Ode to the Nuthatch – Annie Pang

Oh, what a grey, rainy start to November we have had indeed!  For us in Victoria, though not as cold as other parts perhaps, the cool and damp just sink into the bones it seems and makes one wish to crawl under the bed and hibernate for several months!  The house is cold, and I go outside to rake leaves just to warm up, exhausting myself in the process.  But the fresh air and hearing the birds in the trees restores my spirits to a degree, while picking up chestnuts from four separate Horse chestnut trees most certainly does not!  What a relief to put the rake and bucket away and come inside again to carry on, and glancing out the window, to see my little feathered friends.

 I recently heard of a sighting of a Western White butterfly in Medicine Hat, Alberta and it nearly made me cry to see the picture of the lovely creature.  Ironically, I have not seen a butterfly of any kind here in so long now I can’t recall and ….well …this is Victoria!!  We’re supposed to be the “Oasis of Canada”… but it would seem, not for butterflies.  And so I turn to my beloved birds to bring me solace now.

 I call this blog “Ode to the Nuthatch” because these little birds are such remarkable and resilient little characters and they cheer me up from the foulest of moods when they come to see me at the suet feeder daily outside my kitchen window.  Unfortunately, the lighting has been so very poor these rainy days and my time so limited, it is rare that I get what I would call a “good” shot of them so I settle for what is passable and am just grateful I can get any shots at all as these little ones move so very fast, like the bushtits and chickadees.

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P1310109 Nuthatch upside down Nov 2 reva

P1310105 Nuthatch November 1st good shot rev

Having said this, a day later the sun came out and I managed two much better shots with the improved lighting and was able to add them to the blog.

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 But as it gets cooler, the Nuthatches have been coming more often. I say “they” because there are a pair, a male and female, often coming at the same time, and sometimes I even manage a shot of them both on the feeder.  They dart in and out at what appears to be the speed of light. I once was at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and heard a loud knocking on the side of the Nature House only to discover a tiny nuthatch banging away at the wood on the side of the building like a tiny woodpecker, no doubt looking for insects.

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 The camera I use is not a DSLR, but my same old point-and-shoot 18x optical zoom Lumix from years gone by.  At the time it came out, it was the best (in my opinion) camera of its kind on the market and any so-called “improvements” by Panasonic since then have just not been as good.  My friend in Saskatchewan and another friend in Alberta ironically both have the identical model of camera and they are both seasoned photographers with far more experience with cameras than I have ever had.  How funny to have met them through the Alberta Lepidopterists’ Guild and to discover we had this in common.

 Below is a poem I was inspired to write in the wee hours on November 2nd after managing to get some decent shots of these little birds.  Enjoy and may November show us some more sunshine along with the rainy days.

Ode to the Nuthatch

Oh little character so small,

you entertain me now in Fall,

a comic piece of Nature’s art,

your body streamlined as a dart.

Upright, sideways, upside down,

you acrobatic, tiny clown –

sharp upturned beak and bandit eyes,

each day you come to tantalize

and lift my spirits from the grey

of sadness on a rainy day.

And even strolling through the park,

I catch you clinging to the bark

just out of range on tallest trees,

your “Yank! Yank!” call upon the breeze!

You make me laugh, you make me smile

and savor freedom for a while.

Then back, outside my window’s pane

you join the Juncos once again,

oh little character so small –

Come! Entertain me now in Fall…

© Annie Pang November 3, 2014.

Where did the summer go? – Annie Pang

We’ve had a long, hot and very dry spell of it here in Victoria, as I may have mentioned before. As this marks the end of September, I’ve written and enclosed a bit of a poem and some poetographs to go with it. The pics were taken on a few different days in late September, all in Gorge Park.

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A typical day in Victoria sees grey skies with rain coming down in buckets in the morning, only to end with a glorious blue sky and radiant if somewhat watered-down sunshine. Or sometimes it happens in reverse. More often than not, I get poured on if I go for a walk, only to have the sun come out shortly afterwards once I’m home hanging up my wet clothes. Only just today, I was scrambling up the step ladder in the morning to fill the empty suet feeder for the birds as the rain started pelting down. Later in the day, the sky was a lovely clear blue and my clothing was still drying out from my earlier walk! Am I repeating myself?

