Blog Archives

Costa Rica revisited

I know, this is not Vancouver Island, but I just couldn’t resist. I spent 23 days in Costa Rica back in 2008. At that time my camera was a point-and-shoot Canon Powershot S5 IS. I also had a Canon 430EX flash that was used on many of my shots. My main purpose of the trip was the photography and for this reason I did not go with a group, but rather on my own. I also only visited three lodges, Selva Verde in the lowlands for 6 days, Rancho Naturalista at middle elevation for 9 days and Savegre Mountain Lodge at high elevation for 8 days.

After getting back home I processed the images to the best of my, and the software’s ability and posted them on my site on Pbase. In 2011 I switched to Smugmug and ended up reworking some of the images at that time. Just recently I was looking at my images on Smugmug and I realized that there were some that I knew I could improve. The software (I use Photoshop Elements) has improved greatly, and so has my ability. Ultimately most of the images were reworked at least a little, and some quite dramatically. In fact a few of my favorite images are ones that I had totally rejected at first and this go around I was able to make them look much better.

I had intended to keep the images to 10, but when I had narrowed it down to 14 I was really struggling to eliminate any more, so I decided to keep them all. So here they are with some notes. Hope you enjoy and if you want to see more of my Costa Rica images look at my slideshow gallery here: https://terrythormin.smugmug.com/CostaRica/Costa-Rican-Slideshow/The-Best-of-Costa-Rica/ .

Central Valley 4aThis is a view from the highway between San Jose and Selva Verde, my first stop. It is the Central Highlands looking down into the Sarapiqui River Valley. The orange trees are Mountain Immortelle Trees, Erythrina poeppigiana, and are a favorite of hummingbirds and tanagers.

Emerald Toucanet 7b - ChinThis Emerald Toucanet was photographed at Chinchona, a small town in the Central Highlands about half way between San Jose and Selva Verde. An enterprising local set up a platform and bird feeders that attract a good variety of birds and this has become a regular stop for birders and photographers.

Green Basilisk Lizard baby 5b - SVThis is a young Green Basalisk Lizard, also know as the Jesus Christos Lizard for it’s ability to run across water. Check out the very long toes on the hind feet. This was a very common lizard at Selva Verde, especially along the shores of the Sarapiqui River.

Long-nosed Bats 4c - SVI took a couple of boat trips along the Sarapiqui River and saw a good variety of wildlife. One of the highlights for me though was these little Long-nosed Bats. They roost during the day in vertical rows on tree truncks overhanging the river. Most of the time they are so well camouflaged against the bark of the tree they are almost impossible to see. This was the one time they stuck out like a sore thumb.

Red Potato Beetle - Leptinotarsa rubiginosa 1b - SVThis is a Red Potato Beetle,  Leptinotarsa rubiginosa. I spent a fair bit of time looking for interesting insects at all three lodges. At Selva verde, because many of the trails were elevated, and covered boardwalks. it was easy to go out looking even in the rain or at night.

Mantled Howler Monkey 14b - SVAlthough Mantled Howler Monkeys were quite common at Selva Verde, they managed to hide very well in the tree tops, and I heard them far more often than I saw them. On this one occasion a small troop of them came out to the trees right beside the main road that runs past the lodge and I managed to get a series of photos including this shot.

Snowcap in flight 1e - RNOne of the highlights among the hummingbirds was the Snowcap. This pretty little hummer is endemic to southern Nicaragua, Costa Rica and western Panama. Here it is feeding at Porterweed, a native plant that is commonly used as hedges and is closely related to verbena. The best place for this species is Rancho Naturalista

Crimson-collared Tanager 4c - RNWhen I was planning the trip, the one place I was adamant I was going to visit was Rancho Naturalista. That’s because I had heard of the bird feeder setup there and had seen many photos taken of birds at the feeders. This is a Crimson-collared Tanager, a regular visitor to the feeders.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker 6b

Another frequent visitor to the Rancho Naturalista bird feeders was the Black-cheeked Woodpecker. This photo was originally a total reject until I looked at it recently and realized that I could easily clean up the messy background.

Collared Aracari 7b - RNI love the toucans, with their large colourful bills. This is a Collared Aracari, a smaller member of the toucan family and a regular at the feeders at Rancho Naturalista.

Moth C2b - RNI have never been able to put a name to this beautiful little moth. Another reason Ranch Naturalist appealed to me is their black light setup for attracting insects at night. Not only does it bring in some great insects like this moth, but it also attracts a number of species of birds that feed on the insects and don’t go to the regular feeders.

