Wine takes fertilizer



The Okanagan is famous for its wine, and vineyards are raking it in and popping up like mushrooms on the floors of the valleys (this is actually one of the major development pressures threatening the scarce habitats). We found an unusual nitrogen subsidy taking place when we ended up on Road 22 outside Osoyoos. I will let the pictures do the talking.


Here he is, an osprey in a vineyard…


Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that carp yesterday…


Hmmm. Something is about to happen…


Yep! There it is!


What? What you lookin’ at?




Heck with this, I’m going fishing.


Ain’t I majestic?


On a mission….yeah…


There were three osprey nests in very close proximity.


This one was closest to the road and was just being started.


In the nearby Osoyoos Oxbows, the osprey found abundant fish.


This area is an osprey-watcher’s dream.


I worry a bit though that not all of the power lines are fitted with shock-proofing insulators.

Ride for Lyme!


These aren’t the ticks you’re looking for…These are Dermacentor andersoni, the Rocky Mountain wood tick. They do not transmit Borellia, but nonetheless are a spectacularly ornamented hard tick. Male is in the centre, flanked by two females.


This weekend, Catherine and I went out to Victoria to spend Mothers Day with my mom, who years ago suffered a debilitating illness caused by a spirochaete, Borrelia burgdoferi.  This spirochaete, as far as we know, is transmitted in an enzootic cycle between ticks and various small mammals, reptiles and birds. When it spills over into the human population, it can cause symptoms ranging from mild rash and arthritis to fatal swelling of the brain and other organs, with just about everything in between represented. It is the most common arthropod-borne illness in North America, with hundreds of thousands of infections annually.

Primarily this disease is transmitted by black-legged ticks (Ixodes ricinus), but Ixodes pacificus, the Pacific black-legged tick is also a competent vector. While the main hotspots for Lyme transmission in Canada is southern Ontario and Quebec, there is growing evidence that locally acquired infections in BC may be becoming more common.

Nonetheless, the disease is often misdiagnosed, unrecognized, or otherwise not regarded as serious by a large proportion of the medical establishment, who are convinced that a quick round of antibiotics will kill the parasite. This is often true, but it seems that it is not always the case. Some of the most severe manifestations of Lyme disease go on to be persistent, leading to progressive debilitating symptoms. This chronic form of Lyme is the most controversial, as the leading treatment orthodoxy does not recognize the existence of long-term infection.

The existing diagnostic criteria are often insufficient, for while they pick up the so-called classic Lyme symptoms very well, an unknown percentage of sufferers never experience the characteristic bulleseye rash (erethema migrans) or early arthritic symptoms. Molecular techniques used for diagnosis are designed only for those sufferers presenting with classic Lyme symptoms, and even at this they have very poor performance. So the situation in Canada is there is transmission of a debilitating parasite, which can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and medical and disease-control officials are unwilling to acknowlege the extent and nature of the problem.

Anyway, something is being done to address this illness, both from a public information perspective as well as from a fundraising one.


Two young fellows from St. Catharines, Ontario are undertaking a cross-Canada bicycle ride to raise money for and awareness of the disease. Daniel Corso and Tanner Cookson have a friend named Adelaine who was recently affected by Lyme disease, and realized what a tough and enduring problem the disease would be in her life. Discovering that the treatment options and diagnostic situation in Canada need to be updated, the two decided that their love of athletics may offer some kind of solution in the form of an endurance fundraiser. If nothing else, their ride might help raise Adelaine’s spirits.

On Sunday, they began their effort with a rally at Victoria’s Centennial Square, where they announced the ride and introduced their support team (their dads!). Since it was Mothers Day, they also made a special effort to acknowledge the mothers affected by the disease (like mine).

For more information on Lyme borelliosis in Canada, visit the CanLyme website, and to follow along with Tanner and Daniel’s ride, check out

This is a really important health issue in Canada, and this is a great way to raise awareness and funds for research. If you happen to be on their route, be sure to go and cheer them on!

Below are some pictures from the Victoria events.

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Back from vacation!


We have been back nearly a week now, and the time in the Okanagan was absolutely amazing! I have not had time to work up many posts, but I hope to do so very soon. In the meantime, here are some landscapes to give an idea of the environments we were in.





