Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Coastal BC Plants: Chickweed Monkeyflower

Chickweed Monkeyflower

Tiny Chickweed Monkeyflowers
I was walking up the stairs to my hillside potato patch and saw a few small yellow flowers along the cliff among the moss. I took several pictures and went to my nature guides to make an identification. It turned out to be Chickweed Monkeyflower (Mimulus alsinoides).

This tiny Monkeyflower is a member of the figwort family. One guide calls it a snapdragon, and that’s what it looked like to me. It’s an annual plant, but I don’t remember seeing it before. That could be because it blooms briefly in April (things are a bit late this year due to an extended winter) and because the flowers are only 8-14 mm (1/3 to 1/2 inches) long and the plant itself about 10 cm tall (4 inches).

The flowers stand out because they are bright yellow with a reddish-brown spot on the lower petal. They rise on a slender stalk with small egg-shaped light green leaves.

Chickweed Monkeyflowers grow on moist, shady moss covered cliffs and rocky slopes at lower elevations. Mine was on a granite cliff near the lake surface at an elevation of 155 feet.

Plants use flowers to attract pollinators such as bees. They also attract the attention of passing humans who take the time to go slow and look around. -- Margy

References: Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest by Eugene N. Kozloff (Greystone Books, 1995), Trees Shrubs and Flowers to know in British Columbia by C.P. Lyons (J. M. Dent and Sons (Canada) Limited, 1974), and Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon (Lone Pine Publishing, 1994).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Coastal BC Birds: Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

A Brown-headed Catbird at the feeder.
On a sunny spring day we had a Brown-headed Cowbird visit our birdseed feeder at the cabin on Powell Lake. This is the second time I've seen one in the Powell River region. The first was on a quad ride to Fiddlehead Farm back in 2008.

Cowbirds are a highly mobile species. After following herds of animals on the prairies for eons, they've developed the practice of laying eggs in other birds' nests. Without the requirement to incubate eggs and nurture young, they can focus on foraging and aren't tied down to a specific location. Point taken. I haven't seen the Cowbird return.

Brown-headed Cowbirds are in the blackbird family. Mine was a lone male with a glossy black body and dark brown head. Females have a brownish body with lighter areas on the head and underside.

Females lay their eggs in a wide variety of other birds' nests. Some can detect the "parasitic" egg but others cannot. Because Cowbird eggs hatch quicker and produce larger chicks, they are more adept at surviving than the host bird's hatchlings.

Brown-headed Cowbirds are common throughout North America. They are annual residents along the west coast up to British Columbia and move in the summer to more northern breeding areas in the western US and across the southern Canadian provinces. -- Margy

Reference: All About Birds: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (online).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cabin Cooking: Percolator to Dripolator

Do you use a percolator? Do you have trouble with coffee grounds getting through? Do you make coffee that sometimes tastes bitter? Well, my answers were yes to all three questions.

Trim a coffee filter to fit the percolator basket.
My coffee making skills using a stovetop percolator have been very inconsistent. However, when I'm in town and use a Mr. Coffee, I don't have those troubles.

My first thought was to look for a manual drip coffee maker, but the ones I found were glass.

Press the filter over the stem and into the basket.
Glass wouldn't work well on my woodstove. I found some old style metal dripolators online, but being a bit frugal I decided to do some experimenting first.

I trimmed a coffee filter so that it would fit inside the basket of my percolator.

The coffee goes inside the filter.
Press the center of the filter down over the stem and make it fit inside the basket. I found it's important to make sure the edge of the filter is below the rim of the basket.

Measure your coffee and put it into the filter lined basket.

Fit the basket lid firmly in place.
Place the lid on top and heat. I perk mine for twelve minutes after the first spurt of water comes up through the stem.

Using this method I no longer have to use a strainer to keep those pesky grounds from getting into our cups. It has also helped to remove the bitter taste.

Saving coffee grounds for the garden.
After we have finished our coffee, it's easy to remove the grounds from the basket. I save mine to use in the garden and compost pile.

Do you use a stovetop percolator? What do you do to get a consistent good cup of coffee? -- Margy

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rainbows and Sunshine

There's nothing like the end of a spring shower ...

when it brings rainbows and sunshine. -- Margy

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Coastal BC Plants: Alaskan Saxifrage

Alaskan Saxifrage

Alaskan Saxifrage among the moss.
I have to walk up four flights of stairs to get up to my hillside potato patch and compost bin. I make the trek several times a week and always look at things along the path. The granite cliff itself is always interesting. And I like to see what the natural vegetation is doing.

On a trip up the stairs I saw some pretty little white flowers. After depositing my vegetable scraps in the bin, I went back to the cabin to get my camera. I used the pictures and my nature guides to find a match. With limited Internet access, books are a great alternative.

Paging through Plants of Coastal British Columbia I found that it was Alaska Saxifrage (Saxafraga ferruginea). This plant is quite widespread and there are several variations along its coastal range from southern Washington to southern Alaska, and from sea level to alpine regions. As a perennial plant, it gets an early start in spring.

Thin reddish stems rise from a cluster of basal leaves.

The plant’s fleshy, hairy, spoon-shaped leaves are arranged in an array around the base. A short (10-35 cm) stiff stem rises straight up, sometimes branching, ending with small white (to purple) five-petaled flowers. The stamens on short stalks in the center give the flowers a spiky appearance. Its nickname is Rusty Saxifrage because of the rust colour in the sepals.