Yep, it’s Fall all right! With all the hibernation instincts kicking in, while the crispy air beckons me to come outside and enjoy a bit of Nature before it gets too unpleasant. Today there were no camera opportunities during my walk so I was able to go at a more brisk pace…until I conked out, returned home soaked and resumed my chores. Am I repeating myself?

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Ironically, with the rain, my dying zucchini plants are yielding some “fruit” now, one of which will be ready for the cooking pot very soon! A few others are about pickle-size but I am hoping they will get enough sun to grow larger. The temps, rain and wind have really changed markedly in the last week though, so it’s outside with the rake and buckets for me to pick up horse chestnuts. I hear a lot of birdsong while I’m outside so, aside from a sore back, I kind of enjoy doing the chore on a limited basis. Of course, I don’t stand a chance of managing all of them as there are four very large trees and it’s just too much for one “light-weight” like me!

The pic of Tillicum Bridge is from Rocky Point in Gorge Park.

P1220764 View of Tillicum bridge from Rocky point Sept

The blackberries in the park are being picked over by the birds and the wasps are winding down and becoming very temperamental.

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With all this sudden moisture after such a long, dry spell, mushrooms are starting to pop up. I was fascinated with the ones I spotted at the park and have learned that they are Coprinopsis atramentaria, more commonly known as “Inky Caps” or “Common Ink Caps”.

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Read on and happy Fall!

Where did the summer go?

Where did the summer go?

I honestly don’t know.

New birdsong comes, I listen

as sunny raindrops glisten.

Against the sparkling ocean

a stalk of grass in motion

sways in the nipping breeze,

not willing yet to freeze.

Each day the sun dips lower

and I move somewhat slower.

Where did the summer go?

I honestly don’t know.

The berries left for birds

call out with silent words,

but mushrooms do not talk,

as into Fall… I walk…

© Annie Pang September 30, 2014.

In the Early Days of Fall – Annie Pang

How disheartened I was when my custom-made feeder came apart this summer! I had no idea whom I could even call on to fix it (I had not made it) and had neither the tools nor strength to do it myself. Everyone around here is always busy, busy, busy with their own daily tasks and affairs and so I decided it would just have to be left to fall apart for now. Last winter it worked reasonably well, although the suet feeder had to be hung too low so I could refill it from ground level and, as a result, many of the shots I was able to get from the kitchen window were rather distorted. Still I was able to get many good shots and I could reach the feeder to refill it.

As the seasons have been changing, I became more and more concerned about how Andrea and I would keep swapping pictures. Andrea is my best friend, but unfortunately, for me she lives in Saskatchewan. However, she is a determined soul and was not about to let distance stand between her wish to see my pictures of birds they don’t get there, over what she saw as a mere technicality. She made the necessary arrangements and, much to my surprise, I came home from an appointment one day and found the perch repaired with the suet feeder hanging higher up for good measure. This is a much better angle for picture taking!

I was so very touched and pleased, and apparently so were the birds as they seem to have wasted no time in returning. A small foot ladder from Home Hardware solved the problem of accessing the higher placement of the suet feeder and I now look forward to seeing my feathered friends on a daily basis again. I have not been disappointed!

On Tuesday September 16th I was able to get these bird shots. This time the tiny bushtit (that many of you like so much) is a female. The male bushtit has brown eyes while the female has yellow-gold eyes with tiny black pupils. At least this is what I’ve been told by birders. These little critters move very fast, so it is always a neat challenge to get pictures. I hope I don’t bore you with any number of them this coming fall and winter, but they are such cute little characters!

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A pair of Downy Woodpeckers have also been coming along which I included in the poem that follows along with some pictures. The male has a brilliant red tuft of feathers on the back of his head. He fed after the female and then, much to my surprise, parked himself on the trunk of the feeder stand and ….had a nap!

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P1300733 Male Down headshot great rev 4

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There is also a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches but as yet no good shots. And as always, there are the House Sparrows, House Finches and Starlings that are starting to show up now that they’ve found an easy food source. I am not as enthused about these birds since they were introduced and do their best to pester and crowd out other indigenous species.

The last of the moths are also still making the odd appearance at night, so I did manage to keep two overnight and get some shots of them during the day before they took to the air.

The first one in the poem (and poetograph) is a Brown-lined Looper. I’ve had quite a few of them these last few weeks.

