Friday, October 09, 2015


A trio of forgotten photos.

Fireweed, near Heckman Pass, Hwy 20.

In the high Chilcotin hills, here around 5000 feet, where the nights are chilly even in August, the fireweed flowers are smaller than those we see in the Lower Mainland, the colours more intense.

Sea rocket, Boundary Bay dunes.

Pink aster in a Beach Grove garden.

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

I don't understand

How it can be that a small spider, however well nourished she may be, can lay two bags full of eggs, when each bag is bigger than herself, at her fattest?

"Don't touch my babies!"

I found this proud mother on the backside of a plywood board leaning against the wall in my backyard, and she never so much as twitched a hair while I laid the board flat and fussed around with lamps and the camera. She is guarding her second egg sac; the first is that blur in the bottom left of the photo.

When I'd finished taking photos, I carefully put the board back in the same position. I hope the next tenants ignore her until the babies hatch.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Morning light

9 more days. I'm sure I'm ready to go, but at the same time, I'm totally sure I've forgotten something essential. I can somehow manage to believe two opposite things at the same time, but I'm chewing my nails over it.

Remembering an early morning at the rest area looking over Pinto Lake in the Chilcotin calms me. The whispering silence! The air; pine-scented, fresh and clean, with just a hint, a remembrance of road dust! The slight chill in the shadows, and the gentle warmth of the early sun! The road ahead, the road back; been there, going to go there, and it will all be good! Ah!

Morning sunlight on birch

There will be more mornings like this. And sunny afternoons. And sunsets over Georgia Strait. Yes, the road ahead looks good.

9 more days and I'll be on the ferry.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Study in browns

Western conifer seed bug on Bosc pear.

He loved the pear; kept walking around and around it.

10 more days. This time the 15th, I'll be settling into Campbell River. I'm packed and ready; what's going to be difficult is moving my little aquarium, critters and all, without stressing them. I'll discuss my preparations for this in a day or so.

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Mother and kit

I'm going to miss these two!

An old friend, a raccoon I once called "too tame",* brought her baby over to look for any sunflower seeds the chickadees might have missed. When I opened the door, she called her kit and left; she's learned caution. Having a kid (or kit) will do that to you.

Ma and Baby Fuzz

Too cute!

I noticed last year that her left eye was damaged. The surrounding area looked weepy and inflamed; whether she was blind in that eye or not, I couldn't tell. By now, the surrounding area has healed, but the eye itself has not recovered. I doubt that she can use it at all. At least it's probably not painful any more.

"Managing quite well, thank you. And my baby liked your treats."

When I followed her out to the lawn, she was standing tall against a wall, turning her head from side to side, looking with that one good eye, making sure it was safe.

"It's just us three here, then?"

I'm an old friend; she decided I'm ok, after all. She collected her kit and took him past me and on into the cedars.

* I called her "him" then, but I guessed wrong.

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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Reindeer, pixies, and no bears.

In the upper Bella Coola valley, I stopped at Burnt Bridge to look for mushrooms. The forest floor here is often thick with boletus (edible if you can find them without worms; they make a nice, beefy gravy), Russula (they say they're edible, but you may as well eat erasers) and fly agaric (definitely not edible). But my timing was off; there were no 'shrooms, not even puffballs.

But there were lichens, and a bear tree; even better.

A reindeer lichen, with mosses.

More reindeer. The dark specks on the tips are fruiting bodies. (Click for a better view.)

Mosses, evergreen needles, and a densely curled lichen.

Leaf lichen on a dead tree branch.

Many lichens on a rock. Large leaf lichen, tiny pixie cup cladonia, a smaller leaf lichen, and several species of tiny crustose lichens.

And the bear tree? I've seen these several times in this patch of forest; dead trees that the bears have been using to sharpen their claws on and maybe to scratch their backs with. This one was ripped from knee-height to well above my head.

Do the bears choose a dead tree, or is it dead because the bears chose it?

I didn't see any bears.

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Friday, October 02, 2015


A few years ago, a few spider fanciers started a Flickr group specially for the Hallowe'en season. During the month of October every year, we try to post one spider to the Arachtober pool each day; 31 spiders in all. And we find some amazing spiders!

This is my third year, and this will be the third spider for this October, to be posted there tomorrow:

Mosquito patrol, on my bathroom ceiling.

It's been a relatively spider-free summer, and I have no backlog, so I'm sort of hoping for a spider invasion.

