Friday, November 24, 2017

Beast of burden

It's all about location; find a perfect site and settle in, and you can thrive. Hide off in a corner, and life's a struggle. The pink-tipped anemones in my aquarium know this, so they're always moving about, searching for the ideal spot, where the food is plenty and the diet varied.

This one seems to have the right idea. But the poor snail!

Heavy load

The snail, here browsing among the algae halfway up the wall, is one of the mud snails, Batillaria attramentaria, about half an inch long. And he's been completely encased in the base of the anemone, twice his size. And to add to his burden, the anemone has brought along its pet rock, and couple of pieces of clamshell; together the anemone's decor must weigh more than the snail.

And yet, the snail goes about his business, tranquilly scraping up the algae, moving on to the next patch; what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, he says, flexing his weight-lifting muscles.

(I've cleaned the algae off the glass in the photo, for visibility. It's still there, where the snail and his burdens are: those yellow-brown patches between the rock and the glass, for example.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rain lovers

From my computer's weather people:

11:46 PM. 11 degrees Celsius. Tomorrow's high, 13 degrees. Record high over the last 30 years, 12 degrees.

Warmer, then. A tiny bit.

And wetter?

It's raining. It has been raining. It's going to keep on raining. But in the last 30 years, it has rained 25 out of 30 times on this day. Nothing new here.

The cat goes out, comes back in dripping and purring madly. Stands over my keyboard and shakes herself, as a dog does. Raindrops spatter over the screen; I dry it off, wipe muddy footprints off the desk. Chia purrs. She loves this weather.

Slugs love the rain, too. I ventured out to refill the bird feeders (the birds don't seem to mind the wet), and found a baby slug on a rock. I brought him in to see his pretty patterns.

Hunkered down, moaning.

Under the light inside, I discovered that he was covered in racing mites. He didn't look happy about them, either. These mites, if the infestation is heavy enough, can kill a slug.

I took a few photos, then washed him off with chilled, filtered water. The mites ended up on the rock, and I washed them away before they could climb back on board.

"That feels better!"

Immediately, the slug woke up, stretched to his full 2 inches, and set off to explore, obviously happier. I took a few more photos, and carried his rock out to the garden again.

"Bye! And thanks!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A size too small

Spider kids grow out of their clothes, too.

Young cellar spider's cast-off leggings and T-shirt, hung out to dry.

Immature spiders molt frequently; they've got a lot of growing to do, from pinprick spiderling size to fat adult. This one was about half-grown, a spider teen. Well-fed, so he grew out of the leggings while they were still new-looking.

To shed the old exoskeleton, the spider has to bust out from the inside. It increases its heart rate to pump a lot of hemolymph (the spider's blood) from the abdomen into the cephalothorax. The pressure expands the cephalothorax, which pushes on the old exoskeleton until it cracks. The spider flexes its muscles until the old exoskeleton falls away. (HowStuffWorks)

One of my crabs molted this morning, too; I found the old carapace and legs up against the glass. When I returned with the camera, after morning chores, it was gone. The hermit crabs collect these, break them up, and clean out any edible remains. The remaining chitin is eaten by bacteria; starfish and certain fish can also digest it.

I don't know what, if anything, eats old spider molts. Something must; in nature, nothing is ever wasted.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Tulip tree leaf in fall plumage

The wind brought this leaf to my door, out of the rain.

Tulip tree leaf, Liriodendron tulipfera.

The source tree is not a tulip, but a tree from the magnolia family, Magnoliaceae. But the flowers look somewhat like tulips. It is also known as the yellow poplar, though it is not a poplar.

The tree is originally from the east coast, but it seems to have adjusted happily to our milder climate; about a third of the leaves that clutter my doormat are tulips. The other two-thirds are mainly a variety of maples, with a few alder leaves as filler.

Texture. Interesting, sharp-cornered cells.

The underside of the leaf, zooming in.

"They" say it will stop raining tomorrow. I'll believe it when I see it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rainy day surprise

My prayer plant is blooming!

First flower, and a bud.

