Tag Archive | Weekend Expedition

Weekend Expedition 71: Mississauga salamander hunt


After a week of warmth, Gil Wizen and I set out for the same woods we visited last week, in order to see if we could find any salamanders out to take advantage of the vernal pools. The snow was completely gone, and the pools ice-free, although it was overcast and a nippy 5 C.


There were flies and moths out on the vegetation, indicating at least that the insects have begun to wake up.


Even a male orb weaver was out, although he did not have a capture web.


Near the vernal pools, we started to flip some logs, hoping for a treasure rove of salamanders, but initially we found only millipedes, beetles and some small red-backed salamanders.


There were quite a few firefly larvae in the rotted wood, as well as some rove beetles.


Very close to the vernal pools, Gil found this Jefferson’s Salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum. This (to me) was a big beast, dwarfing the longtoed salamanders from BC. This species is endangered in Ontario, although it is common in other parts of its range.


They are a difficukt species to capture well in a photograph, and for this shot I stood off at a distance and used the 300 mm. Luckily it was overcast, and the light in the forest was diffuse. The salamander was quite motionless, and probably was not pleased about being out in daylight.


We replaced the big amphibian, and wished it well. Soon, hopefully, many of its fellows will come down to breed in these little vernal pools.


We also found a few redbacked salamanders, which are a species of plethodontid. These animals have no need of open water to breed, and in fact lay their eggs in moist soil and wood, hatching out into juveniles with legs already formed. They are lungless, and never need gills either!


These Plethodon are a bit easier to photograph, although they might have benefited from a more diffuse flash.


After leaving Gil to pack for his coming trip to Ecuador, I found my way home was blocked by a big St. Patrick’s day parade. It was scheduled to last several hours, so I crawled through the awful Toronto traffic to Tommy Thompson Park to kill some time until my annoying relatives had cleared out of town. I found a couple of nice sac spiders under some bark.


These Clubiona have very impressive chelicerae, but never seem to threaten to use them. Instead, they are very prone to jumping when disturbed.


I found some European fire ants under a rock, and took some photos. They were still rather lethargic, and hence not much of a stinging hazard!


They are quite pretty little ants, and Toronto seems to abound with them now.


Here a worker antennates a queen. You can see her much-enlarged thorax and wing scars.


Despite their wings, the queens do not disperse by flying in North America, a trait they seem to have lost. In addition, the colonies here are often much larger than those in Europe.


Weekend Expedition 57: Thanksgiving in Victoria


This weekend, Catherine and I visited Victoria, for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday. The weather was not super cooperative for outdoor activities, and Catherine was working hard on her PhD NSERC proposal, but we did manage one trip out to Island View Beach to check up on the local arthropods. I also went for a stroll in Uplands Park to get some of the following shots.


This is how the rain looked on Saturday morning…


Better to be sheltered inside, or under the eaves of a house!


Quite a few grasshoppers were out and about. This one I shot as it was hiding on a Garry Oak leaf (you can see I was holding a white card below).


A juvenile wolf spider looking odd and elegant with two very prominent eyes.


A Dysdera crocata male in Uplands Park.


An Aphaenogaster occidentalis worker carrying brood in Uplands Park. This species does well in Garry Oak meadows.


Catherine, my friend Jeff, and a borrowed golden retriever (Jackson) at Island View Beach.


The fall selection of resting Hymenoptera was much more limited than previously, with this impressively-ovipositored ichneumonid being the only example we could find.


Resting snakes were about though; this garter snake was torpid and remained in a ball rather than trying to flee when we found her under a log.


Spiders were to be found in large numbers though, this being Arachtober and all. Here is a tetragnathid backlit with a bare flash.


Here is a running crab spider, of the genus Tibellus; the same one appears at the top of the post. These are very elegant-looking little spiders, and make great photographic subjects.


Most of the creatures we found were covered by a light dew. This cranefly sparkles.


This female Araneus diadematus was particularly large. That is Catherine’s finger for scale.


Speaking of large, here is a giant! A giant house spider, formerly Tegenaria duellica, now this species is called Eratigena atrica. Since Catherine is scheduled to give an upcoming talk on spider bites (and how they are very unlikely) at the ESBC conference, we decided for an illustrative photo shoot.


Here is the same spider sinking her fangs into resting peacefully on Catherine’s nose.


Apparently, the feet tickle. Not that I would ever try this, that would be crazy. 


