That’s “Captain” to You, Matey!

Closeup of house sparrow on a sailboatOn a recent boating trip we had a memorable encounter with Captain Sparrow, when we pulled into a marina for an overnight stay.

This wasn’t the fictional Hollywood pirate, but his rakish charm, clowning antics, colourful plumage and confident swagger certainly spoke of that (in)famous character.

Our true-life Captain was a loud, energetic bird – a House sparrow, I believe (hopefully a reader will correct me if I’m wrong).

From the moment we arrived there in the afternoon until we left the next morning, he blasted us with song, at least during daylight hours.

House sparrow emerging from a sailboat's boomIt turned out that Captain Sparrow’s nest was inside the aluminum boom of the sailboat tied next to us – a vessel that clearly hadn’t left the dock for awhile. Every now and then he’d climb back into the boom, then emerge a few moments later, hopping all around the boat, singing louder than ever.

His lifestyle seemed secure enough, at least for awhile, since that sailboat clearly wasn’t going anywhere soon. So – kind of like me I guess – Captain Sparrow had one wing on land and one on the sea, living a sort-of-seafaring lifestyle.  But unlike me, he could really belt out a tune.

Taking Action for Bees

Closeup of four bees on a pink poppy

Pollinators at Work (click to enlarge and see details)

Today, May 20, is World Bee Day, which is why I’m sharing an image of some of these industrious pollinators hard at work in my garden. The flower is Papaver somniferum, a poppy species which self-sows freely each summer, thanks to the effort of the many bees that visit our garden throughout the growing season.

World Bee Day was first proposed on the international stage by Slovenia, and after three years of work by that nation and the world’s beekeepers, it was proclaimed unanimously by the United Nations – giving bees and other pollinators the recognition they deserve. You can learn more about the initiative here.

Bees are essential to our agriculture and food security – in short, to human survival – yet they’re increasingly endangered. I’ve written before about neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that have had particularly nasty impacts on bees.

The European Union has banned the use of three of the worst neonics and is considering further restrictions. But here in Canada, while our government has said it will ban them, it won’t do so for another three to five years – perhaps too late for many of our bees. Ironically, Canada is a co-sponsor of World Bee Day. Go figure!

If you’d like to speak out, here’s a simple tool for sending a message to Prime Minister Trudeau that bees can’t wait another three to five years for Canada to take action.

The Little Tug that Could – Again!

Tugboats moving a large log boom

Pull & push: exiting Gabriola Passage into the Strait of Georgia (click on images to enlarge)

When I photographed the Samantha J in Gabriola Passage in 2012, I had no idea that this hard-working tugboat was soon to become part of local maritime history – twice!

But first, a bit of background.

Log booms are normally pulled by a single tug, but you’ll note there are two tugs in the photo above. Navigating Gabriola Pass demands tight reins, especially at the narrow east end, where a sharp turn is needed. So while one tug pulls, a second one often pushes from behind, to prevent the boom from swinging onto the rocks or into oncoming boat traffic. Extra control like the Samantha J provided that day is essential in a tight situation like this, where a tidal current often adds to the challenge.

It’s a slow process to move a large log boom, and it would be foolhardy for any vessel to attempt to go around a tug and boom in a narrow channel. So patience was required when, arriving at the pass on our way home, we saw the two tugs and boom ahead of us. My husband, at our helm, was frustrated by the pace. On the other hand, I was delighted to have a lengthy opportunity to photograph the operation up close. I’ve always found tugboats fascinating.

Fast forward to two and a half years later: in October 2014, Samantha J made local headlines when it sank in nearby Northumberland Channel after being run over by the barge it was towing. The two men on board managed to climb onto the barge and were rescued from there.

Samantha J was in the news once again in early March 2019, this time for being successfully raised from 220 feet of water – quite the engineering feat!

If, like me, you’re a fan of the late, great singer-songwriter, Stan Rogers, you may be inspired to think of the Mary Ellen Carter. But the raising of the Samantha J was not driven by a passion for the beautiful lines or nautical history of the vessel. It was simply that the sunken tug’s resting place was blocking one of the government-approved anchorages for the seemingly endless line of huge freighters and bulk carriers waiting to dock in the Port of Vancouver. No longer could the Samantha J rest in peace – the spot was needed by industry.

Time to Get Moving

chickadee taking a drink from a pond

“Hurry up!” says the chickadee (click to enlarge)

“Hurry up, hurry up! The ice has melted and time’s a-wasting!”

That’s what the little Chestnut-backed Chickadee seemed to say, as it ever-so briefly touched down on a low branch over the pond, directly in front of me.

The little bird was in rapid motion – it leaned over and grabbed a quick drink, then was airborne again before I could even attempt a second photograph. I’m sure it was fully focused on its spring to-do list: find good grubs; identify nest site; court mate; gather building materials; construct nest…

A good reminder to me, now that it’s finally warming up, that I need to pull myself out of the lethargy I’ve been in, and get moving on my own spring to-do list. Let’s see now: weed and prepare the first couple of garden beds; sow broad beans; start broccoli and tomato seeds; sow peas and spinach….