Green Violetear 4d - SavI really enjoyed trying to photograph the hummingbirds, and in the end I got photos of 23 species. This is the Violet-green Hummingbird, I high elevation species in Costa Rica that I photographed at Savegre Mountain Lodge. This species has wandered as far north as southern Canada.

Walking Stick B1c - SavWhen I first saw this walking stick, I thought “Wow, this is bizarre”, and I still think the same. It really looked like it was covered in moss, and I am not at all convinced that this is natural. I would really love to hear from an expert as to what is going on here. Again photographed at Savegre Mountain Lodge.

Collared Redstart 1c - SavMy last photo is a Collared Redstart, a species of tropical warbler. One of my favorite trip birds, it was oblivious to my presence, and several times I found myself backpeddling because it was too close for the camera to focus. This is another high altitude species found at Savegre Mountain Lodge.

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!

P1220183

P1220182

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.”

P1220187

P1220188

P1220189

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

The Garden of my Dreams – Annie Pang

Perhaps this is a strange title for a blog, but it centers around my garden, a friend’s garden, as well as the few shots I got along the Gorge which I have been walking regularly up until my garden called. 

 But I must include a picture I managed to get of a lovely Golden-crowned Sparrow right from my kitchen window.  It posed so beautifully on the suet feeder and considering these birds are ground feeders, I felt I must include this shot first.

P1190421Gold crowned sparrow

 Golden-crowned Sparrow

 While on some of the walks along the Gorge I took very few pictures.  On one walk, even though I had my camera, I was unable to get photos of two of the three butterflies I did see there.  It was quite hot and so they were not landing.  The first one I saw was a Mourning Cloak and what a surprise that was!  I hadn’t seen one along there before.  Then suddenly it was chased off by a Satyr Comma, which landed so briefly I could not get a shot of it either, but could see it clearly.

 On another walk, I was able to get a rather poor picture of a Cabbage White butterfly which I will include below.  It was such a long shot and I was lucky it landed at all, frankly.  It had become so hot in Victoria so quickly that it made anything I saw impossible to photograph at the time.

 P1190444 Cabbage White

Cabbage White

 But it was interesting to see an Arbutus tree growing out of the rock wall!!  How resilient are our native species.  If man vanished from this planet suddenly, is this not proof of how Nature would just take over and soon cover any evidence of our prior existence?  It is a humbling thought indeed, and also a comforting one from an ecological point of view.

 P1190445 Arbutus tree on Gorge

Arbutus growing out of the rock wall

 The day the garden called was the day that three generous people from the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers group volunteered to come over and help me start getting my garden ready for planting.  The task was far too overwhelming for me to undertake in my present state of health, and so my friends put out a call for help.  Although everyone else in the group was busy, my friends, Kendell, Laurie and Brad showed up on a Saturday and I ventured out to try to do what I could which wasn’t too much. 

 That was when a little miracle happened.  In all the years I’ve had my gardens, I’ve seen only three butterfly species; Cabbage Whites, Western Tiger Swallowtails (not out yet) and Lorquin’s Admirals.  But this year was very different and it transformed me completely at the time.  Brad and I were digging compost and later, Laurie and I found a shady spot to sit and weed….and when I saw a Cabbage White appear I went to grab my camera.  When I returned, I was very surprised at what happened next.  Every time the Cabbage White tried to land, something very dark swooped in and chased it off.  And then it landed – a Mourning Cloak.  I couldn’t believe this.  I’d always gone searching for them when I’d had more aid for field trips, and often never found one, yet here was one in my backyard??  Well of course I took pictures. 

 It took off and returned many times.  It even landed on Laurie’s jeans.

 P1190486 on Lauries jeans

Mourning Cloak on Laurie’s jeans

 Then it landed on my head!  I knew it was attracted to my hat so I removed it and stuck it on a pole in the garden, and sure enough, the Cloak landed there many times. 

 P1190499 MC on my hat May 4, in garden poetograph

Mourning Cloak on my hat

 Several times it landed on some Yarrow seed heads.  Yarrow, when in bloom is a very good butterfly nectaring source and if I keep the faded blossoms dead-headed it will flower throughout the summer. 

P1190506 MC on Yarrow in garden May 4 poetograph 

Mourning Cloak on Yarrow

Here is a sideview of the Mourning Cloak.

 P1190474 sideview of Mourning Cloak in my garden May 4, 2013

Sideview of Mourning Cloak

 The gardens were being prepared for both human and wildlife consumption, especially hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.   The Red-flowering Currant is quite a favourite of the hummingbird although mine hasn’t gotten big enough to be of interest as yet.  Once we have the plants in the ground I imagine they will grow rapidly. 

