard any day, without warning.

It has rained every day since I took this photo, and they're promising us mostly warm rain for the next two weeks. But that's normal spring weather, too.

Postscript: I realize most of the continent is far from enjoying spring weather this week, what with blizzards and freezing rain, thunderstorms and floods, and I'm sorry. I hope it's over soon, without loss of life or too much damage. And I'll stop grumbling about a bit of rain now.