Tag Archive | animals

We eat fish

IMG_0805On an Amazonian river, the birds and mammals are impressive, but there is also a huge amount of nutrient cycling in the water. These rivers cover vast areas of forest where huge amounts of protein become available during the wet season.  Because of this, the predatory animals along the river are very often piscivorous, feeding on fishes occasionally or exclusively.  This post is a brief photo introduction to a few of the fish-eating animals commonly seen along these rivers.


Fishing spiders (Pisauridae) were best photographed at night, as during the day they are extremely skittish and quick to hide. We did not see any giant examples, as I had in French Guiana, but I did not make a concerted search either.



The Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana) is an impressive kingfisher species also found in the Southern USA


The related Amazon Kingfisher (Chloroceryle amazona), by contrast is even more robust and has a much larger bill.



The White-necked Heron, Ardea cocoi, is the Amazonian equivalent to the Great Blue Heron. We saw a great many of these. They would often fly in front of the boat for may hundreds of metres.


The Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias), despite its name, is not a bittern at all, but rather related to the gallinules.


Here is a juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum), one of the more magnificent of the Tiger Herons.



The adult Rufescent Tiger Heron is a gem.


Something familiar…Sort of. This is a Neotropical Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus).


This one I remember from Florida. The Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), or snakebird is like a cormorant which swims with its body submerged. Interestingly enough they also soar  on thermals!


Osprey down here are all migrants from elsewhere.


Giant River Otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) were abundant along the Rewa, always travelling in groups. They cooperatively hunt for large fish and caiman, and have some real mustelid attitude!



Giant otter snacking on a fish.


In addition to these avian, arachnid and mustelid predators, we also had to be predators in order to eat during the trip. I dislike catching fish for sport, but when it became clear that there was no other protein along for the ride, we turned to fish with gusto. The fish along the Rewa are diverse and abundant, and can be reliably caught with simple equipment. Under sustained commercial fishing, the larger fish would likely be wiped out completely, but since the Rewa has so few visitors, there are large stocks of big fish available. Catching fish in the dry season is especially easy, as all the fish which ordinarily would be foraging in vast areas of flooded forest are concentrated in the river.


This black piranha will be our evening meal.


Catch of the day: some peacock bass and something we will use as bait tomorrow.




Peacock bass, grilled.



Josy with the “vampire fish” or Payara, Hydrolycus scomberoides



The long fangs of these fish are quite impressive, fitting into slots in the upper jaw.



With direct flash, the fish looks even more scary!


Nonetheless, the payara is good eating. We also used the head for a special project! Stay tuned for the next post!



We did all our fishing with handlines, baited usually with pieces of small piranha. Here Brian and Rambo fish for tiger catfish



Here I am with a tiger catfish, genus Pseudoplatystoma. This is a great fish for eating, and two of these fed us for 3.5 days. Photo by Jonathan Meiburg.


The tiger catfish are absolutely gorgeous.




Further upriver, we caught some aimara (Hoplias aimara), which I was familiar with from working in French Guiana.


Brian and Jonathan with a big aimara. Jonathan is wearing Catherine’s home-made tubular headwear as protection from the sun, and maybe so this fish’s relatives don’t recognize him. All aimara claims for damages should be made to Jonathan’s record label, Sub Pop Records



The day’s catch, with some to be dried to take home to Yupukari.


Aimara drying in the sun.




Stingless bees taking some of the aimara. Unlike other bees, meliponines feed scavenged meat to their larvae. Bees eat fish too!





I don’t get out much…


Seriously, I don’t get out much! The recent rainy weather has made photography and pretty well all other outdoor activity really unpleasant. In addition, it seems more and more work is piling up that requires my attention. Because we had a rare sunny break yesterday, I went out on the campus for an hour to see what I could see. And what I could see was soggy! The summer insects are gone, and seemingly the forest is once again the realm of water, fungi, dampness and decay.

Update: I read this line in a novel this morning: “In the distance… Simon Fraser University rose up on Burnaby Mountain, a cluster of grey-slab buildings, miserable and gloomy, saved from utter desolation by the surrounding patches of evergreen trees.”

From “A Thousand Bayonets” by Joel Mark Harris.

Seems appropriate!


Some nice Mycena.


Witches’ Butter! This is a weird basidiomycete that grows on woody debris (and sometimes bark).


This is not predation, but just photographic conjunction of an amaurobiid and a millipede.


The damsel bugs can be found through much of the fall.


Some kind of Coprinus.


Chicken-of-the-Woods! This is an older fruitbody, but I probably would have grabbed it when it was younger (if I got out more).



A hardy orbweaver sits in her tiny web.


I may not get out, but sometimes insects come in! This Western Conifer Seed Bug came into the lab. looking for an overwintering spot.

Barn Owling with Sofi


Sofi and an adult male Barn Owl from several years ago.

Last night, my dad and I went out with my friend Sofi Hindmarch to do some work with Barn Owls (Tyto alba) out in Ladner. I have known Sofi since she was in her masters program, and have been helping her catch and track owls for some years now.

