Friday, April 29, 2016

Lilac to purple

A few flowers from around my block.

Lilac. It seems everybody here has a lilac bush. The streets are perfumed.

Unidentified flowers growing in a great mound by a driveway. Beautiful, even the dying ones in the centre.

I had to sit on the curb for this one. A tiny, tiny vetch, growing in cracks in the cement.

Zooming in.
Vetches can be differentiated from most of the other members of Fabaceae by the fact that the terminal leaflet of each set of leaves is actually a tendril. (

Purple iris

Zooming in. A "come hither" wave for pollinators. The yellow pollen banks remind me of the opalescent nudibranch.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Where the bee sups

The weather has been warm the last few days, so I was chasing bees. They were chasing pollen, and too excited about the new goodies on the trees to stay in any one spot for more than a few seconds. And they had company, which I was too busy following bees to notice until I looked at my photos.

Honeybee on hawthorn, with bags full of pollen. And a tiny fly on a leaf.

Another bee, also carrying shopping bags.

And another bee. With at least two other critters; can you find them?

Metallic fly; looks artificial.

Bumblebee in pink rhododendron.

Same bee, I think. And a tiny beetle. By the shape and size, I would guess it's a carpet beetle.

It looks like the buggy season is starting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fluff monsters

Dandelions are stubborn. And sneaky.

My patch of "lawn" here in Campbell River is about one third grass, half hawkweed, and the rest dandelions. I'm working on digging out the hawkweed, mowing the grass, and cutting down the dandelions as they appear. But the dandelions cheat.

Some of the dandelion heads stand tall, waving defiance. Most of them, though, slide along the ground under the grass until they're ready to go to seed. Then they pop up, toss their fluff into the wind, and sneer at attempts to harness them.

Dandelion seeds, brought inside where they won't reach the lawn. I hope.

A cut dandelion, left lying to die, will go to seed as happily as if it were still attached to its roots. A pollinated dandelion flower cut in pieces will still make seeds. A composted dandelion will leave seeds that can still germinate years later.

Yesterday afternoon, I mowed the lawn short, then walked back and forth, digging out dandelion stalks hiding under the grass until I couldn't find any more. In the evening, when I came home, half a dozen seed heads were standing tall. I collected them, and found another handful of hidden stalks. Today, there were three handfuls of flowers ready to go to seed, all hidden under the grass.

It's discouraging.

Not only do the seeds fly everywhere, they're equipped to hold on tight once they've landed, and maybe gain a bit more distance by sticking to animal fur or feathers. Or my shoes.

The seeds are covered in hooks.

One seed, ready to fly.

Zooming in. Six long ribs on this one, each with dozens of sharp hooks. A seed may have up to 12 ribs.

This species is a somewhat prolific seed producer, with 54 to 172 seeds produced per head, and a single plant can produce more than 5,000 seeds a year. (Wikipedia)


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Just plain lucky

If I hadn't been looking at tidepool sculpins. If I hadn't gotten down on my elbows and knees to see the big plumose anemone under the rock in the sculpins' pool. If the sun hadn't angled in at just that moment; I would have passed these by without noticing.

Feather duster worms, on the underside of a huge rock, at the top of the tide pool.

These are big worms, well over an inch wide at the crown. There are hints of others farther back, where the sun hasn't reached; they look almost purplish-black.

Two tubes at the far end, with a few more deeper down, in the shade.

 I touched one tube; the worm in it disappeared instantly and didn't reappear while I waited.

About half of the visible worms were striped; the rest were dark red.

It's good to be home

After the foray into the vibrant colours and light of Mazatlan, I've come back to the clouds, the rain, and the paler spring colours of home; lilacs and pinks and periwinkle blues. And down on the shore, instead of creamy sand, there are rocks covered in blackish seaweeds and sprinkled with snails.

It's good to be home.

And there are colours to be found on the grey beach; it just takes a bit of careful walking and rock-flipping.

Water's edge, with rockweed.

The tide was out, and when I hiked down to the edge, I found that it was in that mid-stage, neither going nor coming; the water was still, the floating seaweeds fixed in place. A good time to be turning over rocks that are usually underwater.

And, of course, there were zillions of crabs and snails and hermits. Under most of the larger stones, one or two gunnels were hiding; they flopped about madly as soon as the stone began to move, and by the time I had put it aside, they were squirming under the next. A kelp crab saw me first, and pinched my fingers; clams squirted their little fountains as I approached. One got me in the face.

Under several stones, I found tiny sea urchins, pink and yellow, the largest barely an inch across.

Sea urchin and purplish seaweed.

Assorted scraps of seaweed. The pale, lacy one is a torn and bleached sea braid; the others are fresh.

The Monterey sea lemon, aka false lemon peel nudibranch, Doris montereyensis.

The black-tipped tubercules distinguish this nudibranch from the "true" or "noble" sea lemon, which is all yellow.

These will grow up to 6 inches long, but the largest I've found this spring was still under 3 inches.

Another view. The two yellow bumps in front are the rinopores, sensory horn-shaped projections, shut down while he's out of water. In back, once the tide comes in, he will extend his feather gills.

Another Monterey, much smaller, bright yellow. With a frilled whelk, two other snails, the arm of a starfish, spiral tubeworms pasted over with flatworm eggs, and the remains of bryozoan colonies. No space is ever wasted.

Barnacle-eating nudibranchs, with their egg ribbons. These grow to just over an inch long; the largest here is about that.

Interesting egg masses that I can't find an id for.

Yellow whelk egg cases.

Juvenile red rock crab who thinks he's hiding.

