Sunday, 29 April 2012

Vanishing Beauty: Victoria's Garry Oak Meadows

This is a subject that I hold near and dear.  There is a certain magic to Garry Oak ecosystems that cannot be explained - it has to be experienced.  My stomach turns when I think of the continual pressure these fragile ecosystems face.  I spent the better part of the morning immersed in one of Canada's rarest habitats and would like to show you what we stand to lose if these areas continue to degrade.

This post is largely a pictorial journey with the odd caption here and there.  I would love to present this with eloquence, but this topic gets me ranting and my mind flows in many directions.  Please check out the links I supply at the end as that presents the information in a nicely organized fashion and saves me from digging up all the facts.

Garry Oaks (Quercus garryana)


One of my favourite sights in April is the blue-and-gold carpet formed by camas and buttercups.  If you are from Victoria and don't know what I'm talking about, take a stroll through Uplands Park.

A Few Common Plants

Common Camas (Camassia quamash)
Pretty Shooting-star (Dodecantheon pulchellum)

Menzies' Larkspur (Delphinium menziesii)

Threatened Species

Poverty Clover (Trifolium depauperatum)

Poverty Clover (Trifolium depauperatum)

Coast Microseris (Microseris bigelovii)

Bearded Owl-Clover (Triphysaria versicolor)

Erect Pygmyweed (Crassula connata)

Erect Pygmyweed (Crassula connata)

Macoun's Meadowfoam (Limnanthes macounii)

Macoun's Meadowfoam (Limnanthes macounii)

Water-plantain Buttercup (Ranunculus alismifolius)

Water-plantain Buttercup (Ranunculus alismifolius)

Invasive Plants

This shot illustrates the magnitude of the invasive plant issue plaguing Garry Oak meadows

This is a pile of English Ivy (Hedera helix) removed from a patch of young Garry Oaks

That whole pile only removed a small section and English Ivy still remains in the understory

Here is an example of an oak choked out by ivy

More Information
If you find this entry interesting and would like to learn more about Garry Oak ecosystems, here is a link to an "Ecosystems in British Columbia at Risk" fact sheet put out by the provincial government:
The Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team, a non-profit organization, also has a wealth of information on their website, including ways you can help out with the recovery of Garry Oak habitats.  Check out their site here:
Hopefully their efforts aren't in vain and we can work to restore and manage Garry Oak ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.

The majority of these photos were taken over a two hour period along the Victoria waterfront, so I am barely even skimming the surface.  Next time you're taking a walk in a park with oaks, look around and realize the aesthetic value of your surroundings.  We are fortunate to live in a biologically diverse region and we take for granted all that this entails.  When I think of what makes Victoria such a great place to live, my train of thought isn't "We have a Wal-mart, a Futureshop, several malls, Silver City..." and so on.  I am always grateful to live next to the ocean, to have so many amazing parks for trekking around in, and to have a network of people who care about these things as well.  The bottom line is not to take these things for granted.  We all can and should do more to preserve what we have and restore what we had.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


That's the wild ride that is sweeping the Pacific Northwest!  We are currently experiencing something extraordinary in Victoria on our flats and I was fortunate enough to witness it over the past couple of days.

Yesterday (April 24), I finished up some local field work and when I got home I checked if there were any sightings of interest.  My jaw dropped when I saw a pair of Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) were found by Mary Robichaud at Panama Flats.  I called up Jeremy Kimm and asked if he would be willing swing by and get me because Janean was at work.  He didn't put up much of a fight and half-an-hour or so later I was at Panama Flats.  It was almost anticlimactic because a chase usually entails a bit of a search.  When we got out to the edge of the southwest corner of Panama Flats, Ann Nightingale and Marilyn Lambert were casually watching the pair of stilts.  I raised my binoculars and there they were.  That's always the desired result, but I still like to work for a bird a little!

I always get a kick out of Black-necked Stilts' comically long, bubblegum pink legs

Black-necked Stilts had only been recorded in Victoria three times prior to this event, and the window they turn up in is quite narrow.  It seems the last week of April is prime stilt time here. I had never seen a Black-necked Stilt in Victoria so I really wanted see them and put myself one notch closer to my goal of 300 species in the local checklist area.  Once my eyes locked on to the stilts, I inched closer by moving up to 286 species.

You would think it ends there, but there's more.  I talked to my dad when I got home today (April 25) and we decided to go for a quick outing before dinner.  We ended up at Maber Flats because I was thoroughly impressed with the way the southern field looked for shorebirds when I visited last weekend.  When we got to the marsh edge, I scanned out and saw what appeared to be stilts.  I put them in the scope and indeed they were!  We were very excited and I speculated that the pair we were looking at might be the same set from Panama Flats because one had a pinkish wash to the chest and the other lacked it.  But what was at the back of the flats - two more tall, black-and-white shorebirds?  I looked at one pair of stilts and immediately panned back to the other just to see if I missed the first pair quickly relocating.  Nope.  Four Black-necked Stilts in one area!

