Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The ice is here

The reason why D left her car parked on the street, driving my car (in the garage) instead. A layer of frost on the windshield with no ice scraper to fight it is all it took to immobilize it this morning, leaving it victim to a parking ticket (street cleaning on the first Wednesday of the month).
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas already?

The Christmas Cactus has always been one of my favourite houseplants.

Easy to care for, this seasonal plant generously spashes forth fuchsia that for most of the year remains hidden within the flattened leaf-stems. Even the most neglected of the Christmas Cactus (like that of one of my coworkers, which hasn't seen a hint of daylight for about eight years) will survive.

Ours shown above is hosting at least a single flower, and in many cases two, on each stem. It's also the only seasonal plant my parents have that will dependably break forth in bloom, unlike the poinsettia disappointments they regularly receive as gifts during this time of year.

Theirs, however, doesn't bloom till closer to Christmas, or sometimes well into February, as the blooms are timed with the shortening days, and artificial light throws off their timing. If yours has this problem, either shade the plant well once the sun sets, or just put it closer to a window/further from artificial lights. If your buds fall off before blooming, you may be watering too much. I've read that you can reduce waterings to half of what you normally do during the winter months, though I've never had to do this.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monster Aquatic Auction

The Vancouver Aquatic Hobbyist Club
is holding its
12Th Annual All Day Monster Aquatic Auction
Saturday November 14th, 2009
in the school gym of
St Pius X Catholic School
1150 Mount Seymour Road, North Vancouver
Registration from 8:30 am – 9:30 am
Auction Starts at 10:00 am Sharp!
Hundreds of items – quality fish raised by local breeders – quality plants grown by local growers – equipment new and used
– books and much more…
E.g.: Angelfish, Killifish, Rainbowfish, Cichlids, Live Bearers, Betta’s, Catfish and more
Door prizes given away and raffles held throughout the day
Food and drinks will be available onsite.
Your Questions answered by friendly experts
This auction is a fundraiser for Project PIABA with all club proceeds going save the Amazon rainforests!
No Entrance Fee - Everyone is Welcome!

For more information visit the VAHC website

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Enough mushrooms for a year

We missed the mushroom show this year at Van Dusen, so I made it up to D by bringing her to the Vancouver Mycological Society's show at Richmond Nature Park this afternoon.

When one thinks of toadstools, one often has the Amanita muscaria in mind.

Puff balls are one of those edible mushrooms that are easily identifyable, but as one of the Mycological Society showed me, the best way is to slice it lengthwise to ensure that you don't see any gills.

Got a few interesting facts from the volunteers:
  • the part of the mushroom you see is only the fruiting body. The mycelium (or root system) exists, for the most part, beneath the surface.
  • spores are generally the best way to identify mushrooms. Only with precise identification can one positively identify the edible ones. I've seen pollen grains under a microscope, but spores can be even smaller
  • I've often thought it odd that mushrooms kept in the fridge too long will themselves be invaded by other fungi. This is apparently quite common, and some fungi are made to taste even better because of it, such as the lobster mushroom.
  • Some mushrooms have evolved poisons, while others take the "if you can't beat them, join 'em" route. Truffles, for instance, emit an alluring odour to animals to encourage their dispersal (of the spores) to far off lands.
  • Even the mushroom experts agree that the safest way to enjoy mushrooms is from the supermarket.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The country spider and the city spider

I first wrote this in September, but never got around to publishing. Tonight seemed like an appropriate time, as you'll see at the end of the post.
September will always be a month when I think about beginnings. To many children, it's new teachers, schedules, and friends. To me, it's the beginning of the year, moreso than January. To another species, it also represents the beginning.

Last weekend, I was down in Bellingham to see how American wildlife spend their Septembers. In four metre section of blackberry bramble were at least 50 orb weavers, busily creating their webs in the shortening shadows of morning light. Many were the common Araneus species, taking up enough web real estate to wrap a full-sized football.

The males of the Zygiella species were more bold, interrupting the females web-building by twitching their lines, hoping to get some attention.

Such a high density of spiders, many webs overlapping each other. To bees and flies, this blackberry bush would've been the bramble of death. Despite the high density of spiders, the aroma of blackberries attracts all kinds of flying food, and they are all fed well.

In the city, we have these same species of spiders, but they mature much more slowly, most probably due to limited food supplies being attracted to urban structures such as lampposts and concrete. At this same time of year, the females are still one or two molts behind their mature adult molt. Most years, the first frosts will hit the city before the females are visited by males.

--fast forward to today, the first week of November--
In the city, the spiders have matured and are finally getting the action that their country brethren enjoyed a few months back.

An araneus sp. has been diligently building a web outside our apartment, which each evening I find barren of any flying insects that would normally make up her meals. The cold temperatures are enough to ground any flying insects at this time of year.

Tonight, a visitor paid her a visit. As usual, these encounters last hours, or even days, so long as the smaller male doesn't twitch with the panic-stricken movements of a prospective meal. They were still at it, this game of cat and mouse, when I stepped outside five hours later with my camera.

getting close

So very close

If he's survived this long, he must be doing something right.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why I love August

Berries everywhere. These blackberries grew from a neighbourhood shrub. They seemed unnoticed, and we couldn't let them go to waste.

Wild huckleberries and blueberries picked from the hike up to Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is excluding the ones that fed us during the "one for me one for the bag" pickfest.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

lost and found

Last weekend, D and I took part in MEC's paddlefest at Jericho Sailing Centre, where we learned and practiced our paddling technique and practiced some rescue techniques, whereby we'd flip our kayaks, unattach our spray skirts whilst our underwater, and pop to the surface of the water, in a time span that seemed like one second. I wore a hat through most of the day, but realized that the flipping might cause my hat to float away. I threw my hat into the cockpit of the kayak and forgot about it. That is, until I tipped the kayak over to empty it of its water and the heavier-than-seawater hat.

