Tag Archive | animals

I don’t get out much…


Seriously, I don’t get out much! The recent rainy weather has made photography and pretty well all other outdoor activity really unpleasant. In addition, it seems more and more work is piling up that requires my attention. Because we had a rare sunny break yesterday, I went out on the campus for an hour to see what I could see. And what I could see was soggy! The summer insects are gone, and seemingly the forest is once again the realm of water, fungi, dampness and decay.

Update: I read this line in a novel this morning: “In the distance… Simon Fraser University rose up on Burnaby Mountain, a cluster of grey-slab buildings, miserable and gloomy, saved from utter desolation by the surrounding patches of evergreen trees.”

From “A Thousand Bayonets” by Joel Mark Harris.

Seems appropriate!


Some nice Mycena.


Witches’ Butter! This is a weird basidiomycete that grows on woody debris (and sometimes bark).


This is not predation, but just photographic conjunction of an amaurobiid and a millipede.


The damsel bugs can be found through much of the fall.


Some kind of Coprinus.


Chicken-of-the-Woods! This is an older fruitbody, but I probably would have grabbed it when it was younger (if I got out more).



A hardy orbweaver sits in her tiny web.


I may not get out, but sometimes insects come in! This Western Conifer Seed Bug came into the lab. looking for an overwintering spot.

Barn Owling with Sofi


Sofi and an adult male Barn Owl from several years ago.

Last night, my dad and I went out with my friend Sofi Hindmarch to do some work with Barn Owls (Tyto alba) out in Ladner. I have known Sofi since she was in her masters program, and have been helping her catch and track owls for some years now.

The first task for the evening was to band some chicks in nest boxes Sofi has been monitoring. We checked four nest boxes and saw several owls at the sites, but only one of them had any young inside. This old box in a barn had three chicks.


Sofi carefully removes the chicks from the box.



This owl thinks this is the worst thing ever.


This little guy was pretty calm, but the older chick was snapping and hissing.


My dad watches the proceedings.

After we checked all the boxes, we headed out to try to catch an adult owl. Sofi is continuing her studies on the potential for rodenticide poisoning of Barn Owls in areas where toxic baits are used. Because birds are susceptible to these poisons, and because the threatened owls are such voracious rodent predators, they may be at risk of poisoning. To assess the potential for this type of poisoning, Sofi needs to tag owls with radio tags and do many hours of telemetry to determine where the owls are foraging. In order to do this, we need to catch the owls and fit them with the radio transmitters.

The traps we use are called Bal-chatri traps, and are basically just a wire cage covered in monofilament nooses. Each of the traps has 1 or 2 mice inside, and they are secured by an elastic cord (to lessen shock) to a weight. 

At our first site, near Tsawwassen, a Great Horned owl arrived within seconds of our setup, which forced us to pack up and move to another location. These large owls are able to kill the smaller Barn Owl, so it is not advisable to have them near the trapping operation.

Our second site was free of larger species, and after 20 minutes our so a Barn Owl came in to investigate. The owl perched on the ladder secured to the truck for a while, and made several passes over one of the traps. The owl finally pounced on one trap, and from experience, we knew to let it hang out a while. Often they are not caught, but just feel around for a few moments to try to get mouse. If you rush out too early, the owl will get away.

Sure enough, the owl was not caught, and went over and perched on a sign to think things over. After a short time, it was flying again, and dropped decisively on the trap. We waited again, and the owl flew up and then turned immediately and was back on the trap. Sofi did not think it was caught, but the way it pivoted during its little hop told me it had been snagged, so I rushed out to grab it. It was caught, and the owl turned just as I was on it and tried to swipe my face with its talons. After I had it in hand, it calmed right down, and more so when we hooded it with a cotton bag.


This was an large older female owl, and had the molt to show it.

After measuring and weighing the bird, we put the transmitter on and examined it for fit.


Here is the transmitter in place on the back.


Sofi shows the specialized serrations on the second talon, which is thought to be an adaptation to remove ectoparasites.


