Monday, January 15, 2018

Dedicated birders

Plain Jane and Chia, birdwatching on a foggy afternoon:

"Sparrows, juncos, chickadees, and ... is that an eagle?"

"She's getting too excited."

"Just remember: they're MY birds."

It was Jane's last afternoon; she's gone back to her usual home, to watch her own set of birds.

(Jane is an indoor cat; she wouldn't even go outside when she had access. And Chia won't visit the front yard where the bird feeders are in the daytime, because a big black Lab hangs out in the yard next door. So the birds feed safely.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hermit crab fashion statement

Hermit crabs are picky about the shells they wear. The size matters. So does the shape of the opening, and the thickness of the shell. They usually will not take a shell from the wrong species, no matter how pretty it is, even if it's almost the same shape and size as the one they eventually choose. Almost isn't close enough.

They examine their next shells carefully, inside and out, rolling them over, lifting them, poking legs and pincers deep inside, then trying them on, sometimes several times before they finally decide. You could think of them as girls trying on a new pair of jeans in front of a mirror, turning this way and that; "Does this make me look fat?"

But they don't mind broken shells. Again, like girls in frayed and torn blue jeans.

Hairy hermit, with her backside showing through the hole in her jeans.

Hermit crabs fit themselves into a spiral-shaped shell. And the spiral has to turn to the right, which also reduces the number of suitable shells; some snails turn to the right, some to the left. A left-turning spiral just doesn't fit.

In this photo, the curve of the back end of the abdomen is visible, as well as a bit of one of the back legs.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

In berry, or not?

Hermit crab. Not carrying eggs, I don't think. But maybe.

Hairy hermit, Pagurus hirsutiusculus. With anemone.

The only usual way to tell a female hermit crab from a male is to catch her out of the shell, not moving (which almost never happens) and look for two tiny dots on the underside of her belly. I've managed it once.

The other two signs are:

1. A mature male captures a female. (They seem to have no problem distinguishing which is which.) He grabs her by the edge of her shell and carts her around, sometimes for days, until she is ready to mate. This was happening a few weeks ago.

2. The female is carrying eggs. These will be attached to the side of her thorax, (the red area on the side of the one above.) As they grow, they fill in the gap and get in her way; she pushes them outwards and fans them, jiggles herself around in the shell, trying to get comfortable. At this stage, there's no doubt about her gender.

So: is that red area the beginning of the growth of eggs? Or not? Wait and see.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Chiton lips

"Woody", the green and blue chiton in my aquarium, spends most of his time plastered to a shell, a slow-moving, flattish, 2-inch-long mound blending into the background. If he has a "face", it's hidden. But for a moment, the other day, I caught him lifting the edge of his girdle, tasting the water.

Underside of the girdle, and the mouth, open. Also present: an amphipod, a mud snail, and a pink-tipped green anemone.

Woody does not have a head, as we understand the term. He has no eyes, tentacles, or brain here, just the mouth. (His shell does include light-sensitive spots, but around his mouth, there is no need, since it is usually clamped tight against the substrate.)

Like many other molluscs, chitons feed with a thin strap bearing rows of teeth known as the radula. The anterior rows are used up and discarded or swallowed and replaced by new rows moving forward like a conveyor belt. ... The chiton radula is noteworthy because one pair of cusps in each row is hardened with magnetite, which provides these teeth with a coating harder than stainless steel. They are the only molluscs that have magnetite-coated teeth. In fact, they are the only organisms known to manufacture such vast quantities of magnetite. (

Before I start to take photos through the glass, I scrub the inside walls; overnight, they develop a coating of green algae. A soft cloth removes most of it, but underneath that, there's always a more tenacious growth of yellowish-brown algae; for that, I use a green kitchen scouring pad, scrubbing and wiping with the cloth alternately. With a fingernail, I pry off harder lumps.

And even then, once I give up, the glass is still covered with these tiny pink dots, visible against the yellow flesh of the chiton. Pacific rose seaweed, trying to establish itself on every surface in the aquarium. When it grows on a shell, I can't rip or scrape it all off; it's tremendously tenacious. I tear off and discard double handfuls every time I clean the tank, but the glued-on "roots" are always left behind, ready to leap into action.

