Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Red eye diver

Western grebe.

Lone grebe, fishing off the end of the wharf.

Back end.

I see few of these grebes around here; I used to notice them more often back on the mainland, near Richmond. Cornell says their populations may be declining.

Around 1900, Western Grebes were extensively hunted for their silky white breast and belly feathers, which were used in clothing and hats. This aquatic species is also sensitive to pesticides, to other causes of poor water quality, and entanglement in fishing line. Western Grebes nest in colonies and can be flushed by boaters that approach too closely, leaving their nests vulnerable to gulls and other predators. On their coastal wintering grounds they are vulnerable to oil spills and are caught in gill nets. According to NatureServe, their status is of particular concern near the edges of their range, in Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and British Columbia, Canada. (Cornell, western grebe) (my emphasis)

Update: This article was posted in a comment: Declines in marine birds trouble scientists. It adds lack of food sources to the causes of disappearance of the birds.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Early morning: joined Trumpeter swan counters, walked 3+ km. Saw California sea lions swimming up the channel. On the way home, saw cormorants by the shore. Went home, grabbed camera, went to stalk cormorants down the beach until they flew away. Saw raft of sea lions, 20 or more; chased them up the channel on foot and by car. Drove to pier, walked to end, hoping to see the lions arrive. Beat them, waited. No sea lions, but saw a grebe.

Came home, booted up, fell asleep at the computer. Heading out again in a bit.

So no post today.

Well, maybe one photo.

Thatched acorn barnacles, Oyster Bay.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lousy birding

I am a lousy birder. I love to watch them; I attempt, mostly unproductively, to photograph them; and I can't tell them apart without a book in hand. Oh, gulls are gulls, peeps are peeps, lbbs are lbbs. And bald eagles are bald eagles; those I know, even when they're a speck on the horizon. And I can find a coot halfway across the marsh in a flock of mallards. But a peep dashing about on a tide flat, or chasing the waves? They're peeps. No-name brand peeps.

So I take photos and compare them, point by point, against the photos in my bird book, and then against Cornell's All About Birds descriptions. "Ah," I say, "so those were sanderlings!"

But next time, against an impossible background, with little brown specks fleeing me and my camera, I can't distinguish them again. Just peeps.

These, after having gone through the slow process of identification, I think are black turnstones.

Black turnstones, Oyster Bay. They've seen me before I saw them, and are already running away.

And they're off!

A turnstone against the brown and black mud of Oyster Bay is a different bird altogether than a turnstone in the air. On the ground, they blend in, except for the flash of white belly. In flight, they show a dramatic white/brown/black pattern.

Zooming in, with the background faded out.

Bold wing pattern visible in flight, produced by white feathers at the base of the leading edge of the wing, a white wing stripe, and a white lower back.
White tail with black terminal band. (Cornell)

The black terminal band on the tail is visible while they're on foot; flying, the white tail is longer, and shows as a white terminal band.

Location helps for id purposes; the black turnstones are supposed to prefer noisy beaches.

In winter, found along high-energy rocky shorelines, on beaches near rocky coasts, and on jetties and piers. (Cornell)

Oyster Bay is anything but high-energy, but just across the rock breakwater, waves pound the stones. And in here, in the lagoon at low tide, they find a banquet prepared with their favourite treats: barnacles, mussels, crustaceans, with a side dressing of rotting plant material. Once the water comes back, they'll go back to the open coast, leaving the bay to the mallards, geese, and wigeons.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Stranded Melibe

It looked like just a blob of faintly pinkish jelly abandoned on the sand, but when I bent to look, I saw that it was moving. Sluggishly, slower than sluggishly, but moving. When I touched it, it shrunk back into itself. Alive, and responding.

Looks like a nudibranch, Melibe leonina. Oyster Bay, near the low tide line.

This was the largest lion's mane nudibranch (aka hooded nudibranch) I've seen so far, almost 5 inches long. Wikipedia gives their length as up to 4 inches, but my encyclopedia says they may reach 7. So this is a mature nudibranch, but not necessarily near the end of its life.

Transferred (with a stick, because of the smell* of the sand) to a nearby pool, Melibe rested a moment, then started to stretch out, expanding its cerata.

The sun was just setting. I couldn't wait to watch it turn from a blob to an active nudi; I had a long walk over the treacherous sand/mud interface before the light faded. But the tide was coming in; Melibe would survive until it did.

