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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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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.

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 Pond – March – Terry Thormin

The first of March was a typical early spring day, overcast, dull and drizzely, so neither a lion nor a lamb, and the rest of the month remained pretty much the same way, although we got less rainfall than usual. Out at the pond spring was still gradually unwinding. The ducks remained active throughout the month and most days I would see all five species that were frequenting the pond, both hooded and common mergansers, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks and mallards. I spent quite a bit of time trying to photograph the ducks and managed to get several good photos of the female common mergansers, although the other species were never quite as cooperative.

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Common merganser female

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Common merganser female

On the third of March the pair of eagles were perched on the far side of the pond most of the time I was there, and it was only when another eagle came along that one of the pair took off and chased the intruder away. Unfortunately all this activity took place at such a distance and so quickly that photographing it was not possible. That same day though I found several spiders webs in the fence in the parking lot, so already the orb weavers were active. These are most likely from Araneus diadematus, the Cross Spider, but I will have to see the spiders later in the year to be sure.

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Spider web

By the middle of the month several plants were becoming more obvious. The leaves of yarrow were unfurling in many places, and at the east end of the pond little western bittercress was up and in bloom. This early in the year the bittercress is quite small and easily missed as the white flowers are tiny.

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Western bittercress

The other plant I looked for was the seaside rein orchid. This is an unusual orchid in that the leaves appear as early as late February, but then completely die off, and when the flower spike finally appears in July there are no leaves on the plant.

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Seaside rein orchid

The seaside rein orchid is found in the field north of the river. This field is largely covered by roadside rock moss, Racomitrium canescens, which is a very common moss that is found in exposed areas like roadsides, open fields and even rooftops. It is easily recognized by its pale yellow green colour when wet, and almost whitish appearance when dry.

Roadside Rock Moss 2b

Roadside rock moss

The beavers are not the only mammals making the pond their home, as there is also a muskrat in the west pond. I had only seen the muskrat once before at the pond, but on one of my trips this month I managed to see and take a photo of it in the west pond. The impression I have is that the beavers stay largely in the east pond and the muskrat in the west pond, even in the winter when the high waters turn the two ponds into one large pond.

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Muskrat

Woodland bird activity picked up through the month, and I began hearing robins singing in the area, as well as song and white-crowned sparrows, and Bewick’s  and Pacific wrens. On the 18th of the month I had my first yellow-rumped warbler, and on that day I also had both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets and brown creeper. The last two species were both first records for the area. I have been keeping records of the birds I see in the area ever since my first visit, and prior to that a study of the area was done that recorded all the birds observed. The combined list is now 76 species. This list can be seen on the Comox Valley Naturalists Society’s website as an attachment to the Little River Area write-up under the Nature Guide. This link will get you to the area write-up.

Brown Creeper 6c

Brown creeper

The same day I also explored the Douglas-fir woods at the northeast corner of the property. In the middle of the woods there is a wood ant colony, and on this day the surface of the mound was swarming with ants. These ants go deep underground in the fall and spend the winter in a state of hibernation. Only when the days warm up again in the spring do they return to the surface and become active once more.

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Wood ants

On one of my last visits to the pond in March I noticed the eagle back on the nest across the road from the southwest corner of the property. At this point I am not sure if it is really using the nest or not. If it is the young will eventually be evident. I will have to keep checking. Most of the ducks have left the pond, by the end of the month. On my last visit I only saw the mallards and a single ring-necked duck. The other ducks have probably left for larger ponds and marshes that provide more nesting sites and protection during the breeding season.

