Saturday, December 30, 2017

Urban wildlife interactions

Rock Paper Lizard posted yesterday about a mystery of how river otters made it into a pond about 2.5 km inland from the nearest natural body of water.  While river otters are much more adept at traversing land than their "sea" cousins (their versatility on land is one of their distinguishing traits), navigating the mostly paved overland route in Richmond would've been catastrophe.  Apparently, they're happy to muck around the exits of storm sewers, but it seems an especially bold maneuver to swim upstream of kilometres of concrete piping on the off chance there might be gold at the other end.

Having never seen river otters before, I decided to see if they were still around, today being the first blue-skied day in nearly a week.

One of the first creatures we saw upon arriving at Garden City Park was a bald eagle.  Not exactly rare, in Richmond, but unusual to be perched still, next to the pond for at least half an hour.

We meandered around the small pond...we figured if the otters were still around, there wasn't exactly a lot of hiding space, and they'd be easy enough to spot.  And before long, we did!

They'd swim around in the murk, diving periodically for perhaps 30 seconds at a time.  They'd swim on top of each other at times, clearly enjoying each other's company.

The otters made their way towards the other end of the pond, and we followed.  We then noticed the bald eagle diving down.

Initial thoughts were that it was diving for fish, but then we witnessed the target of it's attack.

The otters were on the bank.  Upon seeing the eagle, they retreated into the water, at least until the eagle returned to its perch.

And the reason for the interest from the eagle - fish! If I could talk to an otter (or more specifically, if it were willing to talk back), I'd like to learn how fishing is even possible in water whose visibility is about two inches.  In the summer, the pond is literally bubbling with fish, so with that density, I suppose that even bumping into them would be a reasonable technique.

We weren't the only ones who had noticed the eagle.  As is usually the case, gulls and crows will mob any type of raptor they see.

The eagle would only take so much of the intimidation before it set off.

Having been in the park for at least a week and a half, these otters have definitely gotten accustomed to people.  And with me watching for about a half hour, they became a bit more inquisitive.

Another distinguishing feature of river otters is that they'll swim on their front, vs sea otters typically floating on their backs.

In an urban setting, it's rare to see inter-species interactions, unless they are with the human or domesticated-animal variety.  I'm continually impressed at their resourcefulness, in spite of our efforts to control our environment.

The otters have been feasting on this small pond of fish for at least 10 days's probably the biggest windfall this family has ever seen...hopefully, they'll remember this in future years to make an annual return.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Our first snowfall

Snow geese are an annual visitor to Richmond, to the delight of some, and the disdain of school janitors.

We've been hearing them squawking overhead for the last few weeks, but last week, we checked out the flock gathering at the school.  While sights of the field inundated with birds is common, normally there might only be between a dozen to a hundred birds landing at once.  Never have we seen a flock of thousands of birds landing at once.  It was quite a treat, standing in the midst of such commotion.

The flock was quite uniform - I saw only a single ring-billed gull and a blue morph as part of the flock.

ring-billed gull - it walked around for a few seconds with its wing spread, though with no apparent sign of injury

blue colour morph

In a world where it seems every species is in decline, it's comforting to see some wilderness finding success in spite of humanity.  Snow geese are increasing at the rate of 5% per year (Wikipedia), giving hope that our children's children might be able to enjoy this form of wildlife.

At one point, something spooked them, and we felt the wind of thousands of beating wings frantically ascending at once. There was no point in trying to dodge the bits of mud and mostly-digested grass dropping off their feet as they took to the skies.

And like the snow that falls around our city, it can disappear quickly, leaving only a bit of sludge behind.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Cactus 2017

I seem to never learn from my mistakes.  Replanting plants that seem to be outgrowing their pots has always been risky business.  Generally speaking, if I can keep a plant alive for 6 months, it'll last 6 years.  That is, until I transplant it. Then, the difference in soil kills the plant.

This happened to my venus flytrap a few years back.  It died within a few weeks of getting moved to some new peat moss.

And now it's starting to happen to my Christmas Cactus, which I transplanted for the first time this past summer.  It budded, but only five flowers emerged.  Leaf/branch segments on one side of the plant began dropping off.  I wonder if this is the beginning of the end, or if it's just focusing it's new growth on a different part of the plant for the coming year.

I couldn't bring myself to pose the pitiful little plant for it's annual portrait. But a rare December sunlight illuminated the last flower on the plant, and out of respect for tradition, I needed to capture it's brief beauty.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Great American Eclipse

(two solar postings in one month!)
I first heard about this maybe a year or so ago, but did nothing about it.  With young kids, plans are often last minute.  Last month, we decided we could finally commit, so we scrambled for a hotel room or campsite.  Naturally, they were all booked up, at least online. There were a few vacancies provided by first-time AirBNBers wanting to take full advantage of price gouging. We found places in Portland, so we secured those first, but later on a whim, I decide to phone around at various hotels inside totality.  Surprisingly, it took less than five calls to find a hotel that still had rooms at reasonable rates; they were reserved for non-internet customers.

From Oklahoma - there was certainly an eventful excitement in the air

An hour before totality, people would park next to open fields with picnic blankets
We chose to watch from a park, where eclipse festivities brought locals and tourists out in the hundreds.

And the moment we were waiting for - totality!  A star appeared just left of the sun, which unfortunately wasn't capturable with the camera settings I used

And here's the exuberance of a crowd immersed in the shadow of the moon.

Getting to totality was fine...getting out was a 7 hour trip, normally only 4 hours.
We had just over a minute of totality from where we were, in Woodburn, Oregon.  There are few natural wonders that are as grand as a solar eclipse, and everyone in our group agreed it was entirely worth the drive.

Monday, August 7, 2017


Can't get much bigger than this (aside from the accidental capture of a far-off universe in a night photo):

This is the first time I've photographed the sun as a subject. Only used a UV filter, and dialed back exposure to -2 stops.  That little dot is a sunspot, about 11 times the size of the earth.  I needed to take multiple photos with the sun in different positions just to confirm that it wasn't a speck on my lens.

The smoke from forest fires has made midday feel like a third world country with lax pollution controls.  A week ago, when the smoke began blowing in, it triggered memories of coal smoke from villages in Tanzania and the pervasive smog in Beijing.  Fortunately for us, this should scrub out the first rainfall, which some weather reports are calling for in about a week's time.