A female Castianeira we found under some old plywood.


A penultimate male black widow. These ones that overwinter always seem to be more robust and darker than the juveniles that develop quickly in the summer. I would imagine this is a textbook example of phenotypic plasticity; one that deserves more careful study.


Again with an eye to Catherine’s upcoming talk, we took some shots of black widow defensive behaviour. Here a female throws glue-like silk on an offending finger. This is so reliable, I might have to try this in a studio setting with some nice backlight!


Last but not least, on our final morning in Victoria, we walked on Mt. Tolmie, where we found this male Anna’s hummingbird, still defending territory. It is impressive these little birds are still nesting in the cold wet fall!

Weekend Expedition 52: Return to the exit ramp


Last week, Catherine Scott, Sam Evans and I returned to the Annacis Island exit ramp to see the amazing array of salticids in all their glory. A rather odd place for a Weekend Expedition, but we found there is abundant life to be found in a noisy, chaotic industrial zone roadway.


Believe it or not, a concrete barrier provides great habitat for spiders! All the cracks, gaps and holes are good for retreats, and the busy roadway provides an endless source of maimed and stunned insects to serve as prey.



Most of the jumpers we found were smaller sized, but there were a few larger Phidippus as well.


This Phidippus female looks especially pretty on her drab background.


One of the most common spiders was Salticus scenicus, the introduced Zebra Jumper.


Here a Salticus scenicus female munches on a maimed moth.


Other arthropods are to be found on the concrete as well, such as ground beetles, ants and honeybees.


We found this crab spider in the rock fill of the bridge. It has a colouration reminiscent of Evarcha jumping spiders.


I am not sure who this cutie is, but she kept raising her palps up in a really endearing way.


Here is an Evarcha showing off some stunning eyes.


I did manage to find another male Habronattus decorus!


Their colouration is remarkable, but it is hard to convey in a photo!


Catherine and Sam found a couple male Habronattus ophrys males! We had no idea these beauties were to be found here; we had found them previously at Iona Beach.




Behold the awesome eyebrows and palps!



We stopped for some emergency calories at a local organic eating establishment McDonald’s and found this interesting contraption, well guarded by a furious chihuahua!



Feel the fury!

Weekend Expedition 40: special edition! Seals underwater!


I thought it prudent to get a small video camera to document upcoming fieldwork, so that I can provide PR materials for granting agencies. For this purpose, I got a GoPro, a small “action cam” which has a watertight housing and super wide lens. To put it through its paces, Jeff, my brother and I took it down to Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria for a close up look at the Harbour Seals. The following is the result.

Not bad eh? Given decent lighting, it does fine video. The still images from it in poor lighting are pretty noisy though, and it probably be best not to rely on it for still shots in the evening:


Nonetheless, it does have a certain gloomy charm.


With the SLR from the surface though, the seal image quality is much better.



The gulls were also looking fine against the reflection of the sky.




So the verdict. Seals and GoPros: a good combo!


Weekend Expedition 35: A short trip to Lynn Canyon


This Weekend Expedition was a bit rushed, as things were both busy and tiring for me, with the Spooktacular on Saturday, followed by a 5 h bout of Barn Owl tracking all night on Saturday-Sunday. As I slept in til nearly noon, and had a vehicle, I took Catherine out to Lynn Canyon, in her fabled homeland of North Vancouver.  The place was absolutely crawling with people, as are most natural areas on the North Shore are on nice weekend days. A major infestation! For this reason, Catherine and I stuck to the woods high above the river.



Although it was a nice dry, sunny day, the understory was still quite wet and teeming with fungal life,


Fungi, such as this Ramaria added colour to the forest floor.





Even the crevices we examined for spiders seemed to be full of fungus.


Most of the spiders we found were small Linyphiids or Araneids, but we did encounters some larger Amaurobiids, such as this pretty one. I really love the silky look of their abdomens.



We even found a Jumping Bristletail on an old cedar trunk.


We say several large slugs, but not much else in the way of arthropods except for some stray, sunning Leptoglossus and fungus gnats.


Despite the crowds, getting out to the woods was good for us, as recently life has felt rather hectic.


Weekend Expedition 30: A day off in Stanley Park


A picture of me, with a sizable prey item, trying to hold it together!