 P1190389 Flowering Red Currant poetograph

Red-flowering Currant

We were all very happy to have such a visitor to watch us at our labours, as if to bless the garden.  Kendell was good enough to bring along organic snacks for all to sample and so, with a Mourning Cloak in my garden, I had my very first tea party of sorts after our hard work.

P1190516Brad, Laurie and Kendell poetograph

Brad, Kendell and Laurie

 GTUF, short for Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, is a group dedicated to producing our own food on the land we have.  Being on my own now, that task is overwhelming as I mentioned, but I do hope, with enough helping hands, that many will benefit from my gardens this year.  I just want to see the land used and my gardens there to welcome the butterflies and other insects.

 Later that day, Laurie emailed me a picture of two butterflies for identification.  They were two more Mourning Cloaks and it appeared that they were mating on the side of her Mason Bee box.

 photo of Lauries mating Mourning cloaks

Mourning Cloaks, photo by Laurie

 The next day I was invited over there to see what I could find in their garden.  There was a fair bit of activity but my camera was only able to get this honey bee and a Paper wasp, or Thread waisted wasp, Mischocyttarus flavitarsis, as well as a Bumble Bee.

 P1190527 Honey Bee at Laurie's May 6, 2013 poetograph

Honey Bee

P1190531 Paperwasp at Lauries poetograph

Paper Wasp

P1190540 Bombus species on Laurie's Lillacs

Bumble Bee

Laurie also had a different Bleeding Heart than my cultivar, and she felt it was probably the indigenous one. 

P1190532 Bleeding Heart at Laurie's indigenous 

Bleeding Heart flowers

Meanwhile, here at home, there was activity at night as well for awhile.  I turned on my porch light and this attracted two different moth species.  The first was a good sized one and although it decided to plaster itself on a window far above the ground, I was still able to get a serviceable shot.  This moth is known as the Crucialis Woodling Moth (Egira crucialis) and it was a welcome sight indeed.

 P1190413 Crucialis Woodling Moth (Egira crucialis)

 Crucialis Woodling Moth

The other moth I have found a few times is a “micro moth”, Alucita montana, or Montana Six-plume Moth and I have even found it in my office tonight as well as outside.  Here is my best picture taken as I write this now in my office.  The little guy let me get really close!  Originally I was going to show this moth taken outside, but this picture turned out better.

 P1190566 Six plume moth in office May 9

Montana Six-plume Moth

 Although I was certain I saw a Green Lacewing outside, I couldn’t get it to land so there were no shots to be had until a later date, but I did manage to find this male Cranefly at the time (family: Tipulidae).

P1190545 male cranefly, family Tipulidae. 

Cranefly

Here is the Green Lacewing I got at a later date, again, at night.  It was another long shot, but better than none.

 P1190575 Green Lacewing

Green Lacewing

So while I am still here in my home I am trying to enjoy as much of the wildlife as I can find.  The Mourning Cloak returned briefly the next day, but then was off.  They are mating now and I suspect, worn as they are looking, they will live longer still before they depart this world. 

In closing, I will leave you with my best wishes, as well as a poem and one last picture of my Bleeding Heart cultivar.  It is the food source for my favourite butterfly, the Clodius Parnassian, that I doubt I will see again since I cannot go back to the hills where they are found.  But one never knows….one never knows.

 I did once find one in a very unusual place that was not too far away….but then that is another story I may tell sometime….

 

The Garden of my dreams

 

What soothing balm does Nature bring

what wonders in the garden

with butterflies and birds that sing

with trees that fence my yard in.

I wander in my solitude

along the Gorge at times;

a Cloak of Mourning greets me there

and speaks to me in rhymes.

But there are times that come along,

and suddenly there’s life

for Nature sings her special song

and sings away my strife.

And in the Garden of my dreams

outside my very door

an ocean full of sunlit beams

now calls me to its shore.

The honey bee is buzzing and

the moths might come at night

for life is always all about

and flying to the Light.

May people join their hands to help,

to save my bit of land.

May kindness shown stay with me now

and help me understand

that Bleeding Hearts have beauty too

and Nature always heals.

May faded blossoms bloom again,

through cracks in concrete seals.

Though hardship faces all of us

in Nature must I trust,

to have this Phoenix  rise again

from ashes and from dust.

 

 P1190390 Bleeding Heart cultivar End poetograph

Bleeding Heart cultivar

 

© Annie Pang May 9, 2013.

