Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Precarious crossing

I've arrived safely in Bella Coola; it's been an adventurous drive, including a side trip well off the beaten track, following garbled instructions down unmapped roads.

I gave this bit of road at Spences Bridge a miss, even though it's still on my maps. The sign on the highway said only, "Old bridge closed".

Old Spences Bridge, crossing the Fraser River

I've got oodles of photos and stories to tell, now that I have electricity and internet access for a few days; scenery, rocks (not flippable), animals tiny and big, etc. No bears, yet; I'm going to look for some tomorrow.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Heading north

In a few hours, I'll be on the road, seeing the traffic and smoke of the Lower Mainland fade away behind me. Hope, the Coquihalla, Nicola Valley, Spences Bridge, Cache Creek, Lac LaHache, Bull Canyon, Kleena Kleene, Tatla, Caribou Flats ... the names call to me; I must go. I'll be ending up, eventually, in Bella Coola for a few days, then turn towards home again; the names in reverse.

Crossing the Chilcotin. Photo from 2010.

A flattish spot on the Bella Coola hill. 2010, with smoke.

Part of the time, I'll be camping, with no access to the internet, or, in places, even to a cell-phone signal. I'll log in here when I can, store photos and stories when I can't. And I'll be back the first of September, in plenty of time for Rock Flipping Day.

When I pulled my suitcase out of its storage space, it tore the spider web it was attached to, and the owner came out to complain.

"Hey! That was my house! I built it with my own spinnerets!"

Yes. It's about time I got moving.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rock Flipping Day coming up!

It's that time of year again; here in the north, the summer heat is dissipating, the rains are coming (YMMV). Back-to-school sale flyers are showing up in our mailboxes. And the rocks are beckoning!

It's time for the annual International Rock Flipping Day (IRFD), this year as usual, on the second Sunday of September, the 13th.

I love rock flipping day, in part because people find classes and even subphyla of critters that they've never encountered before. (Sara Rall, commenting after last year's RFD.)

No-one has volunteered to host it this year, so we're back here for another year.

I'm getting lazy: I'll post, again, the instructions and history as before.


Rock Flipping Day was started by Dave Bonta and Bev Wigney in 2007. The idea is simple; in Dave's words,
... we pick a day for everybody to go outside — go as far as you have to — and flip over a rock (or two, or three). We could bring our cameras and take photos, film, sketch, paint, or write descriptions of whatever we find. It could be fun for the whole family!

37 bloggers joined in that first September.

On 9/2/2007, people flipped rocks on four continents on sites ranging from mountaintops to urban centers to the floors of shallow seas. Rock-flippers found frogs, snakes, and invertebrates of every description, as well as fossils and other cool stuff.


If you're joining in for the first time, here's a quick rundown of the procedure.

  • On or about September 13th, find your rock or rocks and flip it/them over. 
  • Record what you find. "Any and all forms of documentation are welcome: still photos, video, sketches, prose, or poetry." 
  • Replace the rock as you found it; it's someone's home. 
  • Post on your blog, or load your photos to the Flickr group. (Even if you don't have a blog, you can join.) 
  • Send me a link. Or you can add a comment to any IRFD post. 
  • I will collect the links, e-mail participants the list, and post it for any and all to copy to your own blogs. (If you're on Twitter, Tweet it, too; the hashtag is #rockflip.) 
  • There is a handy badge available for your blog, here. (Or copy it from this post.) 

Important Safety Precautions:

A caution from Dave:

One thing I forgot to do in the initial post is to caution people about flipping rocks in poisonous snake or scorpion habitat. In that case, I’d suggest wearing gloves and/or using a pry bar — or simply finding somewhere else to do your flipping. Please do not disturb any known rattlesnake shelters if you don’t plan on replacing the rocks exactly as you found them. Timber rattlesnakes, like many other adult herps, are very site-loyal, and can die if their homes are destroyed. Also, don’t play with spiders. If you disturb an adjacent hornet nest (hey, it’s possible), run like hell. But be sure to have someone standing by to get it all on film!

About Respect and Consideration:

The animals we find under rocks are at home; they rest there, sleep there, raise their families there. Then we come along and take off the roof, so please remember to replace it carefully. Try not to squish the residents; move them aside if they're big enough; they'll run back as soon as their rock is back in place.

Previous Rock Flipping Days:

  • 2007 (In the halls of the mountain millipede) 
  • 2008 (IRFD #2) 
  • 2009 (The early bird gets the worm.) 
  • 2010 (Mongoose Poop?) 
  • 2011 (We Haz Critters) 
  • 2012 (Great Expectations) 
  • 2013 (And in 2013, I totally forgot until it was too late. Never again!) 
  • 2014 (At the Edge of the Ordinary) 

Last year, a total of 18 Rock Flippers posted their findings; a collection of four-, six-, eight-, and multi-legged critters. What will we find this year? Put it on your calendar, go flip some rocks, and we'll see!

