Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Patterns and textures, critter version

It's critter season, finally! My camera is full of beasties, taken in and around my house. Out in the grass, as I work killing hawkweed, grasshoppers and spiders hop and scramble away from my vicious weed tool. In the evenings, the kittens practice their high jumps, trying to catch huge crane flies; mostly, they miss.*

And Sunday afternoon, in Oyster Bay, I chased another of those invisible grey grasshoppers across the sand. With each hop, he disappeared, and I searched until he saw me coming and leapt away again. I gave up, eventually.

This 'hopper was more forgiving.

Brown grasshopper on a rock face, Oyster Bay. Each body part, even the eyes, has its own pattern, from mottled, to striped, to stained glass, to herringbone, to the fern-leaf design on his head.

The snail had died and left his empty shell, pitted and bleached. I liked the texture.

He's more creamy than pink, but the colour bounces off my hand.

* I'm as bad as the kittens; I just abandoned this to stand on a dresser because a spider caught a fly on the ceiling above my desk. At least I don't try to eat the spiders, just take their photos.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Purple martins!

A semi-lifer!

I'd seen purple martins before, at Oyster Bay; always in the far distance, swooping high above the water. Today, I saw them for the first time from close enough to see their eyes. And their hungry chicks!

One set of boxes, right beside the highway at Stories Beach. Very busy. I could hear the babies calling inside their nests.

At a second pair of nest boxes, two chicks sat with their heads out. The wire arch overhead probably protects them from diving eagles and crows.

The box immediately above the chicks. The male is iridescent purple, with brown wings. The female, half hidden to the left, is paler, brownish. She has a light belly with large, dark spots.

Two chicks below, brilliant male above. All the time I waited there, the adults veered off as they approached the lower box. I think I was too close for their comfort, huddled in front of my car at the side of the road.The chicks were not pleased.

Sign beside the nest site.

Paragraph 4, from the sign reads, "The installation of nest boxes in artificial "snags" creates nesting cavities for the ongoing recovery of native birds along this beach, such as the Purple Martin, a species at risk (blue-listed).

I had set up the camera with the lens I use for insects and tiny flowers; these nests were at the limit of its possibilities. And the pocket camera, which does zoom, was sitting at home on my desk. Such is life.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Olive slices, lemony stripes

Checking out the gumweed at Oyster Bay ...

That white gum is sticky! But we have visitors, too!

A green and yellow caterpillar. And look again; there's another, a young 'un, on a petal. And two aphids, one covered in pollen. Those brown and black lumps are caterpillar poop.

It seems to be grub season. I found a couple in my flower beds, and one trundling across the kitchen floor.

Now he's on the kitchen counter. And not happy about it. Those little black ovals look like slices of black olives.

I sent him outside to look for weeds. I've got plenty to spare.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nose to the ground

At the clearing near Nimpkish Lake, the soil is shallow, mostly made up of dust from the cliffs above and gravel from road-building activity. This far north, the growing season is short and dry, the winters long, dark, and sopping wet. It's good country for evergreen trees; not so nurturing for smaller, short-lived plants. The tallest plants in the clearing were the grasses near the edge, mostly less than a foot tall.

Towards the centre, away from the shelter of cliffs and trees, most of the vegetation hugs the ground, staying out of the wind, close to any dampness available. I got down on my knees and elbows to look at the lichen and found much more.

Cladonia lichen, moss sporophytes, Alpine azalea, and a miniature flower with interesting leaves.

If you look closely, you can (barely) see the moss; dark, yellowish-brown clusters. I think the green shrub is the Alpine azalea, Loisleleuria procumbens, which has leaves from 3 to 8 mm long (about 1/8 to just over 1/4 inch).  I can't identify the tiny plant on the far left; I didn't even see it while I was there, so didn't aim the camera at it.

Moss sporophytes, standing tall (ish) on brown stalks, encased in pointed wrappings. A few have shed the covering.

On the right, the lichen has dark brown spots, reproductive structures. And on the left, an intriguing spotted, hairy plant. If the azalea leaves are 1/4 inch long, the leaves of the spotted plant would be about 1/2 inch.

I couldn't identify this plant. I think it may be the same as the one I found near Heckman Pass (on the Bella Coola road) a couple of years ago.

Not quite so spotty, but otherwise similar. Somewhat larger.