I have always found March to be a rather slow month regardless of where I am, but spring seems very slow to unfold at Little River Nature Park compared to other areas in the valley. This is in part due to how much disturbance the area has seen and how small the woodlots are. The field to the south of the pond was thick with Scotch broom up until recently when broom busting parties got rid of most of it. I suspect that it will take a few more years of constant broom elimination before many of the native wildflowers start to come back. The field to the north of the pond where the Little River flows through also has a broom problem, and one that has not as yet been tackled. Fortunately the broom is not so thick as to dominate. By the end of the month the leaves of several species of flowers were in evidence but I did not find any flowers. I looked for wildflowers in the northeast woods but could not find any. I suspect its small size and how much people-use it gets might be factors.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

First Spring Flowers – Terry Thormin

Every spring I await the blooming of the first spring flowers. I am not talking about the snow drops, crocuses and daffodils that are so common in gardens by now, but rather the first of the native bloomers. Here in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island the first native spring flowers are skunk cabbage and gold star. I had been following the growth of the skunk cabbage in a wet wooded area alongside a road that I frequently drive, and on March the 11th I decided I should take another look to see if the flower spikes were fully developed. Sure enough the spikes were fully up, although the leaves were just starting to show. So I took some photos and continued on to Point Holmes where the coastal sand dunes support a great population of gold star. These were also well started, with a good sprinkling of flowers showing, so I photographed a single flower and the largest patch I could find.

Unfortunately I obviously was not concentrating on what I was doing as I was not very happy with the results of my gold star photos. I decided to wait and go back the following day, but as is so typical here on the island, the weather was not conducive to photography that day, or the next, or the next. Well, I finally did get my photos yesterday, so here is a somewhat late blog with photos.

I decided to show both the skunk cabbage from the 11th and from yesterday, the 15th just to show how much four days of growth can make in that time. On the 11th I could only find single flower spikes that were well developed, and the leaves were just starting to poke out of the mud.

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Four days later there were many well developed clumps with good sized leaves. Eventually the leaves will be much larger than the flower spikes.

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Gold star, Crocidium multicaule, is common on stable, coastal sand dunes and other sandy soil at low elevations. The best places I know of to look for it in the valley are at Point Holmes and Kin Beach. This beautiful little flower will eventually carpet the ground at Point Holmes, turning the dunes a bright, cheery yellow. Like the skunk cabbage I noticed a considerable difference in the gold star in just four days, but here it was primarily in the number of blooms which had more than doubled. These early plants are only about 3 or 4 cm high, but as the spring progresses they become taller, often getting 20 cm tall.

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On my first trip I saw several very dark wolf spiders running amongst the logs at the high tide below the dunes. I had found this same species on previous years and had it identified by a local expert as Pardosa lowriei. This is a fairly large and quite common wolf spider in this habitat and yet there is very little information about it on the web. I had to do quite a bit of digging just to get an idea o its distribution, which seems to be from Alberta and British Columbia south to California.

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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.

The Tiny Woodland Skipper Comes… – Annie Pang

The sun has had me convinced that summer was here for at least a few weeks, and so came the arrival of our most common and populous indigenous butterfly, the tiny Woodland Skipper.  On the South Island here, the European Skipper vanished weeks ago, and so I knew that in early August the Woodland Skipper would show itself, shyly at first, but then in greater and greater numbers until here I was, at Esquimalt Gorge Park in the main garden with literally “scads of skippers”.

This little butterfly is our most common indigenous “Grass Skipper”.  Its larvae feed on indigenous grasses and overwinter in the chrysalis stage (known as “pupa”), unlike the European Skipper which overwinters as an egg and seems to be found near its larval food which would appear to be Timothy hay, a non-indigenous grass.  The Woodland Skipper, however, is plentiful all over Victoria right now as there are flowers and grasses everywhere (except parts of downtown Victoria …perhaps).

But I’m getting ahead of myself because as I was taking pictures of them, I ran into a fresh male Pine White which I believe to be the second one I’ve photographed here, as the first one that I found ten days earlier would have been faded with frayed wings by now.  Perhaps this more recently emerged male drove it off.  I have no idea, but I took this picture since it is such a beautiful butterfly.