The Antler’s Fingerprint

Deer antler on white background

QT’s offering (click on any image to enlarge & see details)

A couple of days after our oldest resident buck, QT, showed up missing his antlers, we found his right one beside our greenhouse. (We know it’s the right, because his left antler lacked the little pointed tine part way up from the base.)

I thought it very considerate of him to drop the antler where we’d so easily find it. It’s the second time one of our bucks has done this: QT’s older brother Nibblet left one of his on our front lawn three years ago. Both occasions have given me a good chance to study and appreciate this simple yet complex headgear that is much more than just adornment.

closeup of the area of antler that attached to the buck

The photo above (taken with a macro lens attachment) shows the antler “burr”, the part that was attached to QT’s pedicle (one of the red spots you saw in my last post). It’s about 4 cm across at its widest point.

Each pedicle is unique, and remains the same throughout a buck’s life – akin to fingerprints on humans – so the rough white part of the burr shows what is essentially QT’s unique “right fingerprint”. If he leaves us next year’s shed right antler, it should have exactly the same fingerprint. If we find his left antler, the fingerprint will be different.

closeup of rough part of antler

The area between the burr and the little short tine is covered with bony ridges, as you can see above…

closeup of smooth part of antler with black background

while higher up the antler, where the top tines branch out, the surface is smooth and gently curved.

closeup of smooth antler surface with black background

To give you a sense of scale, the entire antler is about 25 cm (just under a foot) high, with the top points 15 centimeters apart. This may seem small for a five year-old buck, but we live on a relatively small island and deer size seems to have adapted accordingly. We grow ’em small!

Regardless of antler size, humans have made use of these bony appendages for weapons and tools, and when you get up close to one, it’s obvious how effective an antler could be for various purposes. In fact, I’m tempted to use the one Nibblet left us, a shaft with a single point, as a dibber when I plant garlic this spring.

Smooth and rough, strong, sharply pointed, finely honed yet sturdy, an antler is a thing of both beauty and utility – form and function in a single package.


In addition to this and my previous post, QT has featured in some of my other past posts. If you’re interested in seeing more of him:

Seeing Red

Deer with bright red raw looking areas where antlers had been

Seeing red: QT, the morning after losing his antlers (click to enlarge & see details)

“Yikes! That looks painful,” I thought, when QT, our oldest resident buck, came for his regular morning visit one day earlier this month.

We’d seen him the previous afternoon, but since then he’d shed his antlers – revealing ruby-red, raw-looking mounting points (pedicles), each the size of an old-fashioned silver dollar. (I have not added any saturation to the photo, which I took through our window.)

Columbian black-tailed bucks shed their antlers every winter, so I’m used to seeing “our boys” sans headgear for a few months each year. But I’d never seen such freshly exposed pedicles before.

Thankfully, within a couple of days the mounting points lost their redness and seemed to harden up, looking like painless brown scabs rather than open wounds. Now, three weeks later, you can hardly notice them at all.

Once spring arrives, I’ll be watching with interest as QT starts the whole antler-growing process all over again.

The Prize at the End of the Trail

Large arbutus trunks arching over a seaside trail

At the end of the trail (click on images to enlarge)

In my previous post I described the trail at Francis Point Provincial Park, and how we were encouraged to carry on by a hiker who assured us we’d reach the end soon. “You’ll know you’re there when you get to the arbutus trees,” he said casually.

It was a hot day, and we’ve seen innumerable Arbutus menziesii over the years – they are, like my husband and me, native to our region – so it was tempting to give it a miss and head back to our boat for a cool drink.

But I’m glad we carried on, because what greeted us at the end of the trail was no “ordinary” arbutus grove (if there is such a thing). This was a unique and expansive forest of brilliant orange trunks and limbs…


reaching out toward the sun…


twisting, twining…


and dancing to their own unique rhythm, on a bluff above the sea.

The Trail to Francis Point

Mossy bluff with large island in background

On the trail to Francis Point (click on photos to enlarge)

On a dry day, Francis Point Provincial Park on BC’s Sunshine Coast provides a good opportunity for boaters whose legs are itching for exercise – as ours were this past summer, when we set out to walk there from our anchorage in Gerrans Bay, about a mile away in Pender Harbour.

The day was hot, the skies were clear, and once we reached the shoreline portion of the trail, the views across to Texada Island (photo above) and north up Malaspina Strait (below) were glorious.

Arbutus tree and view up Malaspina Strait

But despite the vista on offer to me as a photographer, I found myself looking straight down more often than through my viewfinder. I was glad we’d worn decent footwear, as this was definitely not a time for sandals or flip flops.

Tree roots, soil and stone

Staying on the trail wasn’t easy. It wound in and out of the woods, creating a mosaic of eye-challenging light and shade that complicated our maneuvers over areas of loose stone. In numerous places the path seemed to diverge or vanish, and the rocky bluff we walked along was steep at times.

Seaside trail of stones along a bluff

After stumbling along for about 45 minutes we stopped to ask a younger, more energetic hiker how much further it was to Francis Point. He said it would only take us a few more minutes, and that we should persist – that what we’d find at the end of the trail would make the walk worthwhile.

He was right, it turned out – as I’ll show you in my next post.