Friday, November 27, 2015

Spring fever in November

The temperature is hovering around freezing; frost on the grass only thaws in direct sunlight. Spiders and beetles have gone into hiding. There are no flies to eat, anyhow.

And now, a tribe of tiny, fragile moths have come out to play in the cold. I found four on one window yesterday, not sleeping; when I touched them, they flew away.

A few days ago, I caught a slower-moving one.

Bruce spanworm moth, Operophtera bruceata. ID'd by the line of single dots at the edge of the wing.

There are several species of similar winter-flying moths around here. They all have one thing in common; if they're flying, they're males, out looking for a mate.

The females don't look (to us) like moths at all: they have just a hint of undeveloped wing stubs. (See this photo in BugGuide.) When they emerge from their pupae, in October or November, they crawl up tree trunks, emitting pheromones, and wait for the males to find them.

Then they lay their eggs one at a time in cracks of the bark. In frozen cracks of the frozen bark. And the tiny eggs develop over the winter, changing colour from green to orange before they hatch in early spring.

I don't think I've ever seen a female, but where the males congregate, they're somewhere near.  I've always found the males on walls or windows; maybe I should be looking on nearby trees for their mates.

(Unfortunately for this guy, my spider had just laid eggs and was hungry, so he went into her box and became a spanworm wrap.)

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Thursday, November 26, 2015


Killdeer always look worried. Even in winter, when there are no nests to protect. Even on beaches loaded with goodies to eat. Even when that horrible photographer is keeping her distance and not moving.

One killdeer, Oyster Bay

Two killdeer.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

5:09 PM

It gets dark early these days, here at the 50th parallel north. Driving home this afternoon, I had to stop near Oyster Bay to look at the moon. It was only a few minutes after 5 o'clock. Sunset was at 4:27 PM.

Taken with the little pocket Sony, using the car as tripod.

The hints of pink at the top of the hills are snowy mountain peaks on the mainland, lit by a full moon.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Eggs in a blanket

A few weeks ago, searching for spiders for Arachtober, when we post a spider a day to the Flickr pool, I found a pretty, chocolatey cobweb spider under a brick, and brought her inside. I put her in a glass box, and she quickly made herself at home, building a messy web in the corner, and settling in to wait for sowbugs, her favourite food. I'd removed the brick, so I let her stay in the box, and have been providing her with groceries.

Two weeks ago, I found her busy making a blanket for a batch of eggs.

Steatoda bipunctata, with egg case.

If you look closely at the photo, you can see a dense white ball in the centre of the silk fluff she's making. Those are the eggs.

(The other cobweb spiders, the American house spiders, that I've watched making egg cases cover them in a brownish, rumpled, papery skin. It's impossible to see the spiderlings developing until they break out, some weeks later.) "Brownie's" silk blanket is a nice change.

After a week, the eggs were darker, and spreading out a bit.

Egg mass against the window and blue sky.

Brownie is a sleek, glossy spider, with a fat ball of an abdomen. After she laid her eggs, she was really thin, as thin as a male would be. I fed her more sowbugs, and she bulked up again. And this afternoon, when I went to see how the eggs were developing, there she was, weaving a blanket for another batch of eggs!

I left her to it; I'll pester her with a camera once she's resting.

And I'm wondering: she obviously hasn't seen a male since her last batch of eggs, locked in her box as she is. Does she save sperm for a second batch, or will these not be fertile? Will there actually be spiderlings in that second egg case?

Time will tell.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

First frost

On a chilly afternoon, on Oyster Bay shores:

Even the ocean is becalmed.

Barnacles and frost on a log

Frost and stonecrop

Zooming in.

Zooming out.

I think this is spreading stonecrop, Sedum divergens. In warmer weather, the leaves and stems are green to red; there's still a hint of green in more sheltered bits.

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Moon jelly, tossed up by the tide on Oyster Bay beach:

Aurelia labiata. The purple gonads identify this as a male.

The northernmost form, ranging from Puget Sound, Washington, to Prince William Sound, Alaska, have a pyramidal manubrium. .... The bells are peach or whitish, male gonads are dark purple, and female gonads pale brown. (From

There were about a dozen of these on the beach, about 6 inches across. All of them had the four purple "horseshoes". They live only one year, but the females brood their young for a short while, so may be slightly longer-lived than the males. (Just a wild guess, trying to explain an all-male collection of a gregarious animal.)

