A Strange, Soggy Beauty

Yellow, decaying foliage of rhubarb plants

After a mild, wet and windy November, we’re promised a stretch of cool, calm and sunny days this week – a reward to soggy west coasters for our patience, perhaps.

But before I break out my long johns and sunglasses, I’m taking a moment to celebrate the strange beauty that all that rain brought to our garden (photo above) and forest floor (photo below). It’s a beauty that defies conventional definitions – but it’s lovely nonetheless, and you can find it frequently in nature’s annual cycle of decay, if you look closely enough.

Now, with a significant birthday rapidly approaching, I only wish I could see a similar beauty in my own natural decay!

Fallen mushroom, fir cones and decaying bits of wood on a forest floor

As always, you can click on the images to enlarge them if you’d like to see the details.

Their Time to Shine

The pond on a rainy November day (click to see details)

On the west coast of BC we don’t experience that amazing palette of fall colours that you’ll see back east. But we do have our own special brand of autumn hues: mostly, many variations on a theme of yellow.

On this typically rainy day in November, I’m thankful for the gold and amber hues of the willows, steeplebush, Bigleaf maples, grasses and bracken around our pond.

They’re all native species, planted here by Mother Nature and requiring virtually no tending. They spend most of the year quietly in the background – then, at this wet, windy and dark time of year they step forward and begin to shine, brightening up our back yard, and my spirits.

Finding Beauty Close to Home

Islands and clouds reflected in the water

Morning Glory (click to see the details)

Over the past four summers we’ve focused our boating adventures on waters close to home, here on the south coast of British Columbia – unlike in previous years, when our younger, adventurous spirits were lured north by the promise of wilder, more remote destinations.

The south coast holds most of BC’s population, and it’s where my husband and I have lived and boated most of our lives. So in setting off these past few summers, we had some concerns. One was whether we’d find safe, quiet spots to anchor – places where we could be, if not totally alone, at least not cheek-to-jowl with other boaters.  Another was whether we’d miss that sense of adventure we’d felt when cruising up north.

I’m happy to report that we were able to find what we were looking for, even in the most popular cruising areas: secure and relatively private anchorages, gorgeous scenery and lots of wildlife (including orca and humpback whales).

Best of all, we felt a sense of newness even within areas we’d thought very familiar. We found beautiful spots we’d never seen before, renewed our acquaintance with places we’d last visited decades ago, and discovered a good number of lovely new anchorages, often just around the corner from spots we’d been to more times than we could count.

For example, we had passed by the bay in the photo above many times over the years, but never stopped before this summer, when we found we liked it so much that we stayed three nights.  The mackerel sky I photographed that first morning may have been foretelling a change in the weather (and indeed, rain arrived 48 hours later) – but at the time, the sky and its reflection spoke just one simple word to me: beauty.

“Morning Glory” is one of a dozen new prints I’ll be showing at the Gabriola Photography Club’s Fall Show & Sale on Sunday, Nov. 19 (details here). If you’re on Gabriola Island the show is definitely worth attending. As well as mounted prints, cards, and door prizes, there’s a group slideshow, featuring 15 talented and diverse photographers, including some of our newest members. See you there!

Raptor’s Repast

Mature bald eagle eating a small bird

Click once on the images to enlarge – twice if you want to see all the details.

We weren’t the only ones using Denman Island’s new community wharf when we pulled in to the dock one morning earlier this summer. Purple martins and their fledglings were active at the nest boxes, and shorebirds paddled serenely nearby.

A peaceful scene indeed – until a mature bald eagle landed on the railing of the pier just above. While I rushed to grab my camera, the raptor swooped briefly over the water, quickly returning to its perch with a tiny catch gripped in its powerful talons.

Eagle eating a small bird

The eagle made short work of its prey, plucking and dismembering it, and soon sported a mouthful of feathers, as you can see above.

Eagle cleaning its beak

When the meal was over the eagle undertook an elaborate ritual, just like the songbirds do at our backyard suet feeder: repeatedly wiping first one side of its beak, then the other, against the wooden railing. (This is called “feaking”, shown above, and it serves to keep the beak clean and sharp.)

Though not exactly “pretty”, the unfolding scene made for an interesting photographic shoot – while at the same time raising some unsettling questions. Were fish so scarce this summer that mighty bald eagles have to rely on tiny birds like this? And could this hapless victim have been one of the purple martin fledglings I’d been admiring just moments before?

The images in this post, along with many of my others, are available for purchase as stock photography from Alamy.

The Life of Riley

Red-legged frog floating outstretched in a pond with fir needles on its head and back

“Riley”, laid back and soaking up the sun (click to enlarge)

On those all too-rare occasions when she was able to kick back and do nothing other than enjoy the day, my mother always had one thing to say: “Well, ain’t this the life of Riley!”