 

 

 

 

Fawn Lilies and Violets – Terry Thormin

I have a small native plant garden on the north side of my townhouse, and there are a number of fawn lilies, both pink and white, growing in it. Some of these plants are well along and look like they are very close to coming into flower. So two days ago I decided to take a quick trip down to the Tsolum River floodplain, which is the best place I know of in the valley for fawn lilies, to see if any were in bloom. I walked most of the length of the trail looking for any blooms, but to no avail. It wasn’t until I was on my way back that I finally found one lonely pink fawn lily in flower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is just the start, and in a few days I suspect that there will be many more plants in flower, and eventually the woods will be thick with thousands of fawn lilies. They will line the trails and carpet the depth of the woods, sharing the space with the first trilliums and other early spring flowers. If I can find the time I will pay another visit and do another blog at the peak of their flowering.

The only other native flower I saw with the fawn lilies two days ago was the Yellow Stream Violet. Eventually this plant will produce clumps of flowers that will add splashes of yellow alongside the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am always looking for insects on trips like this, and on this occasion I was not disappointed. Most of the insects I saw were smaller flies that are often difficult to identify, but I did see a couple of bee flies and managed to get a photo of one of them. This is the greater bee fly, Bombylius major, and it is a very common fly in the early spring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I find bee flies quite fascinating, partly because of their bee-like appearance and habit of hovering briefly in one spot, and partly because of their vampiric habits as larvae. Most bee flies are ectoparasites on the larvae of solitary wasps. The female fly simply drops eggs into the burrows of the wasp, and when the eggs hatch the larval flies will quite actively seek out the larval wasps and attach themselves externally to the wasp. The bee fly larva now becomes quite sedentary, sucking the juices out of the wasp larva without leaving any visible markings. Eventually the wasp larva becomes nothing more than a dried out husk and the fly a plump larva ready to pupate. Television and Hollywood have nothing on these guys.

The Pond – February – Terry Thormin

The days are getting noticeably longer and even though we are not getting much sun, average daytime highs are gradually creeping up there. We are beginning the long, slow, crawl towards spring. As the earth warms up, roots begin taking up more water, combining it with carbon dioxide, and with the sun’s increased energy, converting them to carbohydrates with oxygen released as a waste product. This is, of course, photosynthesis, a process used by plants and some other organisms to produce their own food, and it has been the source of energy for almost all life on Earth for the last 3.5 billion years.

In northern climates most plants largely shut down during the winter months, some simply slowing down food production, some losing all their leaves, some dying right back to the roots and some dying completely, relying on their seeds for the next generation. But by February this trend is beginning to reverse itself and a walk around the pond with the local botany group early in the month revealed new buds forming on the red huckleberry, and catkins on both the alder and the willows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Red huckleberry buds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Alder catkins

There is a bald eagle nest just off the southwest corner of the park and right beside the road that has been active for a number of years now. On another walk early in the month I met a young couple who mentioned that they had seen the eagle on the nest just the day before. Bald eagles typically start working on the nest by early February, either starting on a new one if they are first time nesters or the old one has been destroyed, or adding to and repairing the old one. Egg-laying usually starts towards the end of February. By the end of this month I still had not seen any activity in this nest, but I often heard the eagles calling from the woods just west of the pond. Perhaps the birds have relocated because the nest was too close to the road for comfort

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bald eagle nest

The same day I talked with the young couple about the eagle I observed three beavers in the east pond, swimming round and round and occasionally slapping their tails. Normally a tail slap indicates the presence of danger, but in this case I really think it was an indication of annoyance or frustration. I was not the only one who was watching this event as about 11 other people were at various places around the pond watching the beaver. Normally beavers are not active during the day, but rather are nocturnal. The only time they become active during the day is when the dam needs to be repaired or they have a need to gather more food. As there is no dam associated with these beavers they must have needed more food. With so many people around the edge of the pond, they could not even find a safe place to exit the pond to do their search. Finally, after more than half an hour, they gave up and disappeared into the lodge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beaver

Beavers live in extended families, comprised of two adults and young up to two years of age. They have 1 to 9 young every year, with pups being born in April to June, so potentially an extended family can be quite large. Obviously at least one of the three I saw that day had to be a young beaver, but all three were quite large so it was difficult to determine which ones were adults and which were pups. There was one that seemed to be a bit smaller, but it was obvious that any young had to be from the litter born almost two years ago.