The tiny (1 cm.) flower lasted only a day, but the next bud is getting ready to open in the morning, and there are two new buds coming along. A nice treat for a rainy, stormy weekend!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Green tree jackets

In the lower stretches of Woodhus Slough, where the trees spend the winter with their feet in icy water, they wear thick, shaggy jackets.

Good insulation!

Dressed for the winter.

Our weather is changeable, even in mid-winter. At times, after a week or so of warm, sunny days, the temperature will drop suddenly, overnight, and howling winds will drive the chill even lower. At these times, sap that has been rising in the warmed trees suddenly freezes, splitting the bark, killing saplings.

In our gardens and yards, we rush out (if we have been procrastinating, as usual) and wrap our young trees in burlap or plastic or whatever we have on hand to cut the wind. One year, I used leftover carpet cuttings. Whatever works.

In the wild, the trees are on their own. A thick lichen outfit is a lifesaver.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Rainy day in Woodhus Slough

When it rains lightly, the colours are different. The greens are greener, the skies greyer, the reds and browns bluer. And my shoes are muddier.

In summer, a field. In winter, a pond, with mallards, geese, swans, and sometimes coots.

Corner where I sometimes see swans in mid-winter, swimming, sleeping, or rooting down in the muck, heads underwater.

Lichen on a tree trunk.

Waxberries, Symphoricarpos albus.

The white fruits look and feel like foamed wax, or sometimes like discarded styrofoam. They don't look appetizing, but the birds love them. Each berry contains two seeds, which the birds spread about.

When the leaves are gone, the lichen keeps the tree green. Ish.

Slough sedge, Carex obnupta
Birds of all type (waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and game birds) eat the seeds of Slough Sedge in moderate amounts. ... Waterfowl nest in areas where sedges form a dense cluster. Amphibians lay their eggs at the base of these plants and the young are somewhat protected from predation.(NWPlants)

Lichen on branch against the sky.

And it's still raining. Ah, BC weather!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Abstract art, with wormholes.

On the shore in the rain, among the driftwood, I found this piece of bark. Just the one piece, about six inches long. The colour stood out on the wet beach, a bright orange, looking almost artificial, as if it were painted.

The inner bark of the red alder is reddish brown, and weathers to a bright orange-red.

 A red or orange dye was made from the bark to color red cedar bark and to make fishnets invisible to fish. (Native Plants, PNW)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On a windy shore

The stretch of shoreline south of Salmon Point is always windy, even on the hottest, stillest days. In the winter, the wind howls so that it is impossible to hear what your companion on the trail is saying.

This tree shows the prevailing direction: north by northwest.

Looking east, across Georgia Strait to the mainland.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rainy day in the slough, with distant birds

The weather is going to turn rough; they're saying we'll have winds up to 100 km/h today. For now, it's just raining.

Before the rain got going in earnest, I went down the Salmon Point/Woodhus Slough trail to look for mushrooms again, with no luck. But two flocks of trumpeter swans flew overhead, discussing the weather as they went. I forgot about mushrooms.

The second group. The first group was about 60 noisy swans strong.

Heading back, near sunset (but there was no sun), I took the summer trail along the slough floor; last chance, because the water is already rising, and it will soon be covered.

The water begins to rise. Last time I was here, this was dry. In mid-winter, the water will cover all the grasses and sedges.

Slough bottom, with rose hips.

Birds forage busily among the trees here, eating old berries and rotting fruit. I saw towhees, sparrows, juncos, chickadees, bouncing happily through the tangled branches, mostly too dark to see clearly on this dark, rainy afternoon.

Junco in a tree with lichen

The water will rise soon. The berries will drown. The small birds will move to higher ground. And the mallards will move in, eating the summer vegetation, as it rots underwater.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Slim harvest

A few more mushrooms...

Mushrooms, moss, and Douglas fir needles.
The straight, flat needles of Douglas fir have two pale white stripes running the length of each needle,... (TLEHCS)

It hasn't been a good year for mushrooms. In my usual haunts, I find only the smallest, pale brown ones, and pinhead white mushrooms; even those are scarce. I compared with my notes from last year. Where I found many and varied mushrooms by this date, now I find almost none. And none of the large, showy ones at all.

