Scary bad pictures...Happy Halloween

The weather is pretty gray and depressing the last two days. I wish I cherished the sunny days more.

Took this strange picture on Wednesday. UFO or bird?

But then I came across this bird flying again today. So, it was probably a bird yesterday then.

Sorry for the bad picture. But hey, it's Halloween, which means bad equals good. Right??


Another nature TV program...

I follow any TV programs hosted by Sir David Attenborough because he's just such a great narrator. Now, another program that I enjoy is "The Secret World Of Gardens". Even though it may not have the most decorative or exciting creatures in the show, any insects, flower, plants, and animals within the garden from the perspective of Martin Galloway is just...amazing, and it is quite contagious not to marvel at the simple things that he explains.

For example, tonight's episode focuses on "Flies". Not the most attractive subject, but to Martin, flies are wonderful creatures and a garden without of them will be impossible. He explains their role in the garden as pollinators, decomposers, predators, as well as preys; the mouth structure of different flies for different uses (pricking, inserting, sucking, lapping, tearing, etc); the (lack of) social structure for flies; and just so much more. Overall, just a great TV show that I don't mind wasting 20 minutes on.

Speaking of gardens, I went back to the park near the harbour again (and it's called Harbour Green Park as I tried very hard to remember the name this time). This time, I mainly just took some pictures of flowers still in bloom.

Gorgeous day to be outside and watching this Pelagic Cormorant drying and warming itself up by holding their wings out. It must be nice to have a dark coat.


Watched "Life in Cold Blood" tonight!

Wow, what a show. BBC never disappoints with their wonderfully-shot nature programs, and this show is no exception. "Life in Cold Blood" is all based on cold-blooded animals, and tonight's episode focused on the amphibians. Starting with the evolutionary background, going through lungfish having a lung-like structure for breathing, then moving onto the gigantic Japanese giant salamanders, the legless caecilians, frogs and toads, and other specifically unique creatures. Basically, just a feast for people like me. I am so sad that I couldn't find the show last week on TV, but I am glad I caught it tonight. Can't wait for next week's lizards! It's shows like this that made me value my education and knowledge. And Sir David Attenborough is the man!!!

Anyways, I went to waterfront again this afternoon to get a breathe of fresh air, and saw a bald eagle flying and landing on a lighthouse-type of a structure. I think I was the only one "interested" enough to see it (that always make me feel extra special). Too bad I couldn't take a better picture. There were cormorants and gulls there too.

I want this kind of good weather to stay forever. Rain, rain, go away!


Perching Wood Duck

Another gorgeous day to check out the dyke.

While I was by the golf course, I spent quite a while admiring this particular male Wood Duck "perching" on a acorn tree. Even though they are described as a "perching duck" ("Cairininae" or "Cairinini") with specialized sharp claws for perching and nesting in trees, it was quite entertaining to watch these guys leap from tree branch to branch with their somewhat awkward technique (compare to the graceful Passerines). First of all, these guys are heavy, unlike the lightweight sparrows, chickadees, or even crows. So when they fly onto a branch, gravity tends to act on their weight and they fell until they are somewhat stuck on a lower branch. Overall, it was just a riot to watch these guys try over and over again, until this one guy gave up and flew back onto the water. I wonder why evolution has left them this way because they seem to do better on water than tree.

While this particular Wood Duck was struggling on the tree, it brought down many of acorns, leaves, and whatnots, causing a feeding frenzy for the mallards below the tree.

And since today's Sunday, quite a large crowd came to check out the Snow Geese.
And the autumn colors totally made these trees look like they are on fire! Amazing!

Overall, just a beautiful day today!

Man and heron.

Dark-eyed Junco and Starlings

Bike ride to the dyke.

Such a clear and beautiful day today, except that it was very chilly and windy near the dyke. Most of the ducks were huddling around and staying still to keep warm. But the Wood Ducks for some reason are quite active today and very approachable.

Twice today, two bald eagles were directly hovering on top of me. Being the clumsy and easily-wowed person that I am, I didn't pull out my camera fast enough to snap some pictures. Shoot!

I also came across this lightly-colored waterfowl. I am not sure if it's a variation of female mallard or not.

The most interesting sighting of the day was probably coming up close with a small group of Snow Geese. They are indeed truly beautiful and powerful birds. Spending time just admiring them made me think how stupid the city's plan is of getting rid of them. Perhaps we can collect the goose dung and use them as natural fertilizers or something. I am pretty sure a twice-in-a-year thing isn't too hard to handle for people.

