Sunday, August 12, 2018

Spectacle Lake

Well, I have five blog posts in various stages of development and don't have the energy to complete any of them tonight, so instead I'll post some photos I just put up on facebook of today's hike around Spectacle Lake.

Spectacle Lake is near the summit of the Malahat, the highest point between the Cowichan Valley and Victoria. It is shaped like a pair of spectacles (think the clip on variety of sunglasses), and has a loop trail of around 2 km, plus several side trails.  The first half is very well groomed, easy walking;  the second half is more rugged with numerous roots and stones and a need for careful footing.  I would rate this an easy hike, but it is not for those who need walkers or wheelchairs.

We took our friend Pat with us (but no poms this time, as Cosmo had a sore leg, and Lexi doesn't like hiking). 
Auntie Pat, people will think you traded in the poms for a sheltie! 

I almost titled this post "Maggie's at the Bridge", because of this photo, but thought
some of my readers might not forgive me for scaring them! 

There is beautiful scenery, and even on this Sunday summer's day (albeit an overcast one), it was very peaceful - we saw a handful of anglers, a couple of hikers, and a couple of swimmers/waders. 

We hiked the trail counter-clockwise, starting with the well groomed side.  We took several side trails to more closely explore the shoreline and to obtain different vantage points for viewing the lake.

Though there is wildlife in these forests, the only non-human, non-insect forms of wildlife we saw was this little junco, sitting on a rocky bluff looking out over the lake.  He seemed totally unperturbed by my intrusion.

Just past the narrow section of the spectacles, we came across five or six anglers at what was clearly the preferred fishing hole.  The lake is stocked with American Brown Trout, and even after weeks of very hot weather, the anglers were still eager to catch some.  Personally, I prefer my catches to be spring or fall, unless the lake is glacial.  Summer holidays are, of course, a great time for a parent and child to bond over the art of fishing though, and I'm sure this boy and his dad are making great memories.

This next angler, though, just made me see red - fire red. 

What part of "Extreme Fire Hazard - No Smoking!" doesn't he understand? 
The park is marked with a large red and yellow "Extreme Fire Hazard" sign along with warnings that campfires and smoking are prohibited at this time.  The island, and the rest of the province, is burning up with person-caused and lightening-caused fires right now, and the forest floors are tinder dry.  Yet this guy felt the rules didn't apply to him, and calmly sat there smoking while he fished.  Sure, he's next to the lake - but that is extremely dry duff behind him, and if he grabs his pole with a thrashing fish on it, that cigarette might go flying into the duff.  Poof - in less than a second, the fire races uphill.  I think he saw me watching and photographing him, for the cigarette disappeared and he didn't light up again while we were observing.  Sadly, the shoreline in this area was littered with dozens of fresh butts (likely all from that morning, as there had been rain the day before) - showing not only an angler-induced fire hazard, but a disrespect for the environment.  The filters contain plastic which has been shown to harm fish and other water creatures.

But enough of that rant.  The angler out in a float tube made for a pretty picture, as did a young woman wading in water.

A few more stops to admire the view and take some photos,

Or rest a bit, if you're a dog:

and soon we were heading back along the top edge of the spectacles and back to the little beach area where we had our pick of the three picnic tables to eat our lunch while admiring the view.

A good hike, short but with enough variation of scenery and terrain to refresh the mind, body, and spirit.  Thanks for joining us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Heron Ballet

We see a lot of herons around here - seldom a day goes by that I don't see one or two along the shore, and at low tide I may see up to a dozen.  Though they form large colonies with many nests in high trees at breeding time in spring, for the rest of the year they are primarily loners.  Solitary foragers, they may share a feeding spot but only by maintaining their distance from one another.  

I usually see them in one of two positions - either standing completely still, upright, like a guard at Buckingham Palace .....

...or slowly wading through the water is a semi-crouched position, the neck shaped like an "S" as they search for food:

Often they will choose a post or a rock or even a liferaft to provide a higher vantage point from which to see dinner in the waters below: 

So it surprised me on my beach walks last week to see two herons with their beaks up in the air, one following the other.  He was like a stalker, following the other across the bay, starting from at least a couple of hundred feet away, and rapidly closing the distance.  

As breeding season is long past, I was even more baffled when they suddenly both opened their wings and began rotating counter-clockwise, completing several rotations, like some heron version of synchronized swimming, or perhaps a heron rendition of Swan Lake:

As suddenly as it started, it stopped, and they headed back again, this time the stalker becoming the stalkee. 

Eventually, one flew away further down the beach and both began feeding in mannerly fashion, each maintaining a suitable distance from the other.  

When I got back home, I did a little research to find out if herons ever breed in summer, and to learn what their mating rituals are.  Instead, I learned that the display I had witnessed was a behaviour used to defend one's feeding territory.  According to All About Birds, 
Away from the colony, Great Blue Herons defend feeding territories from other herons with dramatic displays in which the birds approach intruders with their head thrown back, wings outstretched, and bill pointing skyward.  (Source)

I guess the duel between these two was a draw, as on our evening walk that same day, I saw them almost side by side standing on the berm that leads to the old wharf.  They hung around as a pair until the long weekend, when presumably they (like me) decided there were just too many people around and they took off for quieter places.  I felt privileged, however, to have observed their little ritual on one of my early morning low tide walks.  

