Photojournal - 6 and 8 September 2007


On September 6, after several months of us being apart, I was reunited with two of my closest friends: my D2X and my 80-400mm lens. Unfortunately, I also had meetings at work that day, so rather than us spending the day swapping stories and catching up, I locked them in my trunk and went off to my meetings. But please be aware that I'm an experienced photographer and these were controlled conditions; this is not something that I'd recommend for you to do at home with your closest friends.

When the meetings finished, I found myself on Burnaby Mountain with some sunlight left. Just down the mountain is Burnaby Lake, so I decided to head to Piper Spit, which affords the easiest and generally most interesting access to the lake.

Near the parking lot, the parks service maintains a small "butterfly garden." They don't actually grow butterflies there, but rather they grow flowers that butterflies like to visit. Sure enough, despite it being late in the season, I did find a butterfly visiting a flower.


Despite the somewhat mothlike wing shape, that's a butterfly. The easiest way to tell butterflies from moths is that butterflies have a knob on the end of each antenna; moths don't. Anyhow, that butterfly is a Woodland Skipper, and it's on a Rudbeckia flower.

Nothing else was really happening in the garden, so I headed out the spit. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Piper Spit is called that because it's a little piece of land that juts into the lake and there are sometimes sandpipers (or other shorebirds) near it.

Near the spit, I found a sandpiper. Or at least, someone that many would call a sandpiper. He's a Greater Yellowlegs.


As a birder, I should maybe be careful calling him a sandpiper, but I'm not in a mood to quibble.

At the end of the spit, there's this thing that rises up out of the water: it seems to be half barrel and half dolphin. I've never figured out the purpose of the thing, unless it was put there so that the Wood Ducks would have something to perch on.


Wood ducks are odd that way...they like to perch. Most ducks don't.

The spit also supports a small population of Rock Doves. Here's one that came by to check me out. He posed on the wooden railing for me, making this almost-eye-level shot particularly easy to get.

On the way back towards the parking lot, I found a small piece of land where a dowitcher was picking his way inbetween a bunch of resting Mallards.  

In that same photo, you'll notice that I also caught a rare, headless Canadian Goose, and a good view of the light-coloured eyelid on a couple of the Mallards.

Back at the butterfly garden, I caught a few distinctly non-butterlies crawling around on the flowers. This first one is a yellowjacket or related vespid wasp that I can't identify.


But if I had to guess, I'd guess the Common Yellowjacket (Vespula vulgaris), because this was a fairly hairy wasp, and V. vulgaris is known for being hairy. Perhaps that's even why they're known as vulgaris.

My second find was a little hoverfly who dropped by a beautiful white-and-yellow aster.


I must confess that I didn't even try to identify him; hoverflies are a tough bunch of insects to tell apart.

My photography for the day ended with a purple flower that was disturbingly sans insect.


I was pretty happy with how the day's shots had turned out; all of the shots were taken with the newly recovered camera and lens, and they worked quite well. I could've gotten better detail on the insects with my macro lens, but testing out the 80-400 had been the point of the outing.

Two days later, on the 8th, I went to my usual lunch at the Golden Pita and afterwards I again dropped by the spit. I started at the butterfly garden, where I found another hoverfly on a white-and-yellow aster.


This hoverfly, unlike the last, really piqued my interest. This guy had really huge hindfemurs. (Yes, that big almost-seed-shaped thing below his thorax is the thigh on his hind leg. Compare it to his front and middle thighs.) That was a feature I'd never seen before, and I wondered what purpose it might serve. It turned out that that thigh (with the fact that its lower side is spiky) was enough to identify the species, which is Syritta pipiens. I still don't know what that big thigh is for, though.

Next I spied a colourful fallen leaf under some of the flowers. I moved it out onto the path to get a full-on shot of it without trampling the garden. The colours on the photo turned out fine, but the focus is a bit wrong, showing one of the limitations of using the long lens for close macro subjects.


I put the leaf back when I was done.

Of course, there were still some small subjects that the long lens would work just fine with...such as this, another Woodland Skipper, with his face buried in a flower.

And, nearby, this white (Cabbage White or Mustard White), with his tongue all unrolled. Look, he's got knobby antennae!  
Out on the spit itself, there were only a couple of things that tickled my fancy. One was this Gadwall, showing the typical Gadwall squarish head and brown speculum.  
The other subject was an epic struggle between a female Wood Duck and a Bullfrog tadpole. I was quite impressed by the whole spectacle: the tadpole was clearly quite dead, and so the duck was the only one struggling. She was struggling to eat the unlucky tad, but it was so large that she couldn't get it in her mouth or down her throat.  

She really could've used a knife and fork, but I just didn't have any on me. After about ten or fifteen minutes of trying, she finally gave up and left the tad in the shallows. Must be discouraging to find a great source of protein like that and then not be able to eat it.

And yes, tadpoles can get really big. Especially bullfrog ones, which can live for about three years before they turn green, sprout legs, and acquire really cool eyes and a taste for flies.

I found my last subject of the day on my way in from the tip of the spit. There was a dragonfly, a mosaic darner of some kind, patrolling above the walkway. It's always fun to try to catch flying dragons, and this time I got lucky and got a decent shot.


I'm guessing this is a Black-tipped Darner, but the mosaic darners are a difficult group to tell apart.

Your hairy friend,
Thomas vulgaris


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