And now, go see all the lovely spiders! And if you're so inclined, join us and add to the fun!

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Thursday, October 01, 2015


Salsify, Bull Canyon

Seed parachutes, ready to fly, and empty seed head.

This is a common roadside weed all across the Chilcotin. The yellow flowers open in the early morning, and close in the afternoon.

(These plants hybridize readily. This could be Western Salsify, Tragopogon dubius, but I am dubious about this because the flowers don't quite match the Wikipedia sample.)

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Marine biologist?

Lantern bearer?

Or spider fancier?

On pilings at the Bella Coola wharf.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

And nary a crab

At the end of the road, where the Bella Coola river meets the ocean, I went to explore the tide flats, to discover what lives there.

The river is that thin line to the right, the inlet is on the left.

No two intertidal zones are alike. This one, though it is river meeting ocean, like the beaches I know on the lower mainland, is unlike any other I have visited. For one thing, though I turned over stones and logs, parted underwater grasses, I saw no snails, no crabs, no worm piles. And no eelgrass.

The river is glacier run-off, silty and cold. And Bentinck Inlet is long, narrow, and deep; though the tide runs up to the base of the hills, the river also runs far out to sea. The salinity is low. The currents are strong. The grasses on the tide flats are land-based grasses, not eelgrass. The only seaweeds are those the tide ripped up and dragged in; they don't live there.

This whole area is covered by the tide. Plants growing here are moderately salt-tolerant.

Besides several varieties of tough grasses, I found silverweed, blue sailor, and yellow gumweed, all in the area that is covered by salty water twice daily.

The tide rushing in, laying the grasses flat.

Rockweed tossed on top of the flattened grasses. A few leaves of silverweed poke through the grass.

Deep in the channel, where the water is heavier and saltier, there are crabs and anemones, sea cucumbers and starfish, all out of reach without diving gear. The tide flats are home to plants, birds, and flies, come to feed on dead salmon. And if I'd been carrying a shovel, maybe I'd have found worms.

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Monday, September 28, 2015


What would it be like to live here? Someone did, long ago.

A sturdy little cabin in the upper Bella Coola Valley, with window, wood stove, and curtains; log walls, good chinking. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it's still furnished, too. A plank table, a chair, maybe even a cot. Big woodshed, because the winters are cold.

Needs some patching on the roof.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The glare

On a ruined tree, torn apart as the hillside swept down to the river in the last Bella Coola flood, an eagle was surveying the river on the far side of the highway. He didn't appreciate my presence, nor the camera poking out the car window.

"Hmmpph! Intruders, always intruders!"

I eased the car forward a few feet, hoping for a closer shot, and he dropped off his perch and flew away, up the hill and over the trees beyond.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Green River

Once upon a time, long, long ago it seems, back in the 1970s, when I first drove into the Bella Coola valley, the pavement stopped a few miles out of Williams Lake. From there to the bottom of "The Hill", the road was dust and gravel; washboard, ruts, and dust traps deep enough to snap an axle, fish-tail-inducing powder, more dust; 400 kilometres of dust. Meeting a car coming the other way, we could see its dust cloud long before the car itself came over the next rise. We learned to hold our breath as we passed; even so, we were coughing mud for a day after we finally arrived.

The road has been paved, a few kilometres every year, so that now we drive comfortably on pavement up to the edge of Tweedsmuir Park, and then it's a mere 60 kilometres of dust before we reach the valley floor and pavement again.

Still, the memory persists, and the bridge at Green River promises some relief from dust, dust, dust. Coming and going, I always stop for a few minutes.

It's a gentle river, shallow and slow; the better to green up its surroundings.

Rock and reflections

View from the other side of the bridge.

In the shallow water, green speckled fish (trout?) hover over the silt.

Pine cone and needles

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Two peaks

In the Klinaklini River basin, taken from the car window:

Rolls of hay, winter fodder for cattle.

Stony mountain peak. I'm told it's called "The Finger".

Humans are rare on the Chilcotin Plateau. Driving the highway at the busiest part of the day, I have counted, repeatedly, an average of 4 minutes between cars. At night, I can drive for hours rarely seeing a light. I find the sense of space exhilarating; it's me and the stars and the empty land. I can breathe.

Coming past the town of Kleena Kleene (named after the river) in daylight, I see green fields, a few haystacks, a scattering of houses. About 20 people live here year round. A minute later, the road curves, and I'm alone again.

