Sunday, January 15, 2017

Distant birds

Birds are warm-bodied. Warmer than we are; the average temperature of a bird is around 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit). Ours is around 37.

So, while I'm shivering on the beach, bundled up in layers and fleeces, double socks and gloves, I marvel at them, resting placidly in icy water, sleeping or chattering among themselves, as if the water around them weren't 40 degrees colder than their bare feet.

That's a trick even better than flying!

Looks warm. It isn't.

A small flock of wigeons

Wigeons, goldeneyes, and buffleheads, mostly in pairs.

Black-bellied plover, non-breeding plumage. I think. I like their fan tails. (Click for full size.)

I tracked this small flock down the beach. Each time I got within range, they lifted off and moved a few hundred metres further along the shore. And when I got to this point, I didn't even see the second flock, which waited until I reached the logs to startle me by taking off in a great hurry.

An earlier photo. One peep, not one of the flock, slightly fatter, sat on the rock until all the rest of the birds were well away. Mitlenatch Island gleams in the background; the sun seems to hit it more than it does us.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ice on the shore

The combination of salt water and freezing temperatures produces some interesting patterns around the edges.

Damp wood, with ice crystals. Not snow.

Wet, soft organics, like wood and seaweed, collect ice. Frozen wet stones beside them do not.

This peeled log has a sheet of ice where it is splashed with every wave. The inland side is ice free, although it is not as salty.

Waterlogged stump, with "glaciers".

This worm-carved bit of wood was drying out in a sunny patch. There's only a light dusting of frost at the bottom. The whitish layer inside a few of the once-tubes looks like part of a tube worm's protective coat.

*Update: the "worm" would be a shipworm or Teredo, not a worm but a clam. It makes itself a long burrow, up to three feet long. Photo here.

An old kelp crab's carapace. Its colour (usually brownish green) has changed, probably due to exposure. The white ice tracks are where I removed frozen-on eelgrass. The red seaweed is firmly anchored, growing on the carapace.

Shells and coralline seaweed act like stones, rejecting ice. There's ice in the cracks of the wood at lower right, and on a tiny sliver of wood above.

Proud bit of log up where the sun shines, turning thumbs down at those silly, lazy logs just lying on the shore collecting ice.

Catching a few rays.

These poor mallards! They were resting, some sleeping, in a tiny patch where the sun filtered through the trees. And I came walking along the beach, quietly, trying not to disturb them, but they woke up and hurried out into the water, out of my path.

When I returned, heading back to the car, there they were again, in that couple of square metres of sunlight, collecting warmth for the long, cold night. And again, I woke them and they swam away into the chilly sea. Sorry, y'all!

Friday, January 13, 2017


The weather is off-kilter. Up north, they're having a heat wave. In Bella Coola, where I used to live, it should be double digits below zero (Celsius). Instead, it's raining. It's raining in Alaska! There are large areas in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, up by the Arctic Circle, where the temperature is above zero, in spots in the double digits.

And here, in the mild South country, it's freezing hard. Minus 7 here in Campbell River, -8 (Celsius) in Vancouver this morning.*

I went for a walk on the beach, looking for birds. I found ice.

A scrap of Turkish towel seaweed, with ice crystals. Not snow. For some reason, the stones resist the cold while the seaweeds freeze.

I'll have more photos, and even a few chilly birds, tomorrow.

*The weather pundits say the trend is upward; we'll be seeing some of the ice melting next week.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Purple or green?

The male mallard has an iridescent green head.

Mallard, Campbell River estuary. Against the light, so the glow of the head is muted.

And sometimes, a purple head.

This one is half purple, half green.

I looked for an explanation of the colour shift, and found various theories:
  1. It's due to interbreeding with other species. And mallards are notorious for this.
  2. It's really just green, but it looks purple because of light interference and diffraction.
  3. Some mallards are just purple-headed. That's it. And why not? Just enjoy!
  4. The colour depends on the structure of the feathers.
An interesting discussion follows this photo of a strongly purple-headed mallard on Flickr. I have no theory, other than #3 above.

While we're on that shore, here's a sparrow, not shiny, not showy, but just happy, bouncing around in the weeds along the bank, finding goodies to eat.

Lots of yummy seeds among that broken, dried grass!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

It's cold out there

Ice on the Fraser River

Taken through a restaurant* window on my visit to the mainland last week.

