Sunday, February 01, 2015

Why I left trash on the beach

In an expanse of clean sand, a crushed plastic gallon bottle spoiled the view. I picked it up, planning to remove it to the appropriate trash can, and found that it was being used as a roof by a mud shrimp.

Blue mud shrimp, Upogebia pugettensis, about 3 inches long

These crustaceans usually live in burrows about a metre deep; it is rare to find one on the surface. Apparently, if an adult is removed from his burrow, he can't dig a new one, so this exile may have become fish food as soon as the tide came in. At least the gallon jug kept the gulls from finding her*.

When I exposed her to the sunlight, she started crawling away. She's not very good at it on the surface; she kept unrolling her abdomen to push forward, but there was no purchase on the sand, and her legs didn't seem strong enough to carry her weight out of water. I took a few photos and dug her a new pool to crawl into. When she got there, I replaced her roof above her. Recycling takes several forms.

A couple of years ago, we found a Bay ghost shrimp in this same area:

Bay ghost shrimp, Neotrypaea californiensis

At first glance, these look very much alike, but the Bay ghost shrimp is pinker, more translucent, has no rostrum (the "hat" over the head area), and the pincers are more unequal in size.

The Blue has a hairy rostrum with a sharp point, rather difficult to see because of the hairiness. The legs and claws are hairy; you can see signs in the photo at the front bend of the large pincer. The colour varies from muddy brown to bluish. This one, in the slanting light of a late afternoon sun looked more orange; the blue shows up faintly in the legs.

(Compare; Google images of Urogebia pugettensis.)

*"Her": randomly-selected sex, because I don't like calling conscious beings "it". In these Blues, as opposed to the Bay ghost shrimp, males and females look alike at first glance.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

HItchhiking worms

I made a quick trip to the beach to collect seaweeds for my critters. I chose the upper end of Boundary Bay, where the sand is muddier and wormier; as I waded along in an inch of water as the tide receded, worms kept spitting at me just before my shadow touched their holes. I think they are more sensitive to the vibration my footsteps made than to the change in light. (Barnacles notice the shadow first.)

In an hour of wading, I found only eelgrass, and not much of that, on this end of the Bay at mid-tide. But each blade of eelgrass had at least one limpet crawling on it. And the limpets were carrying their own burdens:

One tiny limpet, 7 busy spiral tubeworms, Spirorbis spirorbis

Another limpet, with 10 tubeworms.

The limpets don't seem to be bothered by the excess weight of tubeworms, probably more than the weight of the limpet itself. In a way, they may actually benefit the limpet, protecting it from attack by hungry crabs that content themselves with picking the worms out of the tubes instead of trying to crush the limpet. After a day in my tank, most of the worms are gone; the hermit crabs have harvested them.

What else I found in the muddy sand, tomorrow.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

They call it the "Garden Walk"

Along one of the passages from building to building in the hospital complex, they've put a few planters against a wall in an outdoor space, some comfortable chairs just inside the window, and behind it all, fake windows with bright birds and flowers. I spend too much time there, but there's always a little camera in my bag...

Bare tree, green leaves, and strange shadows after sunset.

The planters, shadows, and a reflection of fantastic flowers.

There are more hospital photos of the "going stir crazy" variety, in a Facebook album, here.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Licking her lips

I gave Val, the big burrowing anenome, a piece of fish. She swallowed it whole, then showed her appreciation:

Folds at the mouth of her stomach.

"More, more!"

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Same scene, new day

There comes a day, after a rough spell when life has been a struggle, that I look out and discover that the world is new again, that the birds still sing, and the sun still shines.

Today was that day. Laurie is stronger. The skies were blue, the breeze warm. I got Laurie into a wheelchair and took him across the hospital campus to sit in the sunshine and watch the clouds.

Same scene as last post, from the same hospital window. 4:30 PM, with a hint of orange as the sun goes down behind us. 

I haven't been feeding the birds for the past couple of weeks, and they've been foraging elsewhere. But I stepped outside to re-acquaint myself with the garden this morning, and after a minute, heard a "cheep"*, looked up, and found three chickadees already waiting for their goodies. They must have been keeping a watch.

*It was a "cheep", not the usual half-scolding "dee-dee-dee" that the chickadees usually say. More of a question; "Are you back?" Yes, I'm back.

Thank you to all of you who have sent good thoughts and encouraging words our way. It has really helped to know people care.

Laurie is to have surgery on Thursday; a feeding tube installed to replace his defunct esophagus. Then there will be a few days of recovery, and he can come home, in time to catch the first crocuses in the garden.

A Skywatch post.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Grey and gloomy

A view from a hospital window early this afternoon. A rainy January day.