Kleena Kleene is one of the driest locations in British Columbia because of the rain shadow effect of Coast Mountains located directly to the west. The temperature is cooler than the other similarly dry locations in the province. (From Wikipedia)

In spite of the dryness, the bottom of the valley is green, because the river snakes along gently, winding and looping around the hayfields. The few houses, up on the slopes, sit on dry, baked dust.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Abandoned nurseries

Along the fence around the campsites at Bull Canyon, a small stand of aspens has sprung up. Most are still under 8 feet tall. And most, this year, are sporting lumpy blackish growths along the stems.

What lived inside this? About 2 inches across.

I broke a few off. They were all hollow and dry, as thin and fragile as eggshells. There was no sign of their previous occupants.

This one seems to incorporate a dried leaf.

I looked up aspen galls, and found leaf galls;, small blobs that grow right at the base of the leaves and twig galls; small, smooth balls lined up along a twig, but nothing like these.

Most of the galls had several holes that looked more like chickadee predation than insect exit holes. I have watched chickadees with thimbleberry galls in the winter, pounding away at them until they crack open. Somehow they know there's good meat inside that hard casing; maybe the larva inside moves around, makes some sound that we can't hear, but the chickadee can.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Prickly smile

If I were to choose one adjective to describe the Chilcotin, I would have to go with "scratchy". Everything seems to be sharp-edged, jagged, unforgiving. Itchy, like one of those rough wool sweaters Mom made us wear in the winter.

Even the spiders are prickly.

Spider in her web, Bull Canyon

I tried to get her to move, so that I could get a clear photo of her shape, but all she did was pull her legs in closer, even fold them across her back. Maybe, in her environment, it is wiser to look like a piece of dust than a threatening, leggy spider.

But, otherwise, she's friendly enough; do you see the smiley face on her back?

Update: She's Araneus gemmoides, the Cat-faced spider,

They come in varying colors but are easily identified by the two horn shaped growths on their relatively large abdomen. (Wikipedia)

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bull Canyon, 2015

On my second trip across the Chilcotin, 'way back in the 1970s, I stopped for the night at the campsite in Bull Canyon. And on every trip since, except that once when the whole area was on fire, I have dropped in, if only, as on this trip, to take a few photos, pump some water, listen to the river and the wind in the aspens.

First, a bit of scenery:

Blue sky, silty green water. This is the Chilcotin River, which drains the Chilcotin Plateau, flowing from Itcha Lake, near Bella Coola, to the Fraser River, near Gang Ranch.

Mixed vegetation; soft deciduous trees and shrubs by the river, evergreens on higher ground, thinning to scattered barren slopes, rock cliffs. (Note vertical wall in background.)

The Chilcotin Plateau is old volcano country, much of it covered by the Chilcotin Group, a volcanic field of overlapping vents, and further west, the Anahim Volcanic Belt, which reaches out to sea beyond Bella Coola. For millions of years, lava spread over the surface; later, glaciers scoured the top layer, exposing the old granite to erosion; now winter ice, freezing and thawing, crumbles the old faces, leaving a skirting of scree at the base. (My old house in Bella Coola was at the bottom of one of these scree slopes.)

Driving the road, we are treated to an ever-changing view of tall mountains, odd-shaped peaks, sheer rock faces, "painted" hills, crumbling granite, cones of scree. There are lava flows and hot springs; obsidian is found in some areas. Trees cling where they find cracks in the rock; mountain goats hop up and down impossible rock faces.

Rock formation, Bull Canyon. At full size, some white spots may or may not be mountain goats.

Crumbling hill, from near the river bank.

Zooming in to show the strata. 

Not all is towering rock: in between, we find fruitful river basins, and eroded, gently-sloping grasslands. But if you scratch the surface here, you'll find the granite bones not so far underneath.

Lone tree

Coming up: Bull Canyon greens.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Needles and cotton puffs

On the sidehills of the Nicola Valley.

Ponderosa Pine, aka Blackjack pine, but only when it's young. The bark turns orange as it ages.

I'll probably be blogging less frequently for the next few weeks. I'm busy packing up, getting ready to move to Campbell River, where I've found a place a couple of blocks from the pier and the highway to all the amazing beaches. And all those critters! I'll have lots to show you then, so don't go away.

A Skywatch post.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Knee-high to a grasshopper

The Chilcotin, being mostly grassland, is grasshopper country. On my way back from Bella Coola, I stopped at Bull Canyon to look at the Chilcotin River, which here flows green* between steep cliffs. On top of the cliff, the grass was knee-deep, and as I walked - or waded - the grasshoppers leapt about me, almost as if I were running through water and they were the splashing droplets, flying up and sinking down again out of sight in the waving grass.

