Thursday, August 21, 2014


I thought I was taking photos of pretty rocks.

I didn't even notice the crab and limpet until I got home.

And not until I looked closely, did I see the many photos of my granddaughter and me. And the rampaging dinosaur.

(You probably need to click on this to see it full-size to find the selfies. Or an even larger photo is on Flickr. There, click on Download to see the "View full size" link, then arrow right until you find the bubbles.)

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pick your rocks and mark your calendars!

September 14th, the second Sunday in September, is International Rock Flipping Day.*

It's the day we celebrate the wild things that live in their hidden homes just under our feet, so close but usually so forgotten. And all we have to do to find them is flip a rock!

Because I'm lazy, and it's late, I'll cut and paste the history and instructions from 2011:


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 14th, 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!*)

This year, another blogger has offered to host IRFD; if that works out, I'll post the address to send your contributions to. Otherwise, I will post the list, as before. In any case, you can also send your links here, and I will forward them.

Rocks, Crescent Beach. Much too big to flip.

Detail of layered sandstone.

*(I remembered this year, and on time, too!)

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Underwater textures

Cake decoration ripples:

Small trophon snail, on barnacles. About 1 cm. long.

Smooth and rounded:

Anemone and bubble. Also about 1 cm. tall.

Layered and prickly:

Scale worm on rock.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Keeping an eye on us

These critters all dropped in to visit this week.

Hornet under glass

Hundreds of eyes, and toothed jaws.

Winged ant termite*. Running.

Not running.

Crane fly on carpet. Sleeping with his eyes open.

1/3 of the crane fly. I cropped out miles of leg.

Shot in the dark. Fly on outside of window, 10:00 PM.

Mosquito, with double reflection from glass door.

June bug. He came to help with the watering.

And a cute jumping spider, very small, was running around on my kitchen stove. Luckily for him, I wasn't cooking.

Such nice fuzzy pedipalps!

Eyes in the back of his head. Very useful.

Sitting up to beg like a puppy. Sorry, I had no spider treats for him.

I took him outside; the stove is no place to practice your jumps on.

*See comments. Thanks, Christopher!

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Not a cuke

I give up. I can't identify this plant. Can you?

About the size of a pickling cuke.

These were growing out of a mass of thistles mixed with several other plants beside a lagoon in Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary. They look like small cucumbers, but grow from a stiff stalk, not a vine. I thought they might be day lily pods, but they hang down, instead of standing upright on the stalk. And they're bigger than any lily pods I've seen.

Two of three on one stalk.

No leaves were visible among the thistles, and I couldn't reach them to dig through and find the base of the plants.

What do you think?

(Google daily mix-up: why, when I Google "lily pods", do I get a photo of the rear end of a zebra?)

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hungry, hungry!

Outside the warming room near the entrance to Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a pair of barn swallows is raising their brood. Two weeks ago, the chicks were feathering out, and - so they claimed - half-starved.

Laser-bright mouth, "Put food here!" it says. But Ma and Pa Swallow are taking a short break.

I noticed that, although the youngsters seemed to be yelling, and I was only a few feet away, I couldn't hear anything. It may be that while the parents were resting, the chicks were only practicing their gape, or that their cry was beyond the range of my aging ears. Audubon has a recording of the chicks' begging cry, here. (I can hear this fine, even at the lowest volume.)


Two chicks, two parents.

Chin feathers like one of those rubberized hairbrushes. 

They grow quickly; by now, they'll be trying out their wings.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Afternoon sun, with mirror

Just because

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Unequal match

The sad story of Fang, Part II

Recap: I found Fang in the kitchen, took his photo, and sent him to play outside.

Why I named him Fang. He's about 3 inches across, toe to toe.

These warm days, I do a "bug run" every day just outside my door, finding mostly spiders; house spiders, cross spiders, crab spiders, and the occasional wanderer, like Fang. (Usually much smaller, though.)

Cross spider in her web. 10 PM; these ones work night and day.

Yesterday evening, there was a new one, a pinhead-sized white spider. I had to set up the tripod to get a photo; the web was dancing with every tiny breeze, and there was no leeway for an additional shaking hand. I had to move a few plant pots to set up the tripod, and Fang came running out from under one of them. I shooed him off, away from where I would be standing.


I got my photo, and was heading back inside, carrying the camera still attached to the tripod, when I saw Fang on the wall, below the web of one of the fat web spiders I've been watching. He was facing the proprietress of the web; she was darting in towards him, then backing off in a hurry.

And his fangs were as long as her entire body! This was not going to end well.

In the few minutes that I took to re-position the tripod, the situation had changed. Fang was sitting quietly, while Ma G. (for Gordita) was poking at his legs.

He's still threatening her with those big fangs.

She'd found his weak spot; she went around and around him, systematically stinging the joints in his legs, where he has a flexible membrane, rather than the hard exoskeleton.

