Sunday, January 13, 2019

Carnivores in Richmond

Carnivores are interesting, and it's not just because I am one.  They need to use a combination of physical strength, mental acuity, speed, and all round evolutionary ingenuity to overcome another animal, just to survive.  Commonly, they risk their own safety just to eat, and have to overcome some amount of fear that the victim could fight back, causing an injury that could eventually lead to death by not being able to hunt.

Humans are understandably cautious around other carnivores.  They threaten our own safety, or the safety of our pets and livestock. In cities such as Vancouver, large carnivores get pushed out to the boundaries where forest meets subdivision. In Richmond, coyotes might come to mind as one of our largest carnivores, hanging out on the ocean side of the dyke in the tidal marsh.  What if I told you that coyotes weren't the largest?  "Humans, of course," you'd grin.  "No, even bigger."  "In present day?" "Yes, in present day".

Until a whale or dolphin swims into Richmond (which I'm sure has happened, just not in recent memory), I submit to you, the sea lion.

This one in Steveston was a California sea lion, I suspect, as they have longer snouts than the larger stellar sea lions. The males tip the scales at almost 800 pounds (the steller sea lions are gargantuan, at over 2000 pounds), making them much larger than a typical 250 pound black bear on the North Shore. Yet despite this size and sharp teeth, we somehow disassociate them from being predators.  Lacking feet, we think of them as awkward on land.  With most of their sleek body hidden underwater, we don't realize how large these animals actually are, and their capability to inflict harm. Years of seeing them perform tricks alongside humans have acclimatized us into thinking that they want nothing more than to hear applause for their comedic timing. And if I said the word "seal", the cartoon image in your head would surely include a multicoloured beach ball.  We think of them as tame, resulting in unfortunate encounters like this, which happened not far from where I took the above photo.

To be fair, attacks on humans on land are rare.  But given their size and speed, this largest carnivore that frequents our city boundaries demands a healthy respect.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

There are humans in this photo

A photo of the International Space Station. Yesterday, it made in appearance above Vancouver for about 4 minutes, peaking almost directly overhead. Looking at it through a 300mm lens, it zooms from one end of my field of view to the other in about five seconds.  It occupies about 40 of the 97 pixels in width of my original photo.

Until someone lands on the moon, this will be the furthest a human being will ever be in one of my photos. At about 400 km away and 109 metres wide, taking this photo is like taking a photo of a football field in Portland, Oregon (if the earth's curvature weren't in the way).  Oh, and it's travelling through space at 27,000km/h, so it'd span the distance from Portland to here in about the time it took you to read this far (just under a minute).

There are a few reasons why manmade satellites like the ISS aren't always visible.  The shadow of the earth gets in the way except much of the time. But also, many satellites aren't easily visible to the naked eye unless their solar panels are oriented in just the right way to reflect sunlight.  And of course in Vancouver, clear skies are often a challenge.

You'll have a chance to see it tomorrow (the 7th) night for about 6 minutes as well.

We have a Canadian on board at the moment, Quebec-born David Saint-Jacques. Bonjour, monsieur.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The beaver moon

Terra Nova park has long been home to beavers.  The stumps of young sapling bordering the pond have been chiseled to an irregular point, providing the first evidence.  On one side of the pond is a lodge, obscured by cattails from most vantage points for privacy.  A 3 metre tree is now growing out of the lodge, suggesting that the beavers have been around quite a few years.

Lodge during the day
I've never seen the beavers during the day, and I was suspicious whether they were still around, as I hadn't noticed any fresh stumps around the pond (plus there was a tree growing out of the lodge...wouldn't the beavers at an active lodge be a bit more fastidious with their landscaping?).

So I wasn't realistically thinking I'd spot any beavers on Friday night, when I visited the park. It so happened that Thursday night marked the first full moon in November, known as the beaver moon because beavers are busily constructing their lodges in preparation for winter.  Surely, having completed their Beaver Moon work, they'd be sharing a few beers with their buddies down by the lodge, not sauntering about in the cool barely-above-freezing temperatures.

While it was indeed a fullish moon, clouds shrouded direct moonlight. Despite that, the clouds illuminated by a moon from above and the urban lights from below provided enough background to show silhouettes of silent owls drifting past.  It was when my eyes were skyward that I was startled by a splashing in the water, as loud as a large rock being thrown in.

Beaver splash, a big "plunk"
Beaver creating tracks in the floating Azollapalloza

One of it's nearer approaches

The beaver swam around in circles, splashing periodically to alert his family of this unwelcome guest.  He eyed me for probably 5 minutes before he tired of me and disappeared.

The view at night

Thought the sound behind me in the dark was a person, relieved to see this little guy

The beavers have been expanding their range over the last few years. The stumps by the pond were brown, suggesting they were years old, but as I trekked along the dyke, following the occasional sounds of splashing in the ditch next to the dyke, I came across some fresh stumps.
A diameter of about a 30 cm

This tree and about three others in the vicinity were about 5 meters away from the ditch, and seemed a lot fresher (see the woodchips on top of the fallen leaves).  The top of the tree had already been gnawed off, probably taken for the edible leaves.  Some of the trees near the ditch were partially damaged, but were now protected with chicken wire.  Looks like the parks maintenance people will have to move further inland.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Boundary Bay-supporting animals of the sky, and of the water.

The skies were as blue as could be today.  The warm sun invited us to to join it outside for just a few more days before a forecast of rain befalls us for the coming week.

First stop was Boundary Bay, looking for, you guessed it, owls.
We usually have good luck spotting them out there, or rather, spotting a crowd of photographers, who have done the impossibly difficult job of finding the owls.

They were looking at this.  See it yet?
Photographing with a smartphone through a pair of binoculars isn't too bad
Long eared owl
Long-eared owls are a little atypical of their raptor brethren, seeming to prefer dense thickets such as these.  How then end up there, or how they can easily fly out is something I'd like to see one day.

Here's a video of the same owl, from one of the wildlife enthusiasts in the crowd pictured above:

The marsh flats of Boundary Bay support the owls with populations of rodents.  It is also the entry point of a 25 km journey for a population of salmon.

Every November to January, chum, coho, and steelhead salmon swim upstream into the tributaries of the Serpentine river.  Many of them target Tynehead Regional Park in Surrey, where there's a hatchery releasing fry into the river each spring.  It's been four years since I visited to see the salmon run.

Before seeing any live fish, we saw (and smelled) the dead ones.  There actually weren't too many clogging up the shorelines, indicating the run is either light this year, or that we were early.  A parks person we spoke with remarked that while it did seem lighter this year, a heavier rain could bring more in later.

Coho in beautiful spawning colours, resting up before continuing her journey upstream
She is the swimming dead.  Resting in an eddy near shore, she's done with spawning, and awaiting her fate.

A male chum, investigating whether the nearly dead female could be coerced into mating.

male chum and a busted lip