Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another new trail

I've been meaning to try out a trail along the Stamp River that was completed last year.

The Angler's Trail, or Sayachlas ta saa nim as it's known in Nuu-chah-nulth, follows the water for about 7.5km. The guide says it has fawn lilies. It does.

There are 29 species of fawn lily in North America. They are also called trout lilies, glacier lilies and dog's tooth violets.

I believe the ones on the open sunny edges of this path are Erythronium oregonum, aka giant white fawn lily.

For this trail it's best to park a car at either end and go in one direction. I was on my own, so didn't have that option.

Round about six kilometers in, as I realized I didn't want to do the route again in reverse, I wondered why I hadn't put my bike at one end.

Didn't turn out to be a problem. I went out to the road at the north end and picked up a ride from a nice young woman.
She lives by the trailhead and said she didn't even know it was there.
She says there're wolves in the area. She hears them at night. I saw some wolfish looking scat on the road near her house. Cool.

Heard lots of birds. Spotted a few. The white-crowned sparrows stood out. Didn't stick around for a portrait though.

This red-breasted sapsucker did. Busy drilling the big old Douglas fir, it hardly noticed me snapping away. The north end of the trail goes though a decadent forest. The kind that wants to make you weep at the feet of the giant firs and cedars.

Near the end of the trail I spotted this red beetle hanging in the air. Then it settled on a cedar branch.

It's a netwing beetle, specifically (sorry folks, I can't stop myself) Dictyopterous simplicipes. It's a species of the north Pacific lowlands. Adults feed on sap and are active in April and May. Young feed on the bark of dead trees.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Timely post

Read this today about whale watching boats breaking the rules of whale watching.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A whale of a time

With the ongoing uncertainty in my current job I'm leafing through my options and one of them is whale watching.

I worked as an onboard biologist for one season out of Victoria and, like any job, it had its low points but looking back I remember spending my day roaming around a gorgeous bit of the world looking at orcas and other marine life.

That sounds all right.

I always seem to find an ethical problem in my paid pursuits. With whale watching I had trouble feeling good about being part of a fleet of high-powered motor boats following a pod of endangered whales around day in and day out.

There are two kinds of orcas seen in the Pacific northwest – residents and transients.

Residents are large family groups of killer whales that eat salmon exclusively. There are three resident pods that stick around the Coast Salish Sea between Seattle in the south and the Georgia Strait up to about Vancouver in the north, with lots of roaming beyond that home area.

I've been keeping an eye on the industry and noted a few births in the resident pods this year. That's good news as this group is listed as endangered with just under 90 whales divided between three pods. The two biggest threats to the animals are pollution and dwindling salmon stocks.

The baby above was born the year I was on the water, 2006.

This spring there have been a lot of transient killer whale sightings. The transients travel far and wide in smaller groups (often a single female with one or two of her offspring, or lone males) and hunt marine mammals.

The most interesting website I came across is the Cascadia Research project that's following the movements of the transients here.

The other whales commonly seen in this region are the minke, grey and humpback whales, baleen feeders that strain small sea life through what amounts to sieves in their mouths.

This is the nose of a mature female humpback whale. She hung out between Victoria Harbour and Race Rocks with her calf for several weeks in October 2006.

There was a grey whale sighting in the Alberni Inlet just a few weeks ago. Highly unusual but indicates the health of the formerly industrial waterfront is improving.

The paper mill used to dump wood fibre into the Inlet and it formed a thick mat on the ocean floor, choking out life. A few years back people looked into whether it could be removed as a restoration project but found that now a new layer has settled over top and marine life has colonized this sub-sea floor again. Disturbing the new habitat would be too damaging, they decided.

Grey whales scoop mud from the bottom and strain the edible bits out of it. I wonder if that whale was able to do that or if it left the Inlet hungry.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What a difference two weeks makes

At the first hummingbird banding session (see April 7 below) we had a total of four birds.
Round two, we captured and measured 135 feisty jewels. Eighteen of those were recaptures from previous years including one from 2005 that must be at least five years old.
We could have caught many more but we were limited by a small crew of three. That meant two people on the traps and one banding non-stop. I caught two at a time more than once. This is what the feeder looked like at the end of the day (noon) when we took off the traps.

Male rufous hummingbirds, like this one, make up the vast majority at the feeders. They fly ahead of the females from the southern wintering grounds to establish a good territory up here, and further north, where they nest.

We were surprised to see a fair bit of territorial behaviour in the males at this point in the season. My readings indicate they are pretty easygoing during migration Maybe the local boys are chasing the other males off.

Females hung back and waited for the ruckus to settle before buzzing in for a sip.

If you feed humming birds at home, don't use the dyed solution or mix the solution too sweet, both can harm the bird's kidneys.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Return to Burde Street ponds

I guess once the Northern pintail shows up, that's it, the party is on.

Today, on my favourite walk, I saw little bit of everything and managed to photograph some of it between flash showers.