The first task for the evening was to band some chicks in nest boxes Sofi has been monitoring. We checked four nest boxes and saw several owls at the sites, but only one of them had any young inside. This old box in a barn had three chicks.


Sofi carefully removes the chicks from the box.



This owl thinks this is the worst thing ever.


This little guy was pretty calm, but the older chick was snapping and hissing.


My dad watches the proceedings.

After we checked all the boxes, we headed out to try to catch an adult owl. Sofi is continuing her studies on the potential for rodenticide poisoning of Barn Owls in areas where toxic baits are used. Because birds are susceptible to these poisons, and because the threatened owls are such voracious rodent predators, they may be at risk of poisoning. To assess the potential for this type of poisoning, Sofi needs to tag owls with radio tags and do many hours of telemetry to determine where the owls are foraging. In order to do this, we need to catch the owls and fit them with the radio transmitters.

The traps we use are called Bal-chatri traps, and are basically just a wire cage covered in monofilament nooses. Each of the traps has 1 or 2 mice inside, and they are secured by an elastic cord (to lessen shock) to a weight. 

At our first site, near Tsawwassen, a Great Horned owl arrived within seconds of our setup, which forced us to pack up and move to another location. These large owls are able to kill the smaller Barn Owl, so it is not advisable to have them near the trapping operation.

Our second site was free of larger species, and after 20 minutes our so a Barn Owl came in to investigate. The owl perched on the ladder secured to the truck for a while, and made several passes over one of the traps. The owl finally pounced on one trap, and from experience, we knew to let it hang out a while. Often they are not caught, but just feel around for a few moments to try to get mouse. If you rush out too early, the owl will get away.

Sure enough, the owl was not caught, and went over and perched on a sign to think things over. After a short time, it was flying again, and dropped decisively on the trap. We waited again, and the owl flew up and then turned immediately and was back on the trap. Sofi did not think it was caught, but the way it pivoted during its little hop told me it had been snagged, so I rushed out to grab it. It was caught, and the owl turned just as I was on it and tried to swipe my face with its talons. After I had it in hand, it calmed right down, and more so when we hooded it with a cotton bag.


This was an large older female owl, and had the molt to show it.

After measuring and weighing the bird, we put the transmitter on and examined it for fit.


Here is the transmitter in place on the back.


Sofi shows the specialized serrations on the second talon, which is thought to be an adaptation to remove ectoparasites.


Wow! My very own owl shot! Photo by Sofi Hindmarch.


A gorgeous bird.

The most important part of the evening is shown below, the successful release of the owl, unharmed. I may not be much of a all night partier, but if it is an owl party, count me in!


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Duck Update


I just got an update on the unfortunate duck we found Tuesday: The duck has been captured, and is being treated at Wildlife Rescue for wing droop. The wing was not broken, but was strained, and it should be releasable within a few days.

Still no word back from the Parks Board regarding the fishing issue, but I will keep vigilant for further problems arising from this activity.

Cheapskate Tuesday 23: Rat Safari!

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They say that if you want to take better pictures, you need to stand in front of more interesting stuff. This certainly has some truth to it, and is one of the reasons why investment in a photo expedition can be so much more useful than allocating tons of money on new cameras and lenses. But a trip to an exotic far-flung locale does not really fit in with the Cheapskate Tuesday philosophy, so how about a photo safari closer to home?

Shooting Norway Rats (Rattus norvegicus) provides an opportunity to shoot an interesting, seldom-photographed subject in the heart of a city. Because they are nocturnal, they pose some unique challenges, namely lighting them properly! For these shots, I used 2 radio-controlled manual speedlights,which were set up to light a small area baited with common dog food. One could also use TTL triggers, such as the new YongNuo 622‘s and set the metering to spot to meter the subject, but I did not have these available. Instead, after guesstimating lighting ratios, I just played with the ISO and f-stop to get decent exposures.

Starting shortly after nightfall on a summer night in July, I chose an area with lots of foot traffic adjacent to a rail line. This ensured that the rats were used to human proximity and conditioned to search for littered food. An alleyway near some dumpsters would also work well. I shot these using a 70-300 zoom, and of course the faster the lens, the easier focusing will be, but choosing an area with some artificial light helps.

Because rats are neophobic (afraid of new things in their environment), I was worried that the speedlights would scare them off, but these rats that are habituated to a rapidly-changing litter landscape did not pay too much heed to some more crap lying around.

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Depending on the season (I recommend early summer), the majority of rats you will encounter will be young, as rats are short-lived highly fecund creatures, meaning that the cohort of young individuals will greatly exceed the number of large, reproductively mature animals. These younger rats often have bright eyes and nice fur, which makes them rather cute.

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Urban litter is often in the frames, adding some context to the shots.

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Many of the rats I encountered had scars such as missing eyes, which indicates crowding in shelter areas and conspecific aggression.

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The elegant form of the rat at a gallop is one of the most astounding sights in the natural world.

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There is much more I would like to do with rats, such as triggering a camera with a wide angle remotely, and providing more natural foods, like pizza. Just imagine, a rat in front of a graffiti covered wall, dragging a massive slice of pizza! This is my art, this is my dream.

Anyway, I urge anyone to go try a rat safari, and wonder at the most urban of urban wildlife.