Saturday, August 4, 2018

South along the Shoreline

For several days near the end of July,  the weather was very warm for here (30 degrees celsius), so Maggie and I restricted our walks to early morning. Fortunately, we were also having a stretch of super low tides that were conveniently at their lowest in the mornings. Rather than walk the pavement (with fence-fighting dogs) and the sea walk (with dozens of summer campers, kids, and dogs at the RV park along its edge) with my nervous dog, we hopped in the car, drove to Crofton Beach Park at the far end of the seawalk, and strolled south along the shoreline from there.  It is only during very low tide that we can go far in that direction without risk of getting cut off and having to scramble up very steep and sometimes unstable embankments or rickety steps to people's private back yards.

The beach around Crofton is not particularly appealing to many.  While the views are beautiful and the sunrises magnificent, the actual beach alongside the seawalk is black slag from the old mining operations, and with the exception of a very small sandy beach at Crofton Beach Park, the rest is mucky, swampy, and often covered with eel grass.  That doesn't stop Maggie and me.

C'mon, friends, walk with me!
We stick close to the embankment at first, where rocks, dirt,  and dry sand  give some semblance of firm footing.  Once we are around that first bend, magic begins - marine life and wildlife and bird life, as well as oases of lovely firm grey sand, often covered with shells and sand dollars .

Lookit all these shells!
And sand! Miles and Miles of sand!
Well, maybe a kilometer .... or half. 

The experience is never the same two days in a row. Each day we spot something different, something beautiful and/or interesting that we haven't noticed before. Even close to the bank, in that first section of our walk, there are always 'thin slices of joy' to be found: 

A lovely dried up maple leaf has fallen on the beach.

A log broke free from one of the booms, dragging its chain up on the shore.

Look at the beautiful designs in these pieces of driftwood! 

A tiny cove, under a canopy of leaves, boasts fine light sand and a smooth log to sit on.

A red jelly fish lies on mucky wet sand, waiting for the incoming tide to return.

And the more we look, the more we see - like the wonderful design the riffling flow of the tide makes as a backdrop to the geese along the shore:

Or the narrow metal track that we failed to notice until about the fifth or sixth time we walked this shore:

Whatd'ya think this is, mom? 
Did a tiny train come here?

As we move along the beach, we get different perspectives of the mill and the log sort on the far side of the town.  It is actually quite some distance away in these shots, but the 30x zoom brings it, and all its activities, in close:

When the tide is this far out, there is a place where, if one slogs across the muck for perhaps a couple of hundred feet, a lovely firm sandbar emerges that eases travel nearly all the way to the foot of Osborne Bay Park and the beach activities of a local church camp. It was several years ago that my friend Liz introduced me to this phenomenon, and one day last week she again accompanied Maggie and me on our sandbar walk:

Liz and her dog Blaze enjoy a cooling paddle in the water, eelgrass notwithstanding.

That sandbar leads to many more discoveries of  Lewis' Moon Snails and their egg casts that look like old tires, of cooling water to paddle through, of dozens of multi-coloured sand dollars in the shallows as well as various crabs and shellfish.  Sometimes fountains of water suddenly shoot up one's leg from the geoduck  (pronounced gooeyduck) clams below the sand.

Lewis' Moon Snail - this one is about the size of fist,
but I've seen some two or three times that size on this beach. 

Egg Cast from Lewis' Moon Snail

Cluster of empty mussel shells

Early morning sun shines through an open clam shell

Many sand dollars (and a crab) just under the surface of the water

A gull takes flight with a breakfast of  seafood

Early in the morning, when no other humans and their dogs are awake, we often seen wildlife.  One day it was a doe and two tiny fawn - complete with white spots - who emerged from the trees and headed down to the water, eating, I suspect, the damp salty eelgrass that grows there.  Often I see otters or seals playing and feeding in the water.  Another day I saw a little raccoon who hid in the overhanging branches studiously washing something in the water trickling down the embankment. The photo was fuzzy as I was quickly walking further away, keeping Maggie occupied so she would not see the 'funny looking cat'.

There are usually heron wading along the shore, then standing like a statue as they wait for an opportunity to catch a small fish drifting by. One day there was a pair of herons, who performed a wonderful dance - but I'll save those photos for another post.

A solitary heron

Then there were the eagles - both young and mature - watching for fish, crabs, and sea stars to eat - or, in one case, to steal from a seagull and fly away quickly to a higher perch to consume it.

Young eagle perched on barnacle-covered rock

Mature eagle on a piling

Another mature eagle, eating the crab he stole from a seagull

That perch has a history of its own  - and that shall also be another post.  And since the photos are all prepped, and the narrative drafted, that means you'll get at least another two posts this week! But I digress......