It has been a busy couple weeks here in Vancouver, preparing manuscript revisions for an upcoming paper and writing grant proposals for upcoming fieldwork. They way it is looking now, I may soon be travelling to Honduras in the fall for a 3 week expedition to survey for Red-throated Caracaras and Scarlet Macaws in a remote region of Olancho. This trip will also be to familiarize myself with the terrain, meet the local conservationists and researchers, and get rolling on some permitting issues pertaining to future fieldwork. This is an exciting development for species and habitat conservation, as well as for my harebrained scheme to continue research on my favourite loud birds!

Anyway, with all the excitement, it has been tough to find time to go out to shoot, but that is exactly what I did yesterday, hanging out in Stanley Park, and seeing what the late summer had to offer.


At first, I thought this fly was a member of the Orthorrhapha, the group including horseflies, but Morgan Jackson of Biodiversity in Focus correctly ID’ed it as a Tachinid! Don’t believe me? Check out the closeup of the antennae! The species is Euthera setifacies, one of only two species of Euthera in North America.


That’s a Cyclorhaphan, man! Those antennae are aristate!


The Himalayan Blackberry is still being visited by pollinators, but the vast majority of the fruit is ripe.


The ripe blackberry is under heavy attack by Drosophila suzukii, an invasive species of vinegar fly from Japan. This is male shows why  the species goes by the common name “Spotted-winged Drosophila”.


This male Common Aerial Yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria) is also a harbinger of fall. Their colony cycle is almost finished, reproductives are being produced, and within a month or so their nests will decline.


When the Bald-faced Hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) start nectaring, it is also an indication their colonies are in decline. Because much of the sugar for the adults is produced by the larvae (trophallaxis!), when larval numbers are low, adults must find other sources of fuel.


A Sierra Dome Spider, Neriene litigiosa (Linyphiidae) has a snack at the top of her dome web. As fall approaches, these become extremely apparent in almost every salal bush.


Our largest native slug, the Spotted Banana Slug eats some skunk cabbage.


The termites are flying, and their long wings and slow flight make for easy snares for web-building spiders. I like how the green of the fern is reflected in the translucent wings.


A Pacific Forktail (Ischnura cervula) hangs out by the water.


A Black Dancer (Mystacides sepulchralis) a type of Caddisfly, rests near Lost Lagoon.


Some kind of Nematus sawfly.


A raccoon checks out the situation before crossing the water.


I love how they hold their tails out!


Those without tails make do.



A very late brood Mallard Duckling from water level.


I was excited to see this male Pine White nectaring.


The omnipresent Woodland Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides).


Skippers can be pretty cute!


A lucky Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) takes advantage of the skipper abundance.


An introduced Drumming Katydid female (Meconema thalassinum) hangs out on a fern. Check out Piotr Naskrecki’s awesome blog post showing katydids ovipositing!


A colourful background makes this bumblebee pop!

Weekend Expedition 29: life isn’t all slo’ mo’


Well, we have been working hard for 9 days with the Photron SA-5, and this weekend was mostly busy as well. I managed to get some time out to take some photos amongst all the high speed madness. Most of these shots were taken during 6 minute downloading breaks with the camera, and I also snuck in a quick trip to the local community garden.


Culiseta incidens, probing my finger.


tanking up!


Graphocephala fenahi, the rhododendron leafhopper.



A beautiful syrphid bumblebee mimic, Eristalis flavipes.



A flower longhorn in the community garden.



A western yellowjacket delves under bark for prey.

OK, you have made it to the end of the photos. Did I ever mention that I am part American? The following 2 videos were shot at a whopping 10,000 frames per second.



Weekend Expedition 28: Nature outing with Hastings Park Conservancy


This Weekend, I joined local naturalist Istvan Orosi and members of the Hastings Park Conservancy for a guided walk around the pond at Hastings Park, my local greenspace. While Istvan kept an eye out for birds (he is master of the Audubon Bird Call!) I mainly scanned the foliage for insects and spiders.

This week was big for the Conservancy, as the Vancouver City Council heard arguments for the transfer of governance of the park from the PNE corporation (which is not doing that great a job for the wildlife) to to the Parks Board.  The Council will decide the issue in a special session Aug. 1, but I am not really hopeful the governance will change.

In the meantime, here are the pictures I took on Saturday!



An impressive male Tetragnathid, or Long-jawed Orbweaver, which seem common near bodies of water.



Green Lacewing resting in the shade.


A bird-dropping mimic caterpillar, which I believe is that of a swallowtail butterfly.


We spotted a Golden-rumped Warbler, which was a treat.



