Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Coastal BC Animals: Western Alligator Lizard

Western Alligator Lizard

I don't often see lizards around Powell Lake, but on a warm summer day we discovered one along the sandy shore of Chippewa Bay.

Our friend John loves critters, large and small. Looks like the feeling is mutual.

The Reptiles of British Columbia website says there are four varieties of lizard in BC. I had a hard time deciding, but I'm pretty sure this one is a Northwestern Alligator Lizard. The other option was a Western Skink, but this one didn't have a blue tail or white stripes.

Northwestern Alligator Lizards often flee, bite, or lose their tails if threatened. This one was quite docile and even let us pick it up for a posed shot. It then proceeded to climb John's arm to perch on his warm shoulder. Once back on the ground, it posed for a few more shots before heading off into the rocks.

The lizard's diet includes insects and spiders. We have plenty of those. They also thrive in cool, wet climates. We have plenty of those too. Because of their wide choices of habitat, you will find them in forests, grasslands, banks of streams and lakes, and even ocean beaches.

Alligator Lizards hibernate underground in the winter and remain nearby all year long. Females use live birth for 4-6 young in the late summer every other year. It takes that long to recover from the live birth process. Their primary predators are snakes, birds of prey, and even house cats for city cousins.

Summer is basking time, so if you are walking on a sandy beach keep your eyes on the ground. You might find a photogenic Northwester Alligator Lizard posing just for you. -- Margy

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Coastal BC Birds: Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

A Spotted Sandpiper visits our protective log boom.
I've always thought of Sandpipers as little birds skittering across a sandy beach, looking for tasty morsels as waves wash up on shore. I recently learned that Sandpipers go inland to frequent rivers, streams, lakes and ponds, especially during summer months.

Wayne was sitting on the couch looking out our sliding glass front door and saw a bird moving along our protective log boom.

I got my camera to get a shot to try and identify it. At first I couldn't find a bird that looked similar. That was because I was looking at pictures with breeding season plumage. When I looked at non-breeding, I found it, a Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotter Sandpipers are a medium sized shore bird that has spots on their breast during breeding season. In winter (looks like we're going to have an early one) they have a white breast with a grayish-brown back.

They tend to be solitary and walk quickly with a bobbing tail. Their range is from Alaska to South America. British Columbia is considered part of their non-breeding territory. Maybe this one is late to depart, or maybe our warm winters have encouraged him to remain.

They eat mostly small insects, other invertebrates and small fish. Our log booms offer a good foraging environment. They build nests along salt and freshwater shorelines in shaded hollows. Females are larger and take a lead role in courtship. Males have a big role in parenting. This is my first sighting in fifteen years of a Sandpiper up at the float cabin on Powell Lake. Hope he or she returns. -- Margy

References: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds (online) and Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia (online).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Edgehill Hauling and Towing on Powell Lake, BC

Logging dock quad barge campsite.
Our float cabin home on Powell Lake faces First Narrows. This gives us prime viewing for tugs with barges that supply logging companies with materials and equipment, and haul booms of logs to the extraction point at the south end of the lake.

River Yarder tug and barge approaching the ramp at the Head.

On our recent trip to the head of Powell Lake with our good friends Dave and Marg, we got to watch Terry in his green and black tug called River Yarder off-load at the barge ramp. This time his wife Jane had enough time off from work at Quality Foods to take the five and a half hour journey (each way) plus wait time.

Approaching the barge ramp.

We watched from our campsite on the logging dock as Terry expertly maneuvered the flatbed barge into place and lowered the ramp for the vehicles to exit. This trip he was resupplying the helicopter base with a fuel tanker and a large truck with rotor parts to repair the Kamov Ka-32 helicopter in use for heli-logging.

Driving the helicopter part supply truck off the barge.

Usually Terry can quickly off-load, pick up a new load, and be on his way. This time he had to wait several hours while the helicopter repairs were finished before the semi-truck could get back on the barge.

Getting a boost from the skip loader, fuel truck waiting its turn.

Since we needed the same barge ramp to load our quads for our trip south, we used the extra time to ride to the waterfall on Cypress main. Looks more like January rather than August doesn't it.

Margy, Marg (with Crystal) and Dave on Cypress Main.
The helicopter got its repairs done, Terry and Jane reloaded the vehicles and headed down the lake, and we followed right behind. The River Yarder is such a powerful tug that we never caught up even with our smaller self-propelled barge. -- Margy

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Canning: Zucchini Dill Pickles

If you grow zucchini, you have to get creative. I wanted to try pickles, so I asked Wayne his preference, “dill of course.”

I looked in my cookbooks and chose a recipe for cucumbers and substituted small zucchini that would fit in my pint canning jars. Here's the recipe. I will tell you how I modified it using italics in the directions.

Zucchini Dill Pickles

Published Ingredients List:

4 lbs. of 4” pickling cucumbers (36-58)
1/2 cup dill seeds
24 whole peppercorns
2 cups 5% acid strength cider vinegar
4 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup canning/pickling salt


Wash cucumbers and cut 1/16” slice off blossom ends. Pack raw into 8 sterilized hot pint jars. I trimmed my zucchini in length to fit into pint jars and sliced them in half. I only had enough to fill three pints, so I cut the recipe in half.