Weekend Expedition 64: Victoria birds and things


This weekend, Catherine and I went to Victoria to spend the weekend with my family and managed to get out for photography on both Saturday and Sunday.


My brother and I found this Kildeer making a bit of a fuss at the morning flight of crows at Cattle Point. Surely it is too early for nesting?


No! There was definitely some incubation happening!


Returning later in the afternoon allowed a closer approach with more light.


And speaking of crows, here are a few from Cattle Point.


With this moustache, it is no wonder Europeans often mistake our crows for ravens.


The camas is beginning to bloom in Victoria, with a few early blossoms showing u already. They are spectacular in the Garry Oak meadows, and are a great source of pollen for the bumblebees.


Although we shot a bunch of spiders, I will just show the Tibellus, leaving the rest for Catherine to blog about!


This shows how cryptic they can be on dead grass!


With some backlight, they really stand out!


Your background can really be a canvas to convey whatever kind of colour you need. Here is spring grass, you could also use dead leaves for a rich reddish wash.


At first when we found this bee fly, we thought a spider had killed it, as it was hanging limp from an oak branch.


Looking at the abdomen, we could see no spider attached.


It’s alive! Was just torpid from the cool morning.


After a photo session, the fly began some wing buzzing to warm up and fly off.


On Sunday morning, my brother and I headed off at dawn for some early shots. Here is the city from Gonzales hill,



We found this eagle at Clover Point.


After a time, it joined some gulls and crows investigating some garbage.


After an oblivious dogwalker scared it off, it flew away into the morning sun.


This shot is pretty cool…






A hardcore salamander



The Plethodontidae, or lungless salmanders, are a remarkable successful group of Northern Hemisphere amphibians. Unlike many other amphibians, these animals have direct development in the egg, and have freed themselves from the need for an aquatic larval stage. They are abundant and easy to find in the forests of coastal BC, where we have two very common species, the ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii) and the western redbacked salamander (Plethodon vehiculum).

After a remarkable unproductive photographic outing this Sunday, I decided to try for a portrait session with a pretty organism I was sure of finding. I turned over rotted logs in the forest of Stanley Park, and the first plethodontid I found was a Plethodon. Here are the resulting shots.






Goodbye to Taiko

The weekend was not all fun times with spiders. We also had to say goodbye to our friend Taiko, the large, and surpringly tough and worldly rottweiler we had known for many years. Taiko suffered a stroke on Saturday, and when we went to see him in the evening, he could no longer walk. He stayed with his beloved owner Buffie through the night, and on Sunday a veterinarian made a house call, and we said goodbye as he was euthanized.  He was happy and comfortable at home during his last moments, surrounded by loved ones. He will be missed.



Weekend Expedition 62: Springtime in the park


After a hiatus of a few weeks, I finally managed to get out this weekend for some shooting! I went with my friend Florian to Stanley Park on a gorgeous sunny Saturday, to search out the creatures of the early springtime.


First of all some springtime flowers, which are blooming all over Vancouver.


The geese are getting frisky, cleaning up for the mating season. The males are getting all aggro as well, and we watched one fly right into a tree in a miscalculated attack on another perched nearby. He managed to fly away from that collision, luckily.


I noticed this eagle a little too late after seeing gulls flushing off the water. It was hunting birds, and I only managed to shoot one pass before it gave up.


Here it is in a steep bank searching for a target.


A bit of a halfhearted dive after some gulls, and then the eagle flew away.


There were lots of scaups on the lagoon, and the lighting conditions were quite nice even at midmorning.


It is too bad this bufflehead did not pass closer, as the lighting was just right for his beautiful iridescent head!


This seemed like a great pose for a fat coot. Reflection, colour, feet… It’s all there!


The sentry point for aggressive male geese…Seems like they do this every spring. The heron watches the silliness.


I liked the backlight on these leaves.


The bumblebee queens were out in force at a patch of heather…I think there were 3 species at least, but I was wrestling with some ill-charged flash batteries, and did not get many shots!


From a distance with the 300 I managed to shoot some bumblers on crocus.


