Saturday, December 1, 2012

Its shy side

The Christmas Cactus revealed just a scant group of leaves this year. In the last two years, perhaps only two scrawny leaves have been appended to its stalks. Maybe it doesn't like the bright southern exposure we've given it for the last few years.  This photo was from last weekend, which puts the timing of the opening of the first flowers about two weeks earlier than last year, and a week earlier than two years ago.

The flowers seemed to favour the sunny side.  This angle is the same angle I've photographed it compared to prior years, yet this time, the blooms are nearly all on the opposite side.

The blooms aren't as extravagant as in prior years despite better living conditions than in prior years:  a bit of fertilization in the spring, no pests, and no flooding.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Nature Vancouver's Marine Biology nights

Nature Vancouver's Marine Biology nights are starting back up!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Making eye contact

The Salticidae (jumping spiders) family of spiders has, without a doubt, the most character of any spider. They are probably most relatable to humans, in that they are neat (no webs), search for food (hunting), and display feats of athleticism jumping about 40 times their own length with a great degree of accuracy.


Also, their large eyes certainly help lend themselves well to the "cuteness" factor.

But really, which eye should one look at?

Jumping spiders, like most spiders, have four pairs of eyes, giving it a near 360 degree view of movement.  Proportionally, they have the largest eyes of any spider, as they don't have the benefit of tactile threads of a web to sense prey.  It immediately pivots its body to face any movement, facing the large frontal eyes to identify the subject, and will judge its distance accurately for a pounce or a retreat.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Queen of the carpenters

Anyone who has ever lived in an older home knows what it's like to live alongside uninvited guests.  Sowbugs, silverfish, and spiders, while annoying and messy, are relatively benign.  Ants are a more serious problem, requiring a bit of technique if elimination is your desire.

We've had carpenter ants as long as we've lived here. As their name suggests, they can cause structural damage to a home as they use their powerful mandibles to cut away wood to build their nests.  They are easily identifiable by a combination of their large size, and a single node, or hump, between their thorax and abdomen.  You can see this node in the image above, below the wings, right behind where the final pair of legs is attached to the thorax.

Carpenter ants are among the largest ants that you'd see in our part of the world.  Fortunately, they lack stingers that their smaller cousins the fire ants readily deploy, but their mandibles are quite capable of giving you a bit of a nip should you decide to hold on to one.  As a larger ant, examining the anatomy is quite easy. You can quite easily see two of the three ocelli (single eyes) at the top of the ant's head in the image above.  They are so positioned to enable the ant to detect changes in light levels overhead.

To eradicate ants, one must remove or kill the queen.  Because the nest is hidden in the wall, doing so mechanically is impossible.  The queen rarely strays away from the nest once it is established, so the most effective technique I've found is to use ant poison, a syrupy mix of sugars and borox.  The worker and soldier ants readily slurp this up and deliver it to the queen, and within a week of administering the poison (replenishing it as it is consumed), we would no longer see any signs of infestation.  However, pupae do take up to two months to develop, so while the workers have all died off, it is still possible that within a few weeks they will seem to return.

This particular queen was one I found just walking around in our hallway.  In the social structures of ant and bee colonies, the pupae (nearly all female) develop into workers and soldiers.  The existing queen's pheromones suppress the development of these pupae into queens.  Possibly what happened in our case was that the queen had succumbed to the poison, and the existing pupae were blossoming into queens which would then seek out new nesting sites (and males).  Instead, this unfortunate queen found me.

I'm much too respectful of monarchy to kill a queen ant, but I'm not above using her life to benefit a creature that I appreciate a little more than an ant.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

A break from the tundra

Since the beginning of January, I've been itching to get out to Boundary Bay to get sight of the snowy owls.  This year has seen record-breaking sightings of the number of owls at Boundary Bay.  Up to 30 have been seen at once.  These irruptions, as they're called, can happen every four to seven years, when owls will move south from their normally tundra-based homeland in the arctic to test the populations of voles, lemmings and other small mammals further south.

My excitement built as we drove down 72nd street in Delta, as we saw about six eagles perched right next to the road, some on trees, other on telephone poles.

...and even more in the sky (six in this photo).

At the end of a muddy road, a long line of parked cars indicated that there were still owls to be found past the dyke.

Once on the dyke, finding the owls are as easy as following the gazes of long-lensed photographers.  The owls sit patiently, maybe 40 feet away.

Despite the prominent signage warning against doing so, many felt compelled to get their prized photograph by meandering onto the marshland.  Others watched silently as their kids clamored over the logs to get so close to the owls that they flew off, much to the dismay of the photographers watching from the dyke.

Today, we saw about six owls easily viewable from the dyke.  Wildlife viewing doesn't get much easier than this.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A great day for snow

The conditions were perfect - a light dusting of an inch or so of snow; clear weather; and a temperature that uncharacteristically stayed below freezing for most of the day.  Perfect, for what?  Skiing?  Too shallow.  Snowshoeing?  Not worth the effort.  Cycling?  Definitely.  Fresh snow gives just the right amount of traction for adding a bit of challenge to a bike ride, and conveniently wipes off the mud from my last off-road excursion.  Destination?  The dyke, of course.

The "Wind Waves" art installation in Steveston is definitely a nice drop of colour on what would otherwise be a shades-of-grey kind of day.

My first sighting of a Northern Goshawk

Not quite skate-worthy

People who choose to ignore the "no dogs" sign, right after unleashing their dogs in the environmentally sensitive habitat
A bald eagle... be joined by its mate

They didn't look like any gull I've ever seen - they had a grey body, with a slightly darker grey head

Not quite a funnel cloud...just a localized snowstorm

A pair of Gadwalls (first)

Trumpeter swans, triumphantly flying overhead (first)

Red breasted Mergansers sporting their messy-hair look (first)

Brewer's blackbird, showing a bit of its characteristic 

Snowgeese, who are probably thinking to themselves, "if this is the worst winter has to offer, why bother flying further south than this."

Lots of first-ever sightings for me (or at least, the first time I've been able know what I'm looking at) and a bit of exercise made this a good day.  The snow would've made today an opportune occasion to view the snowy owls , but that may need to wait.