The east side of the hospital looks out onto Green Timbers Urban Forest. It will be a pleasant view in the spring. Right now, it suits my mood. Laurie is not doing well.

I walked across the hospital complex with a woman whose mother is dying, passing the birthing room on the way, and waited in line for a sandwich behind a woman with her pre-school nephew, talking about his new baby brother. Birth and death, and sandwiches. The stuff of life.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Taking a break

I'll be taking a semi-break from the blog for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. Laurie has been sick for some time, and has ended up in hospital, so I'll be either too busy or too tired, or both, to post every day for a while.

Laurie on his favourite beach, January, 2013. Boundary Bay.

They've found his problem and are working on a fix. We'll be back on the beach before spring.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

All bark and no bite

The tiny black-clawed crabs that arrived in a holdfast six weeks ago are growing up. The largest, a male, was 5 mm. across the carapace; now he's three times that. He has chosen a hiding spot behind a big rock, but up against the glass - it feels solid, I guess, even if it's transparent - and I've been trying to get his photo. He usually responds by threatening me with dire harm.

"Armed and dangerous, I am!"

His multi-coloured shell and legs are good camouflage in the mess of shell pieces and stones he collects around himself. The back legs are usually raised, holding the rock behind him.

His usual pose; always with those dark pincers raised and ready for action.

When I give the tank a thorough cleaning, I remove the animals to a bowl first. I have to chase my speedy green shore crabs around and around for quite a while; even caught, they struggle to get free. These little black-clawed crabs, once I've removed their sheltering rocks, walk away casually; no worries. When I pick them up, they sit quietly in my hand, not even bothering to threaten me. But once in the bowl, they quickly scuttle under the closest shelter.

The second largest is a female, and very much in berry; her whole underside is a mass of dark eggs. She hides in a crack between two stones, and rarely shows more of herself than the warning pincers. Hers are mostly a dark brown colour.

And I haven't been able to lure her out into the open for a photo op. I haven't wanted to stress her by taking her photo on my hand, so I'll keep watching the door to her hideout, camera in hand.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Shelter from the storms

Found at the back of the vacant lot/new forest:

"Somebody loved me."

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fire and ice

January sunshine warms bare trees with their feet in frozen puddles.

Old leaves, drowned and frozen, feed new buds in the sunlight.

Sunlight blazing through a dead blackberry leaf.

Old and new.

Detail of last year's leaf.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Snails in sediment

During the cooler months of the year, most of the vacant lot is under an inch or two of water. I progress by stretching from one clump of dead grass to the next, mostly getting my feet wet when they squelch down into the mud.

In one of the pools, I noticed a patterned stone, with a handful of gravel nearby to sort of stand on. Up close, I saw that the pattern was formed by trails in the flocculated sediment.

The little circles where grass blades dip underwater mark the surface, about an inch above the stone.

I couldn't get close enough to get a good look, but once I checked my photos, I found the artist.

Do you see the snail?

Zooming in closer:

I've saturated the colours of the snail a bit, to make him more visible.

I don't know what species this is, nor how he survives in puddles that turn into hard, dry clay in the summer.

Other, shallower puddles had their share of snails, too, as well as many tiny, darting specks, too small and too fast to identify. I took photos, but all I got were the snails. Pretty ones, if extremely small.

Three snails here, and a few ostracods. (They look like tiny pink marbles. Can you find them?)

And here's a land-based snail. Or what's left of him, after a winter in the open.

Common garden grove snail, broken and bleached.

More about these ponds, in summer, with ostracods and other goodies, including, maybe, a relative of the trail-making snail. Here today, gone tomorrow.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Got him!

Well, sort of.

I went across to the vacant lot/new bush, to see what's happening in January. It was as expected, soggy underfoot, treacherous with trailing, leafless blackberry canes and rusting wires, bleak under its coat of dead grasses and bare trees. But there was life there, and I followed the trails, bending to watch things swimming under the ice of the puddles, or chase a beetle until he scuttled under a mass of rotting weeds.

I rounded the base of a rise near the back of the lot, and there, almost spitting distance in front of me was a coyote. A big adult, looking healthy and alert; well fed.

He saw me at the same time. By the time I'd focused the camera, he was racing off into the bush along the creek.

But I got a photo. Not a good one.

Just the top of his back visible. The orange thing is a piece of trash caught in the branches. His head is behind that.

I retraced my footsteps, and went around the hill to enter the creek bed from the far side, hoping to maybe catch another glimpse of him. But he was long gone. What I did find was his scat.

Coyote scat. A nicer word than poop, but the same thing. By the feather remains, I gather that he's been eating birds.

Looking up coyote scat id for confirmation, I learned a few things.

