Friday, March 22, 2019

Spider, fly, woodpecker holes

Every now and then I decide to make trouble for myself. Instead of the usual lenses I use on the camera - the kit lens, because it can handle small crabs and distant islands reasonably well (and it's lightweight; that counts when your bones are wearing out), or the 40 mm because it can focus and take a photo from an inch away; handy when I'm flipping stones with the camera in one hand, the stone in another. - sometimes I fit the camera out with the 85 mm. lens. It does better in the shade than the others, and lets me take photos of things like yesterday's butterfly without getting so close that I scare them away.

But it has its disadvantages: it has no zoom. It won't focus at all at short distances. It won't open up to take in a whole stump unless I'm so far away that there are a dozen other trees between me and it. It's almost hopeless on scenery. It doesn't like extremes of light and dark; it haloes branches in pink and blue.

But it challenges me to look at things in a different way. Helps me to notice things I might otherwise have missed. Allows me to take photos of small things that I can't quite get close enough to because of the terrain. And, as cameras do, it sees things that I could not.

I was hiking up the Ridge Trail, taking random shots at anything out of normal reach; a scrap of moss, a woodpecker hole, a distant shelf fungus, an oddly-shaped log. On the way up, there wasn't much else to see. I was following a bear's track, which the camera didn't think was as obvious as I did, and the patches of scraped-away duff and the moist sawdust under a log, fallen as the bear checked it for ants, weren't really photogenic. So: bits of moss on distant trunks. And the butterflies.

A tuft of moss on a tree a few metres away. And what I couldn't see: cladonia lichen and a spotted fly.

I have to use automatic focus away from home; without my glasses, I can't read the screen any more. So what I want and what the camera thinks is important sometimes conflict, and the camera wins. I found a small patch of periwinkles, already in bloom. I thought they were worth a photo; the camera saw, instead, a tiny spider beside one of them.

Blurry periwinkle, not-so-blurry spider, upside-down.

Blotchy brown shelf fungus, Interesting pattern. Moss, lichen, ferns.

Woodpecker snag. As shot. Looks rather spooky to me.

If you zoom into this photo, you can see the pink tips on the huckleberry shrub on the left.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Green comma butterfly

First day of spring. I hiked up the Ridge Trail again. The ice was gone; now it was too hot, and I wished I had not worn a sweater.

Up top, the trees were busy. There were woodpeckers, tree creepers, robins, and I think I saw a grey jay. And down at the trail level, butterflies were dancing, two by two.

Green comma butterfly, Polygonia faunus

The Green Comma flies from early March to late September, with populations peaking April – May, and August. It is most often found along sun dappled forest roads, and trails, or in groves of trees in grasslands.(Nicola Naturalists)

An interesting little butterfly. Solitary butterflies didn't tolerate me coming too close; one step too many, and they took off, but then they circled around and came to rest again in the same spot. After I realized this, I just had to wait with the camera pointing at their parking spot.

When they paired up, though, they kept flying, fluttering madly a few inches apart, not resting anywhere that I could see.

When they close their wings, all the brilliant orange disappears.

Underside of the wings. And there's the comma that gives them the name.

The males have green spots on the underside of the wings. I couldn't see any on this one, but I was on the shadowed side and the colours aren't clear.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

View from the north highway.

Looks like summer. But there is still ice on the puddles.

View over Discovery Passage towards April Point, on Quadra Island. With log boom and two tugs. And winter-blasted blackberry canes.

And the trees are stretching naked branches up towards the sun.

From the same location, looking south towards Duncan Bay.

But in my garden at home, the first hyacinth buds are swelling out. Spring is coming.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Breakwater, inhabited

Walking along the shore, I set myself goals; I'll walk to that interesting stump in the distance, then turn back. Or, it's time to head home, but I'll walk to that erratic, then turn back. Often, I get to my goal, see something else interesting ahead, and keep on going; just to that next huge log, then it's time to go, I tell myself.

The other day, my third goal was the breakwater at the south end of Miracle Beach.

Formed concrete blocks.

