Sunday, May 24, 2015

Contributing to the delinquency of yellow jackets

Every time I've opened a door or window, these last few days, a yellow-jacket races in. I get the handy fly swatter, and shoo him out.  Next thing I know, he's back inside again.

I think it's the same one, every time, because ...


The first time he came in, I found him half-drowned in the aquarium, and put him on a paper towel to dry off. To keep him occupied, I gave him a generous pinch of sugar. On second thoughts, I added a blackberry drupelet, leaking juice. Healthier, more "natural", instead of empty calories; he would like that, I thought.

No, he said, the sugar is fine. He ate and ate, turning this way and that, not wanting to miss any. Several times, he walked over the blackberry seed, ignoring it, hurrying to get to the sugar beyond.

I put a glass over him and carried him outside.  He flew a few feet away when I took the glass off, then returned to the sugary paper towel. I left him to it.

Now he's addicted.

More! More! More!

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Morning light

This time of year, the morning sun shines on my deep shade garden briefly, spotlighting here and there for a moment, then moving on. If I'm quick, I can even get a photo or two.

Two steps from my door. Clematis, Dutchman's breeches, London Pride, and distant rhododendrons.

And when the sun has moved elsewhere for the rest of the day, there's always flash.

Clematis, with flash.

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Friday, May 22, 2015


"All bark and no bite," I said, about the black-clawed crabs in my tank, because they'll threaten me with amputation, but then sit meekly in my hand, all threats forgotten.

I was wrong. They're bullies, only attacking smaller and weaker neighbours. Not only snails, proper crab food, but other crabs, hermits, and, I think, bubble shells and polychaetes.

Ready for action.

The aquarium has been a good place for them; in five months, the big male has  grown from under 1/4 inch across the carapace to somewhat over an inch, with extended pincers twice that again. I've provided them with clean, cold water, gourmet crab dinners, a handy rock pile to live under; there was no need to beat up on the other residents.

But. Their neighbours included two shore crabs, male and female, grown up in the tank. The female, a large adult, disappeared. I didn't even find her remains. A few weeks later, the smaller male was gone, too.

I kept finding maimed and dying hermits. And the bubble shells that had lived all winter in the tank couldn't be found. The nudibranch got eaten. Even a big polychaete worm, one of the ones that can grow up to a foot long, even in a small tank, just wasn't there any more. And now there were only two black-clawed crabs; the female had seemingly evaporated.

But everything seemed right; I checked temperatures, salinity, acidity, current, filtering; all normal. So a couple of weeks ago, I brought home another three shore crabs to liven up the tank with their antics.

Two days ago, the largest (still smaller than the large black-clawed crab) turned up with three legs and a pincer gone on one side. Who would do this to him? Only another crab, and suspicion centered on that big black-clawed male, sitting so peacefully under his stone. While I pondered this, a second shore crab lost two legs.

So tonight, I've hunted down and arrested both black-clawed crabs. They're in solitary confinement, for now; the first trip to the beach, they'll go with me. And won't come home.

Small black-clawed crab, 1/2 inch across the carapace.

Now that I've got them out where I can watch them, I see that the small crab is terrified of the large one, and keeps a good distance away. He probably has good reasons.

The two traumatized shore crabs got extra goodies, in a bowl away from competition, and seem to be recovering.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lawn-care specialists

Half-grown Canada goose goslings hard at work. Mowing and fertilizing, dawn to dusk.

These are teens. The babies are yellowish.

I joined a weekly walkers group this afternoon for the first time, on an 8 km route from uptown White Rock to the pier and back. At least, the rest of the group hiked back up the hill; I chickened out and took a cab. I'm not ready for the climb at their speed, yet.

I stopped to take a couple of photos of a lake and the goslings, and then had to race to catch up, huffing and puffing. That's my justification for the cab ride.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Counting stars

Another young starfish, looking healthy.

Mottled star, on stone at top of intertidal zone

In a couple of square meters of stones, I found a dozen of these baby mottled stars, from about an inch to two inches across. Two looked faded and limp, but all the rest were healthy and clinging strongly to their chosen stones. I didn't see any lesions, the first sign of disease, nor any twisted limbs.

I've found them, so far, at the deep end of the lower intertidal zone on the west side of Boundary Bay, and here, at the very top, where the tide reaches only part of each day. In between, not a starfish to be seen, though I walked back and forth across the whole length of the mid-tide zone looking for them.