Today is also just a great day of simply admiring the beautiful autumn season.


Ladybirds aren't female birds...they are lady bugs!

I was at the waterfront again this Thursday. But instead of focusing on the cormorants, I decided to stay near the trees and shrubs and be on the look out for sparrows chasing each other around.

Then I came across a sculpture called "Shipwreck".

Immediately, I looked what could be on it, and I saw three lady bugs, a dead wasp, and an unknown bug, which was quite interesting because I haven't come across an insect (other than flies, mosquitoes, and some odd surviving bees) in a long time. Reading up on the Family Coccinellidae, these creatures are quite interesting. Besides what I already know about their ability to act as bio-control agents for aphids and scale insects, their bright colors actually act as aposematism to ward off predators because they (both larval and adults) undergo "reflex bleeding" when attacked by predators and a toxin will be exuded through the joints to stop from predators from feeding on them. Neat!

Now, the two lady bugs on top are Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia axyridis), an introduced species (from eastern Asia) to do what I mentioned above (bio-control). However, they became quite proliferate and are now very common in North America and Europe.

Besides the usual orange/red colored ones, I also came across this black-and-white Twenty-Spotted Lady Beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata). A very unique-looking ladybug compare to their more common relatives.

Unknown critter. It is very small and quite well-camouflaged.


Sunny day walk and looking at the sky

I took some pictures while I was outside during my lunch break. Went to the same waterfront walkways as last week. It seems to be a popular spot during sunny days, both for humans and the cormorants.

And as I was heading home in the afternoon, I saw the sky covered by two types of clouds and they were divided evenly too. Such a strange phenomenon (for me, at least). I wish I know more about meteorology to be able to read the clouds.


Sunday's busy exploration

On Sunday, I went to the Minoru Lake to see what kind of waterfowls I can see there. Not surprisingly, I saw many Canada Geese, Mallards, Wigeons, and Wood Duck, which I finally took one decent photo of. Hooray!!

I also came across a strange hybrid which I guess is a mix between a (female) mallard and something - perhaps a male goose?

Now, the surprising part was coming across a couple of rabbits running around and munching on carrots. I am not sure if there are owners out walking these animals or are they just abandoned pets, but then who gave them the carrots? I know there was a bunny situation on several farms in Richmond several years ago, but I haven't been following up on that story in a while. I just hope this current bunny population doesn't escalate to the ones observed in UVic, otherwise the city would have another case of high animal abundance situations (beside the Snow Geese situation) and this one would be permanent. I really wish people would think about the potential consequences before buying pets that they aren't going to care for in a while.

As I was looking around, I came across this mosquito landing on a flower petal which I thought was neat.

Another interesting observation was meeting this funny-looking Eastern Gray Squirrel with a proportionally short bushy tail (which totally defies the meaning Scuridae if it does not have a bushy tail). It probably lost part of its tail due predation, competition, or naturally. As I was leaving, it gave me some great Spider-man poses too. What a interesting fellow.

Then in the afternoon, I biked to the dyke to look around, I saw the same cat from Saturday again. This time not looking lost but stalking some poor birds and doing what felines do best. I guess nobody is missing a cat at home then.

Near the golf course, I spent quite a while looking at this group of mallards and a wood duck being adventurous and going under the fence and into the golf course. Then they had a blast trying to find their way out while their friends are on the other side. Definitely an entertaining moment!

I didn't saw the Snow Geese on this side of the dyke that day, such a shame. Seeing and hearing those animals on my bike ride has becoming somewhat of a habit.

The beautiful fall colors!


Mystery lineage of the day

I wonder what hybrid is this. Mallard x ??

Photo taken on 2008/10/19 beside Minoru Lake


Enjoying nature by the dyke

Finally, the weekend is here! And with plenty of sunshine and vitamin D to be enjoyed too.

I couldn't wait to get outside as soon as I wake up in the morning. I haven't been so excited about going out for walks in a while now. But today was definitely worth it!

Kitty trying to find a way home.

Near the golf course, I saw a couple of mallards in the ditches chasing off a cat that somehow ended over there. It was quite interesting, sort of like the other day when I saw the mallards lining up to chase off an American Mink (I might save that incident for one of these nature-less days).

My poor proof to show the Hooded Mergansers.

Now, near the Natural Area, I believed I saw a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the pond, but couldn't really tell because they were too far away from me. On the lookout, I also observed two very very small insects but I have no idea what they are, but one had a human face-like shape on the back of its abdomen.