Add 1 tablespoon dill seeds and 3 peppercorns to each jar. Instead of dill seeds I used fresh dill and instead of peppercorns I used 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed in each jar. I also added two cloves of garlic to each jar.

Combine vinegar (I used white pickling vinegar), water and salt, and bring to a boil. I also added 1 tablespoon of sugar to my half recipe. Quite a few dill pickle recipes called for some sugars in the mix. Pour over cucumbers (zucchinis in my case), filling to within 1/4” of jar top. Wipe jar rim, remove air bubbles from the jar, and adjust lids.

Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Start to count processing time when water in the canner returns to a boil. Remove jars and complete seals unless closures are self-sealing type. The original recipe makes 8 pints, mine only made three.

Allow the pickles to rest for 4-6 weeks before opening to allow them to absorb the flavours. This was the hardest part of the recipe.

Reference: Farm Journal’s Freezing and Canning Cookbook (Ballantine Books, 1978). -- Margy

Thursday, September 15, 2016

VIH Kamov Ka-32 Helicopter

Recently, Wayne and I went to the head of Powell Lake for a weekend of quad riding with our friends Dave and Marg. The first day we visited the helipad for heli-logging operations.

VIH Kamov Ka-32 at the helipad at the Head of Powell Lake.

We were surprised to see a large helicopter parked in the middle and two travel trailers nearby. One of the chopper mechanics came out and told us about their current operations.

Getting a personal tour.

VIH Aviation Group was contracted to extract logs in areas inaccessible by conventional logging equipment. Some of their extractions were "standing stem" where fallers on the ground cut part way through the trunks of high quality trees (primarily for phone and power poles) and stabilize them with wedges to keep them upright.

Twin counter-rotating rotors for heavy lifting.

Then the powerful helicopter grabs the tree with a grapple, breaks it loose, and hauls it away to a road where it can be loaded on a truck.

Grapple used to grab and haul tree-sized logs.

In the case of Powell Lake, the trees go to the to log sort for inspection, are skidded into the lake, and towed to Powell River in a log boom.

Logs going into a boom at the Head.

Here's the same VIH Kamov Ka-32 in action at a different logging site doing a standing stem extraction. This YouTube video was produced by Adam Holmes.

That evening, the two mechanics came down to the dock where we were camping and tried their luck fishing. Dave gave them worms to use and they caught a nice sized trout. They were getting pretty tired of Kraft Dinner, so were very appreciative. As a thank you, they invited us back the next day for a personal tour.

Cockpit windows give a full range of view.

Wayne was excited to get into the cockpit of the heavy duty Russian-made helicopter to see the instruments and controls. Rotor craft have similarities to airplanes like our Piper Arrow, but the flight controls are way different.

Wayne checking out the co-pilot's seat.

I'm sure he could visualize lifting off, but grabbing a massive tree must have been way too scary to imagine. -- Margy

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Canning: Concord Grape and Plum Jam

My good friend Marg brought grapes and plums from her garden to share on our trip to the Head of Powell Lake for a weekend of quad riding. We ate a lot, but there were bunches (literally) left. I hate to be wasteful, so I decided to make a batch of jam.

First I processed the grapes. The concords were seedless, so it was easy. I just squeezed the pulp into a bowl.

I put the skins in a pan to simmer until the juice was released. I mashed the skins and strained the liquid into the bowl with the pulp. That gave the mixture a beautiful purple colour.

Next I processed the plums. I washed them, removed the pits, and diced them with the skins on.

I ended up with three cups of combined fruit and juice, so I used the plum jam recipe in the Sure-Jell powdered pectin box and cut it in half.

Concord Grape and Plum Jam
Half Recipe

3 cups concord grape pulp/juice with diced prune plums
½ package Sure-Jell powdered pectin
4 cups sugar

Put the fruit and juice mixture in a pan. Stir in one-half package of pectin. Bring to a rolling boil.

(Save the other half for another small batch of jam or jelly.)

Add sugar and bring the mixture back to a rolling boil, then boil it for one minute stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and skim off foam if needed.

Ladle into hot sterilized jars to ¼ inch from the top. Wipe rims and threads and cover with lids and rings.

For complete water bath canning directions, click here.

Place jars on a rack in a water bath canner with 1-2 inches of water over the tops. Cover and bring the water to a gentle boil. Process for 10 minutes after boiling begins.

Remove jars and place on a towel to cool. Check the seals, label, and store in a cool dry place.

This half recipe made five half-pints. I canned four for later and put one in the fridge to use right away. It makes a firm jam with little pulp.

Thanks Marg for all the fresh treats for our trip and good eats we can enjoy all winter long. -- Margy

Friday, September 02, 2016

Morning Glory

I've been getting up in time to watch sunrise lately. That's not so bad. The sun doesn't crest Goat Island until 8:50 am this time of year.

Morning sunrise reflection on the lake.

One morning this week when I went out on the cabin deck, I saw the sunrise reflection in the calm lake surface.

Wispy clouds broke the rays of sunshine into a colourful halo.

When I looked up, I saw the same rainbow reflections in the cloudy halo surrounding the rising sun. It was the start of a glorious morning. -- Margy