Wow! My very own owl shot! Photo by Sofi Hindmarch.


A gorgeous bird.

The most important part of the evening is shown below, the successful release of the owl, unharmed. I may not be much of a all night partier, but if it is an owl party, count me in!


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Duck Update


I just got an update on the unfortunate duck we found Tuesday: The duck has been captured, and is being treated at Wildlife Rescue for wing droop. The wing was not broken, but was strained, and it should be releasable within a few days.

Still no word back from the Parks Board regarding the fishing issue, but I will keep vigilant for further problems arising from this activity.

Cheapskate Tuesday 23: Rat Safari!

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They say that if you want to take better pictures, you need to stand in front of more interesting stuff. This certainly has some truth to it, and is one of the reasons why investment in a photo expedition can be so much more useful than allocating tons of money on new cameras and lenses. But a trip to an exotic far-flung locale does not really fit in with the Cheapskate Tuesday philosophy, so how about a photo safari closer to home?

Shooting Norway Rats (Rattus norvegicus) provides an opportunity to shoot an interesting, seldom-photographed subject in the heart of a city. Because they are nocturnal, they pose some unique challenges, namely lighting them properly! For these shots, I used 2 radio-controlled manual speedlights,which were set up to light a small area baited with common dog food. One could also use TTL triggers, such as the new YongNuo 622‘s and set the metering to spot to meter the subject, but I did not have these available. Instead, after guesstimating lighting ratios, I just played with the ISO and f-stop to get decent exposures.

Starting shortly after nightfall on a summer night in July, I chose an area with lots of foot traffic adjacent to a rail line. This ensured that the rats were used to human proximity and conditioned to search for littered food. An alleyway near some dumpsters would also work well. I shot these using a 70-300 zoom, and of course the faster the lens, the easier focusing will be, but choosing an area with some artificial light helps.

Because rats are neophobic (afraid of new things in their environment), I was worried that the speedlights would scare them off, but these rats that are habituated to a rapidly-changing litter landscape did not pay too much heed to some more crap lying around.

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Depending on the season (I recommend early summer), the majority of rats you will encounter will be young, as rats are short-lived highly fecund creatures, meaning that the cohort of young individuals will greatly exceed the number of large, reproductively mature animals. These younger rats often have bright eyes and nice fur, which makes them rather cute.

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Urban litter is often in the frames, adding some context to the shots.

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Many of the rats I encountered had scars such as missing eyes, which indicates crowding in shelter areas and conspecific aggression.

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The elegant form of the rat at a gallop is one of the most astounding sights in the natural world.

Rats at Commercial Drive_5956413839_l Rats at Commercial Drive_5956981674_l

There is much more I would like to do with rats, such as triggering a camera with a wide angle remotely, and providing more natural foods, like pizza. Just imagine, a rat in front of a graffiti covered wall, dragging a massive slice of pizza! This is my art, this is my dream.

Anyway, I urge anyone to go try a rat safari, and wonder at the most urban of urban wildlife.

Weekend Expedition 25: a few from Stanley Park


Some Eudioctria Robber Flies getting it on!

Photography seems to run in my family, with my Dad shooting lots of people and landscapes, and my brother doing lots of aviation and travel shooting.

My Dad was visiting this weekend from Romania, and so I thought I would take him out to find some cool stuff in Stanley Park. Now is a great time for fledgling birds, and all the summer specialties such as robber flies are abundant.


A mother Wood Duck watches her brood.


Wood Duckling!


Fledgling Great Blue Heron, trying to fish.


Young Canada Goose, looking serious.


Crows were foraging in the intertidal of English Bay.


A fledgling crow learns how to get mollusks on the beach.


My dad takes a break while I shoot crows.



Soldier Beetle tosses antennae provocatively.



A monster!


Lacewing larvae are pretty fascinating.


The Eudioctria were a bit randy today.


And hungry! Here is one with a barklouse as prey.


Strategic wing placement?


This Anthidium manicatum was fixated on these flowers. For an introduced species, these are pretty nice looking insects.