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The second one is from Europe, known as the Lesser Yellow Underwing, so-called because when it spreads its wings there is a brilliant yellow underneath. Unfortunately for me, this time it took off after sitting on my hand without spreading its wings, however I did see it flashing yellow in flight and was lucky enough to get a close up shot of its sweet little face. It is a remarkable sensation to feel their tiny feet on my hand when they do decide to stay there long enough for me to take pictures. Then…all too soon they are off to live out their short lives and carry on until their days are over.

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P1300717 Lesser Y U faceshot 8

On top of a fair amount of yard work, indoor work and grocery shopping, I took time out of a busy day to take these pictures of the moths….always a tricky business at best. On a lucky day, like today, they hang around long enough, but sometimes they are off as soon as I remove the lid from their overnight “guest chambers”.

The frustrating part for me in the kitchen, where I see the birds, is that it is usually when I’m up to my elbows in rubber gloves and dishes or juicing veggies or other messy activities (it is a kitchen after all!) that the best photo ops occur! But isn’t that the way of all things?

I hope you enjoy this little tale, poem, and poetographs, and on a hope and a prayer, my suet feeder stand will stay up for some time to come. As it is made from an old tree trunk and branches, I know its days are numbered, but hopefully it will see me through for a while.

My very best to you and yours as the days get shorter and the tell tale nip of fall becomes evident in the air. We’ve been fortunate to have all this sunshine and it comes as a shock when the skies turn grey. I am grateful to Andrea for insuring my birds come to keep me company, as well as the generous help from the kind fellow who repaired the feeder.

Read on, have a look at the poetographs and pics after the poem and keep in touch. It is always good to keep in contact. For someone as “low-tech” as I am, it is nice to hear from people….and to see my birds and have Nature in my life.

In the early days of fall

In the morning come to call

in the early days of fall

there’s a lady at my perch

on a greedy eating search.

Eyes of yellow-gold has she

but she pays no heed to me.

With her flock she’ll feast on food

in her rather thankless mood.

Messy Downys in a pair

never waiting for their share.

She eats first, off in a flap;

he eats next – then has a nap!

Looking like a carpet cloth

you may say “it’s just a moth!”

but then it dances through the air

more brilliantly than Fred Astaire!

Here is one more in my palm

tiny feet a soothing balm.

Sweet of face and large of eye

off it flies to live and die…

Soon the moths will all be gone

and birds I will depend upon

to keep away the darkest thought

reminding me…..today…..

is all I’ve got…

© Annie Pang September 16, 2014.

P1300731 Male Downy looking at me with caption 3

9 km Bog Revisited – Terry Thormin

I took another trip up to 9 km. Bog two days ago. I was particularly interested in photographing two things, the Swamp Gentian, Gentiana douglasiana, a plant that is quite common in the bog, but that I have never taken the time to photograph, and the Ringed Emerald, Somatochlora albicincta, a dragonfly which is also common, and I have tried to photograph many times, but have never succeeded. The Swamp Gentian was the easy one, although it was certainly not a case of simply finding a plant and photographing it. These gentians grow low in among the sedges and as a result are difficult to photograph with a nice clean background. After spending quite a bit of time looking for a suitable plant I finally realized that there was only one way I was going to get the photo I wanted. I plucked a single plant out of the ground and wedged it in a crack in one of the many bare tree stumps in the bog and got my photo that way.

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I try avoiding doing this sort of thing, but when a plant is so common that you trample them with almost every single step you take, somehow sacrificing a single plant for the sake of a photo doesn’t seem that bad, especially considering that I am one of only a handful of people who ever even visit this bog.

While I was at it I also photographed two other plants using the same technique. Bog cranberry, Oxycoccus oxycoccos, is another tough one to photograph as it is a low creeper with tiny leaves and flowers. The tiny flowers of this plant remind me of miniature shooting stars, Dodecatheon sp.

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My final plant was the Great Sundew, Drosera anglica, which I have photographed before, but when I found a particularly robust plant with lots of leaves and some flowers as well, I couldn’t resist. Again I used the same technique, but in this case I just lifted the chunk of moss it was growing in from the ground and placed the whole thing on a log. Because nothing was rooted to the ground I was able to replace plant and moss right back where they came from.