Back to our Woodland Skipper; it is a curious name indeed for this butterfly as none of the skippers are actually found in the woods or forests as such.  These are sun-loving butterflies that might be found in the grassy meadows by a woodland perhaps, but not in the woods and so I doubt I am alone in having no idea where this name originated.  One is most likely to find it by a roadside on a dandelion, in the grasslands of a nature sanctuary or in the nicest flower gardens…..even mine, nectaring on anything from scarlet runners to lavender!

When I went looking for and found that second Pine White butterfly at Esquimalt Gorge Park the other day, I found so many Woodland Skippers that I just sat in the grass and took shots until I could get a satisfactory picture to give you some idea of their sheer numbers in the garden.  This marks the end of any new butterfly species to emerge here in Victoria as well as the beginning of the end of an oh-too-short summer, and so it is a bittersweet time.

I managed to get five skippers in one frame on several occasions but this was my best shot as they darted around so fast epecially in the heat of the hot afternoon August sun.  You can just make out the light crescent on the closed hindwings.  With it so warm that time of day, they wouldn’t open their wings.

There are other adventures on butterflies to write about, maybe even a third flight of the Margined White if it stays warm, but I wanted to get the immediacy of this out to you while I could.  I wanted you to see this little creature while it was here.

I hope you have enjoyed my butterfly tales this spring and summer, and should I find myself unable to write for a while I hope you have seen, at least in part, what is happening to our planet….through the eyes of butterflies.  I have enjoyed sharing my vision with you.  I shall leave you with one more picture at the end of this poem I was moved to write.

 

The tiny Woodland Skipper comes

 

The tiny Woodland Skipper comes

in copper tidal waves

and lands upon the summer flowers,

whichever blooms it craves.

On favorite flavors, sipping scads

of skippers – watch them feed,

and, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see

couples as they breed.

But just for now, I wonder how

this tiny one survives

encroachment by the human race;

yet I see this one thrives.

A happy August sight you are

my native little fairy.

You seem content with all of life,

no burdens do you carry.

So in this case, no worries face

my restless, troubled heart,

for this one butterfly does well –

a thread in Nature’s art.

Once many others populated

all this land so fair

and in my dreams I wake to find

a vibrant vision in my mind:

all butterflies of every kind

have come to greet me there…

 

© Annie Pang August 21, 2012.

 

The Second Flight of the Margined White – Annie Pang

“I don’t think we should go”  I muttered over and over, but John was indifferent to the potential waste of time and precious little energy I had as well as the depression that had come with my ongoing disappointments.  He silently kept packing the few supplies we would need and so did I as I paced back and forth putting stuff by the door.  On this day, I felt like a piece of walking bad luck. The butterfly season had been alarming in so many ways.  It wasn’t just the lack of butterfly numbers in Victoria, but my entire world, it seemed, had gone missing and in its place had come only chaos and bewilderment.

If you recall, the last time we had been to Cowichan Station I had spotted a single Margined White butterfly during the last of its spring flight and I couldn’t see, with butterfly numbers so low this year, how I had possibly let myself miss my records of previous years’ dates, when I had done my trips in July for the summer flight of this species.  I was late, but then everything was late this year, so why was I so resistant to going?  The butterfly was calling to me again, but I was only hearing the fear inside.  Time had passed quickly this last month and now John insisted we go even if I was feeling agoraphobic.

Once again I found myself traversing the Island Highway, John driving as I spun wool in my lap almost mechanically until I realized I was missing the beautiful vista of the scenery driving over the Malahat.  I wish I had taken a picture or maybe several, but I don’t think anything could have done it justice.  Gone was my tiny little world of troubles, opened up by the vast expanse of forest, sky, mountainside and waters, far below us, as we climbed higher and higher away from the city.

But the day was hot, too hot for me and I remained overly worried that the butterflies would not be there.  It was a forty minute drive to Cowichan Station, maybe longer, and by the time we arrived there the heat had become suffocating.  No butterfly would be landing to sun in this.  I hadn’t wanted to make this trip just to see them because that was never enough.  My camera was hungry.