With a whole slew of southern interior birds turning up in the Pacific Northwest, I wonder what else is waiting to be turned up?  So far we've had: Lewis' Woodpecker, a handful of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, a Western Kingbird, three Long-billed Curlews, and, in Vancouver, a male Calliope Hummingbird.  Hopefully the stellar cast continues over the next couple weeks!

Friday, 13 April 2012


With the onset of moth season, I have been anticipating the return of some of the species I encountered last year.  I don't have a very good grasp of the flight chronology of our local regulars, so I basically just think of some of the more memorable species and think "When will that one be here?"

Several nights ago, after seeing many Orthosia hibisci, I wondered when O. transparens would make an appearance.  It is quite distinctive as it is largely rusty-toned with indistinct orbicular and renal spots on the wing.  I personally enjoy its silver-tipped mohawk, though.  It was almost like I rubbed some kind of magic moth latern because it was out there that night.

Orthosia transparens has the mullet equivalent for moths - business up front, party in the back!

This individual had more pronounced markings.  You can really
see the silver-tipped mohawk here and the faint wing spots.

A couple days later, I was thinking "When will that wicked moth with the lime green markings turn up?"  Less than half-an-hour later, a moth landed on the window briefly and then settled under the light.  It was the hoped for Behrensia conchiformis.  Am I some kind of moth whisperer?  Could I be the legendary lepidopteran prophet, Mothtradamus?  That might be something I made up, but I like it better than referencing a 2002 thriller, "The Mothman Prophecies", starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney.  Rather than talk about decade-old movies, let's see this wondrous moth that I prophesied.

I am always a fan of contrast and Behrensia conchiformis definitely has that going for it.  The lime green markings
tracing the edges of the mid-wing dark sooty patches really jump out and make an otherwise drab moth very memorable.

One final prediction was made today before heading to Oak Haven Park in Brentwood Bay.  I photographed a nice moth - Epirrhoe plebeculata - last year at the same location last year and I had my fingers crossed for a repeat event.  Apparently this prediction was a little too obvious... like watching America's Funniest Home Videos and predicting the father will get hit in the groin when he pitches a ball to his kid from four metres away.  Unfortunately this moth is nowhere near as funny, but it is enjoyable all the same.

This early season day-flying moth is easily recognized with its tiger-patterned hind wings.

I don't know enough species to keep making predictions, so I think I'll retire with a perfect record.  In the back of my mind, though, I'm already thinking "When is that Orthosia praeses going to fly in?"  It could be out there now.  I'll check with my Magic 8-Ball... "Reply hazy, try again".  What a sham!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Like Moths to a Deck Light

That might be the least poetic title yet, but it is apt.  Besides, if I used a flame there would be moths spiraling out of the sky with smoldering wings.  And burning moth hair probably smells funny, too!

We have the odd moth species locally that can be found right through the winter, but we are now back in proper moth season.  I usually start turning on the deck light as soon as March rolls around to see if anything is flying.  This year it wasn't really until April that things really got rolling, but the diversity has really started soaring now.

To give a little background to this taxonomic group in relation to the nerd behind the blog, I decided to give moth identification a go many moons ago.  I believe it was in the summer of 2010 that my biological attention deficit disorder (BADD) - that's not an official disorder, but it's real - drew me in to the world of well-lit, spackled hotel walls during work trips.  Every morning I would wander around the hotel like a creep and search for moths under lights.  The hardest part was not looking like a pervert - that came naturally because I was wielding a camera and had a wicked field beard.  The hard part was identifying the moths.  I quickly learned that conventional resources were virtually non-existent.  As a birder, I am used to referencing several species-comprehensive field guides.  No such reference exists for the moths of the province.  I scoured the internet and slowly began to build a virtual equivalent.  Also, to keep it simple, I decided to limit my scope to the macromoths because the order Lepidoptera has nearly 2300 species that occur in British Columbia (although a more recent estimate I received puts it over 2500), and over 2100 of those are moths.  Furthermore, just over half of the moths are macromoths so even tackling this subset is daunting.  Over a year and a half later I'm still chipping away at it.

Before getting to the recent deck light delinquents, I would like to pass on my frequently-used internet resources for anyone interested in learning their moths:

Moths of Canada (Government of Canada - Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility)

North American Moth Photographers Group

University of Alberta Strickland Museum

E-Fauna BC (Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia)


Flickr Members

Alright, without further ado here is a selection of shots from the recent moth activity attracted to the deck light I leave on at night.

Eupithecia olivacea

Orthosia hibisci

Nola minna

Pleromelloida conserta

Possibly rare - Eupithecia gilvipennata

Xylena nupera

Lithophane innominata

Feralia deceptiva

That's just a sample of what's flying out there.  The patterns and colours of these moths are quite stunning!  I had been hoping for Feralia deceptiva to show up again and it popped in while I was writing this entry.  I wonder what the next weeks will bring.  If you're interested in seeing what's out there, flip on an outside light and see how it goes.  The whole moth identification thing can be very rewarding if you're a sucker for punishment!