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I held little hope of getting the emerald’s photo as I had tried many times before without success, but well, you have to keep trying. The problem is that the few perched individuals I have seen have been very wary and have flown before I could get close enough to get a photo, and the flying individuals, which are quite common, only seem to hover very briefly. On this occasion I was siting on my portable 3-legged stool taking photos of another plant when an emerald stopped and hovered almost right in front of me. I quickly got my camera up and took a burst of about 5 photos, then the dragonfly moved slightly and hovered again. Another burst of photos and again the dragonfly moved slightly and stopped to hover. Twice more it repeated before it finally decided to fly off, leaving me amazed and ecstatic. Although many of the images were out of focus because the dragonfly was moving slightly, I managed to get seven shots that were quite good. So here are two photos I’m quite happy with.

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Dragonfly Time – Terry Thormin

The earliest dragonflies up here on Vancouver Island start flying around mid-April. But it is not until late June or early July, depending on the year, that things start to get really active. Well things are active now and I though I would write a short blog about it. My favorite place to photograph dragonflies is Little River Pond, a man-made pond a short 8 minute drive from my home. I have recorded 20 species of dragonflies there and on a typical summer day will regularly see 10 or more of those species. I spent a pleasant 2 hours there yesterday (June 25) and although I only saw 9 species, it was the number of individuals and level of activity that was impressive. Here are a few of the photos I took.

I will often provide a perch for dragonflies at Little River Pond. This is particularly helpful for the Common Whitetail which normally perches on bare ground. On this occasion a Four-spotted Skimmer decided to use the perch, and I couldn’t resist taking its photo. At a distance this is one of our drabbest dragonflies, but up close a freshly emerged individual is a real gem.

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The Blue Dasher will often land on a perch I provide, but I much prefer it on a natural perch. The problem is that often it perches fairly deep in the grass where getting a shot without a cluttered background is difficult. On this occasion it landed on a grass stem that was isolated enough from the rest of the vegetation that I was able to get the out-of-focus background I wanted.

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That Common Whitetail that I was hoping would land on my perch actually did many times and I got several shots of it. In the end though my favorite shot was one on a grass stalk. This was a coulorful grass stalk, aging and turning orange, and I had seen a Four-spotted Skimmer land on it and thought that would make a good photo. I set myself up and waited, and before the skimmer landed, a whitetail decided to land briefly and I got this shot. I decided to leave the dragonfly fairly small in the photo to enhance the composition with more of the grass stalk.

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I couldn’t resist adding one last photo. I love the challenge of shooting dragonflies in flight and on this occasion the shot I got was of a pair of Cardinal Meadowhawks flying in tandem and ovipositing in the pond. For those of you who love dragonflies as much as I do, happy dragonfly hunting, and for those of you who haven’t developed the passion yet, I hope a little bit of this rubs off.

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9 km. Bog’s Smaller Plants – Terry Thormin

I went to 9 km. Bog yesterday with the local botany group, part of Comox Valley Nature. The bog is right at the 9 km. point on the road up to Mount Washington and is at an elevation of about 800 meters. This is a beautiful little bog that is a favorite location for me, mostly because of the dragonflies, but also because it has many unusual and showy species of plants.

9 km. Bog 4b

On this trip however we were exploring the bog fairly early in the season and many of the more spectacular flowers were not in bloom as yet. But with a couple of very good amateur botanists along we were finding some of the smaller and less showy plants that can still make great photos. I have selected four plants that I thought made quite attractive photos. The first is a deer fern, Blechnum picant. I’ve wanted to photograph this fern for quite some time, but I have never found a plant that I could isolate enough from the background to make it stand out. On this occasion though I decided to photograph a single fiddlehead. One of the neat things about this fern is that there are two types of fronds, sterile fronds that are often in a whorl close to the ground and fertile fronds that stick straight up from the middle of the plant. This photo is of a single fertile frond as it is just unfolding.

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The next plant is the seed head of the leather-leaved saxifrage, Leptarrhena pyrolifoli. This is one of the earliest bloomers in the bog, and we were too late to see it in flower. I have never seen this plant in flower, but my botanist friends informed me that it is more impressive when it is in seed anyway.

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The next two plants are both sedges. I tend to overlook sedges for the most part, first because they are generally not very impressive, and second, because it takes an expert to identify them. Fortunately we had an expert with us and we were able to identify several species of sedges. The first one is the few-flowered sedge, Carex pauciflora, a tiny little sedge that is easily overlooked but was quite abundant in the bog although it is rather uncommon in the valley. To get this photo I had to pick three stems and stick them in a crack in a log to isolate them from the background.

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The final plant, and the second sedge is the many-flowered sedge, Carex pluriflora. Although quite small and easily overlooked, I think it is a very pretty sedge and makes a great photo. This one was easily photographed in situ.