And today was the second time I have seen a garter snake swimming in the ditches, it was quite amazing and I was the only one around to notice it!

See the tail near the middle of the picture?

Afterwards, I arrived at Terra Nova dyke to observe the amazing gathering of the snow geese! It was a beautiful and noisy sight, and the Wigeons seem to enjoy hanging around these beefy white birds as I saw several of them feeding side-by-side. And even more groups were coming by the time I was leaving.

Then I walked to the trail (where I saw the owl) and saw a Northern Flicker climbing up a tree and an interesting-looking mushroom. The mushroom either looks like a pancake or a serious pimple (huge difference, I know, but it is what it is). I also saw this nest up on the tree, I wonder who its occupant is/was.

But overall, today feels so good. Nice weather and seeing many animals, today made me think perhaps working and going out once or twice in a week is good for my appreciation of nature, as long as the weather permits.


Truth and quick escape from work

The "business" that I was talking about last week was an internship interview with DFO. I didn't want to talked about it before because that might jinx it. But from the result received today, I guess it doesn't even matter now.

Anyways, my current job is going a bit more smoothly now. Getting into the routine of packing course materials, sending them out before deadline, mailing out confirmation letters, and so forth. But I am still not remembering any names or faces.

After lunch, I couldn't handle of being couped up in the office any longer. So I "escaped" quickly to the waterfront harbor to get some fresh air and to take some pictures.

Saw several Pelagic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) and one juvenile Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). At least they were a bit more unique than the common "wildlife" in Downtown.

I really like these pictures of this one dark Pelagic Cormorant against the "grainy" (gray + rainy) background, they look kind of like a hand shadow puppet or something. Too bad I couldn't get the last picture centered, it's hard carrying an umbrella and taking pictures at the same time.

Ah, the simple relaxation that nature offers...


First day of work: No nature and depression

First day of work was hectic. So many procedures and new names to remember, and so little time to even just go out and enjoy the blue sky and the waterfront. Didn't see much wildlife in Downtown, unless you include pigeons, crows, seagulls, sparrows, etc.

While I was in the office, I came across Monday's Vancouver Sun and one of the main headlines was "Declining bird numbers could be swan song for ecosystem". And that article immediately triggered my mind of a book review by Mr. Griffith on the the book titled "Silence of the Songbirds" by Bridget Stutchbury.

Sometimes, I think the extinction of native species and invasion of exotic species will eventually "homogenize" the entire biodiversity of the planet, and in the end, the world will balance itself out with the "disasters" and wipe out most of the lives in the world.

Gosh, first day of work has already made me into a pessimist. Sigh.


Plan the future & reminisce the past (2008.09.13: The Owl)

Today's weather wasn't so nice - dark, gloomy, and rainy, which was fine by me because I have to plan for the future. I accepted a temporary office job in Downtown for the next two months, so it means a shirt and tie everyday starting tomorrow but also means no more biking to the dyke and taking pictures of animals and plants everyday now. I'll still do it during the weekend if the weather permits. I wonder what kind of urban wildlife I can expect in Downtown. Something like this will be amazing.

Since I didn't go out today, I will post about the biking days prior to writing on this blog. The first day that I went biking (after returning back from Taiwan) I saw a beautiful Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). It must be a sign for something! I was about to go home when I saw a white line on a giant European Beech tree. I thought it was paint before I looked up. And there it was - a large owl sleeping soundly on a branch. I walked quietly around it and started to take some pictures. Moments later, it woke up and stared at me for a while before going back to sleeping. Then my bike fell on the ground loudly. I went to pick it up, but the owl was gone when I turned around. Sad.

It was an unique experience because I was just thinking of what to do with my education and life and then I saw it. A beautiful and magnificent creature that shares its home and life with us humans on this planet, and yet, so few of us notices and appreciates this. Seeing this owl just gives me the strength to do things that I believe in and is passionate about. So I would like to thank this owl for being there at the right time and place.

Now, whenever I go biking by the dyke, I stop by that tree every time to see if the owl is still sleeping there and think about the short (but important) moment that we shared.


Accipiter identification challenge

Saw many Great Blue Herons today. One of them that was on a tree (the second bird) decided to excrete its waste products in front of me. So it stood up a little bit on the branch and let out a long stream of white liquid falling down to the ditch below. What a scene (wish I wasn't so awe-struck by the scene and took a picture instead). I felt a little embarrassed for it, but apparently it wasn't, because it just went back to whatever it was doing.