This was no ordinary hat. It is the first and only hat that I've ever purchased. I bought it as an almost-souvenir at Eatons, one of Canada's iconic large department stores, as it held a closing-out sale many years ago. The hat doesn't even fit that well, but it has served me well through many hiking and camping trips.

So when I lost it, my heart sank. I hate losing things in general, but this was one time I felt there was a good chance of recovery. I made a plan the next day to return to Jericho beach during the low 0.8metre tide. Our kayaking was during high tide, so there was a good chance that even if the hat sunk to the bottom, I'd be able to walk out to it. Plus it gave me a good chance to do a bit of beach combing.

On this slightly drizzly weekday morning, the beach was void of any human activity. Gulls quietly turned over shells to look for the odd clam that hadn't returned into the sand in time. Beds of mussels lay in wait for the tide to return. Starfish abandoned by the low tide and disoriented on the sandy part of the beach struggled to find their bearings.

A Great Blue Heron looking for some shoreline morsels

A green anemone showing off it's glowing tentacles

On this quiet, cloudy morning, I saw many examples of life eking out an existance on a beach that would be, on a welcoming sunny weekend, filled with the cacaphony of humankind.

These clam shells littered the beach. When I was eight, they served us these clams in miso soup in Japan. Around that same time, these same clams were inadvertently introduced to BC waters in ballast water, water routinely flushed out by ships to aid in balancing their loads.

Yet I did not find that which should be properly on my head while I walked the length of the waterline.

I decided to return by way of the high tide line where the hat could've joined the disattached seaweed other flotsam. It was there that I noticed articles of clothing that were placed on or around the beach logs. Ahh, the makeshift lost and found section! And soon enough, I found my hat, wet and covered with sand, by waiting patiently for me to find it.

I quietly thanked the beachcomber who must've brought it up to the log to dry. My heart smiled as I collected it to rinse it off in a tide pool.

My day was starting off exceptionally well. I found my hat. The beach life continued what it has done for millenia, siphoning, filtering, sifting, hunting. Peacefully. Until I peered upwards to see this bald eagle being chased out of the neighbourhood by resident crows.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thetis Island, my favorite place on the southern coast of BC

The first time I visited Thetis Island was maybe 15 years ago. To get there from Vancouver, one must take two ferries. About 5 hours of travel. So it is remote, though it is physically close to the well populated Vancouver Island.

Back then, I had already developed a passion for spiders, through hours of watching those in my back yard. But Thetis Island was a paradise for spiders.

In the city, I've only seen one species of araneus. Usually araneus diadematus (below)

But out on the island, on a warm summer evening walk back to the cabins, I saw dozens of male araneus courting females already swollen with eggs. And there were at least three different species of araneus. Some were spotted, others were pale yellow. I saw two specimans of argiope on the island (my first time seeing such a large spider characterized by a zigzag pattern on its web). There were different species of funnel weavers.

This past weekend, armed with a camera, I returned to see whether this paradises biodiversity had changed. I was pleasantly surprised at my new discoveries.

At the Chemanus ferry terminal, we saw the closest living relative to a seahorse in BC waters, the pipefish:

Also at the ferry terminal, I saw these animals for the first time. They lived on the side of the barge, amongst the sea anenomes. They looked like some type of abalone, but strangely have one side of the shell raised giving them a scallop like appearance.

These animals, nonexistant in polluted Vancouver harbours, thrive amongst the harbouring boats.

At night, I decided to see what was in the water, and found these hovering fish feeding on the plankton. They looked a bit like unnaturally floating sculpins from the top side.

I recently became a bit more interested in birds due to some other nature blogs I've been following. Good thing too, as I was able to identify these sapsuckers (previously, I would've just called them woodpeckers).

I've seen kelp crabs before, but have never gotten an underwater pic of them.

Probably the highlight was watching this beast perch and warm himself in the afternoon sun.

A turkey vulture. Southern Vancouver Island is apparently the northernmost part of their range, so it was quite a treat to see these. There were a number of raptors in the sky riding thermals, and my guess is that quite a few of these were turkey vultures.

And my search for araneus at night was rewarded with this guy. The colour is quite a bit lighter than the orange ones I see in the city, but its shape is roughtly identical so it's probably just a colour morph, rather than a separate species.

Unfortunately, this was the closest thing to a new species of spider I could find. I suspect that later in the summer, they'll be even more active as the males compete to mate.

Lots of other wildlife, but these were the first time I've seen, photographed and identified these. We did see our first wild owl, but by the time I got my camera turned on, it was off into the trees.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The abundance of wildlife in Richmond

I stumbled across a local Richmond blogger while searching for information on skunk cabbage a few weeks ago. His postings on the urban wildlife that has adapted to life in the city makes fascinating the animals, plants, and other critters that normally go unnoticed as we zip from point A to point B in our vehicles. His writings have inspired me to write about the wildlife I notice.

Every year, D and I make a point to experience the extended hours of sunlight outdoors around the time of Summer Solstice. Tonight, we decided to seek a park that was supposedly two blocks from where we live. But first, we detoured a bit to Garden City Community Park which we haven't been to in a while to watch children feed the ducks with crumbled leftover snacks.

While the ducks swarmed the food, we noticed period splashes coming from beneath the murky depths.

Catfish were making a good living off the generous helpings of junk food the ducks were too slow to snatch up.

Later on, we saw what appeared to be a mass of tadpoles in an adjoining pond. On closer inspection, they were actually a mass of catfish skimming the surface for fallen insects and other goodies. I expected (mistakenly) catfish to be bottomfeeders, but today learned that they know from day 1 that the best food is found at the surface.