I haven't seen any of our usual purple stars, neither adult nor juvenile. I hope the starfish wasting syndrome hasn't wiped them out completely.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Second chance

Heading for the beach, I saw a hummingbird in a lilac bush.  A flash of green, a blur, and it was gone. Good enough; I was happy; I don't see these often.

Coming back from the beach, there it was again. And I had my camera turned on. Another flash of green, another blur, and I couldn't see it any more. But the camera caught it!

A flash of green

A blur

Made my day!

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Housing project

The beavers have been hard at work in Cougar Creek. Making perches for mallards, as well as their own lodges.

Construction materials storage area.

And I think this is round 11 of the human/beaver war. Neither side is easily discouraged.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

The watchers

Watching me watching them at Cougar Creek.

Canada goose, with the sky through the trees in his eye. (Click to zoom in,)

Yellow-eyed cat, soaking up sunshine.

Mother and ducklings. "Mommy!" says the little one on the left, "There's someone in our creek!"

Which there was, since I'd already fallen through a hole and was up to my knees in mud. A bit more would never hurt.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

A spray of yellow buttons

In my shady garden.

Red and white columbine.

Last year, this plant produced two whole flowers. This year, it's loaded. That's the beauty of perennials; if they don't thrive this year, there's always next. With no work involved. (Weeding and watering and feeding and cultivating don't count as work; they're just an excuse to hang around outside and get my hands dirty.)

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Candy on a stick

"Tis the season. For laying eggs, hundreds and thousands and millions of eggs. And the bubble shells are enthusiastic egg-layers. Almost every blade of fuzzy eelgrass in the lower intertidal zone carries, somewhere, another blob of transparent jelly filled with yellow eggs.

But not all the eggs are theirs. I was surprised to see a large, pale pink decoration on one stalk in knee-deep water.

Pale pink eggs, without jelly, in messy eelgrass.

I looked for more, and found a few, some very pink, some almost white. The clumps were not like the usual jelly masses that snails leave, nor like the ribbons most nudibranchs create. These were short sausage-like tubes, glued to the eelgrass at the centre and loose at the ends; each one waved separately in the current.

But what laid these?

I found another mass in shallower water, glued to the inside of a clamshell. And with it, another of the opalescent nudibranchs, Hermissenda crassicornis. A clue!

Mother and babies?

At home, I Googled opalescent nudibranch eggs, and there they were; in most photos, the eggs were white, but some had a pinkish cast. And I found a photo of one laying her eggs, on Flickr.

I brought one of the pinker masses home to look at more closely.

Pink. Candy floss pink.
Zooming in. Hundreds of eggs in each "sausage".

I added the egg mass to my tank, but it didn't last. A few hours later, I found a hermit happily eating pink sausages. The next day, they were all gone.

Looks delicious!

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Among the hitchhikers on my handful of eelgrass, I found half a dozen infant stars*, no bigger than a pinhead, and still colourless. I photographed them on the orange lid of the pill bottle I take to the beach.

Miniature crawling snowflakes?

It wasn't until I was saving the photo that I realized what was different about them; instead of the 5 arms that most of our starfish have, these babies have six.

Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest lists four six-rayed starfish: Drab, Colourful, Rusty, and Polar six-armed stars. I have no idea which these are; they're too small to identify.

I dropped them in the tank, not really expecting them to survive. That was a week ago; this evening, one was climbing the wall.

*"Infant stars" sounds too formal for a wandering pinhead. I wonder; should I call them starlets? Or starlings?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It must be quantum

Shrimps don't swim. Fish swim, so do amphipods, worms of all sorts, jellyfish, and eelgrass isopods. Even a crab will swim, if need be, downwards, with panicky, uncoordinated flailing of skinny legs. But shrimps don't swim.

They drift. They hang in the water, not moving, holding onto a blade of seaweed. They let go, and drift slowly in the current. Sideways, upwards, backwards, forward; it makes no difference to them which way they're facing.

Then, suddenly, they discover modern physics and execute a quantum leap. You were looking straight at one, and then, without any intervening movement, it was 'way over on the far side of the tank or tidepool. You never saw it go; it was just gone.

It doesn't help that as often as not, it was transparent, or nearly so, to begin with.