So fragile-looking, so delicate! And so strong!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Feathery cirri, spotted palps

A few weeks ago, I noticed that several of the hermit crabs in my tank had paired up, with bigger males hauling around their chosen girlfriends. So this week, I've been examining all the larger females, looking to see if they are carrying eggs. It seems to be too early to be sure; there are a couple of maybes.

Meanwhile, I took photos of several of the other tank residents. Here are two of the large thatched acorn barnacles, trolling for plankton.

The thatched acorn barnacle has black cirri.

This one houses several worms in its shell.

These tiny three-sectioned tubeworms show up in the sand, and in many of the assorted shells in the tank, including in those occupied by hermit crabs. In the sand, up against the glass wall, I can see the tiny worm; otherwise, all that I see are these two long palps. I don't know if the spots - I've never noticed them on other worms - are bits of material the worm is rejecting, or actual palp markings. I'll be watching for them in future.

Pink and blue

The snow has gone; the rain came back.

Cyclamen and a rainy window. 2:00 PM, and dark outside already.

I've been posting infrequently over the Christmas and kitten-sitting season; I'm back on track now, I think. Plain Jane goes home tomorrow.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Plain Jane

I have been kitten-sitting over the holiday season. One of Chia's babies, but not a baby any longer, has been making life interesting. Her new humans have named her "Jane", maybe in hopes of toning her personality down. Vain hopes.

Jane, the tigress, ready to pounce.

Score so far: Christmas decorations, 0, Jane umpteen; breakable collectibles, 0, Jane 4; small computer thingies, lost and found after several hours with a flashlight, 6; throw rugs, who's counting? recyclables, ditto. And she's claimed the most comfortable chair for her naps, exiling her mother to the second most comfortable, and leaving me with a stiff dining room chair or the stool at my desk. Thanks, Plain Jane!

But I'll be sorry to see her go. Sometimes I doubt my own sanity.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Blue teeth

This I haven't seen before: on the rim of a shell of a mud snail in my aquarium, there are tiny, bright blue dots.

Batillaria attramentaria, about 1/2 inch long.

A description on the site mentions that the lip of the shell has teeth inside it. Would these be the teeth?

Friday, January 05, 2018

Turtle under a blanket

Turtles live for years and years. Even clay ones. This one has inhabited my gardens for over 20 years, providing cover for slugs and sowbugs, and support for baby plants. (For the slugs to eat, as often as not.)

The snow is warm, he says; it keeps the wind off.

The dry stalks are last fall's nasturtiums. And the green leaves in back are next spring's hollyhock, hoping for a warm winter.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Toyota brainstorm

My car sometimes runs on autopilot. I thought I was going inland to look for deep snow, but the car stopped at Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, where the snow didn't even top my shoes.

The car has good ideas, some days.

Afternoon light on trees, deciduous and evergreen. Looking inland, over the protected wild field.

Sit and rest awhile. The seat is cushioned.

Lichens (3 species) on cottonwood

I walked through the field and small patch of bush, then on to the south end of the shore.

All very peaceful. Quadra Island on the left, Mitlenatch on the right (the small, pale line just south of the barge), and the frozen mainland straight ahead.

Carex macrocephala, reduced to soft, yellow blades. But the treacherous seed cases still lie in wait on the ground, as sharp and stiff as ever. Two are visible here, near the upper left third lines.

On the shore, mounds of fresh bull kelp have been tossed up to freeze. The cold splits the thick-walled floats; I saw dozens like this. Usually, they dry intact. 

Grasses in the dunes just inland of the log jam.

And north to the far end of the bay, to look at the lagoon and its birds.

On the far spit, a flock of Canada geese sleep in the sunshine. Ducks, mostly mallards, wigeons, and mallard hybrids paddle slowly back and forth, though always just a bit faster than I could walk, trying to get closer.

I saw couple of loons, a few harlequin ducks, and diving ducks, these last always caught just as they disappeared underwater. Along the water's edge peeps small and large foraged. A few sparrows joined them in the drier areas; not a usual place for them, but their field and woods are under snow.

Black turnstone and frozen salt-tolerant plants.

Turnstones in flight show a dramatic pattern in black and white.