I couldn't identify it then, either. Any ideas?

Update: It's one of the hawkweeds, either Mouse-ear hawkweed, Hieracium pilosella, or White-flowered hawkweed, Hieracium albiflorum. Here are the white-flowered ones just across the water in Powell River, on Powell River Books Blog.

Nimkish Lake area and Heckman Pass, more or less.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Roadside delights

The weather has turned, finally. Rain has brought some relief to our burning province. Not enough to put out the fires on the mainland, but at least a hint of normalcy.

Last week, while even here on the island, even on the beaches, the air felt like the breath of an angry dragon, I headed north, hoping for a bit of coolness. I found it, up in Port McNeil; the skies were grey, the wind soft, sprinkling gentle drops of rain over the trees. Ahhh!

Partway there, between Woss and the southern tip of Nimpkish Lake, where the sun still shone, I stopped at a clearing beside the highway. A sign called it a viewpoint, but there was nothing to see but trees and cliffs. Through a gap in the trees, I caught glimpses of a pool below, too small to be called a lake, and have a name.

But there were flowers dancing in the wind, and lichen, and mosses. Who needs a view?

Daisy and grasses

It must be the wind and the clean air this far from "civilization"; there's no dust on the flowers, even just beside the highway

Pink flowers, with 6 petals, opposite, long leaves, on stems about a foot tall.

I couldn't find these flowers in either of my guides. And they're confusing: look at these others:

Much smaller flowers, but with the same configuration. Except that they only have 5 petals. The little brown spiky thing is a moss sporophyte.

These second flowers were tiny; I couldn't count the petals until I looked at the photos. And except for the size and the number of petals, they're identical to the others. A different species, or a variety of the same species?

Update: The 5-petalled variety has been identified, on Twitter, as Common centaury, Centaurium erithraea.
Salal flowers. Always so delicate!

The native trailing blackberry, Rubus ursinus. The ripe berries will be black, but small and scarce. And delicious.

I'll leave the lichen and moss, and an even tinier flower, for tomorrow.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lichen to rocks

I'm back on-line*. Now, where was I?

Oyster Bay: the Misc. file.

Slanting afternoon light on the grasses and logs of the shore/forest interface.

Cladonia lichen on a log end.

Sand dollar test on the sand bar.

Rocks on the breakwater, with gull poop and barnacles.

And on the edge of the park, a ditch full of foxgloves and daisies.

*The problem was simple: a server update, with no warning and new passwords. Complicated by a genius programming kitten, who can, with a few strokes, make changes that take me an hour to fix. She even turned my screen display upside-down, and re-worked a half-edited photo, both actions together, instantly. Bill Gates, watch your back!

Thursday, July 20, 2017


My Internet connection is down since yesterday morning. I'll be back as soon as possible.

I'm posting from the public library, on my tablet, so no photos are available.

Very frustrating!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It's just there

Bread. Candy canes. Hats. Tacos and birds' nests. Beer and baskets.  Paper, sometimes; also some roofs. Rum and bamboo bicycles. Breakfast cereal. Sushi. Place mats. And so on, and so on. They're all made from grass.

Dune grass, Oyster Bay Shoreline Park

We're grass eaters. The bulk of our food is either grass, or relies on grass in the form of animal feed.

"Grasses now provide us with 3 times more food than do peas and beans, tubers, fruit, meat, milk and eggs put together." (Plants of Coastal BC)

And yet, we - I - mostly ignore the grasses. It's "just grass". A mistake.

Dune grass and unidentified grass, Oyster Bay.

The checklist for plants of Oyster Bay Shoreline Park includes 24 different species of grass, of over 200 species in coastal BC. That's a lot of missed beauty. I've started to pay attention, finally.

One of the Bromes. Cheatgrass, maybe.

The grasses are flowering plants, but the miniature flowers are hidden under an arrangement of bracts and awns. To understand what the guide tells us, we need a new vocabulary: the bract that covers the flower is called a "lemma": two more bracts, beneath the floret, are called "glumes". The whole contraption: glumes, lemma, flower, inner bract, and awn: makes up a spikelet. A bunch of spikelets makes an inflorescence.

Each type of grass has a different arrangement of these parts. It's complicated.

I think this is one of the vernal grasses.

I am going to try to photograph and identify as many of the grasses of the park as possible. Any help with identifications (and all corrections) will be vastly appreciated.