Individuals of this species from cold waters can survive being frozen solid in ice. (From

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rotting cement, upside-down tables, and a handful of limpets

From Campbell River to the south, the highway winds along a coastal plain, dotted with farms, towns, resorts, and light industry. To the north and the west, the situation changes. A terrain map shows what my Mom called an upside-down tableland; many tables, all with their legs in the air.

Google maps: terrain, mid-section of northern Vancouver Island. Campbell River is just off the map, to the lower right.

Here, the roads follow river valleys, keeping as far as possible to low ground, out of the grip of ice most of the year. And here, human settlements are small and widely scattered. Sayward is "large", with 400 people. Kelsey Bay holds 120. Woss, there in the centre of the map, is home to 200. In between, beside some of the lakes, there are a few campsites and inns; a house, a cabin or two, and nothing more. Near the northern tip, where BC Ferries has a terminal, Port Hardy boasts a large population of 4000.

"Port Hardy (population: 4,000) is the last bastion of civilization in the remote and wild north end of Vancouver Island." (Yes, they actually said that. Here.)

Along this coastline, even where there is access, human influence is attenuated. Shipping; cruise ships, fishing boats, log booms, and barges pass, leaving their wash and smoke; logging trucks roar by on the highways; and, of course, there are all the general effects of climate change. Apart from those, land and marine animals and plants go about their business mostly unobserved.

Kelsey Bay is one of the spots where we have left a deeper footprint. It used to be the southern terminus of BC Ferries' Inside Passage, before the road was pushed through to Port Hardy. The bay is full of rusting hulks, crumbling cement, abandoned wharves, interspersed with the usual activities of a northern port; a small-craft harbour, a log dump, parking lots full of machinery and trucks.

Old BC Ferries' ramp supports. High tides reach to the top of the exposed metal.

View from the end of the road, towards Mt. H'kusam. With marina, and several rusting hulks.

On the tiny beach, besides the dead sea urchin, I found shreds of a variety of kelps; the big bull kelp, a curly, wide-bladed kelp, and others too torn to identify. Rockweed is well-entrenched, growing firmly on the cement boat launch; I pawed through it, looking for small critters, and found beach hoppers. On the rocks, mostly too big or too wedged in to flip, barnacles and limpets waited for the water to come back.

Empty limpet shell.

An unusual pattern. This one's alive, and holding on tight.

Limpet on a stone.

Row of mask limpets (Tectura persona) on a rock. With two slipper snails, and another, possibly a ribbed limpet. Lottia digitalis. I had to move a rock to get at these.

All along the coastline, around the marina and the rotting remains of abandoned equipment, the tops of a bull kelp forest floated, their holdfasts still attached below.

The tide is low; at high tide, only the floating blades will be seen.

Keeping a few metres shy of the rocky shore. The water's pink, looking south, towards the setting sun.

From the old BC Ferries' dock, looking north. "My" tiny beach is in the shelter of that big rock on the left. Bare rock marks the high tide line. I was actually trying to take a photo of a loon, who, of course, dived just as I pressed the shutter. There's an eagle on one of the trees, though.

I won't be heading farther north from here until spring; I've been warned of an icy hill, just beyond the Sayward Village turnoff from the highway. Meanwhile, I pore over maps and aerial views, planning, planning.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Just exploring

I drove up to Kelsey Bay, 75 km north of Campbell River, following a winding road off the highway, through Sayward village (pop. 400) and on until I came to a dead end at a small, rocky, dark beach, slippery with rockweed and shreds of kelp, splashed with wind-driven waves. There, I went looking for critters, tripped and ended up in the water, froze my fingers until I couldn't feel the camera buttons, and then found the only local coffee shop closed. An interesting afternoon; a good day!

Broken, empty green sea urchin, still retaining most of its spines.

Fragment of the shell, from the inside.

There will be more photos tomorrow; scenery, kelp, and critters.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Consistently capricious

I looked out the window. The sun was shining brightly from a blue and white sky. I walked down a hallway, and out into a grey mist, drove a few blocks, and dashed from the car to the museum door in a pouring rainstorm; my jacket left a puddle on the floor under the coat hook.

"Typical Campbell River weather," someone said. Nothing unusual about it.

All glittery. Warm sun; a "lazy"* wind.

