Sunday, July 6, 2014

Life in a box planter

We don't have any actual land where we can grow vegetables, so we make do with box box planters on wheels which we cart around to the sunniest spots on our back deck.  Tomatoes have historically done quite well in these planters, so we put them in again this year.  While shooting photos of the bright yellow flowers, I noticed a spider who had made her home in one of the prime locations for insect activity.

She's a member of the family Theridiidae...I couldn't get a good shot of her abdomen, so I won't be able to get any more specific with her identification.

Also on the tomato plant was this colourful creature.  It's a rhododendron leafhopper, a pest whose presence can only be forgiven for the splash of colour it contributes.  As per its namesake, it is designed to hop with powerful legs (the long leg that stretches from underneath its wing all the way to its eye), fly a short distance, hit something suitable with its fairly hard nose, and look for a leaf where it might suck sap.  In this case, its mouth part can clearly be seen embedded into the primary vein of the leaf.

Leafhoppers in large numbers are known crop pests, weakening any plant by depriving it of its sap.  They digest the sap, then excrete droplets of sugary water from their abdomen, much like aphids do (the drops you see on your windshield after parking under a tree is due to sapsucking insects such as these).


I saw a new species of note last month.  There was no way to miss this large moth, probably the largest I've ever seen, on the side of the school where I walk the dog.

This is a Polyphemus Moth, a member of the giant silk moth family. We are at the upper limit of its range, here on the west coast.  Consulting this website, it appears they are fairly common in the US.

It's unfortunate that I didn't see its wings opened, as I would've seen beautiful purple eyespots on its 6-inch wingspan.

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