I explored the small woods at the northeast corner of the pond three times this month. I doubt that this woods is even as much as an acre in extent, so biodiversity is rather poor here. The dominant tree is Douglas-fir, although there are a few grand firs and shore pines as well. After a careful search I found some branch tips with the short, light green needles that indicate new spring growth. Douglas-firs have quite distinctive seed cones with bracts that are three forked and often remind people of the back ends of little mice hiding in the cones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Douglas-fir seed cone

Ground cover here is mostly salal with scattered sword ferns. I did find the leaves of some rattlesnake plantains in one spot. This is a very common orchid in coniferous forests on the island, and is our only orchid that retains its leaves all winter long. The leaves are quite distinctive with a white stripe down the middle and generally with fairly strong mottling or striping, although this can vary considerably from plant to plant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rattlesnake plantain

The area between this wood and the pond, and extending along most of the north side of the pond is a brushy area of mostly alder with some willow. Many of these bushes have lichens in the genus Ramalina growing on them, and in some places this lichen is thick. Lichens are a composite organism formed by a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and either a green algae or a cyanobacterium. Because the fungus is generally the dominant organism and is always present, lichens are classified in with fungi. This means that they are no longer considered plants as the fungi are now in their own kingdom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ramalina sp.

On my walks around the pond I was regularly hearing the Red Crossbills jip-jipping as they flew from tree top to tree top looking for cone seeds. There were a few other birds as well, including Pacific wren, Bewick’s wren, ruby-crowned kinglet and song sparrow. The song sparrow was often heard singing, even from the other side of the pond.

Song Sparrow 28b

Song sparrow

On one of my trips I saw a male hooded merganser on the west pond. I had seen and photographed the female here earlier this month, but this was the first time this year that the male was present. I grabbed my camera and folding stool and went down to the shore hoping to get a photo. The bird simply swam across to the other side of the pond to get away from me, Patience is a virtue in cases like this and an hour of waiting finally resulted in the bird coming quite close and my getting some great shots. This is a strikingly handsome duck and one that I have been trying to get good photographs of for a long time. The male hooded merganser can depress its crest so that the white is a fairly thin line or erect it fully so that it looks like it is wearing a huge, black and white helmet. The fully raised crest is part of the courtship display. In this case, in the absence of a female, the bird kept its crest in a partly raised position the whole time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hooded merganser male

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hooded merganser female

Four days later I returned to the pond and found both the male and female hooded mergansers swimming together and a single male common merganser with three females. By now most mergansers have formed a pair bond, so I am not sure why this particular male had three females in tow. I did observe some interaction between two of the females on more than one occasion, so perhaps it was a mated pair and two additional females hoping to steal the male from the mated female.  Although the hooded mergansers never came close enough for more photos, the male and two of the female commons eventually came close enough for some good shots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Common mergansers, male and two females

So spring has started, slowly, but the signs are showing. Overnight lows are now consistently above freezing. The last couple of trips out to the pond I was seeing good numbers of midges and the song sparrows were singing more often.  Hopefully we will start to get a few more sunny days.

 

February

 

Now as the soil begins to warm

and roots begin to stir,

first signs of spring are showing now

on willow, alder, fir.

 

And in the air the midges fly,

their numbers growing strong.

While ‘cross the pond the song sparrow bursts

into loud, joyous song.

 

The ducks are found in mated pairs,

The eagles build their nest.

And beavers swim around the pond

as for fresh food they quest.

 

Its early days, there’s so much more

that spring has yet to give.

But still the promise is now there,

to stir, to wake, to live

 

©Terry Thormin

 

 

The Pond – January – Terry Thormin

Winter rains have filled the ponds, causing them to overflow their banks, flood the gravel bar at the southeast end and the low area between the two ponds, and create a single, large pond. It now looks much like it did when I first saw it, causing me to name it in the singular – Little River Pond. It will remain like this until the rains stop and the heat of summer evaporates much of the water. Most of the gravel bar is under water and much of what isn’t, is just barely above the water level. I have to wonder how the tiger beetle and sand wasp larvae can survive in these conditions, but every spring the adults appear again. For now, though, the gravel bar is devoid of life.

Little River Pond flooded in winter 1c

Little River Pond showing flooded narrows

Not all life is silent, though. The bald eagles  regularly fly overhead, giving their weak, high-pitched chirping whistles in antithesis to their massive strength. An occasional crow or raven gives out its rasping call and the local flock of red crossbills flies from tree to tree looking for seeds to eat and calling “jip, jip” as they go. chestnut-backed chickadees and song sparrows forage in the bushes around the pond, and from the small patch of woodland across the pond a spotted towhee gives a raspy “zreeee.”