I was intrigued by these blocks. Most of our breakwaters are made of huge natural rocks, of which we have no shortage. It's a rocky island we live on. These looked like pieces of some giant's board game, smooth to begin with, now eroded and barnacled. I stopped to examine them.

Each one is a fat X.

They're not as durable as our native rock; the edges are chipped and gouged, probably by storm-driven logs. And on the undersides and protected areas, the mussels have settled in.

Mussels, barnacles, limpets, and a snail or two. Nothing moving; no crabs or hermits.

Looking over the photos later, I noticed the little guy waving at me:

See him? On the leading edge, at the left. Looks like he's fishing. Or collecting seaweed.

One of the Wee Free Men, although he's not blue. Maybe the woad washed off.

There was another, on the fourth playing piece of the top row: I cropped him from the original photo and moved him up to join the fisherman. He's at the top right.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Why is it ...

That some Oregon grape leaves turn bright red in the winter, but not others?

Oregon grape, Mahonia nervosa*, Miracle Beach.

I always thought it was because of the cold. But here's a red Oregon grape plant; less than a metre away is a clump of green plants. No red to be seen. An effect of a mini-climate, with freezing winds blowing just here, and by-passing the cluster of plants a step away?

*I identify this as Mahonia nervosa, "Dull" Oregon grape, so called because it's not quite as shiny as the tall Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium. Both are common in this area, and at first glance look alike, but the "Dull" grows to about waist height, whereas the "tall" grape can be a couple of metres high.

And the leaves are different.** M. aquifolium's leaves have one central vein, with other veins branching out from it. M. nervosa, this one, has a strong central vein, and then fainter veins branching out from the base of the leaf. Look closely at the photo above; the secondary veins are visible. (See E-Flora's photo.)

**I didn't know this until I was poking around to see if I could find an explanation for the difference in colours.

Textures on the shore

Wind, rain, and waves rearrange objects on the shore, sometimes in surprising ways. And provide me with contrasting textures to look at.

Teredo-drilled log, sponge, ice. As found, well above the high tide line.

Also well above the usual high tide line; a small collection of rocks in a hollow near the root end of a log. As found.

On a lonely, icy stretch of Miracle Beach.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Wavy beach

Tide coming in over Miracle Beach

Sand waves, water waves

Miracle Beach is wide and flat. On a calm day, the tide rolls in quickly in a series of low, long waves. And the sand has its own waves, closer together, sharper, and strangely, at a different angle from the ocean waves that carved them.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The birds have flown

Bird's nest fungi ...

On a downed branch. Probably white barrel bird's nest, Nidula niveotomentosa

On the ground, in moss. One "egg" may still be in the one on the top right.

The nests are called "peridia" ("peridium" in the singular), and serve as splash cups; when raindrops strike the nest, the eggs (called "peridioles") are projected into the air, where they latch onto twigs, branches, leaves, and so on. (

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Missing the target

An interesting arrangement of lichen.

On a rotted log, half buried under salal bushes.

The lichen has invaded the old sap wood, but left the heartwood and bark intact.

Miracle Beach Provincial Park

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Would make a good dancer's skirt.

Turkey-tail mushrooms on an old log at Miracle Beach.

With "feathers" around the rims. And a maple seed.

These mushrooms come in many colours, from blue-grey to green and brown, to purplish, to orange, to a dull beige. I found another couple of groups in the same area; one was almost completely covered in green algae; another, growing in deep shade, was about the colour of the bark in the photo above.

This variation is what gave them their scientific name, Trametes versicolor, meaning, "Thin, of several colours."

Monday, March 11, 2019

Old burn

In the summer of 1938, Vancouver Island sweltered through the longest drought seen for over 50 years. Sparks from logging operations set off dozens of small brush fires. Smoke hung over the hills.

Fire broke out in a log pile on Menzies Bay, just north of Campbell River, and leapt into the forest. A couple of days later, in spite of the 400 firefighters trying to quench it, it was burning over several thousand acres of timber. By the third day, it was threatening Campbell River, and racing up-river, past Elk Falls. The smoke rose two kilometres into the air, and covered almost two-thirds of Vancouver Island.