Weekend Expedition 25: a few from Stanley Park


Some Eudioctria Robber Flies getting it on!

Photography seems to run in my family, with my Dad shooting lots of people and landscapes, and my brother doing lots of aviation and travel shooting.

My Dad was visiting this weekend from Romania, and so I thought I would take him out to find some cool stuff in Stanley Park. Now is a great time for fledgling birds, and all the summer specialties such as robber flies are abundant.


A mother Wood Duck watches her brood.


Wood Duckling!


Fledgling Great Blue Heron, trying to fish.


Young Canada Goose, looking serious.


Crows were foraging in the intertidal of English Bay.


A fledgling crow learns how to get mollusks on the beach.


My dad takes a break while I shoot crows.



Soldier Beetle tosses antennae provocatively.



A monster!


Lacewing larvae are pretty fascinating.


The Eudioctria were a bit randy today.


And hungry! Here is one with a barklouse as prey.


Strategic wing placement?


This Anthidium manicatum was fixated on these flowers. For an introduced species, these are pretty nice looking insects.

Who likes robber flies?


Coming in to the lab this morning, I found this beautiful male Laphria robber fly sitting on a window. He was still cool from the night, so he made a very cooperative photographic subject.

These large handsome flies are strikingly marked and are Batesian mimics of bumblebees. Robber flies do not rob banks, they rob life. For a great example of this, see Alex Wild’s wonderful photo of one with a honeybee.

This robber robbed me of about 30 minutes of photography time, but I think it is well worth it!


If you are interested in how to get these blue sky backgrounds, see this excellent post at Beetles in the Bush.

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Weekend Expedition 23: Swallows around Vancouver


This weekend Expedition was a bit of a walk in the park, specifically two parks: Stanley Park on Saturday and Maplewood Park on Sunday. Nothing much was going on, and to be honest I was a bit worn out from Barn Owl work on Friday night; Sofi and I banded three chicks in rural Richmond and checked some nest boxes.


I am cute, but I cause fatigue!

The original intention was to go out and get some last-minute Pollinator Week shots to wow you all with, but I got to Stanley Park late, and the best thing on offer were these lovely Barn Swallow chicks being fed by their parents. Over the course of the next three hours, I practiced shooting their incredibly high-speed prey deliveries, and saw the world of insects from the “FEED ME!!!” perspective of the chicks.  Most of the prey seemed to be pupal Chironomidae, which were presumably taken by the adults skimming on the wing.




Adult and chick together


The reverse-the-head maneuver. I often use this when eating nachos, just to show off.



The bright colour of the youngster’s gape is evident here. An easy target for the adult to aim for.



I imagine this  would be somewhat disconcerting the first few times.



Sears Portrait of the chicks.


Contented and sleepy. This phase lasts approximately two minutes.









Other species of swallow were also around, such as this juvenile Violet-green Swallow.



An adult Tree Swallow beside a juvenile Barn Swallow.


And an adult Violet-green Swallow.


At Maplewood Park, we saw some Purple Martins perched above the beach.


Female Purple Martin.


The killer pollinator shots will have to wait for later in the year!

Weekend Expedition 21: A spider hunt at Iona Beach


This weekend expedition, I put out the call for our lab members to join me in a trip to Iona Beach, which is just bustling this time of year with all kinds of wonderful creatures, especially some wonderful spiders. I was joined by Catherine Scott, Samantha Vibert, Matt Holl and Nathan Derstine from our lab, and the newly-minted Dr. Gwylim Blackburn of UBC. We were heavily loaded with spider experts, as Catherine studies the western black widow, Sam has studied the hobo spider, and Gwylim is an expert in salticid behaviour and evolution. Luckily for us, Iona Beach was a field site for both Samantha and Gwylim, so they knew the good spots to find the best spiders.


A chrysidid seeks bee nests to parasitize


A male Yellow-headed Blackbird. This population at Iona Beach is a very disjunct coastal population of a normally Interior bird.



A male Salticus scenicus (Zebra Jumper). Look at his amazing chelicerae!


Sam enjoys the Yellow-headed Blackbird


We checked out the progress on the new Wild Research banding hut.


A male Tree Swallow watches his mate’s nest box.


The female peeks out.


Gwylim handles a newly-shed garter snake


So bright!


A male Habronattus americanus traverses a log.


A large female Trochosa wolf spider hides under a log.


A female Hobo Spider (Tegenaria agrestis) under a log at the beach.



A very large female Habronattus americanus was unimpressed with our match making (we tried to bring a male in to see courtship).



The male Habronattus americanus, resplendent with his bright colouration.


This jumper Matt found is is Habronattus hirsutus.


A female Phidippus johnsoni looks out from her egg sac.



Gwillim and Catherine searching for Habronattus ophrys.


Nathan scans the ground carefully. H. ophrys is very elusive!


A beautiful Philodromid (running crab spider) under an aster.

At the end of the day, I did some studio shots with the Habronattus ophrys and the Habronattus hirsutus, as the first one at least has very poor photo documentation.


Habronattus hirsutus


Habronattus hirsutus


Habronattus ophrys


Habronattus ophrys