Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Frog friends and their habitat

Maggie and I have been very, very busy this week, and will have Big News to share with you very soon. But while you are waiting, here are some more of our froggy friends at Hemer Park, and a waterlily flower that decorates their home:

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Remembering Soda

Back in June 2007, when I was renting a very old farm house with a dilapidated  old barn on 5 acres of land, my friend Janice asked if I could foster two potbellied pigs that her sanctuary, Hearts on Noses, had been asked to take in.  The sanctuary was full, but my barn wasn't  - I had four dogs, a cat, and an alpaca, none of whom lived in the barn.  And I had grown to love piggies from my work at her sanctuary and another. So I said yes.

The pigs were part of an SPCA seizure, and they were in pretty bad shape - vastly overweight, living knee deep in filth in a crate barely large enough for two small dogs.  I have never forgotten the moment they waddled out of the trailer onto the green grass of my farm, and immediately began stretching and bowing and oofing (their happy noise) and kneading the lawn as they experienced freedom for what may have been the first time: 

First day at the farm

I named them Scotch and Soda.  Scotch was mellow, smooth, and leaves the mouth with an mmmmmmmmm smile. Soda was effervescent – I wouldn’t say bubbly but certainly she had “oomph” and attitude, with that sharp little edge of an unsweetened drink.  

Unbeknownst to us - or the the SPCA - Soda was already pregnant, and within just a few weeks she gave birth to twelve babies.  Sadly, one was stillborn and one died within a day or two, but the remaining ten were healthy and strong and so my two foster piggies became twelve foster piggies.  They lived with me for nearly two years, until I retired and moved away (as Janice had known I was going to do), and then the whole family moved to the sanctuary.

Newborn piglets

This Monday evening, Janice contacted me with the sad news that Soda had suddenly passed away.  She had been off her food a few days earlier, but seemed to bounce back, and then suddenly she was gone. Scotch and Soda were full grown when they came to us, which means they were likely 5 years old or more.  That would make Soda at least 16 at her passing . Her piggy family were with her in their cosy cabin at her passing, then they came outside. But when two of the volunteers went  into her pighouse to say their goodbyes, they found Scotch back  in there with her, straw on his nose where he had been rooting at her side, giving those nudges he was so prone to give to those he loved most.

Scotch and Soda 2007

Scotch and Soda were a truly bonded couple.  On the night that I separated Scotch and Soda for what was likely the first time in their lives – the separation being necessitated by Soda’s imminent piggybirth – I sat in the stall with Scotch and watched big wet tears silently slide down his cheeks. I sang him his favourite song and slowly the tears stopped and he lay there not understanding why his bunkmate wasn’t at his side. He was lonely and very sad. 

The next day I bought him a Soda-sized teddy bear and tucked it along side him, and he slept that way for several nights. One morning, I came in to find Teddy lying with his face in the water dish on the other side of the stall, nose and mouth immersed in water. To this day, I’m not sure if Scotch thought Teddy might be thirsty, or if he was trying to tell me a stuffed bear was no subsitute for his Soda.  Fortunately it wasn’t long before I was able to integrate Soda and the babies back into the main stall.

Scotch, Soda, and one of the kids.

Soda was a character - I'm quite sure Ms Piggy was her hero, and those that created the Muppet's character certainly captured the personality of a female pig, especially a female pig at that time of her cycle (which is every 21 days).  PMS is not just confined to humans!

Soda was bossy, pushy, funny,  sweet, bitchy, and one cool pig. In describing porcine communication, I once said:
Soda is the queen of the nasty noises: “arf, arf, arf” means “I’m pissed off,” and a very loud, very deep, very rude sound that is reminiscent of what happens when some people eat too many beans. It clearly means “I’m really, really mad at you, now BACK OFF YOU *&%%%”. This is accompanied by a facing off and a hard shove on the leg with the snout. It isn’t just [pig] verbal communication that amazes me but also the nonverbal communication of their emotions. Scotch arches his back downward, stretches out full length, raises his snoutie, and kneads the ground in pleasure every time he is let out into the big yard. Soda, I swear, tosses her head in the classic Ms Piggy move and with an exaggerated swivel of the hips, saunters past me with the message “I am QUEEN. Out of my way, peon!”. 

Soda loved food (okay, what pig doesn't) - but she had a knack for helping herself that surpassed all the others.  I still suspect her of instigating the Great Barn Raid back when the piggies were just little ones, though the piglets wrote the apology letter.  You can read it here.  Even after she moved to the sanctuary, she still found ways to steal a snack:

Soda helping herself from the feed bucket
as it was being prepared for the dinner rounds

And she was also the best mudwallow builder.  While Scotch would knock over water bowls, Soda would heave herself underneath the side of their kiddy pool and dump the whole thing onto the ground. She loved her mudbaths! 

Queen of the mudpacks

In recent years, when I visited Scotch and Soda and family at the sanctuary, I found it hard to tell Soda apart from her only daughter, Lizzie.  Soda never looked like an old pig (must be all those mudpacks!), and her daughter, now eleven years old, looks a lot like her.  It was a lot easier to tell them apart when I was fostering! 

Soda chats with daughter Lizzie, age three months.

Soda and Lizzie  November 2007

Fostering Scotch and Soda and their babies was one of the highlights of my life.  There wasn't a day without laughter, a day without amazement, a day without feeling great love for those funny, oh-so-smart, somewhat cheeky pigs.  And seldom a day with challenges! But Soda was the best mama ever.

Thank you, Janice, for entrusting me with her all those years ago, and thank you for loving her for so many years. My heart goes out to Scotch, who has lost his lifelong mate, and to Whisper, Toddy, Derby, Rickey, Swizzle, Spritzer, RobRoy, Fizzy, Tom and Lizzie, who have lost their piggy mama.  I am thankful they have their human mama to help them through the grief. 

You were a good, good pig, Soda.  You'll find your two tiny lost babies at the Rainbow Bridge, as well as so many sanctuary friends to play with and to boss around until the rest of your family joins you. And I'm betting there are lots of good muddy wallows and fresh green grass at there too.   Run free, sweet funny feisty girl.  You were greatly loved. 

Foster Mama

Sunday, August 19, 2018

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.