Things seemed different from the previous month as we parked by the old building. The angle of the sun had changed a great deal.  Vegetation had grown dense and tall, was bearing fruit or flower.  There were lots of daisies in bloom as well as yellow, dandelion-like flowers.  The hogweed had finished flowering and was going to seed making it seem later than last year, maybe too late.  We walked along the rails anyhow as we had come all this way and had nothing to lose.  There was no sign of life that belonged to any butterfly though plenty of honey bee-laden thistles so we kept trekking along the tracks and I took pictures of one thing or another out of frustration, while the sun pounded down on me.

While I passed a few patches of Herb-Robert I still saw no butterflies.  Time passed – we took solace in the cooling shade of trees and ferny areas and finally came around a curve, into a sunny glen beyond a tunnel of Big-Leaf Maples…..and there they were, like summer snowflakes flying up and down, back and forth – at least 10 or more just in that sun-bathed spot, sometimes landing on Herb-Robert to nectar but not very often and certainly not long enough for me!  I could tell this wasn’t going to be an easy time with the temperatures so warm.

Obsessed with getting any pictures at all, I moved in as one butterfly landed beneath some vegetation and took a number of very poor shots that were out of focus and in poor light.  I gave up and let them have their summery flights of fancy, which were more likely for territory and mating rituals.  We decided to walk further and return later because this was their turf and they weren’t going anywhere else.

Up ahead, in another sunlight clearing we spotted a second horde of Margined Whites, and as we slowly crept up I found one that was hungry and wanted to land, and then another and another!  Engrossed, I got one in the sun, its wings an opaque-white with an almost greenish tinge as it nectared on Herb-Robert.  Then it was off, but I’d gotten my first decent shots and was feeling better, much better.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity in front of me.  A female had landed on a long, wide blade of vegetation and there was a very persistent male butterfly wanting to mate with her. What luck for me!  They might mate or she might choose another but either way, at least for the moment, she didn’t seem to want to budge.  I saw her raise her abdomen, her way of rejecting his advances, yet as he persisted I had the opportunity to get fairly close and take a number of shots of her in the oh-too-bright sun.

Happy me!  But eventually, another male approached and then another and suddenly they were all spiraling in a furious, white flurry …

Up, up, to the brilliant sky.

“Bye, bye, butterfly…”

I was pooped.  We had walked a long way and I was all for heading back.

As we passed the large leaves of Thimbleberry bushes, a flash of swirling orange flew up to the side.  I swear it was the same area as in previous years where I’d seen at least one Satyr Comma and this was no exception except that there were two of them.  Only one landed but in the heat, there were only side shots to be had for the butterflies had no need to sun with opened wings.  I took the best ones I could although the angles were awkward.  And then, I saw a lovely little dragonfly and at first thought it was another female damselfly, but it wasn’t.  It was some sort of spreadwing.  I took the best shots I could, but the lighting for this camera was either too harshly overexposed or too dim and it simply did not want to focus on the spreadwing very well.  This was my very first sighting of one and so, once again I became very frustrated.  But the shots were good enough for a small peek at what I saw; a young female Emerald Spreadwing!  My thanks to Terry and Rob Cannings for helping to identify it.  I have only given you a small glimpse below with the following picture of the Satyr Comma.  When it is older it will look more like Terry’s most excellent picture of a mature female Emerald Spreadwing which he most generously offered to let me use.

I also spotted a number of European Skippers that had not been in evidence only an hour earlier.  I had never seen them in this area before, but as Cowichan Valley was covered in rural farmland and these skippers seemed to travel with the transport or presence of Timothy hay, I’ve since learned, it wasn’t all that surprising to see them here.

The day grew older.

Back at the initial clearing where we’d seen the first cluster of Whites, I spotted one that was flying low as if looking for a place to land, always a promising sign for getting pictures.  It finally did alight in a shady spot by the rails to nectar on yet more Herb-Robert, which seems to be the Margined White’s favorite flavor of flower that I’ve noticed here.  I pretty much had to lie down on the tracks but I got my shots and it was fascinating to me how the light played with the images of this creature, now making it translucent.  I could see its body and spirit through its wings in these shots, both magical and nymph-like.  At the end of my tale I will leave you with a double sonnet and the best image I was able to get lying there in the peace and heat of the abandoned rails.