Discussing with other local mushroom observers, I have heard the same observation; the beautiful Amanitas are nowhere to be seen, there are no puffballs, the pine mushrooms near Elk Falls are missing, the turkey tails are old and dry; there are no new ones.

I seem to be finding fewer slugs this fall, too. Mushrooms are among their favourite food sources.

Could it be because of the long, hot, dry (very dry) summer we've just had? What else has changed?

Or is it also due to habitat loss? One of the places where I used to always see mushrooms, especially Amanitas, has been torn up by earth-moving machinery on its way into the bush to clear ground for a small shed; a lot of damage for a few square metres of use. There are no mushrooms here, not even the little brown ones.

Friday, November 10, 2017

It's amazing

... how a few stray rays of sunlight can perk up a rainy bit of town ...

... even with all the wires and posts.

I stopped at the first gap between the houses when the rainbow appeared. I took a few quick photos, then headed for the shore for a clear shot. By the time I'd reached it, less than 4 minutes later, the rainbows had disappeared, and it was raining again.

A Skywatch post.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The pirate is a cool cat

This teeny-tiny spider was climbing my wall last night.

Pirate spider, Mimetid sp.

She is about 3 or 4 mm. long (body only), and like all pirate spiders, has a comb of long spines on her front legs.

And she's wearing a cat face.

The pirate spiders are all tiny, from 3 to 7 mm. long. And yet, their diet mainly consists of other spiders. Larger spiders, sometimes much larger.

To kill a large spider, "Kitty" bites him on a leg. Her venom, specifically suited for arachnids, kills him quickly. Then she eats him slowly, holding him with those spiny front legs, and sucking the juices out of one leg at a time; he's too big for one meal.

Crawling around under my desk and behind the furniture, looking for more spiders, I discovered many empty spider corpses. "Kitty" has been busy.

A couple of years ago, I found another of these here. The photos of this one were taken from a different angle, and she seems to be wearing sunglasses.

Cool cat!

The good people at BugGuide identified her for me.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Silver and red

Driftwood and dying leaves, with fly.

Salmon Point trail.

I'm assuming that this piece of driftwood is from the root end of the log; only there is the wood so undecided as to which direction it wants to go. Where's the food? Where's the water? Above ground, the question is, "Where's the light?" and that's almost always straight up.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Specialty diet

In a shadowed Douglas fir copse near Salmon Point, where the moss lies 6 inches thick over downed logs and up-turned roots, filtered sunlight highlights mounds of reindeer lichen.

In spite of the recent rains, the moss is dry to the touch. Sit on it, though (it feels like the softest cushion), and soon water squeezes upwards from the wet logs underneath.

Individual mound. Away from direct sunlight, the lichen is pale green.

It's called reindeer lichen, because it is a main part of a reindeer's diet. Here in Canada,our reindeer are called caribou. They eat the reindeer lichen, too.

But down this far south, we have no caribou. Does anything eat this lichen? Elk, moose, deer, maybe? The deer that roam our forests, backyards and roadsides? Oh, Google!

No, they don't.

Although other boreal ungulates (including mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose and mountain goat) eat lichens, only Rangifer tarandus eat the reindeer lichens. (Hiker's Notebook)

But, but, but ... Everything gets eaten, doesn't it? Well, yes.

Red-backed voles eat horsehair lichen and reindeer lichens. These rodents do not have the complex stomachs found in deer and goats, but they must have a good community of bacterial to help digest all the lichen that they eat. (Juneau Empire)

And, yes, we have red-backed voles here; E-Fauna records them scattered all over BC.

Many other animals eat lichens, but they skip the reindeer lichen. Humans can eat it, but only after it is boiled to remove the toxic acids.

Monday, November 06, 2017

On a driftwood log

Three links in a food chain:

Clump of mushrooms growing out of a driftwood log.