(I removed a No Parking sign that the camera saw but that my eyes looked right past. The camera can't edit things out, but our brains do, routinely. So this is what I saw, even if the camera begs to differ.)

*Billy Miner Cafe.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stones or Turnstones?

Walking along a rocky shore in the winter, I am often startled when the rocks ahead take flight. As they speed out over the water, they become peeps with flashing wings. Among the rocks and rotting eelgrass, they had been nearly invisible.

Black Turnstone, winter dress. Against blue water, he is easy to see.

Among the rocks, not so much. The colours match the white barnacle patches and the deep brown of old eelgrass.

And from a bit of distance, they blend in to the background. There are ten turnstones in this photo. Do you see them?

Monday, January 09, 2017

Mini-micro havens

It snowed again yesterday afternoon. Then the snow turned to rain. Our streets were black, then white, then black again. But just a few miles away, on the mainland, the black is bad news; there, it's black ice. And the snow keeps falling.

Closer to home, if I drive over the hill that borders the shore, I find snow, six inches deep, undisturbed, and frozen hard enough to walk on without leaving a mark.

New forest coming, under snow.

Here on Vancouver Island, we live in a microclimate, its temperature and humidity determined by the encircling ocean currents, northbound from the warm North Pacific Current. Our summers are cool and wet, and our winters are usually mild (and wet; we don't tan, we rust.) Some years, there's no snow at all.

But microclimates have their own microclimates. Our shoreline strip is one. The backside of the hill is another. Forested areas have their own variants, depending on height of trees, direction of the slope, extent of logged areas, nearby rivers, roads and their traffic, and other circumstances.

And then there are the mini-microclimates. The warm zones around blades of grass, the wells at the base of stumps, hollow logs, even the ruts in old car tracks. Each imperfection in the surface shapes the wind currents, captures or blocks the sunshine, funnels off the rainwater. And in these mini-climates, plants and animals wait out the cold weather.

Baby Douglas fir and shrubs, each in its own warm well.

Each living plant affects its climate in various ways. It absorbs sunlight, which otherwise bounces off the surface of the snow. It deflects drying winds. And its own living processes produce a minimal amount of heat. Enough to melt the snow up against the branches, and provide cover for other small plants.

An old stump in its own mini-climate, harbouring evergreen salal.

Two more stumps. With lichen, salal, and bare twigs of deciduous shrubs. These will have an early start to their spring growth.

A few small trees and shrubs share a warm spot.

Even a rock can build a mini-climate. It absorbs more warmth from the sun than the surrounding earth, which is cooled by air pockets and seeping ice melt. The rock radiates this extra heat into the snow around it.

Snow on the side of the road, tossed up by a snowplow. Even this can create a disturbance in air flow and sunlight. The lump itself, exposed to the wind, is frozen hard, but the sunny surface is slowly melting, making that icicle.

A side road, unmarked on the map, with ruts and tracks of a dog or coyote, made before the snow froze hard. The forested and ferny areas are just warm enough to melt off the snow before it freezes.

And there's another mini- or really, not so mini - microclimate, usually unseen. Underneath that frozen snow cover, the ground is protected from freezing winds, and stays just above freezing. And there, the little creatures wait out the winter, sleeping or burrowing deep into the warmish earth.

Back at home, a few of my spring crocuses are pushing through the wet soil, hidden in a mini-climate of their own between a wall and a staircase.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Was this a fix or a mistake?

I've made a few changes to the template of the blog; adjusted a couple of colours, widened the page. Sometimes, though, changes make things worse, rather than better. What do you think? Does this work, or should I change it back?

Random photo to see how it fits:

Canada goose, Campbell River Estuary.

Snow white hair

Growing on a fallen alder, I found a colony of fuzzy white polypore mushrooms.

The largest of the group, under 3 inches across. Before the snow fell and froze solid, slugs had been feasting on the fur.

The underside. This mushroom has large pores. Normally, the spores would develop inside these pores, then fall directly to the ground beneath. Now that the tree is fallen, the spores are trapped inside the mushroom. A few may escape to fall on the trunk.

 A few of the babies. These are all under half an inch wide, and as white as the snow beneath.

These are probably Trametes hirsuta. ("Hirsuta" means "hairy". Good name. They are hairy, although the hair is arranged in stiff peaks, as if someone used too much hair gel.)