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I have set myself the task of photographing as many species of plants as I can from Vancouver Island, and this trip added a few. I have largely ignored the sedges so it was nice to be able to get photos of a couple of species the could be identified.

The Pesky Pest Promenade – by Annie Pang

Well, this spring has been one to end all springs!  I have no pictures that go with this particular story or poem, but let’s just say that I’ve taken quite the beating of late.  It never occurred to me to take pictures of any of the mice I’ve had to trap over the last months (since March!!) as they ended up dead, except for the ones in my suet feeder.

It looks like I won’t be feeding the birds this winter as a result since I do not have my cats to keep the mice away from the inside of the house.
 
One of the ladies who comes to help me with housework happened to point out a wasps’ nest a few weeks ago and yet I decided to just live and let live……until…..

Well, I walked into the large back room that used to have the cats hanging out in it and was cleaning up when I heard a very odd sound coming from the walls.  Oh Lordie. I could hear the chewing from a meter away!  It was carpenter ants!!!

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! 

I went weak at the knees and was glad I didn’t own a GUN!!!  “Enough already!” I screamed inside!  Then I had to call a pest control company.
 
Well, today all but the mice were taken care of.  A very kind friend had been clearing away all the rotted wood from beneath and beside my old, dilapidated sundeck along with old plastic pots, junk, vinyl siding…..oh, the list was endless as was the junk left behind!  It was good timing that he finished the day before I had scheduled the pest control treatment because although I was only planning on having the back wall drilled into and treated for the ant invasion, the pest control guy ended up spraying underneath the cleared out ant haven under the deck, and even suited up to get rid of that wasps’ nest.

Of course this meant that the three entrances to my house that I use were all off limits because of chemicals or angry wasps, so I ended up doing a very odd thing indeed.  I had to use the front door which I never do!
 
So I wrote a poem that I hope makes you laugh.  It was a tough day, but I did get a pic of a Western Tiger Swallowtail outside my home on some phlox once I made my exit to go over to someone else’s house for a few hours (the friend who had kindly done all the clearing and hauling away of junk).  Sometimes you just have to get the heck away!  We ended up having a really great talk about my favourite subject too. Butterflies!

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Then I went for a walk in the park where I managed a shot of a Robin with what I thought was a freshly plucked worm in its beak, and a bumblebee which I have yet to identify. I have since had an email from Cris Guppy who states “I believe the “worm” in the robin’s beak is a pupa of a cranefly – the cranefly larvae eat the roots of your lawn. So yet another pest, although you can ignore it unless your grass starts to die.”

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During my walk, I met up with an older gentleman, and he was very interested in learning about insects, from carpenter ants to butterflies!  Yes, it was definitely GOOD to get away from the house and out into Nature…just for a nice and healing break and to feel useful again.

A special thanks to Gabe for all his help today, for the lovely cup of tea and conversations about the future of the Gorge Park Community Garden and what part I may end up playing in all this, and to my good friends Andrea and Charley who kind of coerced me into doing this blog in their gentle and kind way.
   
If I manage to wade through my challenges, I think I may find that life has its rewards. It always seems to come back to how we relate to ourselves and Nature. Having said that, I will add that I do wish some aspects of Nature would stay out of my house!!!

Enjoy the poem and hey, as you can see I have even included some pictures after all, taken after my pesky ordeal for you to enjoy. Please excuse any typos as it is late (again) and I’m not quite as sharp as I’d like.
 
All the very best to you and yours,
Annie 
 
The Pesky Pest Promenade
 
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me
the pests have left me very weak at knee.
The humble ant, a common summer feature,
was chewing up my wall, the nasty creature!
All trembling as I’m no procrastinator
I called the local pest exterminator.
He came out to investigate things here
but couldn’t with his rather deafened ear
pick up the noise of all those ants a’munching
within my walls, while I could hear them crunching
a meter from the wall; but he agreed
to stop the critters’ too-destructive feed.
A few days later, just around the bend,
the man returned, my misery to end.
But then refused to please remove his shoes
so now I’ve got the dirty carpet blues!
The ants, I hope are in a better place,
than chewing up my walls right to my face.
And as my sanity was not the best,
it didn’t help to find a waspy nest
outside next to my favourite exit door;
I didn’t think I could take any more!
My hopes in being free of pesky raid
had really long ago begun to fade,
but the exterminator took his spray
and got ‘em too, their nest he took away.
Of course, all good things always come in thrice
and so I still have darling, pesky mice!!!!
Now too smart to go after baited traps,
they like my underwear drawers for their naps.
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me!
Sometimes I wish that I’d been born a tree
or else a butterfly now flying free,
though they all have their troubles as do I
they live their lives until the day they die…