Random stones, White Rock beach

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Orange and yellow

Woodland Skipper on tansy.

Comes with his own "bendy straw" for sipping tansy nectar.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tidal moods

It all depends on where you're standing.

I was walking eastward, following the tide as it came in on the Semiahmoo flats. And the water eased in gently, barely disturbing the sand patterns.

Rockweed and eelgrass, drifting in with the tide

Three minutes after I took this photo - three minutes! - I had reached the long breakwater from the old shingle mill. There, the waves rumbled in, splashing and rolling seaweed and small stones.

From the breakwater, looking over the border to Semiahmoo Spit.

Wave breaking over the remains of a piling. In the cut of the wave, you can see the tangle of eelgrass and sea lettuce the wave is bringing in.

At the top of the breakwater, I ducked under the railroad bridge to look at the old slough and shingle mill pilings. There the tide was running strong and fast, but so smoothly it looked static.

Six minutes later. Semiahmoo Reserve slough. Most of the eelgrass has been abandoned on the breakwater.

If you look closely, you can see several yellowlegs on the muddy island. And you may even find the killdeer, in the shadows. The high tide will cover the mud, but since the slough is the mouth of the Little Campbell River, the water is brackish. The vegetation here, and on the breakwater, is mainly Salicornia (aka pickleweed, samphire, saltwort, etc.)

A map may be helpful.

The border marker, visible in the second photo above, is somewhere under the Canada/United States label.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Such patience!

This crane fly sat on the cabinet above my kitchen sink all day. She never moved, even when I opened her door to take out supplies, not even when I banged about, washing big pots right underneath her.

"I'm waiting!"

She was still there when the day's work was done, and I finally got around to paying attention.

Rainbow wings and orange stripes. The pen-nib tail end is her ovipositor.

Zooming in from the side:

"It's about time you showed up with that camera!"

Zooming in more, to show those cute moustaches, and one of the pale yellow halteres. These take the place of the second pair of wings, and serve as stabilizers in flight.

I took the photos she was waiting for, and went to put the camera away. When I came back, she was gone.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sunny interlude

Walking west from White Rock beach, I left a trail of goodies for the crabs and hermits. I couldn't help it; the stones and rocks are crowded with barnacles; at every step, I heard the crunch of another dozen crushed shells. Barnacle steaks, ready to eat as soon as the tide covered them.

Once the tide comes in, with or without my clumsy footsteps, the barnacles are in danger. Whelks drill through their shells and eat them, crabs pry their protective plates off, starfish evert their stomachs over them and digest them even inside their little castles. Flatworms ooze inside to eat them. Even the vegetarian limpets bulldoze the new homes of the youngest barnacles.

It's better out in the sunshine. At least they can sleep in peace!

Barnacles and miniature periwinkles on a rock face. Most of the barnacles have been eaten already.

There's safety in numbers; the odds of being missed are greater. But building sites are hard to come by.

When acorn barnacles are crowded, they grow tall, reaching for open water. And then other barnacles grow on their tips.

Barnacle scars on a stone, all that's left of somebody's dinner. There's enough meat in one of these large ones to interest a gull.

The rock face again. More barnacles and periwinkles.

Zooming in. Barnacle scars, empty barnacle rings, and a few sleeping barnacles.

Billions of barnacles and nary a sign of starfish or whelks. But wait 'till the tide comes in; they'll be there, ready for supper.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

There and back again

I walked from White Rock almost to Kwomais Point, looking for purple starfish and Lion's Mane jellies.

Kwomais Point, from the Southeast.

I was aiming for that big squarish rock near the point. It has always been loaded with interesting critters, including a family of purple and pink starfish. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, stumbling over rolling rocks in unfamiliar wading shoes, it was unreachable;

Starfish Rock

I did see two Lion's Manes, both very dead. No starfish.

On the way back, following the easier path at the top of the tidal zone, I collected a big bagful of plastic and styrofoam. If I'd had more bags, I could have filled them, too. What is wrong with people?

Green fishie on dried eelgrass. Probably left behind by mistake.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Unwelcome bedmate

I love spiders, but not in my bed, please! This one woke me up in the middle of the night by tickling my cheek.

A very small jumper, with green eyes.

He loved the camera; one big, round, shiny eye, as round and glittery as his own.

Except that he's got more of them, even in the back of his head.

While I went for a container to trap him in, he disappeared. I went to sleep the rest of the night in a chair.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Stones and jelly

Stones under water:

Near the high tide line, Boundary Bay

Stones under jelly:

Lion's mane jelly, Cyanea capillata. A small one. The first I've seen washed up this year.

It's the end of the Lion's Mane's life cycle; they've raised their young, and now they drift, dying, onto the nearest beach.