*Lazy wind: defined by Terry Pratchett as wind that can't be bothered to blow around people, and blows right through them instead. (Wyrd Sisters)

The inconstancy goes deep; it's not only the sky, the wind and the rain; it goes right down to the waves and the currents swirling beneath. Boating articles warn against trusting your eyes and your luck in this channel. Currents can run north and south side by side, in a narrow stretch. The tide running north meets the tide flowing south halfway, sending waves straight up in the air. Tugs towing barges sometimes find the current pulling the tug north and pushing the barge south at the same time.

If you find yourself in the unfavourable situation of being in Campbell River and a southeasterly is already in progress, do not attempt to leave the harbour. (Desolation Sound Yacht Charters)

Cape Mudge, the southernmost tip of Quadra Island. Cormorants on a graffiti'd rock, scoters floating beyond them.

Even though the water is relatively calm from here, on the Campbell River beaches, you can see the rough water along the far shore, with whitecaps to the south. The area just south of Cape Mudge is shallow; it looks like an interesting site to explore in the summer, at low tide.

 " ... in 1792.  On sailing past Quadra Island, Captain Vancouver wrote in his journal “Numberless mer-maidens, enjoying the season, were playing about the ship in every direction.”  This was corroborated by Captain Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra who wrote that many of his fiery blooded Spanish sailors were so enthralled by the sight, that they willing threw themselves into the sea with the purpose of cavorting with these maidens, only to drown in the whirling waters." (From Catherine's Corner: Captain Vancouver)

Mermaids, or Harbour seals? I'd bet on the seals.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Completely out of character

I'm flabbergasted. I've never seen this behaviour before.

Spiders are predators, right? They eat insects, other spiders, even birds, if they're big enough. They don't eat fruit. So what was this one doing with papaya?

Young male philodromus dispar. Apparently eating papaya.

I had cut up a papaya for supper, and when I went to clean up, I found this little guy working on a speck left on the counter. I brushed him away and he returned immediately, twice. After that, I cleaned around him and watched. He stayed with the piece of papaya another 10 minutes or so.

The spider is about 5mm long; it feeds on flies and other insects. It does not build a web, but hunts its prey by remaining stationary in ambush and awaiting prey to come near it. (Wikipedia)

After I wiped the counter clean, he ran about in the area for a while, as if searching, then gave up and went home.

I've still got half a papaya. I'll put out a bit for him tomorrow, to see if he's still interested.

UPDATE: I found an article about this behaviour, by crab spider males. (Philodromus dispar is a crab.)

Adult male crab spiders hardly eat at all. They live mostly on energy from food they captured before maturity. Finding and guarding females can take a lot of effort, though, and some recent studies have found that male crab spiders sometimes dip into flowers and drink nectar, which would provide considerable energy without the extended effort of capturing prey.
Simon Pollard and fellow researchers propose in the journal Animal Behavior that
nectar may also provide male spiders with much-needed liquid. All spiders drink rainwater and dew to replace the body fluids they lose through evaporation. But males lose water faster than females because of their relative size, and they do not gain liquids from consuming insects as females do.
(From Charlotte without a Web)

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Curves and reflections

Because I like the patterns:

Rushes growing in Echo Lake, Hwy 28

Echo Lake is the first small lake on the highway from Campbell River to Gold River, on the opposite coast. It is home to rainbow and cutthroat trout; on a brief stop, I saw the fingerlings, among the stalks of rushes along the shore.

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Glimpse from the highway

Menzies Bay, Seymour Narrows.

Looking northeast, towards Ripple Rock.

Out for a short drive on a sunny afternoon, I took the highway north, towards Sayward. The view is mostly of trees, trees, trees, but there are occasional gaps where the forests have been cleared to make way for logging operations. This is the MacBlo log sorting site, most of it hidden in the bay to the left.

Ripple Rock was a rock in the middle of the Narrows here, where the currents are strong. It caused many shipwrecks and deaths until it was blown up in 1958.

The explosion took place at 9:31:02 am on 5 April 1958. 635,000 metric tons of rock and water were displaced by the explosion, spewing debris at least 300 metres in the air which fell on land on either side of the narrows. The blast increased the clearing at low tide to about 14 metres (45 feet). (Wikipedia)

There is a good trail to a viewpoint at the tip of the hill in the foreground, and on the far side, a campsite and marina. I'll plan on visiting next spring.

(I cut out an electrical pole because it obstructed the view. Our brains edit these things out automatically, but the camera never does.)

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Post-move inventory

My critters and I have been in Campbell River a month now, so yesterday, when I changed the water and cleaned the tank, I did a quick inventory to see how well they have coped with the stress of the move.