Alaskan Saxifrage can be found on moist cliffs, wet rocks, and mossy spots. Mine were tucked in among the mosses that line the notch up our granite cliff. We are at an elevation of 155 feet. -- Margy

References: Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon (Lone Pine Publishing, 1994) and E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia (online).

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Riding Pickles on Powell Lake

Approaching the Pickles barge ramp on Powell Lake.
Sounds funny, but that’s the name of a Western Forest Product’s site on Powell Lake. I don’t know origin. Maybe it was the nickname of an old timer in nearby Henderson Bay, or some obscure gastronomic event.

We took advantage of a sunny spring day to head out with our barge and quads. Pickles is about twenty minutes from our cabin and we’ve watched with interest as road builders reopened the barge ramp and blasted their way through granite cliffs.

Burning slash in 2008 after first logging at Pickles.
Pickles is an isolated block. Roads offer limited riding, but there was a unique draw. After building ends, roads are left to settle for several months. That lets you ride through the beautiful mature forests with its robust understory before logging begins.

We didn’t have our barge when Pickles was first logged. Because quick growing alders had blocked the roads, this was the first time we could ride Pickle's old and new sections.

Our barge at the Pickles dock looking up the east arm of Powell Lake.

Wayne on one of the old cleared logging roads.
On the north-south road there were views of Goat Island, First Narrows and Chippewa Bay. Loggers even had a roadside bench at the most spectacular spot. The most extensive road building was at the end of the east-west section. Here road crews had to blast their way along granite slopes (easily heard from our cabin). Trees logged during the road building process won’t go to waste. They are stacked and ready for removal when logging begins.

Looking north with First Narrows in the middle and Goat Island on the right.

This is the second time we’ve been able to ride new roads to experience mature forests up close. The first was at nearby Chip South. As a part of the reforestation process, new harvests in previously logged areas occur after about ten years. This allows new trees to grow and “green up” in the open areas. Western Forest Products is a responsible company that carefully manages our forests on Crown land.

A new section of road with logs waiting ready for removal.

If you want to ride in the Powell Lake region, you can contact Western Forest Products to get current information about logging activities.  In addition to the hotline listed below, there is a @WFPRoadInfo Twitter account, a Stillwater Operational Information Map (pdf updated monthly), and online information page.

Stillwater Forest Operations
201-7373 Duncan Street
Powell River, BC V8A 1W6
Office: (604) 485-3100
Road Hotline: (604) 485-3132

I invite you to come visit Powell River and enjoy quad riding in our glorious backcountry. For information about quad riding in our area click on the ATV category or visit my other blog Powell River Quad Rides. -- Margy

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Coastal BC Insects: Giant Water Bug

Giant Water Bug

Giant Water Bug
Wayne and I have lived at our float cabin on Powell Lake since 2001 and this is the first time I’ve seen a Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus americanus). The only other time was when I was in high school. A boy friend stationed in Vietnam knew I was putting together an insect collection for a biology class, hence he sent me an unusual “present” in the mail.

Giant Water Bugs are common in the United States and Canada. They are found in among bottom vegetation in ponds and lakes. It is the region’s largest aquatic insect, up to 2 3/8” long and 1” wide (60mm x 25 mm). Flying, it has a wingspan of 4 1/8” (110 mm). When flying, they look a lot like bats. I wonder if that was what I saw the other night skimming over the water.

Giant Water Bugs eat fish, tadpoles and other insects. It has a large beak to pierce its prey and injects digestive juices. Once the innards are dissolved, the bug sucks the contents out, leaving a husk behind, not a pretty thought. And if you handle one, the bite is painful.

The two front legs are used for grasping prey. The four hind legs are fringed and designed for powerful swimming.

Females lay eggs in late spring and early fall. Nymphs hatch in two weeks, but few survive due to cannibalism and other aquatic predators. If disturbed, they may play dead or fight back with their beak and caustic saliva.

With a nickname of "Toe Biter," I got close enough to take some pictures from various angles but wasn’t tempted to get give it a touch. -- Margy

References: Bugs of British Columbia (Lone Pine Publishing, 2001) by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon and National Audubon Society Nature Guides: Wetlands (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997) by William A Niering

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Compost Quick

My compost "barrel" next to last years buried compost pit.
Many years ago I made a simple compost "barrel" out of chicken wire. I use it to store plant-based kitchen scraps and garden clippings from late spring through early fall. My garden is small, so it's large enough to hold what I need and turn my scraps into compost quick.

It's located up on the cliff next to my hillside potato patch. It's not the most convenient place to take my compost since it involves climbing three flights of stairs, but when the compost is done, it's in the perfect spot to dig into my growing triangle of soil.

In fall after my potatoes are harvested, I dig a big hole in the middle of the patch (click here to read more). Fresh clippings go in the bottom and the partially rotted mix from the barrel goes on top. I water thoroughly then put soil from the hole on top. I cover the pit with garbage bags held down by boards. Using compost accelerator such as Rot-It makes the pile decompose quickly.

Home grown Yukon Gold seed potatoes.
This week I uncovered my pit and found wonderful new soil. Wayne and I worked it up and prepared rows to plant my saved Yukon Gold seed potatoes.

They've lasted all winter for eating and the remainder are nicely sprouted for planting.

The potatoes will love the rich new soil and the loose texture to allow them to develop nice big spuds.

Seed potatoes ready to be buried and watered by spring rains.

Do you make your own compost? What are some of your techniques? -- Margy