Four shrimp came home with me last week. Three are tiny, 1/4 to 1/2 inch long, and transparent, except for the eyes. If the light is right, they're like shards of greenish glass.

The larger one is visible, mostly because she's been eating well. And because she's carrying a load of eggs. At least they're a decent colour.

Sitka shrimp, 1 inch long, with babies. Colour saturated and darkened.

The green and brown solid mass in her cephalothorax and along her spine is mostly her digestive system. When food is scarce, it shrinks. When the food is digested, it moves along the spine and out the anus, visible all the way.

The eggs are held under her abdomen with her pleopods (aka swimming legs); she is constantly tending them with her walking legs.

Click on the photo to see it full size; now you can see the pattern of red and blue dots on her carapace, and the long, sawtoothed blade (the rostrum) stretching out from the top of her head.

Top view, in a white tray, with no place for her to go. The eggs are visible through the whole thickness of her body. (Saturated and darkened again.)

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Where the wild things are

The critters of the upper intertidal zone, with the exception of the insane mud snails, go into hiding at low tide; Boundary Bay becomes a wide zone of bare, grey sand. But when the tide is low enough, we can walk out to the last sandbars and the eelgrass beds between them. There, life goes on, busily, whether the water is coming or going.

These photos are in chronological order, as I walked out. Some animals only show up in the deeper areas, where the tide rarely drops below the tips of the tallest eelgrass.

Small Dungeness crabs start appearing at the inner edge of the beds. This is under about 4 inches of water.

Opalescent nudibranch, on kelp. There were many in the shallower eelgrass beds, all much more vividly coloured than the one I found last month at the boat ramp.

(More on these, later.)

Fuzzy eelgrass.

The fuzz along the blades of grass is made up of diatoms and bacteria. It doesn't look appetizing, but this is my hermits and crabs absolute favourite food. They're not the only gourmets; the fuzziest grass in this zone is loaded with bubble shells, nudibranchs, skeleton shrimp, amphipods, and other small, darting beasties. It seems that every second blade has its collection of egg masses, pink, white, and yellow; the next generation will be well provided for.

I don't know what was in that ball of pinkish stuff. It felt solid, and was firmly stuck to the eelgrass.

If you look closely at the photo, you may find the baby starfish.

Dungeness crab molt. It must be handy to get rid of your old skin when it loses its youthful smoothness.

Looking back. The photo reminds me, in tone and layout, of an old postcard in my Mom's album.

Purple sand dollar, under flowing water. This one's alive, so it still has the dark spines.

Looking north, across the bay to the hills of South Surrey.

One sandbar to go before the border marker. The water was about knee-deep from here to the bar, then the bottom drops off quickly.

Green burrowing anemone. The deep green is from ingested algae.

I found many empty clamshells; most of them contained small mottled starfish. There are three here; do you see the third?

About a third of the small starfish had the twisted, upturned armtips that may be caused by starfish wasting syndrome. I didn't see any lesions, and there were quite a few babies.

Almost every clamshell that contained starfish also held a few tiny, almost transparent shrimp. Four of them, one a female carrying young, came home with me in a handful of eelgrass. I'll have photos of these, later on.

At the outer edge of the last sandbar, as I watched, the eelgrass stretched out in the outgoing current suddenly faltered, drooped, turned back towards me. The tide was coming in. Time to go.

I had time to stop, once I'd reached shallower water, and take a couple more photos.

Blending in.

Jellyfish, alive and swimming, made visible by its shadow on the sand beneath.

I brought home a small bag of fuzzy eelgrass for my hermits; as usual, there were hitchhikers. Some of them, tomorrow.

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Saturday, May 09, 2015


Sand dollar test, half buried in sand.

Just because I liked the textures and patterns.

I'm still working on the rest of the photos from the eelgrass beds, and photos of a couple of obstructionist hitchhikers. And some pink eggs, too.

Tomorrow: beasties green, orange, purple, and red.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

In three words

Happy dance


That's all.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

192 photos

This week, the tides have been extremely low in the afternoons. I arrived at the beach early enough this afternoon to walk to the far edge, to where there was nothing but a narrow channel of water between me and the border marker in the middle of the bay.

I came back with the camera loaded, critters to settle and photograph at home, beasties to identify; I'll be busy for a bit.