The female jellyfish carries its fertilized eggs in its tentacle where the eggs grow into larva. When the larva are old enough, the female deposits them on a hard surface where the larva soon grow into polyps. (Wikipedia
The jellyfish are pelagic for most of their lives but tend to settle in shallow, sheltered bays towards the end of their one-year lifespan. (

The top few metres of the intertidal zone along the southeastern coast of Boundary Bay are stony and a bit steep (in comparison to the rest of the tidal flat plain.) Jellyfish that get tossed up here are often shredded before they arrive. I must go down to the flatter shore east of White Rock, to see how many are coming in this year.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Black and yellow

Busy bee on tansy

"All those big platters full of pollen! So little time! Hurry, hurry!"

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Srevotfel, redux

A month's worth of aquarium pix; the odd shots taken while I was stalking something else.

One of the smaller hairy hermits, wearing a live barnacle on his shell. On Barnacle Mountain.

Young proliferating anemone. They live on their mother's column until they feel ready to leave home, then detach and float off to a new site. There are about half a dozen scattered around the tank, and another few still clinging to Mom.

Flatworm on the wall, carrying a small snail. Supper's cooking!

Making a snail taco.

A mouthful of snail meat. The shell has been dropped. A new outfit for a small hermit!

One of my tiniest hermits. These are sometimes orange, sometimes dark brown and white. I don't think they're hairies; they don't get much bigger than this.

Face shot of a small red shrimp

Snowy, again. Growing up, getting braver. His eyes are green now, his body a bit speckled.

Snowy molted. And I found his carapace before it crumbled.

I've been trying to determine his species; it's difficult, him being so small and so elusive. So I was glad to get an entire carapace, to see the shape and count the teeth. And I'm still not quite sure, but I think he's a baby red rock crab.

The carapace of adults is deep brick red in color and has 5 teeth that protrude anteriorly between the eyes.  Nine teeth that line the edge of the carapace lateral to each eye have a somewhat fluted appearance, like pie crust.  Carapace shape has been described as being fan shaped or shaped like the letter “D”.  The pinchers have black tips.  Juvenile red rock crabs are quite variable in carapace color and pattern, the patterns sometimes being quite exotic. (WSU BW)

5 teeth between the eyes: check.
9 teeth along the edge: probably; hard to see clearly.
Fan-shaped carapace: check. It's bumpy, too; the Dungeness crab has a smooth carapace.
Black-tipped pincers: looks like that's where he's going; there's a faint purplish tinge to the tips now.

Small bubble shell, wearing green algae.

Limpet, pooping.

Every batch of eelgrass comes home with a fair number of limpets, mostly quite small. They trundle about, cleaning the eelgrass, cleaning the walls, sometimes sleeping for a day or two. As long as they stay stuck to anything, they do well; if at any time they lose their grip and fall to the sand, they are eaten within minutes. The hermits hold them in one pincer, open side up, like a bowl of stew, picking out the meat with the other pincer.

With a sea star or two in the tank, things change; only on the eelgrass are they safe. Wherever the sea star can get a solid grip, he can rip the limpet away from his base. This large one (above) only lasted a few days.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Powder blue tail

Aka Whitetail.

Names of living critters are funny things. The more specific they are, the less they seem to correspond to the actual individuals, maybe because life doesn't like being put in boxes.

The Common Whitetail skimmer has a brown or blue abdomen (not tail; that part of the name is wrong, too), depending on its age and sex. It is also known as the long-tailed skimmer, although its abdomen is relatively short, less than the wingspan.

Common whitetail male, mature. Plathemis lydia

The young males and the females have brown bodies, with white or yellow side stripes. The mature males are a chalky blue, getting chalkier as they age. In full sunlight, some of them do look almost white, which explains the name.

They catch their food, mosquitoes and other flying insects, by hovering or skimming over the surface of calm water. At least that part of their name fits.

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Sunday, August 09, 2015

Fashion statement

Ma Shrimp, now that she's done with raising a family, has become quite the flashy dresser. These days, she's showing off a slinky, speckled skirt, green and black, with white stripes and a black and grey lacy frill down the front; striped leggings; a green and yellow patterned coat. And I love her new vest!

Sitka shrimp

As she was, back when she had youngsters to deal with:

In berry, last May

The other three shrimp that came home with her have all turned red as they grew, with the largest being the reddest.  All four are semi-transparent against a bright light. In the wild, that gives them double-duty camouflage; they're dark and mottled, as a fish would see them from above, and blend into the patterns of the sea floor. Seen from below, as by a crab, they match the light from the sky.

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Saturday, August 08, 2015


... did drop in to visit.

She slept in the angle of the ceiling and wall above my desk for two days, then went about her business.