I can’t explain to you why these butterflies are more beautiful to my eye than the Cabbage White.  Is it because they are less plentiful in general and not found at all down in Victoria?  Is it because I must come this far to find them?  Perhaps so, or perhaps it is because they are a butterfly of this land, because they belong here and they have their territories that I know about.  Perhaps it is because they give me hope by their reliable continuance….at least for now.  This place has not been altered or disturbed recently and there is no development going on.  The tracks have been deserted for years, although when the train came along in previous years, it never bothered these Margined Whites though we’d had to scramble up the side of a slight rising next to the tracks as the train came whistling around the corner to whoosh by, only a few meters from our noses.  I looked over my shoulder at the sad and ghostly image of the overgrown railroad as we went back to the van, and a part of me hoped that the train would someday return so that others might once again travel through this lovely place, this lovely land where snowflakes fly in summer, and once again they could marvel at all this beauty.  Maybe it would help us stop to look at what we all have to lose if we keep disturbing the habitat of our lovely bit of nature that is left.

And I don’t think the butterflies would mind the odd passing of an old friend, be it a train or someone seeking hope…with a camera…

Return of the Margined White

 

I promised you, remember?  They’d return

and bathe their wings in Summer’s golden light,

but you must walk the rails amidst the fern

while watching for my children’s drifting flight.

Like purest snowflakes, floating ‘round the bend,

you’ll see them settle on a bloom to feed

and what a dance amongst them you will spend,

and how much patience you, my dear, will need.

For they care not how far you came to see them,

their lives too short for them to want to waste.

You’d know things wiser if you tried to be them

and then, perhaps, more wisdom would you taste.

You’ll hear their call and, if you’re quiet and still,

they’ll let you and your camera drink your fill…

You see, my dear, behold the summer flight

returning as I told you that we would,

our wings still margined but of lovely white

and I would be there like this if I could.

We butterflies are only here so long

before our time is over and we’re gone

so heed our calling, listen to our song

that you have always so depended on.

Then we will land because we see you here

and we will tease you – lead you here and there

until you’ve lost your worries and your fear,

until you left behind your every care.

And landing on a tiny bloom to feed,

we let you seize this time with us you need…

        © Annie Pang July 2012

Backyard Biodiversity – Terry Thormin

Biodiversity is a word that is being used and misused a lot these days. Twenty years ago most people were unfamiliar with the word, but now most people have at least a general idea of the meaning. Just for clarification here is Wikipedia’s definition “Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet”. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that biodiversity on our planet is declining rapidly, and that this is largely due to human factors.

I have no intentions of getting involved in a dissertation on destruction of our forests or draining of wetlands or pollution of the oceans, but rather I want to bring this right home, to our own backyards. Most people have yards with lots of green grass and perhaps a few flower beds that support cultivated flowers that they purchased from a greenhouse. More and more people are starting to grow their own vegetables in their backyards, but there is another trend taking place, that is native plant gardening.

Typical lawns are very sterile and both time and energy consumers. They need mowing, watering and weeding. Gardens of cultivated plants are pretty much the same. Going native can change much of that, and ultimately increase biodiversity in other organisms as well. I live in a townhouse, and as such only have a very limited area where I can do any growing. There is the gravel strip along the back fence where I can practice some container gardening, and the concrete patio area where I can have a few more containers. In these areas I have gone primarily with the usual greenhouse plants and some vegetables. The thin strip of lawn, of course, I cannot do anything with. But when I bought the place there was a raise garden bed that is about 10 feet by 8 feet, and I immediately saw the potential here.