For now, here's a hitchhiker that came home on some eelgrass: a pinhead snail. A small pinhead, that is.

White body, round shell. Unidentifiable at this age.

There were two of these; I was surprised at how fast they can move. Between the time I focussed on this little guy with the camera, and reached for the shutter button, he repeatedly moved out of range. I finally just aimed at the general area until he happened to wander into focus.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Bare-bones flowers

Eelgrass is not a seaweed, but a perennial flowering plant, related to the land-based grasses. In spring and summer, the plants send out long, stiff stems, bearing clusters of flowers. "Relatively inconspicuous," Kozloff says; an outright understatement. 

You'd never seen them? Nor had I. I'd found the unripe seeds; rows of yellow-green buttons along the blades, but no flowers. Until now. The lonely eelgrass plant I found last week is loaded with them, tiny male and female flowers in separate rows, half hidden between the blades.

They don't exactly look like my preconceived idea of flowers, but the essentials are there.

Zostera marina; female flower styles, half covered by a sheath. A few developing seeds on a lower blade. And the yellowish, stiff stem at lower right. The blades of eelgrass are 4 mm. wide at this point.

The female flower is little more than a two-pronged tube (the style) with an ovary beneath. It captures floating pollen threads, and then bends down against the blade to produce its fruit. Each fruit contains one seed.

Another row of female flowers, one tangled in pollen.

The male flower grows on the same plant, but on different blades. It does look a bit more "flowery"; it is like a thick, cupped petal a few millimetres tall, and releases pollen at the tip.

Three blades of eelgrass, one with a style and pollen, and the rear one with the anther, which produced the pollen.

The male flowers depend on water currents to carry the pollen threads to the styles; no other pollinators are needed. The stems are light and float to the surface, which keeps all the flowers more or less at the same depth and exposed to sunlight. The seeds, once they mature, are heavy, and drop out of the sheath to the ground beneath. There they may take root, or be eaten by birds and fish, and carried, undigested, to new meadows.

I've noticed that the hermit crabs eat everything that grows on the eelgrass, except the flowers and seeds; these they leave strictly alone.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Empty nest

Fresh, green veggies are good. And if they're eelgrass, they're being used as salad, as gym equipment, as shelter for a variety of critters.

But old, brown, even rotting veggies are even better, if you live in the intertidal zone. A blade of decayed eelgrass is a gourmet dish, if you're a hermit crab. Or an amphipod.

And they make a good nursery for babies just starting out into the wide world; the food underfoot is puréed already, the tough fibers and skins gone. Easy munching!

That's what I think happened here:

Five abandoned egg cases. There may be a baby or two still deciding to leave.

I don't know what animal laid these; I don't recognize the form of the cases. It's probably a snail, but not one I can identify.

The fuzzy stuff is a mass of diatoms, or possibly bacteria. A hermit crab will be along soon enough to clean all that out, leaving only the empty egg cases.


And there's more! I'm puzzling over a batch of green teeth. I'll post them tomorrow.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Dancing jester

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Especially underwater. Everything is layered; things grow on shells, on seaweed, on rocks; other plants and animals grow on those, and are home, again, to another community of something else. And everything eats. Hydroids eat plankton; nudibranchs and hermit crabs eat hydroids; crabs eat hermits when they can catch them; gulls eat crabs. So do we, if they're big enough.

On one of the blades of the skinny eelgrass I brought home the other day, I noticed a fuzzy barnacle. And the fuzz, looking at it with a hand lens, was not the expected diatoms or algae.

Side view of the blade of eelgrass. The barnacle is about 3 mm high.

These look like some type of hydroid; there's a stalk, a polyp surrounded by tentacles, these ones with knobs on the tips. But I can't find them in any of the books or web pages I've searched, probably because they are too small to attract attention.

Our common Obelia hydroids are branched.

Small Obelia, on another blade of the same plant. The eelgrass blade is 4 mm. wide.

But the new ones are clubs with at the most two polyps at the top. And they're noticeably orange, rather than semi-transparent like the Obelias.

But wait a minute! Looking at that first photo again, what is that thing that looks like a little man in a jester's hat? That's no hydroid!

I watched for a while, and the jester began to dance.

See him there, on the centre left side of the eelgrass?

It's a Caprellid, a skeleton shrimp. I never expected to see one so small. But nothing else dances like they do.