Even in hot weather, large maples, arbutus, and evergreens provide secret spaces where one can sit on a washed up log and dream - or photograph a dog.

Here's a nice shady place to sit, mom! 

Liz's dog Blaze explores the sand

Blech! I gots sand on mah tongue! 

Portrait shot of Blaze,
looking angelic! 

Thanks for joining us fer a walk on the beach!
See ya again soon! 

*A few tips for those wanting to check out this section of beach*

  • Check the tide tables before you go.   Head out an hour or two before the lowest tide, and plan to head back no later than an hour after the tide has turned. There is one public staircase - a metal one - that will get you off the beach if you get stuck mid way;  all the wooden staircases are private, and some are gated and locked.
  • Wear shoes that can get mucky!
  • Please respect the wildlife - don't let your dogs or kids chase the birds or animals, or handle the sea creatures.  This includes sand dollars. 
  • Take water - for the humans and dogs - and maybe a snack or a picnic lunch. 
  • Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Cat in a Box

Just over a year ago, Allie was diagnosed with Stage 3 kidney failure, meaning she had about 15-25% kidney function left.  Life expectancy at that point was anything from a couple of months to three years.  She is on two kinds of kidney support medications, plus Restoralax to keep things moving along, but as loss of appetite is a big problem in kidney-failure cats, she gets to eat whatever canned cat foods she wants (usually the crappy ones, but sometimes that ones that are $4 for a little tiny can!). 

So far, she seems to be doing okay, for an eighteen years old cat with crummy kidneys.  She's very skinny and somewhat arthritic, she can no longer jump more than about 15 inches, and she often stumbles and loses her balance, but she can still pack a mean punch when a certain dog gets in her face, she knows how to swat my tablet or mouse out of my hand when she wants lap time, and she's great at waking me up no later than 5:30 every morning with her yowling "Get up, I want food! NOW!"

The other day a friend emailed me to ask how Allie was doing.   I glanced down to see that the box said it all:

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


What you lookin' at?  She's working on a post
- but it's hot here and she's lazy! 

(I was trying to get a photo of an elusive otter playing in the ocean. I clicked just as the otter dove and this eagle popped into the frame! The angle of his head/body and his expression made me laugh when I saw it on the computer!)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Walk in the Woods

At least once a week, my friend Pat and I take the dogs for an adventure - a trip to a beach or a park.  In summer, we choose places that provide a break from the heat, and we head out early.  Last week we headed to Hemer Provincial Park, south of Nanaimo, which is one of our favourite places.

The day wasn't oppressively hot, thanks to a few fluffy clouds and a light breeze,  but even if it had been warmer, the lush green forest provides a refreshing oasis of tranquility in a too-crazy world.

We started up the centre trail, alongside a large swamp where we have often seen swans and many varieties of ducks.  There were few waterfowl on it this time, though a kingfisher revealed its presence with its unique rattle call as he darted from tree to tree.  He moved too quickly to capture with the lens, though the swamp alone made for lovely images.

The newly formed bulrushes, or cattails as they are often called,  stood tall among the reeds and grasses, waiting until fall to pop their skins and release the fluffy seed head that will blow across the swamp.

This is what those cattails will look like in a couple more months! 

Hidden along the edge of the swamp, or in the swamp (in the case of water lilies) or at the side of the trail, were various flowers, adding splashes of colour to the green of of the forest:

And while it may be butterflies that Ponce Denis Ecouchard Lebrun called 'flying flowers', this lovely dragonfly - in unusual shades of grey, black, white and opaque rather than our more common but beautiful blue - could easily fit the metaphor.

About two thirds of the way along the centre trail, we took a cross trail to the right, one that links to the most westerly of the longer trails, enjoying the easy duff trail amid the trees and blanket of swordferns.

A stop for treats is a mandatory part of any walk with the dogs:

After heading up the perimeter trail for a bit, we hit another cross trail to take us back to the middle and then the lake trails, and headed back alongside Holden Lake.

As I've mentioned in previous posts,  Lexi, one of the poms, doesn't like walking, so we try to choose really easy terrain where Pat can use a stroller.  There's nothing wrong with Lexi (at least, not that we know) and she is not quite four years old, but she just isn't into walks.  Still, all dogs need mental stimulation as well as physical exercise, and at least on these outings she gets to experience new sights and smells and sounds.  The lakeside trail, however, is a bit less than 'smooth' due to tree roots that reach out for a drink of lake water:

Princess Lexi thinks it is all quite amusing, and her bright eyes and happy face tell us the extra work is all worthwhile:

I'm worth it! 

Maggie and I take a few short little trails through the brush to the water, where Maggie checks for ducks or maybe just looks at her reflection or poses for a picture:

Whozat in the water, Mama?

A picnic on a lakeside bench, a walk across a short bridge, a short walk up a hill and down, and we're back to the parking lot after our walk in the woods.  Thanks for joining us!