The grass was baked to a toasty brown; the grasshoppers were dressed in matching colours.

I found one resting on a stone and crawled up to him, inch by inch, taking photos between each cautious movement. I got a half-dozen close shots before he decided that was enough and joined his friends in the grass.

His wings seem frayed; too much leaping through stiff grass stalks?

*BC Parks says that the water is glacier blue, but I've never seen it but once when it wasn't green. And that once was when the whole area was on fire and they were dumping red fire retardant from helicopters. The water was red that day.

(This whole area is a volcanic plateau. More about that, later.)

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Winding down, IRFD 2015

This year's International Rock Flipping Day was quiet. While there was a good response before the actual day, few people reported in with findings, and Googling only turned up one other entry. Maybe people had the same problem finding good rocks as I had.

But we did find a few real gems!

First, did you know that we humans aren't the only ones flipping rocks? Anna, of The BlennyWatcher Blog, let goatfish do all the work for her, and just sat back and took video footage. Go see.

On the IRFD Facebook page, the first post showed a slug and a pupal case. (I think that's a moth inside.)

And Slow: Children at Nature Play went out with two kids and found a Dunn's salamander, and other critters. "So much fun!", she says.

The salamander. From the IRFD Facebook page.

In the comments on the Celebrate Science IRFD post, Dana Rau posted a Rock Flipping Day poem.

I lift your heavy door 
to find
busy you
on your way from
one side of your space
to the other. 
The surprising sunlight
curls you into
a spiral
to protect all those legs
and underparts. 
Between fight and flight
you choose
and hope
someone remembers
to shut the door
so you can get on
with your interrupted

And that's about it. I found the beetle, and the ants and spider. And later on, down at the shore, I turned over a stone and crabs scuttled quickly out of sight. Except for one brave little guy; he was ready to take me on, defending his territory.

"Back off!"

"And I don't care how big you are, either!"

I think, unless there is a public outcry, this will be the last year I host the IRFD. If anyone is interested in taking it up, I'll be glad to participate, of course.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Grumble and wonder; IRFD 2015

Urbanization is hard on rolling stones. Or flippable rocks. I set out full of optimism to turn over a few familiar rocks in my neighbourhood. But they're gone, or locked away: the builders and developers and pavers have moved in. The vacant lot across the street, which last year was a square block of rocks and weeds, and a killdeer nest, and another block of incipient forest full of twitterings and rustlings, has been bulldozed and fenced. The alleyway behind the church, once the passageway to gently mouldering farm buildings, now leads to more fences and developers' signs. Our street has been widened and sidewalked; the ditch where I used to watch for skunks is no more. Even Cougar Creek Park has been "cleaned up" and hemmed in with housing estates. Our road in has been re-routed and lined with "No Parking" signs.

On the far side of a schoolyard, past the newly-grassed lawns and playing fields, past the neatly-trimmed treed area, back against the fence where nobody goes, I finally found a half-dozen forgotten rocks. And a few small beasties still sheltered there.

The beetle was under the third rock I turned. A small spider raced over my hand as I flipped the fourth, and disappeared under the grass. And then I hit paydirt under a small rock, almost too small to be worth flipping, I thought.

Very small, very pale, orange and tan ants. This is on the underside of the stone itself. The ant at the top right seems to be toting a shred of a pupal cocoon.

Here, they're wrestling a cocooned pupa into a crack in the stone.

A cluster of cocoons on the ground underneath the stone. No ants are with this bunch, but there's a pretty green springtail at the top.

I wonder about ants. When they're stressed, they race around frantically, pulling and dragging their babies, (eggs, larvae, and/or pupas) trying to get them under cover. But it's almost as if they were moving randomly; an ant will drag a cocoon one way, forget about it, and go off in the opposite direction, talk to another ant, and race away to pull at different cocoon, going the wrong way half the time. And yet somehow, the cocoons manage to get hidden away; A Random Walk with a twist in it somewhere.

I replaced the stone before the ants finished dragging away their cocoons, so they wouldn't have all the work of hauling them back out again.

The next rock, a bigger one, hid one racing beetle, and one big spider who sat there, trying to be invisible.

I don't think I've seen this pattern before.

I got too close, and she was gone in a flash; I didn't even see her run.

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