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

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Looks like debris but doesn't behave like debris

While snorkeling in Napili Beach in Maui last month, I saw a bit of debris that floated a bit oddly.  It moved to and fro in time with a current that simply didn't exist.  As I stared downwards through about 15 feet of water it entered a gap in the rocks, and ejected sediment.  An octopus!  It was the first time I've seen one in the wild.  I dove down to take a look.
The dark shape on the right. It's open siphon is near the top right. Likely a "day octopus" (Octopus cyanea)

In the absence of weights, I am so buoyant with a full breath of air that I have to expend large amounts of energy with my arms just to keep my head underwater. That makes my body crave air even more. To maximize my bottom time, I've realized it's more important to stay relaxed.  I keep only a third of air in my lungs prior to a dive, which makes me only marginally positively buoyant at the surface, and neutrally buoyant at 15 feet.  But with less stored air, it also means I can only stay underwater about 30 seconds or so (and 15 seconds or so is just to get down to that depth).

The beach that day (and probably most days) was crowded with sunbathers, and there were plenty of snorkelers in the water as well (this is one of the better snorkeling beaches, as it's sheltered by deep rock faces that attracting fish and turtles).  Despite all the snorkelers, few seemed interested in the octopus.  "Where is it?"  "I'll point it out," I offered, as I dove down pointing at the den.  A few seemed to stick around and politely look at what I pointed at for a minute, another stating "I don't see it", but all moving on.  It was, after all, probably too deep for most casual snorkelers.

After a while, I just watched from the surface, as it seemed more inclined to leave it's den when a human wasn't buzzing by with a camera outstretched.  And then, I noticed this:

It had an arm outstretched into a neighbouring crack.  A second octopus was in the other crack!

As with most solitary creatures, mating tends to be a cautious affair. Neither animal has the social experience to predict whether it will be hurt or eaten.  So mating tends to be an "as-far-as-possible" activity, with the male extending an arm to a female, positioning a sperm packet into the mantle (the head) of the female.  The mating I see in documentaries tends to have the octopus out in the open, with mating not lasting for more than a few minutes, so it was interesting to see them in dens going at it for over an hour (I'd hang out at the beach then revisit).  As for whose home turf this was, I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Canada Goose that wasn't really Canadian

The snow geese are making fewer appearances in Richmond these days, so I didn't expect to see them when I tried to appease my son to look for them in Terra Nova.

At first, we saw them in a vacant field fenced off from the public, and I thought that would be our best view of them.  The geese then started swarming a more luxurious patch of grass.

This is one of the wealthier areas of Richmond; the dense lawn these geese are fertilizing is cropped short, golf-course style.  Their visit to this patch must be rare - residents were outside on their balconies, snapping videos.

Then we saw this bird, not like the others:

"Canada Goose", I confidently educated my son.  He repeated after me.  We followed behind it to get a better look, as it not only seemed out of place, but to my eye unusually smaller than a typical Canada Goose.  The neck seemed scrawny compared to its white companions.

Later, upon Googling, I realized it might not even be a Canada Goose.  I had no idea there was such a thing as a Cackling Goose, nor did most of the birding world before 2004, when it became officially recognized as a separate species from the Canada Goose.  The Cackling Goose has a smaller body and shorter neck are the more obvious differences from the Canada Goose, as is a steeper head and shorter beak if you should get close enough to see.

They nest in the tundra, which might explain why it's flocked with the snow geese.  Lucky for us, since we never would've given it a second look had it flocked with Canada Geese.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


While I've seen quite a few different species of owls now, never have I heard one hoot.  That's not to say I haven't heard owls before...just that the ones that I have heard were squacking or shrieking.  In fact, only a few owl species in BC actually hoot.  So a few nights ago, when I heard hooting through the walls of my house, I had to investigate.

Outside our home are several tall conifers.  We noticed a source of hooting in the tree right at our back door.  In fact, in the blackness of the tree, I could see some lighter-coloured movement that must've been the owl.  But it wasn't the only one.  A nearby tree was also responding with hooting; they were calling to each other!  I saw an owl fly off, but there was still hooting at that tree, which meant there must've been three owls initially!  The owls continued calling to each other for quite some time, so after I was satisfied with as good a photo as I could with manual focus and a 50 mm lens, I ran back inside to grab a longer lens. By the time I emerged the second time, the owls were gone.

Here's an excerpt of two of them calling to each other

The call, combined with a sasquach-like photo makes me fairly certain they were great-horned owls.