Red Crossbill 8d

Red Crossbill (photographed in 2007 in Edmonton)

On the pond you may hear an occasional “quack quack” from a mallard as the small resident flock forages among the flooded bushes between the two ponds. There are other ducks as well. The ring-necked ducks are usually present, but wary, frequenting the far shore and swimming into the bushes if they feel threatened. The two female buffleheads that are usually present don’t seem to be as wary, and if you are quiet they may swim close by you, diving regularly for whatever they can find on the bottom of the pond.

Bufflehead females 2b

Bufflehead

Earlier in the winter I had noticed a large number of freshly cut branches at the entrance to the beaver lodge. It was obvious that the beaver was stocking up on food for the winter. Beavers will remain active all winter long but will stockpile branches in the fall to minimize how frequently they have to go out foraging for food in the winter. During the summer months they feed on fresh green shoots and roots of plants, but in the winter they have to feed on tree bark, and for this purpose they will sometimes cut down quite large trees.

Beaver lodge at LRP 1b

Beaver lodge

On one of my visits to the pond I had the opportunity to talk with a local resident, who told me that the beaver had finally felled a large tree at the west end of the pond earlier in the winter. I walked down to the west end and found the tree the beaver had cut down, a large cottonwood with a diameter where the beaver had cut it of about 60 cm (2 feet). Most of the side branches had been cut off and much of the bark on the main trunk was chewed away. Obviously this was the beaver’s source of food for the winter.

Cottonwood cut down by beaver 2b

Cottonwood stump

Cottonwood chewed by beaver 1b

Cottonwood trunk stripped of bark

January has been rather average weather-wise, although I suspect that we have had less sun than average. Daytime highs have generally been up around five degrees and the warmest day hit nine. Although we have had a fair bit of rain as usual, and the occasional wind storm that typically comes down the Strait of Georgia, there has not been a major winter storm with a dump of snow this month. At Little River Pond no ice formed other than overnight ice in the shallow, flooded areas, which quickly melted as daytime temperatures rose.

Life in the water slows down in winter, but activity never completely stops. The only evidence of any fish I saw was a single fish jumping on January 1, most probably a sea-run cutthroat trout. This doesn’t mean that the fish aren’t there; they are simply not rising to the surface for insects. The adult cutthroats, which are typically found in sheltered estuaries and tidal lagoons, return to fresh water in late fall and early winter and spawn in late winter to early spring. The young stay in fresh water for two or three years before they migrate to the ocean.

I did a couple of sweeps with my insect net to see what I could find in the water. My net has a very fine weave so it collects even the tiniest arthropods.

The first sweep was shallow, through the vegetation, so that I avoided getting any of the bottom muck. I transferred it to a large plastic jar that I keep just for that purpose and immediately, even through the murky water, I saw life. A tiny predaceous diving beetle, probably less than 3 mm long, rose to the surface for a bubble of air. Then I noticed several damselfly nymphs swimming in the murky water. I decided to bring the jar home to let the silt settle out of the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Damselfly nymph

By the time I got home it was obvious that the water was teaming with life. There were at least a dozen damselfly nymph, a number of caddisfly larvae, a couple of daphnia, several cyclops and numerous tiny arthropods that I finally decided must be clam shrimp. The last three were all around a millimeter or less in length, just barely visible to the naked eye.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Caddisfly larva

I did my second sweep almost three weeks later, and this time I went deep into the muck, looking for larger aquatic insects. Sure enough, I dredged up two dragonfly nymphs, which was not in the least surprising as this pond has such a high number and diversity of dragonflies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dragonfly nymph

I also got a water boatman and a small predaceous diving beetle larva, also known as a water tiger, and this time there were lots of caddisfly of at least three types. It is these larger creatures that are necessary to sustain the fish population.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Water tiger with cyclops at lower left

With temperatures often ranging into the high single digits, I really expected to see at least a few insects and other terrestrial invertebrates. I was not disappointed – on almost every visit I saw at least one or two small flies, most likely midges of some sort. On one occasion I took the time to overturn a few logs, and on my third attempt I found several very active European sowbugs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

European sowbugs

That same day I found a larger fly lapping up some juices from bark remaining on the cottonwood tree trunk that the beaver had felled. This is probably an anthomyiid, or root maggot fly, although according to Matthias Buck at the Royal Alberta Museum, there is a possibility it is a muscid. Flies in these two families are often so similar that it is impossible to identify them to family, let alone genus or species without collecting them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fly, either anthomyiid or muscid

Now, as the end of the month draws near, the days are getting noticeably longer and soon the first signs of spring will start to appear. But I’m not holding my breath; I know how cruel winter can be, and a serious winter storm is always a possibility in February. My one consolation is that here on the coast such storms are often followed by rain that quickly melts the snow away.