I couldn't identify this one. It's a small grass. (That's my finger at the bottom left.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Good fire, pink fire


Driving north, I passed entire fields of waving pink flags. They fill the scars left by loggers and line the ditches beside the highway. This patch brightens a wasted corner between Forest Service (logging) roads.

Epilobium angustifolium

The colour varies from pink to pinker, to magenta.

I wish this were the only fire seen in our forests this week. There is some good news about the burning fires, though. Some of the evacuees at Cache Creek have been allowed to return home. And they still have homes to return to. Maybe there's an end in sight.

But we still need rain.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ceci n'est pas une poste

I'm too sleepy to post. I did too much, drove too far. I'm going to bed.

Ok; may as well add a photo.

This is not a post, either. It's an old log. With lichen.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mystery solved!

Last year, in July and later in mid-August, I examined a woolly plant growing down near the moss level in the Oyster Bay meadow. I couldn't identify it.

Pale bluish-green plants, up to about 5 inches tall, covered with white hair. Today's photo.

I wrote about it twice last year, hoping for help with id. I looked for flowers, and found, on the third search, a couple of dead flower lumps, standing tall above the leaves. Still no help with id, although there were several interesting suggestions.

This morning, I joined a group from the Comox Valley Naturalists Society for a walk through the meadow. The group included a botanist, and she recognized the plant at once. It's a woolly sunflower, and has large, bright, yellow flowers, standing up to two feet tall. But not this year, either, although Wikipedia says it blooms from May to August. Maybe it has been too hot and dry the last couple of summers.

Woolly sunflower
Woolly sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum.

The page at E-Flora BC has 21 photos, mostly of the showy yellow flowers. In the several leaf photos, the plants are barely hairy.

Both stems and leaves may be covered with a woolly gray hair, but some plants lack this hair. The hairs conserve water by reflecting heat and reducing air movement across the leaf's surface. (Wikipedia)

Could the extreme hairiness be a response to the hot weather?

Eriophyllum lanatum
Woolly leaves, with insect.

More on this walk, later. I haven't even looked at my photos, yet.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I am ever so grateful ...

... to the geniuses who started the "Worst Bird Photos" Facebook page. Finally ... finally! I've found people who truly appreciate my "blurds".

However, I'm going to inflict the latest batch on you. Just because.

I was returning, near sunset, from a circuit of the Oyster Bay Shoreline Park. The tide was coming in, surging and splashing out on the coast, but in the inner bay, just gently oozing, wetting the mud and blending in.* As I passed on the path to the meadow, I noticed the peeps; a line of them, just where the mud bubbled as the water soaked in, busily collecting their evening dessert.

The light was against me. The birds were some distance away. I could barely see them. But I had to take photos, anyhow.

Do you see them? Sandpipers, I think.

I'd managed to get a bit closer, and part of the flock relocated, moving up to the new edge, as the tide slid in.

Circles of ripply light. Some of the birds seem to have spotted breasts. Juveniles, maybe.

Further out in the bay, the purple martins were chasing insects, mosquitoes, I hoped, but more likely moths and dragonflies.

Foraging Purple Martins hunt insects higher in the air than other swallows, but in the afternoon and evening they may feed low and close to nest sites. (Cornell)

They flap their wings rapidly for a bit, then coast smoothly for a good distance. At this time of afternoon, they were mostly searching around the nest boxes; it's the first time I've seen them there.

Nest boxes. I tried, but never caught a martin in flight. They're fast!

Just wondering: the nest boxes are labelled: 13-81, 01-86, 13-148, and so on. What would the numbers refer to? There are about 15 boxes in all.

Or do purple martins remember their address: "I live in 13-81, Oyster Bay"?

* More about these tide patterns later.

Friday, July 14, 2017


From shoe-top height, the July meadow at Oyster Bay Shoreline Park is a place of wonder. I had been examining miniature mosses, too small for the camera I was carrying, and then turned to look at the landscape from that vantage point. Mind-boggling variety!

Present and identifiable: wild strawberry, yarrow, red sorrel, assorted grasses, moss, Queen Anne's lace, white clover, black cottonwood, red alder and various evergreen trees, patches of lichen, silver burweed, Nootka roses (between the trees and the meadow). Not identified (so far) that woolly, bluish plant in the foreground, tiny seed pods just above the moss, small yellow flowers, past their prime, and that round gall on a tall blade of grass.