"Doing just fine, thanks!"

I moved with 20 hermits, from two pinhead-sized ones to several large grainy hand and hairy hermits. Yesterday, I counted 20, but the tiniest have moved into larger shells; they're growing up. Good!

(As usual, I moved the hermits to a bowl while I cleaned the tank. I forgot to feed them their shrimp pellet treats until I was almost ready to return them, so I fed them, waited about 5 minutes, and then, impatient to be finished with the job, moved them one by one back to the tank. And each one came with his hands full, carrying his goodie bag back home. Even the tiniest, about the same size as the pellets, held onto their haul all the way.) 

The two small shrimp, one red, one blue (he was black, but now he's blue), are fine.

The two big anemones are still thriving. The baby proliferating anemones have disappeared, and so have all but one of the tiny orange-striped anemones. Stress, change of water, or just the season? I don't know.

Of the worms, there's a 4-inch polychaete, umpteen tiny two-tentacled worms, and one scale worm, who was about half an inch long when we moved; now he's at least an inch. Doing fine!

The sand dollar is still active, and maybe growing slightly. So is the one clam, and the green shore crab.

There seem to be fewer Nassa snails, but the rest are as plentiful as ever. So are the limpets. The three leafy hornmouth snails have even laid eggs since the move. All is well there.

I could only find three live barnacles. The leafy hornmouth snails and one small whelk eat them, so I'll have to go "shopping" for more.

I'm pleased.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015


Reflected trees, from the docks at Discovery Harbour Marina.


And evergreen

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Coffee break

I stopped for coffee in a beach shack with a plank and plywood lean-to for shelter from the weather. In spite of the sunshine, the wind was chilly, and there was a roaring fire in an airtight stove in the lean-to; every seat was taken.  I took my coffee and walked down the shore, scrambling over piles of driftwood and rolling stones, holding a camera and a hot coffee cup.

Loose rocks, with tiny snails that I tried not to step on.

And there are snails here, too. Click for the full size view.

Critter art. A sunrise over the water and hills, carved by mining beetles

Green-eyed monster, trapped in a log jam.

The coffee was good, too.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Everyday lichens

Under the firs, where the moss thins out over rocks, lichens take over. These two were sharing a small pile of stones.

Pixie cup Cladonia. A few have red fruiting bodies on the rim of the cup.

One of the reindeer lichens. I increased the contrast, to make it stand out from the bright mosses and pixie cups around it.

Zooming in to show the red fruiting bodies on the tips of the branches.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The rest of the mushrooms

I give up. I've pored through websites and books until my eyes gave out, and I'm no closer to identifying my mushrooms than I was when I took the photos. There are too many choices, too many look-alikes, too many "needs microscopic examination" descriptions, too many missing details, because I didn't want to disturb their environment by digging them out, turning them over, breaking them off. They didn't see me coming; they didn't notice when I left.

It doesn't matter. What, to me, is important about these mushrooms is that they are beautiful. So here's the lot. (For size, compare the bits of moss and the evergreen needles, about 1 to 1.5 inches long.)

Very small, gilled mushrooms, growing on mossy rocks under Douglas fir.

This one's cap has the texture of an orange peel. With haircap moss.

Definitely pink, and moist. The green branches are another moss.

A deeply textured cap. The cone behind it is Douglas fir.

A slightly larger 'shroom, with gills and a stem ring. And two kinds of moss.

These are so perfect and delicate, that I didn't even want to breathe deeply near them.

So smooth!

A group of larger mushrooms, pushing their way up through the moss blanket.

Interesting patterns on another emerging mushroom.

And a couple of tiny flies. The flies seem to like these moister mushrooms.

I thought the strange, twisty mushrooms I posted the other day would be easy to identify, but I can't find any like them. Here's another photo, showing their progression from "normal" to just plain weird.

The young ones have a round, smooth cap, and that furrowed stem, (bottom right), but as they age they twist and contort until they barely look like mushrooms at all. (upper left)

The weather is about to change. Environment Canada promises me about 6 hours of off-and-on sunshine tomorrow, then two weeks of mostly rain, with some snow. It's time to explore a bit closer to home. My critters in the tank, the museum at the end of my street, a spider tending her eggs in a jar, assorted beetles and grubs in the garden under my window, stormy seas from the car window; that sort of thing. I'm looking forward to it!

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