* Melibe leonina has a distinctive fruity smell when out of water, but here in Oyster Bay, the rotted mud stink overpowers everything. I didn't notice the fruit.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Immigrant stones.

It was low tide at Oyster Bay. And I looked at the ground under my feet.

Big rocks, small rocks, stones. Looking east, across to the mainland.

The rocks are rip-rap, brought in years ago to protect the bay, forming the outer leg of a U, and creating bird habitat. On the far side, the "outside", the remains of derelict ships poke through the sand below the usual low tide line.

When we first saw it, eight years ago, the fourth side of the lagoon was just a short strip of gravel, just a little serif on the U. Now, as the currents have brought around sand and even stones from the outer coast, it reaches most of the way across the entrance, apparently aiming to close off the lagoon entirely some day.

This is an old photo we took from the tip of the rocks at mid-tide, 2009. Facing the bottom of the U.

July, 2009, again. Geese  on the tip of the gravel bar.

And now, I walk where before there was only water.

Out near the new tip of the gravel bar. Barnacles and mussels cover the stones; underneath I found crabs and snails.

And on the inner edge of the bar, clean sand. Water running down as the tide retreats leaves sharply cut channels in the sand.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Snow. Just snow.

Slogging through snow, I stopped to look at it. Just the snow, not the scenery.

This is snow that has been rained on, smushed down, and then frozen hard.

I thought the purplish colour I'd seen in previous photos would have been an aberration of my lens, so I looked more carefully at the blue shadows. And yes, they looked purple in the afternoon light, at 5:14 PM, half an hour or so before sundown.

Snow with pine needles. The snow is crunchy on top, soft underneath. 3:25 PM.

Lumps and shadows. 5:00 PM. Baikie Island.

Sunset now is at 5:42 PM.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A hint of pink

The snow is gone. Rain pounded down all day yesterday, cleaning the streets, the lawn, my steep, slippery driveway (Yay!). All that is left are the mounds of muddy snow in the corners of store parking lots and beside the driveways of neighbours more ambitious than I was.

Before the end, though, I shuffled through boot-top snow to the tip of Baikie Island.

Someone had made a trail here, too. Much appreciated.

At this time of year, the bare alders seem to take on a pinkish tinge towards the tips of the trees; a slight hint of redness against the insipid browns of the winter bush. Looking closely at a branch, I can see why.

Red alder, Alnus rubra. The long, greenish-yellow catkins appear before the leaves do; male catkins have a touch of red now, and will be quite red when they mature. The dark brown cones are last year's fruit.

Look at the very tips of the branches. See the new leaf buds appearing? They all have that bit of red, too.

Another branch, with cones, new catkins, and the pinkish leaf buds.

At this time of year, when the landscape is painted in grey, grey-brown, grey-blue, and grey-green, this glimmer of warmer colours is welcome. Summer is coming, believe it or not, it tells us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Gone fishing

And another mini-video, this time of one of the tubeworms, Spiochaetopterus sp., installed in the edge of a piece of bark, fishing for dinner.

These little guys dig in all over the tank; in the sand, in holes in the hermits' shells, in knots of larger worm coatings, in oyster and clam shells; anything more or less solid or mineral-based. I haven't seen any on seaweed or anemone stalks.

Here's a good photo of a typical "Spio", taken out of its tube.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Eagles for Valentine's Day

One eagle, calling, calling. (Well, squeaking, squeaking.)

Lonely on Baikie Island.

Two eagles. Happy now.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Brave little crab

A crab in the aquarium tries to steal food from the anemone. Trouble is, the anemone fights back.

The anemone tolerates hermit crabs crawling all over her, stealing food, scratching at her sides, just resting. But crabs are not allowed. Her stinging cells (nematocysts) react to the touch of a crab and attempt to trap or poison the invader.

Each nematocyst contains a small venom vesicle filled with actinotoxins, an inner filament, and an external sensory hair. A touch to the hair mechanically triggers a cell explosion, which launches a harpoon-like structure that attaches to the organism that triggered it, and injects a dose of venom in the flesh of the aggressor or prey. This gives the anemone its characteristic sticky feeling. (Wikipedia)

When the crab is large, it is seen as an agressor. A small crab is prey; if caught it is quickly swallowed. The next day, the anemone spits out a clean crab carapace.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Feet in mouths

While I've been snowed in, I've been combing through my hard drive, looking for forgotten projects, and I found a folder full of unprocessed segments for videos, some old, some very old, a few newish. Some, with minimal processing, are worth sharing.