The bed, which is on the north side of the house, was dominated by a lilac bush in the back corner that was growing at a 45 degree angle as it reached for the sun.  Other than that the only thing I could see was a thick carpet of bishop’s weed, Aegopodium podagraria, which is an invasive Eurasian plant. It was too late in the fall to do anything, and that winter when the bishop’s weed died back, it revealed a thick carpet of moss.

Backyard fall 2009

The next spring I started to work on the garden. I was suffering from a badly arthritic left hip so I was limited in what I could do, but I did manage to plant a few native plants that I saved from a roadside ditch where construction was going to wipe them out. These included some fawn lilies and a small clump of yellow wood violets.

Pink Fawn Lily

Yellow Wood Violet

The following year, with a new hip in place, I got really busy. I decided that I did not want to dig up the bishop’s weed, and I refused to use chemicals, so I plucked it all by hand. When I did, this left space for other things to grow, and I realized that the bishop’s weed was not the only non-native plant I had to contend with. There was herb-Robert, creeping buttercup, field mint and wild lily-of-the-valley to mention a few. Then I bought a number of plants from a local nursery, Streamside Native Plants that sells nothing but native species. These included twinflower, Hooker’s fairybell, star-flowered Solomon’s seal, shooting star and many others.

Shooting Star

A year later and I have most of the non-natives under control. Oh, I’m still picking, but not nearly as much. The lilac bush is still there, but destined to go next year and be replaced by an evergreen huckleberry. There is still a patch of bishop’s weed under the lilac bush that will also go when the lilac goes, and I am still trying to decide about some of the non-natives such as the cultivated columbine. The main thing is that I now have 28 species of identified native wildflowers, ferns and mosses growing in the garden, with several other species waiting to be identified. There are 5 species of non-native invasive plants that I have not been able to get rid of as yet, and probably will never get rid of. Most of the flowering plants were purchased from the same nursery, but a few came in on their own, or perhaps with some of the plants I purchased.

Garden plot spring 2012

This has also led to a greater diversity in the insect life in my backyard. I have not worked on identifying the insects nearly as hard as I would like to, but so far I have put names to 59 insects, 10 spiders and a sprinkling of other invertebrates. I am sure that with a bit of work I will easily double that number. I also am looking at other ways to improve insect habitat. I just recently put up a mason bee house, but so far no takers. If I do not have any success this year I will buy some mason bees next year.

Boreal Jumping Spider with Sweat Bee

I count any birds I see on my property, or from my property, so things like Bald Eagles flying overhead get counted. Because I have bird feeders up, I get a pretty good diversity of birds even for such a small backyard. I am now up to 44 species.

Pine Siskin

My total list, including plants and animals is 160 species, and I figure that with enough effort I should get up to 300 species, most of the new ones being insects.

Okay, so I am going to talk a bit about cutting down forests and draining wetlands, because that is what we do when we clear land for houses. When you think of all the creatures that lived on your property before it was cleared and developed, then you consider what is there in a typical suburban lot, the difference is appalling. Sure, we need our spaces too, but do we really need to make them so sterile for native wildlife? With a bit of thought and a bit of effort, often far less than is required for grass lawns and cultivated gardens, we can make our backyards into a haven for wildlife.

I know that my little 8’ X 10’ plot is not going to provide much habitat for wildlife, but most homes have much larger properties that can be utilized. If everyone converted at least a portion of their yards to native plant gardens then this would constitute a considerable increase in native plant habitat. A well thought out native plant garden can have flowers in bloom throughout most of the summer. Such a garden, if combined with some cultivated flowers that last the summer, can be of huge benefit to a wide variety of wildlife including pollinators such as bees and flower flies. Studies in a number of major European cities have shown that in these flower-rich and pesticide-free environments bees are thriving, whereas in agricultural areas where monocultures are grown and pesticides and herbicides are used bees are declining rapidly. This is a case where everyone truly can make a difference, and the rewards of pleasure and knowledge gained from taking this approach is a bonus.

Flower Fly, Eupeodes sp.

If you are interested in seeing more photos of my backyard you can do so at my pbase website here.

http://www.pbase.com/terrythormin/backyard