I also saw a pretty Spotted Towhee (Piplo maculatus) today. There are four subspecies of Spotted Towhee, and they can be distinguished by the amount of white in the tail feathers.

Now, after yesterday's encounter with the Wood Ducks, I was a bit more prepared today when I rode by. I got a few more pictures of them. As for how good the quality is, you can decide for yourself.

The real prize of the day was when I saw an Accipiter today that was between the Natural Area and golf course. The only downside was that I couldn't identify it because it was so high up and flew away whenever I got closer, and I forgot to use the binocular first (I always have the dilemma of deciding what to do first: to take pictures or use the binocular to identify it). It seemed to have a white patch on its breast and a dark head, but that's about all I could point out. [Edit: It is a Rough-legged Hawk, thanks to Mr. Griffith.]

The weather turned a little bit sunnier when I was going back home. Nice blue sky clearing up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The truth about the caterpillar

The weather and temperature today are the same as the last few days - sunny and/or cloudy with cold temperatures. Not looking forward to the coming rainy days although I saw many mushrooms in the woods today that were deteriorating because they can't handle the dry conditions.

The large group of Snow Geese was not near Francis today. Maybe they migrated south? Or perhaps they split up into one of the smaller groups at the mouth of the Fraser River. I observed many of them there today, but this group was definitely smaller in size.

Now, I have been yearning to take pictures of the Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) for a long time now, but always came up short. They are always near the ditches by the Quilchena Golf Course with a whole bunch of Mallards, but they seem really shy and always duck under a well-shaded willow whenever I take out my camera and get ready. The reason that I want to take pictures of them is...well because they are so elegant. The male bird with their colorful and sleek crest and even the female birds are pretty too with their teardrop-shaped eye patch.

Today, I was kind of lucky and managed to get a couple of so-so pictures. But one of these days, I will get a better one (or at least so I wish).

Yesterday, I saved one of the black and red caterpillars. But it pains me not knowing what kind species it was. So I image-google searched "black and red caterpillar" and saw it.

So apparently they are commonly called the banded woolly bear, and the adult will become Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella). It is a common moth around here (I've seen it before around residential gardens), and it is yellow with sparse black spotting on its wings. One interesting thing about these banded woolly bear is that they produce cryoprotectant during winter which is a chemical substance used to protect the tissues from freezing, kind like an anti-freeze. Another interesting tidbit is that folk tale says that the amount of black on the caterpillar will predict the severity of the forthcoming winter (which of course is not true because larvae from the same egg clutch will vary in their "blackness", even if raised under the same conditions). Also, apparently this critter is found in many places because several locations in America have festivals centered around this woolly bear (kind of strange if you ask me).

Now, I came across several banded woolly bears today. However, the sad thing was, they were all road-killed (like above) - probably from bikers or joggers. They had the toughness to last through winter freezes, but not tires or shoes. R.I.P.


Another cold but quieter day

A cold but cloudless day today. Great day except for the cold temperature plus the skin-tightening wind chill.

A Red-Winged Blackbird was the first thing that I saw when I went to dyke. It was on top of the garbage can and didn't fly away when I approached it to take some pictures. It's quite a beautiful bird with the colorful "shoulder badges" that it wears on its shoulders, except for the fact that it's always so noisy, "Konkere-eh! Konkere-eh!" This reminded me of one thing. My TA once told me that blackbirds in Canada sing "konkere-eh" while the ones south of the border sing only "konkeree." I wonder if this is true or not. I think I'll have to observe this phenomenon myself to say for sure, but definitely interesting.

Speaking of being noisy. The Snow Geese were still at the same spot as yesterday. However, the group was very quiet today. I guess they do take breaks from all the honking. I saw a few more large groups along the mouth of the Fraser River today. With the cold temperature lately, I wonder if it's enough to motivate them to spend their winter southward.

Saw three Great Blue Herons today. One of them (on the right) was extremely stylish with a little bit of Mohawk. I wonder who its stylist is?

I also saw a colorful red and black caterpillar today on the trail. I took a couple of pictures before removing it from the road. A Yellow Jacket Wasp, Vespula vulgaris, was also observed on an unknown flower. It wasn't moving much at all when I got closer, and since its autumn, I think it might be near the end of its life. While I was taking pictures of the wasp, a fearless harvestman climbed onto my shoe.

On the Fraser mouth, a small group of wigeons was observed. But I wasn't sure if they are mainly Americans or Europeans.
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