Drumming katydid, female*, Meconema thallassinum

These insects drum on leaves with their hind legs. And they hear their song with an organ that functions like our ears, with a membrane (the typanum) stretched over an air sac. Except that the "ear" is on the front leg, just below the knee.

Front leg, with tympanal organ.

"Do you mind if I drum on your wall?"

*The female has a long, pointed ovipositor at the end of the abdomen. The male has two curved pincer-like appendages instead.

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Friday, August 07, 2015

The speaking gaze

A hermit, looking me straight in the eye, seems to be saying, ...

"Are you listening? This is important!"

Unfortunately, I can't hear him.

Do underwater invertebrates communicate with sound at all? Fish and whales do, I know. Land-based insects do. Even slugs detect some sounds. How about crabs and shrimp? Hermit crabs?

Maybe they do.

Although marine invertebrates do not hear in the same way vertebrates do, it is thought they are able to sense vibrations and movements associated with sound production. Some marine invertebrates that produce sound in air have specialized sensory organs that can detect acoustic pressure changes in air. However, marine invertebrates in water are known to detect only particle motion. External sensory hairs and internal statocysts aid marine invertebrates in sound detection.  (From Discovery of Sound in the Sea.)

There's always more to learn and be amazed by.

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

All the sky glows

I found myself yesterday evening at the entrance to Garry Point Park, on the southwest corner of Lulu Island. The shoreline was crowded with people on logs, on chairs, on benches, on rocks, apparently all there to watch the sunset. So was I, but I walked around the shore to the westernmost point, where Scotch Pond emerges to Georgia Strait.

From the south side of the point, and with my back to the sun, the sky was just beginning to take on a pink hue; the water was still blue.

(I'm posting the photos in chronological order to show how the light changes.)

Entering the south arm of  the Fraser River, heading for the docks in Steveston. 7:55 PM.

Goofing around with Picasa, and a photo that was too grey, I ended up with this: the tide coming in, swamping beach grasses and rearranging driftwood. Some of the pink hue stayed in.

When I turned to face west, the colours changed; everything was orange or black.

One of the many photographers already set up waiting for the magic moment.

The camera sees more orange than I do. My eyes are more flexible; I can squint into the too-bright light, without it affecting the whole scene.

From the outlet of Scotch Pond, looking directly west. There's enough reflected light from the slough for some of the green to show up.

All those poles! A few, farther out, are light beacons, but the rest are rotting pilings. In 1899, a cannery was built here (the Scottish Canadian Cannery, which gives its name to Scotch Pond). Rather than build on solid ground, the owners put it, with the workers' housing and net racks, all out on pilings on the tide flats, a good quarter of a mile outside the dike. It was still occupied as housing for Japanese families until 1942. The buildings have been gone for over a half century now, but the pilings remain, serving as perches for gulls and cormorants. There are two in this photo, or are those eagles?

From almost the same spot, looking north, over the Lulu Island tidal flats. What is that round thing? There's a row of them, all along this coastline.

10 minutes later. The sun is almost at eye level now.

While I waited, I' prowled around, looking at plants; beach pea, blackberries, some orange and yellow asters, a few lupins, gone to seed already, and purple loosestrife, struggling to keep its foothold. And there, below the point, on the rocks, were a couple of fishermen with their poles. Backs to the sun, intent on their lines, they stood almost immobile until the lines jerked; then they reeled in their catch and dropped it in a mesh bag at their feet in the water.

Peamouth chub, about 6 inches long. Everything is blue, because my back is to the sun.

I thought the orange fins and tail were an effect of the sunset, but no; that's their real colour.

These shallow bays are usually productive because when the tidal current is strong, most residential fish hide in them. Next time when fishing at Garry Point Park, instead of chucking a large chunk of worms into the fast water, try fishing close to the rocks with a float. Peamouth chub and some incredibly large northern pikeminnow usually rest by the rocks waiting for you to feed them. (From Fishing with Rod.) 

These are small fish, not especially good eating, but plentiful and easy to catch. They are a freshwater fish, but also live in brackish waters, such as this slough. While I watched the two fishermen caught a half-dozen fish, all small.

20 to 9. The sun is still there. A couple of kayakers head back inland, in an orange sea.

8:45. Just about sunset. The fishermen are still at work; those are their poles, angling across the slough.

Another photographer, waiting with his tripod and zoom lens on the high ground, told me that the best time to catch the sunset is about 10 minutes after the sun has dropped past the horizon. All the sky glows, he said. I should wait for it.

But the mosquitoes had found me, and they were vicious. I was slapping my head, my ankles, my ears, my wrists, my ankles again, my neck ... Too much; I turned off the camera, snapped the lens cap on, and hurried away.

(The mosquitoes followed me, and got their fill. I lost my glasses on the way across the park and had to look for them in the dark, to the great delight of the whining horde.)

A Skywatch post

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