Standing upright again, waving antennae and big pincers (the jesters hat).

I found three more skeleton shrimp, all about the same size, along the blade of eelgrass. Standing upright, with the pincers raised, they mimic the hydroids, possibly as protection from predators that will avoid the stinging tentacles of a hydroid, and otherwise would find a caprellid quite tasty.

Most species are predators that sit and wait like a praying mantis, with their gnathopods ready to snatch any smaller invertebrates which come along. They accentuate their adaptive form and colouration by assuming an angular pose, resembling that of the fronds among which they live. They remain motionless for long periods of time while waiting to ambush their prey, often protozoa or small worms. (From Wikipedia, Caprellidae)

Wikipedia adds that they are eaten, in turn, by anemones, nudibranchs, and fish. I think I would add hermit crabs to the list. The colonies of hydroids and skeleton shrimp lasted only a night, with a dozen hermits busy cleaning the eelgrass. All that was left in the morning was the barnacle.


And there's more! Empty doughnuts tomorrow.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

On staples and little boxes

Sea lettuce. Barnacles. And eelgrass. The staple foods for my aquarium critters. Barnacles for the leafy hornmouth snail, sea lettuce for the hermits, the crabs, and the bubble shells. And eelgrass, preferably decorated with hydroids, for the hermits and snails. Anything else is a special treat, but these three are essentials.

This week, the high tide brought in a truckload of fresh, bright green sea lettuce, which pleased the bubble shells; one ate so much of it that I could see the green in his stomach right through the shell and flesh.

But though I walked a long way, just at the edge of the incoming waves, I only found one small eelgrass plant. And it was a meagre, frayed one, mostly straggly stem and browning leaves. I would have left it there, except that it was the only one available. I and the hermits would have missed a treat.

Settling it into the tank, I noticed a small patch of bryozoans on one thin blade of grass, just below the water surface. A live patch, too; I could even see, with a lens, movement on its surface.

I rarely get to see these; out of the water, they shut down instantly. Underwater, the turbidity and the depth make them into a faint blur. Too much light, and they're asleep. And the individual animals are so very tiny; millimetre-high, transparent funnels.

Encrusting bryozoan colony, Membranipora membranacea, awake and feeding.
This is a small colony, about 8 to 10 animals from edge to edge. Each individual zooid lives inside a little box; seen from above, they look like walls, but there is a top, as well. The animal lies horizontally inside, and when the situation looks right, extends its feeding funnel up into the water. At the slightest disturbance, the funnels disappear and all that can be seen are the walls.

Hydroids and anemones have stinging tentacles, to subdue their prey; these bryozoans do not, but are filter feeders like the barnacles, relying on water currents to deliver their groceries. They will eat diatoms and bacteria, as well as other planktonic swimmers, like my newly-hatched crab zoea.

The little spines at the corners of their boxes (difficult to see here, but we really need a microscope for a better view, like this one) help to make the colony an uncomfortable base for a hungry Doridella nudibranch. I found several of these a few years back, on kelp, eating bryozoans, spines or no spines. There were none on this little eelgrass; not enough prey to keep them here.


That was the beginning. I kept finding more and more interesting things on that eelgrass. Unidentified "thingies", tomorrow. And a thingie mimic.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

A few dune plants

The dunes above the beach on the west shore of Boundary Bay are half-wild, half tame gone feral. Logs and scraps of broken driftwood litter the sand, overrun with a tangle of native plants and lichens, but on the inner edge, bordering the last row of houses of Beach Grove, the home-owners have extended themselves beyond their walls, spreading chairs and hammocks, kayaks and abandoned toys well out into the sand. Some have blended their own garden plants in with the beach pea and sea rocket; here's a patch of purple and yellow irises, there's a couple of blue blossom shrubs, further along a mound of evergreen roses. Invasive Scotch broom rubs elbows with gumweed, heal-all, and nasturtiums.

Large-headed sedge, Carex macrocephalus. They grow best where the sand is driest.

Bee foraging in flowers. A garden escape, maybe?

Flowers, grasses, and ant.

"Garden" in a knothole.

Under the Scotch broom. I don't know what the white flowers are. The pinkish bits are purple dead-nettle.

I don't recognize this one. A garden escape, again?

The flowers, or maybe buds. I'll have to go back later to see what develops.

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