Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas owls

Merry Christmas!

At the beginning of December, I came out to Boundary Bay to see if I could get bragging rights to seeing the first of the snowy owls.  The skies were clear and daytime highs were -4, making for some impressive views out to Mount Baker.

It was cold enough to freeze the mid-to-high tide lines to a slushy layer, giving the fantastic illusion of a frozen sea.

Maybe because it was too cold for the voles to come out, or maybe the birds don't like the dry frigid air blowing past their eye balls, but owls of any sort were nowhere to be seen, and only a few hawks prowled the marshes.
Cooper's hawk

Great weather for our dog

Three weeks later, and throughout most of the country, the weather has gotten colder.  Here, on the west coast of BC, it has gotten warmer.
The west coast of BC was one of the only places hospitable enough to go birding today in Canada.  The skies were overcast in our part of the world, but dry.
Great Blue Heron

Northern Harrier

Trumpeter Swans

A Northern Harrier, munching on a carcass thrown over a fence by a photographer (not me!)
 And the highlight of the trip, seeing the snowy owls.  The pair were a bit distant, hanging about on the rooftop of a building nearby - one of the last places I'd look - but the best technique to finding rare birds is to look where other cameras are aimed.

The ever-laughing snowy owl

The short-eared owls made an appearance today as well

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pest control without wasting life

We maintain small planters in which we plant salad greens every spring.  Despite our best efforts at growing them, we almost never get a chance to harvest them.  In a span of a week, the leaves of our veggies will go from solid green leaves to being polka-dotted with evidence of a caterpillar infestation.  The safest way of exterminating the pests while keeping the veggies edible is to peer underneath the leaves with holes, and pick them off manually.  Why should such lives be wasted?  Fortunately, there's no shortage of predators to feed them to, and it alleviates my guilt that I'm killing for the sake of killing.

Eratigena atrica - the giant house spider

An odd thing was that this single web had a visitor hanging underneath.  The one below didn't seem too interested in the caterpillar.  But they tolerated each other for several days.

I loved her bluish tinge, and the red lipstick she put on just to look good.  I can't imagine what creature she had eaten to dye her fangs red.
Eratigena atrica
Araneus Diadematus - the cross spider

With about 30 caterpillars, many of the spiders got a double helping.

Araneus diadematus

Platycryptus californicus

Caterpillars aren't the only pests around though:

Spittlebug - these can be a serious crop pest in larger numbers, but these ones seem to be satisfied with the English Ivy hedges, which I'm more than happy to let them suck on
 In the fall, for a few brief weeks, mushrooms spring up out of our wood mulch.  I dabbed a bit on my tongue this year to test its tingling.  But they were still too wormy to be appetizing.  I waited too long, once again.

A single bolete mushroom was home to probably 40 of these maggots

The spiders appreciated this late-fall meal, a time when there were few other insects wandering about.

Eratigena atrica

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Christmas cactus, a month earlier than normal

With the extraordinarily bright October we had, I would've expected a late blooming of our cactus this year.  In fact, this is the earliest it's ever bloomed, three weeks earlier than last year.  Two flowers are already about to fall off.

No new leaves this year.  Compare it with the 2012 photo.

Being the rebel that he is, this little guy (his gender should be clear to anybody who sees the pollen that he's dropped all over the floor) likes being dormant during the summer, and is most active in the winter.

As per tradition:

Maybe his lack of growth is his way of communicating to me that he needs a new pot.  Without any new growth, his existing leaves will continue to droop.  This year, two of his flowers are already growing right on the floor.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reaching the boundary

As the planet experience's this year's supermoon, the tides swing in the greatest direction.

Saturday's tide was a low 0.4 metres.  For the tidal flats at Boundary Bay, this meant we could walk a kilometre before hitting the water's edge, or a mile out to reach the cairn marking the Canada / US International Boundary Survey Monument.

On the way out, we saw beds dense with live sand dollars.
The tube feet and spines can clearly be seen here
 In the eel grass beds, I saw this fish with bulging eyes.  I have no idea what it could be.

I used to think of anemones as a rarity in lower mainland beaches.  Today, I saw more species of anemone in a single day than ever before on a beach.
Anemone species 1, budding.  diameter about 1cm

Anemone species 2 - a burrowing anemone. Diameter 4 cm
Crabs were abundant.  Crabbers were out in force with their hip waders and tongs.

On the way out to the cairn, I saw several metal posts positioned horizontally.  It is an oasis of sorts for the creatures that need solid footing.

Anemone species 3 and 4 on some metal structures at the cairn. Diameter about 15 cm
Crabs have amnesty when it comes to international boundaries. This one was found on the cairn, which marks the US/Canada boundary
 I used to think that a cockle's natural place was buried deep within the sand, like other clams.  I saw enough filter feeding right off the surface of the sand at Boundary Bay to make me re-evaluate this perception.
Species #5, in the fast flow of the outgoing tide. Diameter about 3 cm
I also saw a midshipman for the first time.  They don't have the wide head of sculpins, and the rays on their fins are not as pronounced.
A plainfin midshipman, a first for me.
Here it is, burrowing itself in the sand.

Boundary Bay hosts quite a few different habitats - the mud flats, the sandy bottoms, eel grass beds, and a solid hunk of concrete.  There are still a number of low tides left this summer...many discoveries await to be found.