© Annie Pang May 31st 2014

Belly Plants of Helliwell – Terry Thormin

One of the biggest challenges in plant photography is photographing “belly plants”, plants that are so small and low to the ground that you have to get right down on your belly to see them properly and photograph them. The biggest challenge is often getting everything you want in focus and still maintaining a soft, muted background. I will often search such a patch of flowers for some time before selecting the one I want to try, only to find when I get down there that there is something wrong with the plant or the angle is all wrong. A recent trip to Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and mainland B.C. provided an opportunity to try my hand at several such plants. Here are some of the results.

The first species I have included is the poverty clover, Trifolium depauperatum var. depauperatum. This is a blue listed plant in B.C., with populations found only at Helliwell and in the Victoria area. For this photograph I decided to include some of the old, dried-up flowers and some of the leaves. I often find myself concentrating solely on the flowers and forgetting to photograph the rest of the plant, which is at times essential for positive identification of the species.

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My second plant is tomcat clover, Trifolium willdenowii, another pretty little clover with a much wider distribution. I have seen this species in a number of areas on Vancouver Island.

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The next species is another clover, white-tipped clover, Trifolium variegatum. Once again I decided to get the leaves in the photograph, making the challenge of depth of field more difficult. When I am searching for a plant like this I look for one that is already isolated from it’s background, is in good shape and that I can photograph with the sun behind me if I am out on a sunny day. My preference is to shoot on overcast days that are calm so that I can shoot at slower shutter speeds without any problems. The day I was at Helliwell was sunny and with enough of a breeze to make longer exposures difficult.

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The next flower is another clover, but one that is yet to be identified. Fortunately one of the people on the trip is a very good amateur botanist, and hopefully she will eventually come up with an identification. This is in the same genus as the others, Trifolium, but identification to species will just have to wait.

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Four tiny little clovers, and that was not all I saw and photographed. Rather than include all my photographs I decided to include just one last species. This is a clover that is not a clover. It is called the dwarf owl’s-clover, Tryphisaria pusilla. There are over 300 species of clovers world-wide and all are in the genus Trifolium. The dwarf owl’s-clover is not only not a clover (the genus name is a dead give-away), but is not even in the same family as the clovers. Clovers are in the pea family, Fabaceae, whereas the dwarf owl’s-clover is in the family Orobanchaceae along with the paintbrushes and louseworts. This is a small, rather non-descript plant that is easily overlooked. The flowers are incredibly tiny, and beyond the capabilities of my camera to photograph individually. Look for the deep maroon objects with a noticeable hook at the top. Although this plant is not considered to be threatened, it is not commonly found in the Comox Valley.

Dwarf Owl's-clover - Triphysaria pusilla 2a

The Mourning Cloak in May, Gorge Park – Annie Pang

It may well be a year since I last wrote a blog so I thought it was high time I did.  So much has changed on this planet, just in the passed year.  It boggles the mind.  Almost everyone I meet has gone so hi-tech that I feel like a fish out of water.  So getting out in nature is all the more grounding and important, even if my walks are brief these days. 
 
Here in Victoria it is hot and the sun feels scorching.  Many friends and people I meet when I am out have told me how different the sun is feeling and I also feel it more and more myself. A harshness that seems to grow with each passing season.  It is troubling.
 
Former sun worshippers I know are seeking shade, although many younger folks don’t seem to realize the dangers of our thinning ozone layer.  I admit I have very low tolerance for heat…a strange thing for someone born and raised in Toronto.  But I haven’t lived in Toronto for 35 years now and I have witnessed such changes in Victoria’s climate, especially in the last 15 years, that I find it truly alarming.
 
These days, I must go out completely covered prior to 4pm to protect myself (doctor’s orders!) no matter how hot it is.  Not great for looking for butterflies, but the sun on my skin doesn’t feel pleasant this time of year the way it used to and after this past year I know only too well how deadly the sun’s rays can be.
 