First eye-catcher was a wood duck. They are the type that looks like a decoy. Every decoy painter choses this dabbler for a model because their plummage looks unreally real.

Also new to the pond were groups of ring-billed ducks and an Audobon's yellow-rumped warbler flitting about. I plan to capture a photo of that adorable little songbird before it heads south again.

Instead, I captured the stately – and sedentary – swamp lantern (aka skunk cabbage).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bird's eye view

Of Port Alberni.
Including a log boom in the Alberni Inlet (lower left) and Mt. Arrowsmith looking much less towering than usual (upper right).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

New character at the pond

Signs of spring.

Noticed a new duck amongst the buffleheads and Canada geese at the pond on my run a few days ago.

Can we have and ID please? Northern pintail. Dapper duck. The bill is such a baby blue, it looks painted. (The one in front is an American widgeon, put that name to the tune American woman)
The Northern pintail is one of the first ducks to return to their northern nesting grounds in North America.

In French it's called canard pilet. That has a nice ring.
In Spanish it's known as pato golondrino.
Now, I don't know what the Spanish have against the pintail, or what they know that I don't, but the online Spanish-English dictionary says that golondrino means a boil in the armpit.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Day 1

First hummingbird banding session started at 6:47 last Saturday morning. That doesn't sound bad, but our crew of four met up an hour before to head down the road to the site.

6:47 was the first bird. A frisky, and cold, male rufous hummingbird. Young by my estimate.

The next bird was 10:07 a.m. A recapture, which is always exciting. Stan, the master bander, didn't know what year the bird was from (has to check records at home), but at the very least you know the little male hummingbird you hold in your hands has made at least two round trips to southern wintering grounds and back here.

That was the bright side. It was a cold morning to be sitting around doing nothing. Sure, the odd kingfisher, song sparrow and bald eagle livened things up, but it's still frosty right after sunrise.

Then the sun broke out over the trees and the mountains and it was a glorious day and we went home.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

West Coasters

Thinking about a spring trip to the real west coast - Tofino, Ucluelet side of Vancouver Island - and I'm amazed I haven't been over since last September.

That was a great trip, though. Put my camping gear and bike in the back of the car, set up at Surf Junction (good spot, equally far from both towns and well-situated for the big beach and intimate Half Moon Bay).

Campground had outdoor jacuzzi and composting toilets, thumbs up on both.

I didn't drive at all while there, and popped back and forth between Long Beach during the sunny days and Half Moon Bay for sunsets.

Snapped some shots of tide pool life at Half Moon.

Here we have pisaster.

Notice the white sticky-looking strings between the sea star and the rock?

Those are tube feet. Starfish have this very cool hydro-mechanical system that operates these appendages on their bottom (non-dayglo coloured) side.

Tube feet are only found in echinoderms (which also includes sea cucumbers). The tubes and suction cup feet work thanks to a complex water vascular system that the early Romans would have envied.

The feet are for walking. Slowly.

Other Half Moon inhabitants (that I photographed) with interesting habits are anemones. Never mind the let-it-all-hang-out posture, look at the little flecks of stuff stuck to the anemone's body.

Bits of shell and other tide pool detritus. Makes them look sloppy. But a-ha. There's always a purpose. In an elegant little study, a young marine biologist (not me) demonstrated that the anemones purposely cover themselves to protect their bodies from damaging ultra violet light.

The undergrad put one group of anemones under UV light and in a short time they had collected a protective layer of sea crap. A second group, not exposed to UV light, kept themselves free of gunk. When that group was moved under the intense light they were soon shielded by broken shells and pebbles.

Further supporting this. The substance that gives anemone tentacles their pearly irridescent colours also reflects UV light to protect the delicate appendages. You rarely see stuff stuck on the tentacles.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

To the outdoors

The first truly spring day on Sunday and I tried out a new trail in city limits.

Still need to explore further but an hour's walk didn't show me all of the Maquinna trail system here in Port Alberni.

I did like what I saw and know it will be a viable alternative, on bike or foot, to my favourite in-town trail.

The Burde Street Ponds, or Rogers Creek Nature Trail or whatever it's called is four loop trails that intersect at picturesque spots, like Rogers creek. Plus side branches I haven't wandered down yet. It's mature second-growth forest, steep hikes up cliffs, flat strolls on old rail bed. There are two ponds rimmed in yellow lilies at the right time of year, but always alive with ducks and beaver families and sometimes a turtle or two.

It's five minutes from my home. I can get on a loop and do an hour-long cross country run or take a 45-minute bird watching walk.

I've seen a barred owl mobbed by about a half dozen robins in broad daylight there. A warbler I'd never seen before. Woodpeckers. Winter wren. Cooper's hawk. All the other usual suspects.

I've been looking for salamanders for a few years and I saw one there. Right on the trail.

I love it. I use it a lot and I thank the people who created it very much.