Snoozing in Safety

Three sea lions sleeping on a floating navigational buoy

In Dreamland, on a waterbed (click on photos to enlarge)

Even sea lions need their beauty sleep. And since they’re a favourite meal for killer whales, they need to be careful about where they haul out for a snooze.

So it wasn’t a surprise last summer to see three large sea lions catching some z’s on East Cardinal Buoy PB, off Cape Lazo – the extremely shallow depth at that spot likely keeps killer whales at a safe distance. (More on this buoy, below.) 

Despite the constant rocking and din of boat motors passing by, PB seems like a decent enough bed. It’s well situated for safety, and it even sports handy posts to keep sleepers from falling overboard.

Still, it doesn’t look exactly comfortable, especially for the lion on the left. My neck aches in sympathy!

East cardinal buoy PB with sleeping sea lions aboard

This important navigational aid is one of several that mark safe passage for mariners crossing the treacherously shallow “Comox Bar” between Denman Island and Cape Lazo, to enter or exit the Strait of Georgia.

PB is an “east cardinal buoy”, indicating that safe passage lies to the east of the marker. Cardinal buoys are yellow and black, with conical top marks configured in one of four specific ways, depending on whether safe passage lies to the north, south, east or west.

At night, mariners must determine the direction of safe passage by the speed/duration of the buoy’s flashing light, since the top marks aren’t visible.

A Lot to Bite Off

Small fish with jellyfish that has a chunk missing

A lot to bite off (click to enlarge).

At a marina near Desolation Sound last summer, a school of small fish were busily swarming a jellyfish, biting off and eating bits of it, right beside the dock. I’d never seen a fish (or any animal, for that matter) eating a jellyfish, and nor had the other people who stopped to watch.

Murphy’s Law prevailed, so by the time I’d fetched my camera from our boat, the fish had darted off, leaving one lone individual whose resolve seemed to have vanished along with his buddies. So you’ll have to take my word for it: the large chunk missing from the jellyfish in the photo above was removed by a school of fish that included this little guy.

Since then I have learned that very few creatures eat jellyfish: the Leatherback turtle (a reptile), the Northern fulmar (a bird) and the Ocean sunfish (a fish, but a large one) are among the only known “medusivores”. I’ve been unable to find any mention of small fish in the Pacific Ocean eating jellyfish.

However, several articles in 2010 discussed the exciting (at least to marine biologists) news that jellyfish had been discovered to comprise up to a third of the diet of the Bearded goby, a small fish in the South Atlantic. This suggests that Bearded gobies are successfully adapting to some of the impacts of climate change, including the increasing number of jellyfish in the world’s oceans. (Here’s an interesting article about the findings and their significance.)

There are over 2000 species of gobies worldwide, and though I can’t be certain (and am happy to be corrected by more knowledgeable readers), I think my little fish last summer were likely Black-eye goby, one of our region’s three native species.

If so, could I have been witnessing some of the first evidence, here in the Pacific Northwest, that gobies are adapting to some of the impacts of climate change?

Now that would be exciting news, even if it is a lot to digest.

Encounter at Low Tide

Raccoon digging under the seaweed in the intertidal zone

Lunchtime: when the tide goes out, the table is set (click to enlarge).

During a shoreline paddle in the Gulf Islands earlier this year, I stopped to admire this busy character.  How could I resist the combination of a gorgeous fur coat and such skill at finding a delicious shellfish lunch underneath all that seaweed?

(If you click on the photo twice, to enlarge it to maximum size, you’ll see by those lovely teeth that the appreciation wasn’t exactly mutual. Just as well I was afloat in my kayak.)

I’m always fascinated to watch raccoons at work, using the keen sense of touch they have in their front paws to locate food, even in places where it looks all but impossible to find.

I admit, though: had I encountered the same character at home in my garden, I would not have been quite so charmed. Context is everything, isn’t it?

This image, along with many of my others, is available for purchase as stock photography from Alamy.

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