Thursday, September 3, 2009

September: "At This Time"

In the September calm waters and warm sun, the seals haul out along the rocks and reefs of Trial Island. The seals are watchful as they slip off their rocks to curiously peer at the passing boat.

Mothers usually alert their young, but this baby seal was fast asleep and only woke up when I touched his nose.

This worried mother leads her pup to safety

and assures it with a kiss.

A young Pigeon Guillemot, foraging close to shore, is dressed for winter in its cryptic black and white plumage.

Landing on Trial Island amid the Fucus. A feather presents the promise of birds. 

Along the shoreline an unlikely somber figure eyes my approach. Another fall migration is underway the raptors follow the west coast on their migration south. Victoria is on this path and some of the soaring birds like this Turkey Vulture need to rest before crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I am lured out to sea by the raucous calls of the Common Murres that have led their chicks into the strait to feed on juvenile herring and sandlance. The chick in winter plumage is following its parent which is for a short time, still in breeding plumage.

The parent and chick communicate with unique calls that allow the pair to find each other once a fish is caught.

Parent and young get separated while diving for food. When he surfaces, the father with a fish in his bill calls loudly until the chick comes to take his reward.

What appears as a passing flight of tiny shorebirds swirls and lands on the water. These can only be phalaropes sometimes referred to as "shorebirds that have gone to sea". Their habitats are the frontal zones and tide lines that bring tiny invertebrates to the surface and concentrate them within easy reach of their forcep bills.

Bobbing their slender heads like chickens, the Red-necked Phalaropes pick and peck at the surface devouring tiny invertebrates.

Between Chatham and Discovery Islands tiny Least Sandpipers (21g) flush from the mud flats where they were picking and probing for lunch.

Big-eyed Semipalmated Plovers mix with the sandpipers looking for marine worms and other invertebrates. Semipalmated refers to the partial webbing between their toes.

A Surfbird in winter plumage stands on the reef where it forages for invertebrates like acorn barnacles which it pulls off the rock and swallows whole, shell and all. A good identification feature is the orange at the base of the lower mandible.

The mud flats are bordered by rich mats of colourful Sea Asparagus (Seablite, Salicornia virginica) a tasty edible with bright stems of showy red, green and yellow.

Just above the beach I find the "Raven's Canoe". The black pods of the Giant Vetch were given this name by the Haida because of their resemblance to a native canoe. Nearby is a summer village of the Coast Salish.

Nearby the large bright flowers of the Puget Sound Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia). They have a sticky secretion that coats the green buds and the cup that hold the flowers. They are a consistent yellow display along the coastal beaches with a prolonged blooming season from May to October.

The fruit of the Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata) is ripe but quite inedibly bitter.

A better choice to eat are the Himalayan Blackberries (Rubus discolor) gathering sweetness from the last of the summer's sun.

The berries of the forest are ripe. The white Snowberries show brightly against the rich green leaves. Aboriginal people considered this berry poisonous and can called them "corpse berries". 

It is often silent now high on a dry ridge in the Sooke Hills. Here the  sun is still relentless before the fall rains, its heat lifting a sweet arid fragrance of berries and pine. Many of the migrants have left, I hear the distant calls of the raven, jays, nuthatches, chickadees and juncos. Laying flat in protected hollows are dense mats of Kinnikinnick, these will provide food into the winter for bears and grouse.

Some trees are adorned with lichens, that strange union of algae and fungi. This symbiotic relationship allows the lichen to endure harsh environments. The algal component (green) providing carbohydrates derived from photosynthesis while the fungal component provides structural support and nutrients.

Back into the Sooke Hills, heavier nighttime dew and September rains are bringing the mushrooms up.

The exotic and beautiful Amanita Muscaria emerges from the soil covered in a white universal veil looking somewhat like an egg. As the fingi expands, the veil is broken leaving its remnants as white spots against the red of the cap.

Crabapple Lake is adorned with colourful water lilies (Nymphaea odorata), an introduced species, it shows bright white to pink flowers from July into late September.