A nice Ichneumonid.




A crazy looking nymph, which I believe to be Heterotoma planicornis, an odd member of the Miridae.



The star of the show, out in the middle of the pond was a Green Heron, a rare bird in the Vancouver region.


Behold the Green Heron!


Weekend Expedition 27: SFU and the Pandora Community Garden


This weekend I have been working on revisions on a paper, so have not had time for a full-fledged expedition, but I spent a couple hours outside the lab at school (Simon Fraser University) on Saturday and Sunday, and some time in the Community Garden at Pandora Park in the evenings. For the time invested, it was not a bad haul of shots!


Dis you know that National Moth Week is upon us? This Pale Beauty did! Check back here Thursday for moth shots, as I am organizing a nighttime light trapping at school Wednesday night.


Mounting a second flash in a tree up the trail, I mimicked what a foraging bird might cue in on when examining sun-struck foliage.


Once he landed, this fly was very cooperative for photography! I didn’t notice his Nematoceran buddy til later though.


Here I am trying to make millipedes look good.


A Coquillettidia perturbans feeds on my arm. This species has larvae with a blade-like siphon that they pierce plant tissue with in order to breathe. They never have to come to the surface.


Found this firebrat (Thermobia domestica) in a basement hallway at SFU. They must have been on my mind, as my friend Nathan Woodbury just defended his PhD last week describing how these guys use symbiotic bacteria and fungi as site cues for resting spots.


A male Polistes dominula found at the community garden. I should revise my post about in situ on white, because I find when I push the whites using levels in Photoshop, I get a cleaner result than in  ACR…


Polistes dominula and thrips. What a size difference!


Bombus vosnesenskii on lavender. They really are an elegant bee.




I put the Polistes on an Echinacea. I think he liked it.


At the SFU comminity gardens, a honeybee learns the perils of pollination.


This is one of the major perils, and so pretty! The Goldenrod Crab Spider lies in wait, and seems to blend in with its surroundings.


A Snipe Fly (Rhagionidae likely in the genus Rhagio) in the clutches of death.


Will this hoverfly learn? No one can say. This pullback shot was possible thanks to the Monster Macro Rig; see the next picture for details.


This is a configuration you can use for pullback shots using the Monster Macro Rig. Notice that the camera body is pulled way back on the Arca rail, and the magic arms are somewhat extended forward. It can go even further than that, but mostly I use it close in. Photo by Mike Hrabar, who captured a wicked shot of the Crab Spider and Snipe Fly encounter.


Speaking of hoverflies, what I love about this shot is how the vortices from the landing fly kick up the pollen.


Honeybee, looking elegant on Echinacea.


The Weekend Expedition ended with this lovely Brown Lacewing on a daisy neat the Pandora Park Community Garden.

Weekend Expedition 26: Biking out to Iona


Trying my hand at bike-borne photography, this is my shot of a jet coming in to YVR. Note the Guaranteed Terrorist Proof® Fence!

This weekend Expedition, my dad and I paid a visit to Iona Beach, a place that has been very productive in the past.  We took our bikes out there, the better to enjoy the scorching sun and cloudless skies…

Like many hot and dry days, this trip was not as productive as it might have been, with many critters deep in shelter, and those that remain active remaining VERY active. Nonetheless, we did turn up a few cool animals, and I hope you enjoy the pics!


The unhappy remains of a green lacewing?


This little garter snake was under a log near the beach.


A Philanthus gibbosus beewolf, so called because they feed their young bees.


A Damsel Bug (Nabidae) haunts the under-log world.


There were few jumpers evident this time, which was a bit of a disappointment, but I did find this one female Habronattus.


A Hobo Spider (Tegenaria agrestis) is actually a pretty elegant looking thing!


There were many nymphal grasshoppers around, or as I like to call them, spider food!


A female Wolf Spider with a nest and an egg sac!


Check out the markings on this Hobo!


The dreaded Dysdera crocata, or Woodlouse Hinter.


A tentful of caterpillars on alder.


I wish I knew my grasshopper well enough to even say what genus this is in…



The buttonflowers can be productive for Hymenoptera.


Bembix Sand Wasp. Check out its crazy labrum!

All in all, the Expedition was not terribly fruitful. In the future I need to get out closer to dawn so as to take advantage of the less-active insects and better light…I made up for it Sunday with a bit of grant-writing at home and some prep for Cheapskate Tuesday.