  • Recognize the shape of coyote scat. Coyotes produce scat that is about the diameter of a cigar and is tapered at one end. (

Check. The taper isn't too obvious in the photo, as it's at the far end and tangled in the grass.

  • Droppings will also be frequently located at strategic locations such as cross roads and along trails as coyotes use their droppings to mark territory. (ICWDM)

Check. This was a well-travelled trail I was following.

Check. I didn't notice any scent. A dog's droppings, fed as he would be with processed dog food, has a strong, offensive smell.

  • In one Missouri study of coyote scat, local coyotes were found to have consumed 47 different animal species and 28 different plants.* Thus, don’t be surprised if your coyote scat contains fur/hair, berries, nuts, garden crops, bone bits, grass, leaves or dozens of other appetizing tidbits. (Nature Skills)

This guy has been eating meat. Birds at least, probably rabbits; I've seen several in the undergrowth along this creek. I wonder if he'd also tackle young raccoons? Several raccoons that I've seen have been maimed in some way; one has no tail, another has lost an eye. In a fight with a coyote?

(More on the vacant lot goodies tomorrow.)

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Showy dressers

When I pick up a hermit crab on the beach, he's generally a grungy brownish black colour, maybe, if the sun is bright and he's not scrunched too tightly into his shell, showing a spot of blue on a knee, or a hint of orangey-red on an antenna. In everyday light, he matches the muddy sand he lives on. It makes sense out here where blending in is protection against becoming lunch for a sharp-eyed gull.

So I am often startled by the colours of a clean hermit in washed sand, under bright lighting.

Hairy hermit, Pagurus hirsutiusculus, with blue knees and eyes.

Zooming in.

Grainy hand hermit, Pagurus granosimamus, with orangey antennae and brown eyes.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Green and black

Shore crab carapace. No two ever alike.

He's a young male. His mate is a uniform dull green, about the colour of the background here.

I'll be busy for the next few days, and away from the blog.  Back Tuesday, I think.

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Alternate realities

The public washrooms at Blackie Spit, midwinter:

Another time, another place. Nowhere on the Lower Mainland.

And in this universe:

Here and now. Crescent Beach shoreline, from Blackie Spit.

It's colder. And greyer. And muddy, to boot. But I'd rather be here; with the gulls.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Just another hermit

Climbing the eelgrass.

It's a long way to the top.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015


When I was a kid, oh so many centuries ago, we used to play a game that we called Statues. (Here it is called "Swing the Statue", which is probably a better name.

One player is chosen to be "it." He or she takes each of the other players in turn and, holding them by a wrist or hand, swings them in a circle and then lets them go. The swung player must freeze as soon as possible and hold that position as long as possible. The first player to break the freeze becomes "it." Since the first player swung must hold the position longest, begin with the oldest child first. The entertainment value comes from seeing the strange positions that players end up in and watching them try to hold those positions. (From

This grey squirrel would be good at the game. She froze in place at the first click of the camera's mirror lifting, even through the closed door, and held the pose until I tired of waiting for her to come closer. I moved first; she won the round.

"If I don't move, she won't see me."

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Life must cycle

Sea anemones reproduce in a variety of ways: by cloning, (splitting or tearing off a part of the parent's body, which then continues to grow as an adult); asexually by budding: or sexually, producing free-swimming planulae, which find a spot and settle to grow into the adult stage.

Hydroid bud. Released medusas will eventually reproduce sexually. Unlike these, the anemones' buds grow directly into adults.

Clones can be quite large; up to half the parent's body, but the buds and larvae are microscopic. Even the infant anemones, already settled, may be only a couple of millimetres across the base.

Like the ones I found in the clamshell:

One of several patches, on this and a second clamshell. What species? Time will tell.

The orange-striped green anemones outside of their home territory, reproduce by splitting. "At home," they also release sperm and eggs. Whether they consider my tank a home away from home, I don't know.

Orange-striped green anemone. Their colours and shapes are variable, even in the same individual at times.

Are these orange-striped? Probably. See the two at bottom left. The stripes are green.

These little anemones are appearing in large numbers all around the tank. They are obviously not produced by splitting; no mature anemone has been racing all around, dropping bits of himself as he goes. It looks like these grew from babyhood.

Another of the same anemones, on rotting sea lettuce.

And then there's the little blue anemone, rescued from certain death on the beach last October:

Brooding or Proliferating anemone, Epiactis prolifera, about 1/4 inch across. On a third clamshell, with several orange-striped babies, kelp, and green algae.

This anemone has a unique sex life. Young adults are almost all functional females; as they mature they become simultaneous hermaphrodites (having both male and female gonads at the same time, as opposed to being first one sex, then developing into another) capable of fertilizing themselves and others. (From Oregon Coast Aquarium)

She's still young; adults can be up to 2 inches across, so for now, she's female only. Since there are no males, she won't be reproducing for a while yet.