The fire headed south then, passing Campbell River, racing towards Comox, and east up the mountainsides to Mount Washington. 2000 men fought it, hopelessly. 470 square kilometres of forest were in flames, and the wind was picking up. At times, it reached 150 km/hr.

And then the rain came. The blessed, drenching West Coast rain, pouring down steadily for weeks. In the ancient forest off Elma Bay, these days called the Miracle Beach Provincial Park, the roaring blaze sizzled into damp coals.

Some say that's how Miracle Beach got its name.

Today, many of the older trees in Miracle Beach Provincial Park still wear the scars of that fire.

Survivor, still green up top.

Older Douglas-fir bark is thick and deeply grooved, providing habitat for many insects and nesting sites and groceries for birds and small animals. And old, damaged bark is even more hospitable. This old tree still retains some old scorch marks; it looks like most has been riddled by insects and then birds collecting insects.

The crevices go deep into the tree; I tried to light the bottom of several holes with the camera's flash, but the light didn't reach that far.

Near the centre of the section above, if you look closely, you'll see a white circle. I moved in to get a better look.

"Come into my parlor ..."

A spider hole, wide enough for a chickadee to wander in.

From another angle

I can't be sure; is that a spider lurking deep inside, or just blotchy patches in the bark? I didn't risk sticking a finger in to find out.

For comparison: a pair of unburnt Douglas-fir trunks. Grooved, but much neater.

And the remains of a smaller tree, after the woodpeckers have eaten their fill.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


The forest at Miracle Beach is mostly Douglas-fir, with a mixture of Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and Big-leaf maple, and the ubiquitous red alder. It is second-growth forest; it has been logged off once, and once(that we know about; we are newcomers in tree years)  ravaged by fire, so most of the trees are relatively young, but a few of the older Douglas-firs are still standing.

These are tall trees; a mature Douglas-fir can be as much as 100 metres high, at least here on the coast. Inland, they are shorter.

In comparison, the Western hemlock grows normally to 50 metres, occasionally to 60.

I took a series of photos of one tree, and stacked them. I don't know how tall these ones are; the trunks are less than one metre in diameter. A normal width for a fully mature tree could be almost 3 metres.

Foreshortened from my viewpoint at its foot.

The trunk of an older Douglas-fir is branch-free for most of its length, with the foliage in a clump at the top. The bark is thick and deeply grooved. Look for the burl towards the bottom on this tree.

Looking  straight up from the same general area.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Tall, tiny, tiniest

Yesterday (Friday) was bright and sunny, if still chilly. I wandered through the tall, shadowy forest at Miracle Beach, poking through the moss, peering under logs and down crevices in bark.

A corner of the forest. Douglas-firs, mostly.

Old, moldy Douglas Fir cone, with "mouse tails".

I turned over a broken branch, half covered by moss, exposing a small community of critters and fungi.

White, feathery mold. And a large pupal case, also coated in mold.

I was looking at the pupal case, wondering if the mold would have killed the critter inside, when something reddish dashed out from underneath and ran away. I chased it with the camera.

A very tiny spider. The sowbug is about 1/2 cm. long. The spider, legs and all is less than that; her body is about 2 or 3 mm., fangs to spinnerets. She was panicking; running back and forth, not seeming to be able to decide where to hide.

What I didn't see, until I got home and blew up the photos, were a few tinier red mites, and possibly a much smaller spider. On the red mite just below the grass bits, I can just barely see a leg. In other photos, the mites show up, but never in the same location; they were moving fairly fast, because I was taking photos as fast as I could follow the spider.

And then there were those other things; hundreds of them.

Or thousands? Each one has a dark spot, maybe an indentation, in the centre. If the spider is 3 mm. long, these would be 1/2 a millimetre at most. A dusting of miniature cup or birds' nest fungi?

Another sowbug. And two mini-sowbugs (top left).

And this time, on the way home, I counted 18 eagles, all adults. (The immatures are harder to see; they lack the white head, and their feathers are brownish and mottled. They blend in to the scenery.)

Tomorrow; fungi, I think. Or tree trunks. Or ... I brought home over 200 photos to sort and process.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Tree lace with eagle

My pocket camera collects random photos, often taken through the windshield, then forgotten. I found this couple hidden there, taken I don't know when or exactly where, but obviously this winter.