These mushrooms grow mostly on dead hardwood, and slowly return it to the soil to nourish the next generation.

Somehow, I'm never tempted to taste a bracket mushroom, or wonder about its edibility (although some are edible, I know), but mushroom guides routinely mention this. On the E-Flora page about T. hirsuta, under the "Edibility" heading, a contributor has commented, "Too tough." Looks about right. Too hairy, besides.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Skinny redheads

Well, I'm back.

I went for a walk off-road in the snow before I left. I have photos to process, but for now, to kick off 2017, here are some redheaded lichens on a stump.

Lipstick powderhorn, Cladonia macilenta.

Cladonia starts out as a cluster of leaf-like scales. The tall (comparatively) clubs (podetia) are the fertile stage; the red tips are apothecia, producing spores. The grey/green powdery sides of the clubs are also fertile; the tiny balls (soredia) break off and reproduce vegetatively. (Like when you grow a willow from a broken twig in a bottle of water.)

Monday, January 02, 2017

It's a wrap

I've been doing too much. Hurrying here and there, driving back and forth, to and fro; supper time caught up to me, and I stopped at MacDonald's for a wrap and a coffee to go.

The best part of the meal, Chia says, was the bag.


A few more errands to run, a to-do list to check off, and I'm heading south again. I'll be away from the computer until the end of the week.

Normal life, and blogging, will resume on Saturday.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Mute swan

The Campbell River estuary is a waterfowl haven, with the Tyee Spit reaching out to protect it from the currents and winds of the Discovery Passage, and the many small islands dotting the delta providing food, nesting and resting sites. Ducks, both dabblers and divers, Canada geese, loons, and gulls spread out over the water, usually too far away for my camera's lens. Inshore, near the docks and a viewpoint, a flock of mallards and wigeons hang out, hoping for handouts from visitors to a small park.

I had been told to watch for swans with the mallards; a couple of trumpeters and a mute swan. I met the mute swan a couple of days ago.

The mute swan, Cygnus olor, is easily identified by the black bulge above the bill.

Swan and female mallard. The swan grows to about 5 feet long, with a 6-foot wing span.

The trumpeter swan is slightly larger, has no lump on the forehead, and prefers to hang out in flocks. The mute swan is a loner.

The raised wings may be a defensive or aggressive display.

Unfortunately, local residents have taken to feeding the swan bits of bread, not a good addition to its diet. Here, it's waiting for the latest handout.

I'll keep on looking for the trumpeters; they are rumoured to have a nest in the area.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Also yeardown.

Sundown over the Campbell River estuary.

And tomorrow is another year. To quote Anne (of Green Gables): "with no mistakes in it yet." Although I'm sure we'll provide some, soon enough.

Here's hoping 2017 will be better than we anticipate and that happiness will surprise us when we least expect it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Flunking logic class

Complaining works. Sometimes*. I grumbled about the rain yesterday, and a few hours later, the sun came out. There was even a rainbow!

I dropped everything and went to look.

Sun and shadow. With a cormorant on a rock. The sun is favouring Quadra Island, not us.

There's a pot of gold there, somewhere at the bottom of the channel. The dotted line is where the current fights with itself as the tide changes.

*Confirmation bias strikes again!**
**And post hoc ergo propter hoc, too.***
***That's ignoring all the times I grumble at the weather, and it just keeps on raining.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Blue skies

Just remembering; back in the days when the sky wasn't always leaking. December 4th.

Buttle Lake from bridge over narrows. 1:50 PM.

The moon over Buttle Lake, 3:40 PM. An hour before sunset.

And then the rains came. And the snows. And more rain. It's BC.

A Skywatch post.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Red-tipped reindeer lichen

I had so much fun taking photos of Cladonia lichen at home, that I brought home a stick populated with reindeer lichen to add to my collection.

Up close, it turns out to have red tips (apothecia, or fruiting bodies) to each branch.

The branches split two or three ways, then split again, and again at the very tip.

And the stalks are speckled with green scales (squamules).

Up to about 5 stalked fruiting bodies at the tip of each branch.

Out in the field, the lichen is such a pale green that it almost seems white in the sunshine, and the red tips are invisible.

Reindeer lichen on a log with Cladonia. Some clusters of reindeer lichen in this area grow up to a foot deep and would fill an armload.