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.

Worth a Closer Look

Upside down mushroom in the fall forest

Overturned (click image to enlarge – twice if you want to see all the details)

Fungi are flourishing here this fall. Each day brings unexpected appearances in places I don’t remember any having been the day before. Some new arrivals stick around for a few weeks while others are more ethereal, disappearing after only a day or two.

I find myself constantly looking down as I walk our forest trails, to spot the latest pop-ups and check out the shape, size and colour variations of these mysterious life forms that are neither plant nor animal. The mushrooms are so profuse and ubiquitous that I can’t help but imagine vast, branching underground mycelia spanning the length and breadth or our property and beyond, spreading their filaments through the entire neighbourhood.

I try to tread carefully so as not to step on any mushrooms, but with all the fallen leaves and forest litter, they’re not always easy to spot. Luckily – especially for someone who carries a camera – the underside of a freshly overturned gilled mushroom can be well worth a closer look.

Entering the Wet Season

Two large mushrooms on a mossy tree trunk with fallen leaves and ferns

Wet Season Collage (click to enlarge)

After a long, welcome stretch of sunny October days, our all-too-familiar autumn rains have arrived – a signal of that dark, wet time of year here on the west coast which lasts until sometime in February. Yet even with our mostly-brown season closing in, there are fascinating things happening outdoors.

Right now, for instance, leaves are dropping and taking on odd colour patterns as they decay, fern fronds are browning up, and our ubiquitous moss is, almost audibly, slurping up all that tasty new life-affirming moisture. And everywhere I look, mushrooms are popping up – granted, not all as large or colourful as the ones in the photo above, but no less interesting.

Appreciation from a Distance

Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia

Texada Island looms large (click on image to enlarge)

Thirty mile-long Texada Island, the largest of BC’s Gulf Islands, lies in the middle of the Strait of Georgia. With a high elevation, it’s a dominant landmark for boaters crossing the Strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland coast.

The island has a colourful history that includes whaling, mining, farming and at least a couple of significant shipwrecks. It had an opera house at the turn of the 20th century and during prohibition, produced and supplied illegal hootch to the US black market. Today it’s quieter and more focused on outdoor tourism, but no less interesting, I expect.

I say “expect”, because Texada remains a bit of a mystery to me. Though I’ve passed by it more times than I can remember and I’ve lived in southwestern BC my entire life, I’ve only been on the island a couple of times. The reason is not lack of curiosity, but the island’s mid-Strait location.

Crossing the Strait in a small boat (or “crossing the Gulf”, as old-timers call it) can be a challenge. When a strong southeast or northwest wind is blowing, it builds strength as it sweeps along the 135 mile-long waterway. The resulting steep waves come at you broadside if you’re trying to get across the Strait – giving you the choice of rolling for the three or four hours needed to reach the other side via the shortest route, or taking a longer course to avoid the worst of the roll. Neither option is much fun.

But lest I scare anyone off, it’s worth noting that there are also plenty of days when the Strait is a gentle delight to cross, as it was earlier this summer when I took the photo above. We’ve had many calm crossings over the years, a result of choosing our timing carefully (along with some luck).

Even on a calm day, though, we know that weather conditions can change rapidly – which is why, instead of stopping to explore Texada, we always push on to complete our crossing. Perhaps some day we’ll make the island our destination, but for now, caution prevails over curiosity – so I’ll continue to appreciate Texada from a distance.