Eagles seem to prefer broken branches

I wonder what he's thinking, sitting so quietly, watching the world turn.

On a short drive this Monday, I counted another 10 eagles in about 15 minutes, all but two in pairs, all but two just sitting, watching.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Gourmet chickadee feed

Years ago, when I lived on a hillside overlooking Silvermere Lake, my living room windows faced a stand of thimbleberry bushes. During the winters, I watched a flock of chickadees that spent their days pounding away at the hard galls on the bare thimbleberry canes. It was hard work, but they persisted, in spite of the easier feed of of black oil sunflower seeds a few metres away. Easier, but obviously not as tasty.

On the road to Deadstick Pond, I stopped to examine a collection of galls.

Gall on bare thimbleberry stem. This one has exit holes.

Two galls, mostly intact.

And the chickadees have been working on the one on the right.

I collected a few galls to examine more closely at home.

Gall with many exit holes. I cut it in half and saw ...

Holes where the larvae had been. The centre of the gall is the original stem of the thimbleberry.

And then I cut open one of the intact galls; it had residents.

Two pretty larvae visible, hints of another deeper inside.

These are the larvae of the thimbleberry stem wasp, Diastrophus kincaidii. They are tiny; about 3 mm. long. (See UBC photos.)

Gravid female D. kincaidii prefer to ovi-posit in the  relatively soft, rapidly growing shoots of primocanes, which often host  clutches  of  eggs from  multiple female  wasps (Wangburg  1975). Green, irregularly shaped galls form as larvae begin to feed during the rst season and adults emerge from woody galls early in the summer of year two. (From Research Gate)

The galls form on the green canes (photo), which are soft, but the chickadees wait till the second winter, and break into the hardened galls, probably because the larvae now are fat and juicy. Good eating! (If you're a chickadee.)

I stashed the galls in a plastic container; I'll be watching to see what adults bore their way out.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Deadstick Pond

It was a no-name puddle, but it deserves a name. I'm calling it Deadstick Pond.

The ice looks thick enough to walk on. I didn't try.

From the highway, this pond is only visible in the winter; a screen of alders and thimbleberry bushes hides it with the first spring leaves. This afternoon, around the next corner, I noticed an old road, blocked off now, that curved back towards the pond. I found a parking spot and hiked back.

A wider view. It's a small pond; this is about half of it. The highway is just beyond those bare trees.

More sticks. And a cartoonish head with a little hat.

The road in. Those footprints are not mine; they're almost twice my size. Mine are the slight depressions to the right. The snow was frozen so hard I barely broke the surface.

And I brought home a pocketful of goodies to show you tomorrow.

Sunday, March 03, 2019


Sometimes she's just not in the mood ...

Attempted mate guarding

When crabs mate, the male (in this case, the little guy on the bottom) grabs his chosen female and holds on until she is ready. But they have to arrange themselves abdominal plate to abdominal plate, and Big Mama here is not cooperating.

The struggle. She is trying to break his hold; he's trying to move around to her belly.

9 minutes of wrestling later, she's got her feet back on the ground, and shrugs him off. Bye, chico!

I was too late with the camera to capture a successful mating a couple of weeks ago. Both my male green shore crabs are tiny; both females are twice their size, but it doesn't seem to matter, as long as the male is mature.

I checked this morning. Both females are in berry. That explains her reluctance this time; he misjudged his cues.

Saturday, March 02, 2019


Here's the pink-tipped green anemone, almost completely recovered from the tank poisoning; half her former size, but hungry and - PINK! -

She's yellowish, seen from the side. Her mouth, though is very green.

Friday, March 01, 2019


It's freezing out here, but who cares? She's got a cozy fur coat:

Shetland Pony? (I thnk.)

If I were a horse,
And a little horse, too,
I shouldn't much care
If it froze or snew;
I shouldn't much mind
If it snowed or friz--
I'd be all fur-lined
With a coat like his!
(With apologies to A.A. Milne for his "Furry Bear" Now we are Six)

Seen on a farm at Sayward Junction.