JANUARY

 

As winter’s winds roar down the strait

the pond lies silently,

broken only by eagle’s screams,

a small cacophony.

But all’s not dead, for in the pond

life stirs ’gainst winter’s hold.

A caddisfly, a diving beetle,

a dragonfly nymph bold.

And on dry land a thorough search

‘neath logs and dead leaf litter

reveals more life that’s active still,

sowbugs and other critters.

But most are dormant, most await

in silent slumber too,

for the first sign of spring’s return,

to begin life anew.

©Terry Thormin

Note: I am posting this blog on World Wetlands Day, a day that is meant to draw people’s attention to the need to protect wetlands everywhere in the world. If you have read this this blog and not read the introduction, which was the previous post, I reccommend that you read it as it will set the scene for this ongoing blog and will also reflect the need to protect wetlands. You can find more information on World Wetlands Day here and you can find the introduction to The Pond blog here.

The Pond – Introduction – Terry Thormin

Little River Pond is a short, eight minute drive up island from where I live. I moved to Comox on Vancouver Island in the fall of 2009, and that winter I discovered the pond while exploring the coast looking for good birding areas. The only birds that I found of interest that winter were Ring-necked Ducks and Hooded Mergansers, but the following summer I again checked out the pond and found that it was a superb place for dragonflies. I have a particular passion for dragonflies and I love the challenge of photographing them, especially getting in-flight shots, so Little River Pond quickly became a favorite haunt.

Little River Pond west

The pond is really two ponds connected by a very short channel. In the winter the water level rises and the ponds overflow their banks becoming one large pond. There is also an outflow stream that connects the ponds to Little River, a short distance away. These are not natural ponds though, but rather gravel pits that were used in post WWII times as a source of gravel for the nearby runways at CFB Comox. Fortunately the ponds were allowed to revert to a natural state and now support a wide variety of aquatic life.

In 2011 the area was designated as a nature park by the Comox Valley Regional District. There is now a parking lot and sign at the entrance to the park, making it easy to find. The park is right alongside Wilkinson Road just down island from the ferry to Powell River at Little River. As well as the ponds, the park includes the connector stream to Little River, plus a stretch of the river itself and the surrounding meadows and woodlands.

The main focus of this blog is to follow the ebb and flow of life in and around the pond for a whole year.  Wetlands are the life blood of the planet. Whether it is lakes, rivers, marshes, bogs or ponds, life cannot survive without the water they provide. It seems that most of our wetlands are under attack by industry, agriculture and general development. Far too often we pollute and drain without any concern for the consequences. It is encouraging to find a man-made wetland in the middle of an urban setting that is being protected. The diversity of life in this one small pocket of wilderness is quite impressive if you take the time to look. Unfortunately most people do not take that time. My hope is that this blog will open up the eyes of those people who live near Little River Pond, and perhaps, for those people who do not, it will make them more aware of the wildlife in and around their own local pond.

So follow me through the seasons at the pond as I search out the secret lives of insects and their relatives, scouring the vegetation, turning over logs and stones, using a dip net to look at aquatic life and using an ultraviolet light to attract nocturnal insects. Join me as I document the spring migration of birds and record their breeding success. I won’t forget the resident beaver and the other mammal visitors to the pond, and of course there’s the fish, frogs and snakes. And for those botanists amongst my readers, I will try to document the flowering time of the various plants.

A Couple of Twofers from Africa – Terry Thormin

The weather here on Vancouver Island has been rather miserable for the last little while, lots of overcast, rainy days that are not great for nature photography. For this reason I have spent a lot of time reworking some older images that I knew I could improve with the latest version of Photoshop Elements and a better knowledge of how it works. I have concentrated on my images from a trip I took to Africa back in 2007. At the time I was using a Canon Powershot S3 IS. This little point-and-shoot camera took some pretty good photos and was ideal for Africa. So not having anything current to blog about I decided to post two of my favorite photos from that trip. If you click on the images you will be able to view them full size.

This is the Malachite Kingfisher, one of the smallest kingfishers in Africa (only the Pygmy Kingfisher is smaller) and certainly one of the most colourful. On top of that it has a mole cricket in its bill, thus encompassing two of my passions, birds and insects in the one photo. This tiny little kingfisher was hunting low along the bank of the Chobe River in Botswana and I photographed it from a boat while exploring the river with my tour group. Mole crickets are fascinating insects that spend most of their lives underground. They are easily identified by the broad, spade-like front legs that are used for digging.