(So the infant green anemones in the clamshells aren't hers; they must have come with the kelp holdfast.)

Once she reproduces, she'll brood her babies for up to three months.

... larvae? ... Live on mother's column (digesting yolk, then catching prey) until at least 3 months old and 4 mm diameter, then crawl off. (From

She knows her own:

When starved, Proliferating Anemones will ingest young anemones that have become detached from the parent’s base; however, these are normally regurgitated unharmed, even after several hours in the gut. (OCA)

I can't forget Val, the largest anemone in my tank.

Burrowing anemone, Anthopleura artemisia. 4 inches tall and still growing.

These anemones reproduce sexually, which won't happen here, since she's a loner. Or by splitting, which she shows no inclination to do. She's probably had enough of that; when I got her, she was just a blob of torn tissue left on a beach, probably by a bird.

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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Welcoming committee

For New Year's Day, I posted a photo of a brand new, freshly hatched, pinhead-sized Leafy Hornmouth snail, just starting out on his adventure. This is the backstory.

It started with the small kelp holdfast I brought back from the beach in November. It came with its own cargo of crabs and worms and starfish, but there was a small blank space on the inner side of the clamshell; here, the pair of big snails* in my tank chose to anchor their latest batch of egg cases.

The inner side of the clamshell, as it is today. Much-nibbled-on kelp "roots", and the egg cases at the bottom.

The first of the baby snails started to emerge from the cases a couple of weeks ago. I was on hand to photograph the "birth". So were some other observers, with more ominous intentions.

Three open egg cases. The siphon tip of the latest baby peeks out the exit hole of one.

Several snails hatching at once, at the beginning of the escape. Several egg cases still have their plug in the escape hatch. (Top two on the left, for example.) But look carefully at the background!

Waiting for dinner to be served. Flatworms are always hungry!

There were two flatworms, both very tiny, as flatworms go, humongous in relation to baby snails. One was green; I'd seen it before, but this purplish one has only showed up for the hatching, and has never been seen before or since.

The smallest of the black-clawed crabs, still living in the holdfast.

Against the back wall of the clamshell, too tiny to see without a lens, I found a colony of green anemones. Looking again later, I saw that one had a snail in its mouth.

Watch the holdfast for a couple of minutes, and somewhere among the roots, a worm will poke out his head. There are a dozen or so living here.

Polychaete in his tunnel made of a glued fold in sea lettuce. Tiny, but those jaws will gape as wide as the belly of the beast.

Out searching for food. The tail never leaves the burrow, but he can stretch the full width and height of the holdfast colony.

The brittle stars seem to have disappeared, which would be a relief to the snail parents, if they were of the type to fuss over their offspring. The other two stars have been deported to the shore where they came from, for crimes against snaility. (They were eating the tank cleanup crew; they would have had these babies for appetizers.)

Mortality rates are high in the intertidal zone, especially for the young. One of those egg cases would have started out with about 50 eggs; less than half would survive to hatch. And of the hatchlings, depending on where they emerge and the predator load, anywhere from 50% to 99% will die within the first few weeks.

Observations in San Juan Islands, Washington show that a newly hatched N. lamellosa (Related to my leafies - me) has a 1-2% chance to reach 3mo of age.  An individual reaching 3mo has a 35% chance to reach 1yr of age.  Older, larger, individuals have a 40-60% chance to survive through subsequent years.  Spight 1975 Oikos 26: 9. (From A Snail's Odyssey)

My baby snails, those that made it past the welcoming committee, hurried out of the holdfast to hide in the sand.

On his way.

Zooming in. Siphon to the left, leading the way. Within a few seconds, he had ballooned off the holdfast root, washed away in the current to a "safer" place.

Even out of the holdfast, there are dangers. Hermit crabs. Even the tiny hermit crabs. Shore crabs. Anemones everywhere. Any of these will relish a tender baby snail hors d'oeuvre. The ballooning snail burrowed down into the sand as quickly as he could.

But there are worms down there.

Three times, I've seen a baby on the glass, high above the sand, out of reach of all but the climbing hermits. Good choice. They may survive.

Infant snail, above the water line, surrounded by his own body bubble. Taken through the glass, against the light, which shines through the yellow button at the tip, and shows the ridges on the shell. The dark spot is the operculum, which closes the shell when the snail is resting.

*The parents were Mike and Tillie, Leafy Hornmouth snails (Ceratostoma foliatum). They have since been returned to their home beach, since my visits to the winter shores weren't providing enough juicy barnacles to keep them fed in the tank.

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