Behind me, not shown, the gumweed is just coming into flower, masses of hare's foot clover are fading to the palest pink, and some almost blue, stiff grasses fill in the gaps nearer the trees.

I've taken more photos of the woolly blue plant, and will post them soon. Maybe someone out there can identify it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

McIvor Lake

On a hot, hot weekend, what better place to be?

Hot sand, cool water.

Irrationally, I somehow feel guilty, just to be here, while the rest of BC burns.

McIvor Lake is really just the tail end of Campbell Lake.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

At every turn of the road

Study in greens:

In sunshine and shadow, with mosses. Iron River Road, north of Campbell River.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Fire in BC, 2017

BC is burning again.

Some part of the province burns every year; the forests renewing themselves, killing off the beetles that mine the bark, bursting the cones that hold the next generation of seeds, clearing and fertilizing the soil. Without the fire, BC wouldn't be so green.


This year, with more than 220 fires going at the moment, covering, so far, 230 square kilometres, a large number of those fires are interface fires.

Firefighters distinguish between "interface fire" and ordinary forest fire. The interface fire is one where the forest comes close enough to populated areas for the fire to spread from one to the other. These fires are attacked with every means available. They are the ones that generate newspaper stories and evacuations. "Pure" forest fires, on the other hand, are controlled with little fanfare, or sometimes left to burn themselves out. (From my post, back in the 2010 fire season)

Forest fires have become city fires. Williams Lake, Kelowna (pop. 127,500), Princeton, Ashcroft, Kamloops (90,000), Alexis Creek, Cache Creek, 100 Mile House (pop. 2000), 150 Mile House, ... so far, over 7000 people** have been evacuated*. Many have lost their homes. Williams Lake residents (25,000 people) are being told to stay put, as there is no safe route out of the city.

BC has declared a state of emergency, the first since 2003, as thousands of firefighters race to keep up.

My photo from 2010, near Alexis Creek. It's on fire again this week.

And the weather continues hot and dry, becoming hotter. We still have two months of summer to go. Even here, on the island, in our green rainforest, it's dry.

In deep forest, dust hangs over the road. At least it's not smoke. Near McIvor Lake.

In comparison, in the fires of August, 2010, with 400 active fires, only 3 had caused evacuations.

Our area has suffered major fires, with the city of Campbell River threatened by fire on the outskirts, and 470 square kilometres burning, but that was long ago, in 1938.

The Canadian Red Cross is accepting donations to provide financial assistance, family reunification services, as well as cots and bedding for those forced out of their homes.

*Some of the evacuees are friends and family; they are all safe at the moment. A few friends are trapped in Williams Lake. Another friend reported watching from her deck as trees "candled" just across the lake. But she and her family are safe, so far.

Candling or Torching: a single tree or a small clump of trees is said to “candle” or “torch” when its foliage ignites and flares up, usually from bottom to top. (Wildfire Rank, BC Gov.)

Rain. We need rain!

** Update, Monday: 14,000 people now.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Candy stripers

On the shore of McIvor Lake, small, pink flowers bloom, unnoticed by the sun-lovers swimming a few metres away.

Spreading dogbane. (What a name for such a delicate flower!) Apocynum androsaemifolium.
And, also unnoticed until I blew up the photos, another stripy resident hides, waiting for lunch. Can you see it?

Two legs and a toe visible.

This plant likes sunny, dry, sandy spots. Although here it is on the shore of a lake, the whole area is dry, the ground loose sand.

The flowers have a sweet scent, but the whole plant is poisonous.

(More McIvor Lake photos tomorrow.)

Saturday, July 08, 2017

"... and the little one said, ..."

It's getting crowded around here. Not only do I have to share my bed with three rambunctious kittens*, and sometimes their mother, I found this big blond spider hogging my pillow, too.

"Move over!"

I haven't seen one like this here before. I'm wondering if she's a recently molted one of the usual residents:

On the wall over my bed. Not invited in.

The resident sowbug deleter. Not welcome in bed, either.

I'll send her photo in to BugGuide for an ID. (Update: sac spider, yellow sac or similar. And very pregnant.)

*One kitten has gone to her new home; three to go soon. Then maybe I can get some sleep.