They almost look like butterflies here.

And back to the car, shortly before sunset. (At 4:29 PM.)

Last light on a snake-rail fence.
Good thinking, car! I enjoyed the walk!

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Monday, January 01, 2018

Closer to home

My driveway is steep, and mostly ice. My street is unplowed. But, as Christopher Robin says, "Who cares? I've a train cat ... And birds. And even flowers.

Morning light from the kitchen sink. The cyclamen is still producing flowers.

Alyssum under snow. Still blooming, still making seeds.

Rusty birds in a mini-bath.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

There's always hope

Somewhere the sun is shining ...

Light on the far shore. And a moon.

And that's it for 2017! Let's hope 2018 is brighter!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Behind the green curtain

Long stretches of highway in our Vancouver Island rainforest are like narrow halls between dense green walls. Where the evergreens have been cut back, fast-growing deciduous trees and shrubs have crowded into the newly-cleared space, cutting off the view.

What's beyond, of course, is usually more trees, but sometimes there's a river or a mountain; I catch hints of reflected light off snow or water as I drive by.

And then winter comes, the leafy curtain drops, revealing creeks and ponds and even formerly invisible lakes.

Icy pond behind the bare trunks, still out of reach without waterproof boots and a good hiking stick.

Typical highway view, April 2017. Nothing to see here: move along.

It makes for slow going: I keep pulling off, and walking back down the highway to see what I've missed. I keep looking for wildlife back there, a bear or an elk, a beaver, a herd of deer; you never know.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Snowy outing

They promised us more snow. We got rain. Feeling slightly cheated, I took the highway north until the rain turned to falling snow.

Brown's Bay Road, 22 km. north of Campbell River. Chains required: I didn't drive down.

Random highway shot.

The streaky lines on the trees are falling snow.

Side road. No tracks; nobody's likely to drive down here until the spring.

Young evergreens beside the road.

The north woods are never entirely silent; the trees whisper among themselves constantly, murmuring comments on the wind and the rain. Snow hushes them, though. This afternoon, the only sounds were the crunch of my shoes on fresh snow, and the occasional "plop!" as a branch shook off its burden.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Snowy carvings

More of the snowy chainsaw carvings. 4 PM Christmas Eve, snowing hard, wet snow melting on my camera and gloves, dripping over my eyebrows. The old wood is colder; the snow sticks.

Old salt, looking out to sea.

Is this a bear? An angry bear?

Butterfly and caterpillar, and shoreline logs. Quadra Island is just ahead, invisible in the falling snow.

Eagle with captured fish. By the time I got around to see his face, my camera was too wet to function.

No chainsaw used here. Beach shack. It probably even keeps most of the snow out.

The snow held on through Christmas Day. Today, it has mostly turned to wet slush. It's raining. BC weather at its usual tricks.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas angel

I went out in the snowstorm (while it lasted) to watch. In a park, I met this snowy angel.

One of the many chainsaw carvings found all around Campbell River.

The lights in the background are headlights. I wasn't the only one out for a drive on Christmas Eve.

More snow photos tomorrow.

Monday, December 25, 2017

And a sparrow in a plum tree

On the first day of Christmas, Ma Nature gave to me ... softly falling snow, four happy juncos, three refilled feeders, two chickadee-dees, and a sparrow in the plum tree.

"Yum! Suet!"

One of the juncos waiting his turn.

That sparrow again.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Blue light

Here in the rain belt, the warmer the winter, the colder the light, it seems. As if the damp in the air were visible; a reminder that the clouds overhead will drop to the ground in fog at any moment. Colours are muted, greyed out, even at midday. Blues predominate.

Bird viewing shack, with photographer. The strongest colours are artificial; the drink container and the blue tarp on the roof of the shack. Down in the brown grasses and mud, mallards and wigeons sleep, their bright winter coats hidden from hunting eagles.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Light on the estuary

2 PM. Clouds in the sky, clouds in the river. The sun trying its best to squirm through. And mallards catching a few stray rays.

Looking up Campbell River, from Tyee Spit

I think I've posted a similar photo several times. Similar, never the same; the trees may stay put, but the the clouds and the river are never the same twice. And I never get tired of watching them.

A Skywatch post.