This photo is of a White-tailed Shrike with a Marbled Emperor, a large Saturnid moth in its bill. It was taken at Kamanjab in northern Namibia. I saw the bird pluck the moth from low off the trunk of a tree then fly down to the ground and proceed to beat the moth against the ground until all the wings were broken off. It wasn’t until then that it flew away and presumably ate the moth. During this whole procedure it ignored me allowing me to get quite close for photographs. This bird is endemic to thorn scrub areas of western Namibia and Angola.

If you want to see more of my African images you can find them on my Smugmug site here.

 

Merlin and the Dragons – Terry Thormin

I went to Little River Pond again today. It was another warm fall day with no wind and I was hoping to see some late Sand Wasps, but there were none present. It has been over three weeks now since I last saw them so I am assuming that they really are finished for this year. There were still a number of dragonflies flying and I saw three species, at least a couple of Blue-eyed Darners, probably 6 to 8 Canada Darners and at least as many if not more Saffron-winged Meadowhawks. It took me a while to get a positive identification of the Meadowhawks as they were landing on the bare sand rather than up on the grasses the way I had seen them before. This is typical behavior for the Striped Meadowhawk, but a close look told me that they were Saffron-wings. For the next hour I tried to get one to perch up on a grass stem or seed head, but with no luck. I did get some shots of them on the sand and have included one here.

After an hour of frustration I finally decided to give up and head back to the car. Just as I was leaving a Merlin flew in to the dead branches at the top of a large birch tree near the edge of the pond. It had a dragonfly, a large darner, that it had obviously just caught and it proceeded to tear the dragonfly apart and devour it. Out came my camera and I got off several shots before it finished.

It then sat there looking around intently at the pond until it suddenly launched itself off the branch and flew out again. This time it returned empty handed, or should I say empty clawed.

Six times it made a pass at the pond sometimes launching out in a slight decline, other times going immediately into a power dive. I am sure that this was a function of how far away the dragonfly it had spotted was. Three of those six times it came back with a dragonfly which it promptly ate.

It was still hunting the pond when I finally left. I expect that if I go back to Little River Pond again in the next few days there will be far fewer darners. This particular Merlin was a Pacific race bird, the subspecies that nests on Vancouver Island. It is very dark with a heavily streaked breast, the streaking being so heavy in the middle of the breast that they run together becoming an almost solid dark breast.

I have talked about the Merlin’s propensity for hunting dragonflies, especially the large Common Green Darner, in previous posts, but this was the first time I was able to photograph it in action. Of course the really great shot would be of the bird in the process of catching a dragonfly or even in full flight with a dragonfly in its talons. But perhaps that is another blog.

The Sand Wasp, an Attentive Mother – Terry Thormin

I went to Little River Pond about two weeks ago and noticed that the Sand Wasps, Bembix americana, were still flying. With the warm weather we are getting it is possible that they are still around and might continue for a while yet.

I have always liked these beautiful wasps. They are found almost anywhere there is bare soil, although they particularly like sandy areas. Unlike yellow jackets they are not aggressive and you would probably have to step on one with bare feet to get stung. They are members of the family called Digger Wasps (Crabronidae) and like most members of this family they dig nests in sand or soil. They are also solitary nesters, that is, each female digs its own nests. In ideal habitat though the nest sites can be so numerous it almost appears to be a colony. Two years ago the sand dunes at Point Holmes in Comox were thick with these wasps and I estimated several thousand in a narrow strip about 3 to 4 meters wide and about 100 meters long. Since then numbers have not been as great, but they are still fairly common.

Sand Wasp on a log

The female Sand Wasp will dig a nest hole in the ground and lay a single egg in the hole. She then catches and stings a fly which she drags, still alive but paralyzed from the sting, into the hole, and then she closes the hole with sand, pebbles or dirt. When the egg hatches the larva feeds on the paralyzed fly. At regular intervals the female will provision the nest site with another fly, each time closing the hole again, until the larva is finally large enough to pupate and turn into an adult wasp. This is referred to as progressive provisioning and is considered to be a more advanced evolutionary stage in nesting behavior. With multiple nest sites each female must be very busy attending to her young during the summer, and a large group of Sand Wasps in one area must put a considerable dent in the local fly population.

A female Sand Wasp digging a nest hole

Adult Sand Wasps, unlike the larvae, feed on the nectar of flowers and will go to a large variety of flowers. In this photo you can see the large mandibles that distinguish the females from the males. From what I have read another difference is that the females are white and the males are yellow, although the yellow will turn a pale blue with age. Bugguide however has photos of individuals labeled females that are clearly yellow. Something else to sort out.

A female Sand Wasp nectaring

A yellow male? Sand Wasp