An early syrphid! Later on we saw a Leptoglossus occidentalis as well, but I had to head home for some more writing.


A Douglas’ Squirrel by teh water.


And the prototypical springtime bird for most of Canada (though we have them year-round) the American Robin!

More camera trapping on the balcony


This past weekend was another work weekend, and in addition, I had a nasty cold. This precluded me from getting out for photography, but Catherine and I did expand our balcony bird buffet!

First off, we decided to see who would come for peanuts:

Second, a different position on the hummingbird feeder results in much better light! This female seems pretty pleased.

And a male to show off his nice gorget.

Here is a homemade suet ball that Catherine made, with all kinds of nuts and grains. The chickadees seemed pretty happy with it.

I also bought a bird feeder at the dollar store, which is not a bad little unit! Very low volume, but seems sturdy enough!

You can see in the photo above, and also in the reflection on the window the video setup. I am just using a light stand to hold the camera, weighed down by a jug of ethanol in a bag.


Anna’s hummingbirds at home

IMG_7857I have been rather busy these past few weeks working on top secret government stuff, so I have had not had much opportunity to get out and shoot. I was not such a big deal this week, as we have had miserable rainy weather for most of it. But yesterday turned out to be beautiful, so it was killing me a little to stay in and work. Luckily, interesting things have been happening at the hummingbird feeder, so I took a bit of time to set up some video. Since it it right on the balcony, I did not have to go far!

First of all, some HD video of various hummingbirds feeding.

Next, some less beautiful footage showing a female feeding. Any guesses what she might have been doing just previous to this?

Anyway, the hummingbirds were a nice treat on a working Sunday. I will try to get some more material on them when I get the chance!


To Houston and back!


It is a wonderful thing to give a talk to an enthusiastic audience, especially when comes with a chance to travel and meet new people. I was very lucky to have had this opportunity last week when I went to Houston Texas to give a talk on Red-throated Caracaras to the Houston Audubon Society.

Mary-Anne Weber, along with Juanita Perkins arranged for me to travel to Houston to give this talk, and were my most gracious hosts during my trip. I did not have to stay in a hotel, but instead stayed with my friend Cullen Geiselman, a bat researcher who I met at the Nouragues Station.

I am very grateful to have had this wonderful opportunity, and I thank all of the people who came out to hear me talk.



The Houston Audubon is located at the Edith L. Moore wildlife sanctuary, and has about 17 acres of woodland protected.



One of the first things I looked for at the Sanctuary was ants, and I was lucky enough to find this Leptogenys elongata colony.


These are members of the subfamily Ponerinae, and are much different in form from the myrmicines and formicines I am used to.


As their name suggests, they are gracile (slender and long limbed) and likely either run fast or climb trees. On this day, they weren’t going anywhere quickly because it was cold and rainy.


On Friday, after my talk, I went out with Mary-Anne Weber and Joe Smith for a birding outing. Here is something we don’t often see in Canada!


This osprey allowed a close approach using the time-tested technique of pretending we didn’t see it!


A couple of local dogs who thought they owned the place!


Several osprey were fishing in the stormwater retention ponds.


A white pelican flies by some construction. This is likely to be another Canadian visitor to Houston.


White pelicans engaged in feeding. They are not spectacular divers like Brown Pelicans, but they sure are majestic. .


This is a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, which Mary-Anne ID’ed correctly. I was thrown off by the white splotches on the back, which we do not often get on the West Coast.


From the front it looks much like our Cooper’s Hawks.


Everything is bigger in Texas, including the Great Blue Herons! Well, all over the east they are bigger than our West Coast form.


The closest approach of a White Pelican.


Back at the Sanctuary, I found some more ants, this time a very very tiny myrmicine. Any ideas about what this is?


The workers were dimorphic, with this large headed form being present.


I even managed to find a jumping spider, despite the cold wet weather.


And finally, a mystery ground spider, which we will be in a better position to ID after this summer, when Catherine and I will attend a workshop in spider taxonomy in Arizona.


After I left Houston, I took the opportunity to do some aerial photography of the western landscapes we flew over. Here the mountains and deserts look like an alien landscape with the desaturation of distance.