Friday, December 3, 2010

Splish splash

The blossoms are peaking more appropriately this year in December (the flowers probably started opening last year in early-November).  I tried to photograph from the same angle.  For the first time, the Christmas Cactus is being attacked by those pesky/pesty sap-sucking aphids.  Having secured a stronghold in a neighbouring plant, they've killed a basil, and are now moving on to more colourful treats.  I tried a mild detergent spray, but that only slows down their advance and is short of full elimination.

By this weekend, these fuchsian blossoms will be overtaken by the decorations on our first sap-dripping Christmas conifer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The edge of North America

Boundaries are a limit, either self-imposed or natural, of our existence.  We live comfortably within its borders, living out each predictable day.  But the edges of these boundaries are where we make the best discoveries.

This past weekend, D ran the half marathon in Victoria.  We last visited the big island before we were married (in fact, we got engaged there) so it was a treat to return.

Less than a 30 minute drive out of Victoria is Goldstream provincial park.  We anticipated the return of the salmon (this park boasts sizeable chum runs) which is reported to begin mid-October.  Alas, we were early for it, and didn't see any.  That didn't stop me from taking photos.

Lots of Zygiella spiders

One of these things is not like the other (hint--only one of the above can sting. The other two are harmless hoverflies)
That night, we stayed in Port Renfrew at a BnB with terrific views.  I took advantage of an early-setting moon and clear skies.

Seven sisters, though there are more than 7


The view right above our yurt

It was probably this boat that cast a reddish glow on the first of the night shots above, as there are no other residences on that side of the inlet

Island in the clouds
The following morning, we headed down to Botanical Beach to catch the second half of the low tide as it was ascending.
Great blue (heron, and ocean)

What are you...chicken?

Harelequin ducks, in between dives

The black balls getting tossed about...

...belong to bull kelp, washed ashore by the violent waves...
...which are usually anchored by these

Cross section of the zone
Shorebirds flocking in the distance

Pools, dug out of the limestone by urchins and rolling rocks

Bryozoan?  Its stiff like one...but doesn't look like anything I can find online

Sponge encrusting kelp

The better to sting you with, my dear

mossy chiton.  Larger than limpets, and more accessible than abalone, they were a food source for the coastal native peoples

Periwinkle huddle

Anemone garden

One animal was noticeably absent--the urchin.  I hypothesized the diminishing daylight lead to the subsequent departure of adequate beds of algae on which the urchins live.  Nonetheless, in a season where the beach is furthest from people's minds, the edge of the season provides much opportunity for those at the edge of our continent.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Downy woodpecker

The smallest woodpecker in North America came to visit our townhouse a visit a couple weeks back. Now if only it'd pick out the bugs slowly eating away at our complex.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

An unlikely duo

Jumping spiders and orb weavers don't often share the same habitat. One, with excellent vision, prefers wide open areas, while the other is not very forgiving of tresspassers on her triplines. But being the tail end of summer, maybe its just time to resolve one's differences and get along.
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

bugs that make even MY skin crawl

Our new home is the oldest home I've ever lived in--it's older than I am--but that was why we bought it in the first place. It's only the old homes that have the floorplans that we like in a townhouse (ie. 2 storey). It's been completely renovated inside, so one wouldn't know its age from the inside.

At the time that this complex was built, land was cheap, so units are spread apart by lots of greenery; lawns, trees, and gardens. As a result, urban wildlife abounds all over. Spiders are the most obvious; each morning, I break several webs just exiting the front door. But older homes also have cracks in their building envelope that allow the wildlife in. I already know of about 5 widow spiders who've permanently made homes. Generally, I let them be, since I know they'll stop any further intruders from calling my casa their casa.

Tonight, as I was about to make my way up the stairs, I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. Bending down to get a closer look, I saw a widow spider making a meal out of a newly caught sowbug. Good for her, earning her keep.

I stood back up, then still saw movement, almost like the ground was moving. Back down for a closer look, when I saw the little yellow dots on the ground, wriggling around. That is the moment my skin starting feeling tingly. What were those things? Did we buy a townhome infested with lice? Are they carpet mites? With my naked eye, I couldn't make them out. Without a magnifying lens handy, I took out my camera, snapped a shot, and zoomed in on the photo:
Eww. I've known sowbugs to give birth to live young (I'd pick a pregnant one up and she'd start shooting them out under distress), but seeing these guys littered all over the floor was just gross, even for me. Note the size of the carpet lint, to get a scale of them. Yes, they're exact miniatures of the parents. I'm not too worried about a new infestation of these in the home; as you can see, most of them are too tangled up in the lint to survive for long.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Waste not

It's always amusing when we see animals using objects around them in obvious ways. Ravens using twigs to poke at insects and sea otters using stones to break open clams illicit "aww" moments. Even more interesting is when the purpose isn't very clear.

Take for example the trashline spider, so called because these packrats of the arachnid world intentionally move towards the centre the debris trapped in web, arranging it vertically above and below the centre of the web.

While some of the debris is plant matter, insect carcasses are also retained to decorate the web (most other orb weavers simply stretch out their arms and cast the emptied ball of indigestible exoskeleton into the wind).

Larger orb weavers, in particular of the genus Argiope, also build this stabilimentum, it is thought, to protect the large webs from destruction by flying birds. This probably isn't as big a problem for these smaller Cyclosa Conica, whose orbs stretch no wider than 30 cm.

One of the fiercest predators of orb weavers are wasps, so it is thought that the garbage on the web might disguise the spider, who on its own is already fairly drab in colouration. Sort of like the millionaire who leaves his lawn untrimmed and drives a beater to distract from his wealth.

This is the first time I've seen a spider like this in the city...I've occasionally seen them in the forest, but the range of the genus is worldwide, as there were also about three who consistently made webs next to our mosquito netting in South Africa.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How recognition changes what we notice

We decided this year to get a season's fishing license (as opposed to buying by the day). We later found out the "season" begins in April, so we have nearly a full year to get our money's worth.

Our first foray to the ocean on Friday was met with high winds and echinoderm-eating birds, so the calmer weather on Sunday tempted us out to the pier at Ambleside Park. We expected a low tide, making for easy picking of bait foods (mussels and crabs).

As kids, we made many trips to the intertidal zone, much of it on areas outside the city core. On our explorations, we recognized the crab as king in terms of biomass, cuteness, and miniature toughness, but pretty much ignored everything else as unfamiliar to us. Now, when I visit our urban beaches, I am surprised by all that biodiversity I must have missed while flipping over rocks as a child.

neon green

In about 30 minutes of scouring the low tide mark, we found quite an assortment of critters:

Isopod on the left (at the edge of the reflection). Larger than the terrestrial sowbugs. Sea urchin on the right.

An eel-like fish, later identified as a gunnel, next to a ribbon-like worm

Took me about three minutes to pick up the slippery gunnel.

We didn't end up getting any bites, probably because of a couple of harbour seals hanging about for a free handout.

Friday, April 2, 2010

a bird's fashion sense

Just yesterday, I got a chuckle out of seeing the new 2010 spring collection from Mr. Mallard. It doesn't seem to be an isolated incident, however. During this, the most blustery day in recent memory, D and I decided to confront the wind in White Rock. At the pier, while watching a juvenile gull try to get pickings from a sea star.

I noticed an odd looking adult.

Only after viewing this on my computer did I realize the pickle that this guy is in. Swallowing the thing would be the easy part...I can only imagine his pain in about 12 hours.