Here's one; a look at barnacles feeding, combining a new clip with a very old one:

(I've skipped the musical accompaniment, which is time-consuming and probably adds little to the video, anyhow.)

And the snow has begun to melt, it's raining, and the snowplow has come down my street. I'm outta here!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cloning is easy!

There were four pink-tipped green anemones in my aquarium. Now there are five.

Two anemones, January 22

Same two, February 5th. The one in focus is stretching out.

February 6. Starting the split.

February 7. Two half-mouths.

February 8. Now each half has a complete circle of tentacles.

February 9. Just holding hands now.

And they've stayed that way, just touching, for the last two days. Each one feeds on its own, and reacts to stimulus (like a poke from a hermit's foot) independently.

Aggregating anemones live on rocks in tide pools and crevices, either alone or in dense masses. Each mass is a group of clones that are genetically identical and of the same sex. To clone themselves, anemones split in half—literally tearing themselves apart (asexual reproduction). Asexual reproduction spreads new animals rapidly over rocks. Aggregating anemones also reproduce sexually by broadcasting eggs and sperm. Sexual reproduction results in new combinations of genes, and larvae that establish new colonies in other locations. (From Monterey Bay Aquarium)

Clones can live jammed tightly together; when they meet another anemone with a different genetic makeup, they fight with poisoned darts, even if they originated from the same parents. Sibling rivalry at it's worst!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Thoughts while cleaning the aquarium

Some time ago, I read a conversation with Dr. Marian Dawkins, where she was asking, "What do animals want?" She makes the point that animals need more than food and shelter; they have feelings about things; they have their own likes and dislikes. Not human likes, but theirs, their own particular quirks.

A few quotes from the conversation:

But also most people think that there's something more to animal welfare than just not dying of a disease. That more is, in my view, what the animals, themselves, want. Do they want access to water; do they want access to cover? Do they want to be with each other? Obviously we can't necessarily give them everything they want. But we can at least find out what it is.
I became interested in the idea that not only could you ask animals what they wanted, to give them a choice, but you could actually ask them how much they wanted something. 
My argument is saying, because we don't understand animal consciousness, we ought to be opening our eyes to the possibility that a great range of animals, not just mammals, not just birds, maybe invertebrates are conscious as well. It seems to me that by saying we don't understand consciousness, you're not closing off animals' consciousness. You're not denying animal consciousness altogether. You're just simply saying we don't know and therefore it might exist in a much wider range of animals.

I was surprised that she mentions invertebrates, although most of her work is with farm animals and pets. It made me look more closely at my tank full of critters, all invertebrates. What do they want? What are they thinking?

Happy hermit?

My cat comes in, wet and cold, and climbs on my lap. I pet her, scratch her ears and neck; she purrs and purrs. I stop scratching and she nudges my hand; "Come on, don't stop now!" She lets me know what she wants. She tells me when she's happy. She lets me know when she's annoyed with me. (And her claws are sharp!)

My neighbour's dog sees me and runs to drop her ball at my feet, then looks at me expectantly. I know what she wants, too. It's not just food and shelter. It's fun. It's companionship. It's someone telling her she's a good girl.

Cleaning the tank, I remove all the animals, each species to their own bowl or basin. I give the hermits and crabs pieces of dried shrimp; they love these. When the tank is clean and refurbished, I move the hermits back, one by one. Each one comes holding his little morsel of shrimp, tightly. Rarely do they drop it on the way over.

If they were kittens, would they be purring?

Orange striped green anemone. Likes shrimp, too. Likes to wander about. Doesn't like hermits.

Miniature worm, fishing for goodies. If he were a dog, would he be thumping those tentacles on the floor?

Baby shore crab, just standing by the glass, watching me over her shoulders.

The crabs like shrimp, but when they're travelling, they don't want any. They walk around and around, trying to find the way home. I move them back, and they start digging. Forget treats! They've got work to do!