Maybe four links: people felled the tree, possibly. Then the ocean carried it to Salmon Point and threw it onto the shore. Here, mushrooms are eating the wood. And something is enthusiastically eating the mushrooms; the bites look like those of slugs or snails.

I looked for the slugs, but they are usually night feeders, especially out in the open. I couldn't see any, nor any sleeping snails. The logs make good, sturdy roofs for slug bedrooms, down in the dark and damp.

Sunday, November 05, 2017


Sneaking up on Canada geese, watching their eyes, trying not to disturb them, I didn't even notice the turnstones. But they were there all the time.

"Tras lomita" (Mexican expression, "Just over the little hill.")

After the geese left, I walked around the tip of the sandbar and found them waiting for me.

Five black turnstones, Arenaria melanocephala. The Latin name means Sandy dark-head. Others of our peeps have more white or beige on their heads.

Follow the leader. I make the sixth in the procession.

In flight.

Oyster Bay, at mid-tide.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Remnants of a flock

I don't see Canada geese on land often these days. Someone decided they were a pest, messing up our soccer fields, (or, more properly, returning the land to a natural state) and got permission to kill almost a thousand of them. The remaining birds stay well away from humans.

So I was surprised that this pair, resting at the outer end of the Oyster Bay sandbar, allowed me to come so close.

Alert, but so far, so good.

Aware of me, cautious. I like the way her feet make holes in the water.

"Too close! Go away, human!"

"I never hurt a bird in my life!" I tell them, but they have no reason to trust, do they?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Shy mushroom

Just one tiny, pale mushroom hiding behind a log.

Looks like it's been turned into a tent.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Tide-wrack; October collection

Each stretch of shore, and each season, even each weather pattern, has its own assortment of toss-ups. Towards the end of October, after several days of wind and wild waves, the northern section of Oyster Bay had refreshed its collection, substituting kelps for the usual eelgrass fragments and sea lettuce salad.

Possibly a broad-rib kelp, Pleurophycus gardneri

The various kelps look as if they should be easy to identify by asking a few questions: do they have a stipe, and what's it like? Are they smooth, winged, frilled, or blistered? What is the holdfast like? Do they carry floats?

Once they land up on the beach, in fragments, they become confusing.

Blistered, with a stipe-like centre. Similar to seersucker kelp, but missing the 5 ribs.

Nice holdfast, with two stipes, one bearing a blistered and ribbed blade, one with a smooth blade.

Alien invader

I took the photo of that mess with the frog (I think that's what it's supposed to be), because I was annoyed at the intrusion. I carried the critter out, dumped it in the garbage. One less bit of plastic left on the beach.

But before I deleted the photo, I blew it up and looked at it closely, wondering what else was there in that hodge-podge of land-based and wave-tossed vegetation. See the little fly on the blade of kelp just above the neat, round leaf?

But there's more: I noticed first one, then another and another ... transparent segmented tubes, small and smaller, scattered here and there. I chopped them out of the larger photo:

What are they? Plant stems? Leftover worm tubes? Plastic trash? Now I'll have to go back and look for more.

Clamshell. At least this is easy to identify.

A small branch, riddled with shipworm tunnels.

The shipworm (Teredinidae) is a clam, disguised as a worm. It has a long, worm-like body, up to about a metre long, depending on the species. But it wears two hard, ridged clam shells on its head, and uses them to carve out its burrow in the wood, lining some of the burrows with a calcareous coating.

When shipworms bore into submerged wood, bacteria ... digest the cellulose exposed in the fine particles created by the excavation. (Wikipedia)

This one was a larger, fatter clam than most I see on these beaches, and the wood is fresh, (most Teredos eat rotting wood), exposing the beautiful grain of the wood. (Click to look at it full-size.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Palest blues

Oyster Bay at mid tide.

From the new tip of the sandbar, looking east over the tide flats to the breakwater. Mitlenatch Island in the background, at mid-Strait.

Incoming tides swirl around counter-clockwise, then reverse when they cross the inner leg of the bar, making these wavy indentations in the sandbar.