This last week I have seen five different species of butterflies in Gorge Park but they were not landing until I walked into the territory of a Mourning Cloak this afternoon and got lucky.  Happily, the companion I was with at the time was happy to wait with me while I tried a few “tricks” to get this lovely butterfly to land so I could get a few shots.  And few they were indeed!  This butterfly is probably one of our longest local living butterflies, sometimes living for up to 11 months.  It is a hibernator, and over winters even in the prairies.

Mourning cloak 1
 
I had seen it a few days prior but it was illusive and I was short of time and never saw it except in passing.  Today I had a bit more time and it definitely had a territory to defend, and my hat seemed to be attracting it.  Its wings are tattered as one would expect in an old butterfly.  It will mate and die and then in the fall or maybe sooner, it’s offspring will emerge.  I have never had the luck of finding a fresh, young Mourning Cloak though, so all my pictures are of older ones. 
 
I believe the Mourning Cloak is so-named because it’s wings are dark and trimmed with a creamy-lacy fringe on the dorsal sides of the wings, resembling a long, dark cloak.  I wanted to share this with you and hope you get out and look for butterflies this spring and summer.  With the climate changing so quickly and society speeding up faster than I feel I can keep up, my time in Nature becomes more and more precious to me. 
 
It is something we just can’t afford to take for granted any longer and there are no easy answers any longer.  My only answer is to keep writing when I can, and try to raise awareness where I can.
 
Be well and I do hope you enjoy this latest tale, poem and two poetographs.  If I happen on other wildlife including butterflies, I hope to write about them again.

Mourning cloak 2
 
The Mourning Cloak
 
In the stifling heat getting late in the day
while walking a path in the middle of May
inhaling the pollen ’til I thought I might choke
I happened upon an old Mourning Cloak!
Over wintered, now flying so wild and free,
it flew dizzying circles all about me.
In the stifling heat getting late in the day
it flirted and skirted in territorial play
gliding upwards and downwards and this way and that
never landing until …well, I took off my hat!
I then set it down on a branch in a tree
and prayed that the butterfly’d come look and see.
For so few butterflies have I had time to find
too chained to the drudgery of the daily grind.
I asked once again, “please dear creature please land,
I’m weary and almost too tired to stand”.
It came!  It returned and it landed right there
and then opened it’s wings up both tattered and fair.
I’m old, said those wings, but there’s still time to fly
and I got in these shots before it flew to the sky.
How grateful I was with my spirit renewed
that this creature of God had so altered my mood.
Oh yes, I was stifled and terribly hot
but for this moment in time, all my troubles forgot
I was dancing with Nature like an old Garry oak,
a bit old and tattered like the old Mourning Cloak.
It was time to go home and get out of the heat
and leave the dear soul to return or retreat
and be wild and free with the time that it had;
I walked up the path then, both happy and sad…
The full moon has risen and the heat carries on;
it is night as I write in the hours of pre-dawn.
Tomorrow will come far too soon it would seem
leaving this day behind in a hot, hazy dream…
© Annie Pang May 14, 2014

Swallow Dogfights – Terry Thormin

Well I haven’t posted for over a year now. I just found that I had taken on too much and decided to back off for a while. Now that I am back I am approaching this differently. I will not attempt to follow any schedule and I will probably concentrate more on the photography and less on the text. I am after all primarily a nature photographer.

A couple of weeks ago I went down to Union Bay, about a 20 minute drive south of Comox on the east side of Vancouver Island, to check to see if the Purple Martins were back at the nest boxes at the boat launch. Purple Martins on Vancouver Island nest in individual boxes set over the water rather than the large, communal boxes that most people are used to. As it turned out, the martins did not return to these boxes this year, although other boxes along the coast are now fully occupied. Instead the use of the boxes at Union Bay, and there are only two of them, was being fought over by several Tree Swallows and a couple of Violet-green Swallows. I spent an hour or so trying to get photos of these birds and here are the results.

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As you can see this was one angry swallow.

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Ready to defend it’s nest box at all cost.

 

 

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Going in for the kill!

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Looks like it is time to give up and let the other bird have the nest box.

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Most of the time the fights were between Tree Swallows as in the first four photos. It was during these fights that I was best able to get photos as often the birds would be relatively stationary and predictably in front of the box entrance. Only once did a Violet-green Swallow come in for a landing when I was ready, and then I just got a shot without any interaction.

Ten days later when I went back to check on the boxes, things had settled down and it appeared that both boxes were occupied by Tree Swallows.

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