Pink-tipped green anemone, Anthopleura elegantissima, mostly shut down, waiting for the tide to come in.

At the foot of several very large rocks, the water has carved out shaded pools a few inches deep, even at low tide. When I approached, I could see the water ripple as schools of tiny sculpins dashed for cover, usually rousting their companions out of the chosen spot, so that they, in turn, had to hurry to find a new one. Sort of like a game of musical chairs, where the music never stopped until I went away.

Greenish tidepool sculpin. Others were grey; one was a reddish brown.

Big plumose anemone in a tide pool. And something else ...

Those red and yellow things at the upper left? I'll have photos of them tomorrow.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Move over, Google Earth!

Given a tiny corner of an airplane window, and the pocket Sony, I had to take a few aerial photos.

Dawn over a mountain peak. unidentified. About one hour out of Vancouver, heading to L.A.

I tried to find these places on Google, but gave up. Maybe someone more travelled than I would recognize them.

A gift-wrap curly ribbon of a river. Three minutes after the mountain peak.

Just clouds. Half-way to L.A.

Interesting patch of hills. Baja California? An hour south of L.A.

Barren mountains along the coast. Half-way to Mazatlan from L.A.

Farm lands. Still very dry, but with a few green patches and a river. Nearing Mazatlan.

On the way back, I had no window for the first leg, then I watched the sunset for three hours, as we moved west, chasing the light.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Staring into trees

When the birds in the trees see my camera and fly away, there's always still a tree to look at. In Mazatlan, the coconut and date palms, the banana trees, the mangos and mameys were old friends, but there were so many more, new to me, out in plain sight lining and sometimes invading the streets.

Coconut palm, with coconuts ready for the picking.

Green dates on a baby date palm, barely 6 feet tall.

Sidewalk tree.

Another coconut palm, in a vacant lot.

I stopped at many vacant lots, hoping to see birds, occasionally chasing a butterfly, but I had to limit myself to skirting around the streetside edges; usually the vegetation was too dense to penetrate. And usually towering overhead. This one was typical. The vine, I think, is a Monstera variety, and the tree at lower right is probably a banana tree.


I have Googled and browsed for hours; I can't identify these long seed pods.

The trees I found that almost, but not quite, matched these had similar pods and different leaves and leaf growth patterns. Others had knobby or ridged pods; these were smooth on all the trees I examined. The leaves are individual, oval-shaped, opposite, at the end of a forked terminal branch.

Small citrus, probably kumquats.

I haven't been able to identify yesterday's tree, where the boat-billed flycatcher has her nest, either. Dense leaf cover, pale yellow, upright flowers.

Any help with identification of any of these is greatly appreciated.

In the green spaces, open grass and trees, not quite parks but more wide walkways between streets, fruit lies on the ground, split open, a fresh buffet for birds and small animals. I was surprised not to see many insects, apart from the butterflies. Maybe they're all nocturnal, or at least hiding from the heat of midday.

The mangos are still small and green in April; once they ripen and fall, they will add their perfume to the entire area.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

And still more birds

Wherever we went in Mazatlan, there were birds. Lifers, as often as not. Sometimes I managed to take photos with whatever camera was on hand; sometimes, laden down with purchases, big floppy hat that kept blowing off, maps and sunglasses (on again, off again, depending on the shade I kept hiding in), by the time I'd scrabbled through my bags and dug out the camera, either the birds or my vehicle of the moment had moved on. The trials of a tourist!

And sometimes, even when I was prepared and had the time, I only heard the birds and couldn't see them. Picture an oldish lady in a wide-rimmed, black hat, roasting in blazing sunlight on a cobblestone street. See her, camera ready, staring up into a tree, dodging the occasional car, returning again to stare into the branches. And then, reluctantly, turning off the camera and trudging on. Picture the bemused or amused glances of residents passing by. Tourists!

Some birds I recognized, even with brief glances; violet-green swallows, sparrows, a goldfinch, common rock pigeons, the great-tailed grackle (like our crow, in behaviour and colour, but longer and bluer.) Some looked familiar at first glance, but then were subtly different from those I'm used to.

There was another bird hanging around the edge of the rocks with me while I watched surfbirds, a pale brown, almost featurless peep. The camera refused to focus, choosing rather the darker rocks right behind it. I think, from memory, that it was probably a willet.

House sparrows. Although, if the back one is a female, her beak should be yellowish.

The great-tailed grackle. Male; the females are smaller, and dark brown. 

When the light hits them just right, they shine in iridescent blues and purples.

Male grackles on a roof ridge, displaying for the females. Lots of competition here!

Territorial “ruff-out” displays of erected feathers, fanned tail, and bill held skyward may erupt into wrestling matches, with competing males locking talons and rolling on the ground. (Cornell)

This was another lifer: the boat-billed flycatcher.

Boat-billed flycatcher, Megarynchus pitangua, with nest. A shy bird; one camera click, and she ducked down out of sight.

The back and tail are brown. There is a yellow patch on top of the head, only visible at certain angles.

The great Kiskadee is an almost identical bird, also present in the area. But it has a reputation for being bold and noisy; these ones were wary of humans and quick to hide, so I think they're b-b flycatchers. As always, I could be wrong.

Another shy bird.

Some sort of woodpecker*. Photo lightened up considerably; she was hiding in deep shade. For the next photo, she ducked behind the branch and only showed the top of her head.
*Update: Gila Woodpecker Melanerpes uropygialis

Very bad photo of a brilliant little bird. I think he might be a male Vermilion Flycatcher.

And of course, there are always common city pigeons.

One on the beach

Hundreds in a tree. Zocalo, Antigua Mazatlan.

I want to go back.