Spiders extend their legs using hydraulics, rather than muscles, as we do. To run, they increase the pressure in the cephalothorax (the head/upper body section), sending blood down the legs. Small muscles then return the liquid to the body, returning the legs to the relaxed position. So a shot of paralyzing poison to the legs soon invades the whole body.

Biting his knee. He's settling down, now.

Once he was still, she started to work on tying him up, starting at the legs, then running over and under the body, until he would be unable to move even if the poison stopped working. She paused, a couple of times, now that he was immobile, to sting the underside of his belly, another weak spot.

He has extruded what I presume is a blob of silk from the spinnerets, in his death throes.

Once that was done, she returned to her usual spot at the top of her web, and slowly winched him up until she could anchor him in her dining room. It was slow going; he was heavy and ungainly. It was getting dark, and I left before she'd finished.

I came back just before dawn to see what was going on. She was busy eating.

She's used a lot of silk, tying up those long legs. She'll eat it again, when she cuts him loose. Spiders recycle!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014


He walked across my kitchen counter, and I trapped him in a glass.

The ruler under the glass measures centimetres. Fangs to spinnerets, he's about 3/4 inch long.

Face view. Mostly fat, pointy fangs.

I took a few photos, took him outside, and left him in a flowerpot. End of story, or so I thought. But he surprised me a few hours later: I'll tell you about that next post.


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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Just checking

Chickadee, at Reifel Island:

"Hi! Got any sunflower seeds?"

And I'd forgotten. Again. I gave him boring old Reifel Island bird seed. He flew away.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Bees, beetle, and Joe Pye weed

Our summer is starting to wind down. It's still hot in the afternoons, but the temperature drops at night; tonight it's down to 12°C (53 F). Some of the flowering plants in our garden have given up for the year. The maples are dropping their winged seeds, which are quickly snatched up by a fat little black squirrel. The slugs had gone into hiding while the nights were hot, but they're back, chomping great holes in hosta leaves and leaving trails of slime across the pathways.

We went down to our local plant nursery to see what's happening there. It's more of the same; most of the flowers are gone, shrubs are straggly and yellowing, trees are setting fruit. And workmen are everywhere, getting the place ready for Hallowe'en. (Already!)

Many of the plants are at half price, so we loaded up with perennials that will settle in this winter and be ready to go by spring; ferns, heather, lavender, evergreen sedums.

I stopped at a stand of Joe Pye weed, looking like tattered pink mop heads, and buzzing with excited bees.

So very pink, even the stems.

A big bee, sprinkled with pollen

Neat little bee

Two bees here. Some of the flowers are still in bud.

I walked the aisles, comparing the bug populations; on other plants there were wasps and flies, but all the bees were here on the Joe Pye weed. One of the staff told me that when they were moving the plants out of the building site, they put all the Joe Pye weed on a wagon together. When they hauled it to the new location, a cloud of bees followed it all the way.

On another plant, half fallen over and unlabelled, I found this tiny beetle:

4 mm. long. Probably one of the sap-feeding beetles.

I couldn't find it on BugGuide, so I've requested an ID.

UPDATE: From BugGuide, "Twenty-Spotted Lady Beetle, Psyllobora vigintimaculata, or something close." And from the comments (Upupaepops): Western Psyllobora Lady Beetle, Psyllobora borealis. Which is so close I can't really tell the difference.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brief encounter

I took the car in for maintenance yesterday. In the waiting room, there's a big fish tank, and I always spend some time watching them. Each time, there's a new mix of fish, all different, all exotics. I don't know if they're changed regularly for variety, or if they just don't survive; a glass tank with plastic vegetation and rocks and no other life is a far cry from their native environment.

It must be boring, too, for them. Round the black central tower, up to the top, down two feet to the bottom, around the tower again . . . same view every time, same lifeless water.

Some of them take an interest in me, close to the glass, and in my camera, even closer. This one was more than usually curious.

Puckered up

I, at least, get to go home when the car's done.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014


Life is messy. Sometimes, in some places, the mess is hidden. It's underwater, or too small to see, or too big, too far away. And sometimes, it's everywhere you look.

Reifel Island is a good place to find it.

Tree, without the leaves to disguise the disorderly branches.

Unidentified plant, gone to seed, half fallen over the bank. The purple flowers are purple nightshade.

Mallard, daisies, and pond scum.

Bee on thistle, with pollen dust, and a tangle of assorted plants as background.

Windborne seed, on goldenrod. With assorted flies and ants, all tied together with spider webs.

Ripening crabapples, with spotty, dying leaves. And spider web, of course.

Blackberries, green, red, spotty, black, and purple. With dead flowers. And spider webs.

More pond scum, rotting weeds, and a neat little brown sparrow.

Busy bee on thistle, skipper waiting his turn, and more spider webs.

Black-crowned night heron, in his favourite spot. 

I'm sure there were spider webs around the heron, too.

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