I’m reminded of this on sunny days in June, when I run across Red-legged frogs lounging in our pond – as if they have no worries or cares in the world (not even any concern that they’re a species at risk).

Perhaps they’re a little more carefree than normal this year, thanks to our copious spring rains and recent showers. Life is good right now in the pond. There’s more water than usual for June, so the new generation of tadpoles have pretty favourable odds of making it through to adulthood.

Ahh – the life of Riley, indeed.

Red-legged frog sprawled out in pond, looking at camera

“What’cha looking at, lady?” (click to enlarge)

These photos, along with many of my others, are available as stock photography from Alamy

Quality Time with Uncle

Buck with tiny fawn

Q.T., attentive uncle to the new fawn (click on photos to enlarge)

It’s always a special day when our resident Momma deer brings her new fawn(s) to our backyard to meet us for the first time. Today, May 31, was that day – the earliest one in our records, which go back about 10 years.

The tiny little guy (gal?) appears healthy and is, of course, super cute. “Mr. Man” and I oohed and awed like proud grandparents, delighting in its every move. Mother Scarlet wandered away, paying no attention to either our compliments or her fawn. She was more interested in the daisies in the lawn.

It’s her third fawn, and I guess she has reason to be unconcerned, especially since her twin brother Q.T. was looking after it. Q.T. has always seemed like a gentle soul, and his nurturing side is now shining with this new arrival.

Fawn looking up at buck who's giving it very gentle kick

“Respect your elders!” says Q.T. – gently.

That said, he’s not above giving the fawn a small, very soft kick when some discipline is needed. A teachable moment, I guess.

About Q.T.’s name: we originally called him “Cutie” but when he grew up that was obviously inappropriate, and so he became the much cooler sounding “Q.T.” The initials had no real meaning – until now, when we can see they must mean “Quality Time” for the little one.

Update June 3: Double cuteness! This morning Scarlet and Q.T. came for another visit – this time with two adorable fawns. Seems Scarlet, now four years old, has had her first set of twins. Good thing her brother Q.T. is a devoted sibling – she’ll need his help to keep on top of this lively pair. 

These photos, along with many of my others, are available as stock photography from Alamy

Look But Don’t Linger

Ocean swell landing on a group of small islands, with gulls.

Ocean Surge at the Storm Islands (click to enlarge)

We’ve passed close by the Storm Islands a couple of times on our way to and from BC’s Central Coast.

They lie mid-channel about 20 km northeast of Vancouver Island – right about where the massive and open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound meet the only marginally less open waters of Queen Charlotte Strait.

The islands are well named, since they’re exposed to heavy swell coming in from the Pacific Ocean, even on relatively “calm” days like the one shown here.

It’s definitely not a place to stop over, unless you’re a gull. Or a storm-petrel. Apparently the Storm Islands are one of three rocky island areas that, altogether, support the majority of nesting storm-petrels on Canada’s entire west coast. We didn’t spot any when we passed by – but then, we didn’t exactly linger.

If you’re on Gabriola Island this weekend:

Be sure to catch the Gabriola Photography Club’s annual Spring Show on Sunday afternoon, May 7 (details here). See you there!

What a Difference…

coastal islands and channels

The view at 1800 hrs (click on images to enlarge)

To borrow from the old song, what a difference a day makes – or even just 12 hours!

The photo above was taken from our boat on an August evening at about 1800 hours (6 pm in land-talk). We were on our way home from a summer-long journey up the BC coast, and we’d just dropped anchor in a cozy cove at the mouth of Fish Egg Inlet. Before starting dinner preparations, I took a moment to savour and photograph the view: looking through one of the anchorage’s “windows” into adjacent Illahie Inlet, with hints of the Coast Mountain range in the background.

Our plan was to head out early the next morning, as several long and challenging passages lay ahead and we needed to take advantage of any decent weather on offer.

But as it turned out, an early start wasn’t possible. Here’s the view looking in the same direction the next morning at 0600:

Foredeck of boat with islands nearby, barely visible through the fog.

It was as if someone had drawn a huge, almost opaque isolation curtain right around our boat. (In reality our view was more obscured than the image shows – I’ve increased the contrast a bit so that you can make out the nearby shores without too much eye strain.)

The fog lifted by 1015 and we were finally able to get underway. With the late start we didn’t get as far as we’d hoped that day, but fortunately we had built extra time into our itinerary for unforeseen delays like this.

That morning was a good reminder of why mariners commonly refer to August as “Fogust” on the BC coast – and how important it is to keep your plans and expectations flexible when travelling by boat.