Crabs love to dig, but it doesn't seem to have a purpose. When they've finished a burrow, they move out and start to dig somewhere else. Is their digging more akin to my stumbles down a rocky shore, not going anywhere, just there for the pleasure of the sun on my back, the fresh breeze in my face, the good ache in my legs when I'm back home in my favourite chair?

Do shore crabs smile as they dig?

Lined chiton. What does he like? I don't know. Yet.

Pair of amphipods, courting. She's the orange one; he will hold onto her for days.

The amphipods and limpets, the snails and chitons and anemones, don't know I'm here. The crabs do; they come to the glass and wave pincers at me, challenging me, maybe. And the hermits are as curious as a jumping spider. Or a kitten. They watch me. They grab at my fingers, or the chopstick that I sometimes use to move the seaweeds aside. They pick at it, taste it, try to climb it. Curiosity; the desire to know something.

Long ago, I watched a hermit trying to climb a thermometer, just to see what was at the top. She kept falling off, but persisted until I gave her a "ladder". Once she'd reached the top and looked around, she slid back down and walked away, curiosity sated.

I'm curious, too: what do my critters know? What are they feeling? Do they know happiness? Loneliness? Grief?

Just wondering.

Thursday, February 09, 2017


There's a reason these critters are called "hairy". Look at those legs!

Hairy hermit, Pagurus hirsutiusculus. He's hairy in Latin, too.

(Off topic: It's still snowing, hard. Another foot of snow in my driveway overnight. No traffic, no snowplow. It's ok; I'm not going anywhere.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Oyster Bay Park in the snow

Driving slowly because of the falling snow, and because I was rubber-necking, looking for birds, I drifted south to Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, passing the usual flock of cormorants freezing their feet on their chosen rock, (How do they stand it?) and a dozen or so eagles like black angels on the top of tall Christmas trees. Out over the water, a few gulls were catching fresh breezes, but otherwise, the water was empty of bird life.

At Oyster Bay, all was soft, cushiony, silent. White and grey and dark, moody greens.

Now what? The beach is that-away, over the logs and down the slope. There's a winding trail, but where?

There! Some helpful person had stomped his way through the snow, found the gaps in the logs, and left a clear path, just wide enough for my boots. Thank you, whoever it was!

And out on the water, one lonely female bufflehead bounced up and down on the waves.

Snowflakes on a beached log, below the snow line. Looks sort of like a flaky, frozen, otter.

I walked almost to the point, seeing no birds but a distant gull, returned to check out the other half of the park, the nature reserve.

The trail maker had been here, too. But earlier; the path is snowed under.

Rose hips with hats.

And an eagle in a distant tree.

And I went back to the parking lot, stamped the snow off my boots and legs, shook it off my back and hood, cranked up the car heater, and dripped all the way home, counting eagles; another eight.

It's eagle weather. The rest of the birds are laying low.

It has stopped snowing, but more is on the way, they say, and then freezing rain, just to make driving a bit more of an adventure.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Manna from on high

Starlings congregate underneath the feeder tree, catching bits of suet dropped by a messy eater overhead.

Their bills get all gooped up with the greasy suet, and then the snow sticks to it. Half the starlings have snowy beaks.

The source of the falling suet, a starling waiting his turn, and a grumpy sparrow, who will be third in line at the suet feeder.

Fourth in line. May as well wait over here.

It has stopped snowing. The weather people say more is coming tomorrow.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Magenta and blue-green

In a grey and white world, I walked on the salt-washed beach, and found colour.

Boot-top deep snow near Oyster Bay

Sand dollar test and stones.

The purple tones are what's left of the sand dollar's living colour. The green, I think, is algae.

The snow is still coming down.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

And it's still snowing

Tyee Spit in a snowstorm:

Looking across the channel. Quadra Island has become invisible.

Tree with an eagle on top. The eagle kept moving from one tree to another, to a post; nothing seemed to satisfy him. Nothing to see, so nothing to eat.

Gumweed and logs. Looking inland, across the estuary.

Gusting wind brings the snow down at a 45 degree angle.

Sit and rest a while. Or maybe not.

Just another tree

Fallen branch

Feels like shelter.

That was Friday. All day yesterday, all last night, all this morning, it kept on snowing. The weather page promises clouds; right now, we've got big, fluffy snowflakes falling steadily. At least it's warmish under the snow, where my spring flowers are coming right along.

Let it snow!

Snow on last year's hollyhock stem.