Plants in the First Snow of the Winter in Burnaby

We recently got the first snow of the winter where I live. I hate driving in snow, but I love walking in it (as long as the ground isn’t icy) and I love photographing it. A delicate collection of fresh snow on plants is a lovely sight.

When I walked to a local food store to buy a few items in the late morning, the snow was more like hail and wasn’t settling very much. When I left the store five or at the most ten minutes later, the hail had turned to real snow and the road that had been black when I entered the store was now white.

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Mature English ivy near my home

Of course, I had to walk along the urban trail to see what I could photograph. Where I live, an “urban trail” is a wide tarmac or gravel path with natural, semi-natural, or cultivated borders. It enables pedestrians and cyclists to travel safely and pleasantly through urban and suburban areas. The trails pass by or near popular areas such as parks, schools, shopping centres, and medical offices. There’s a photo of one section at the end of this post.

The trail travels near my home and passes through some areas with trees and other plants that existed before the path was created. These areas are always interesting to photograph. They provide a chance for nature study as well as a useful route to a desired destination.

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Juvenile English ivy beside the trail

The first plant that I photographed after I left the store was the mature English ivy (Hedera helix) shown in the initial photo in this post. It looks quite different from the juvenile stage, which is shown above. The juvenile leaves are lobed and have the ability to climb. The mature and reproductive stage has oval leaves and doesn’t climb. The first plant still has the clusters of stalks that bore the purple berries.

Some people find ivy and its ability to spread horizontally and vertically a nuisance, which I understand, whiles others love these abilities and think the plant is attractive. It’s certainly an interesting plant.

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Western sword fern in the snow

The western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is a common and very noticeable sight in my part of the world. The fern is evergreen and can therefore be appreciated all year long. It grows in the wild and in a cultivated form. The fronds grow in clumps and lean outwards from a central point. Each bears leaflets, or pinnae. Unlike the case in many ferns, the pinnae don’t divide into small ones.

Each pinna has a lobe pointing forward at its base, as can be seen on the frond on the left in the photo below. The frond also shows rows of brown dots on its undersurface. These are called sori. Each sorus (the singular form of the word) contains spore cases that release reproductive spores. The sori of the sword fern are green at first and turn brown later.

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A closer view of western sword fern fronds

English holly (Ilex aquifolium)  is an attractive and introduced plant that is sometimes considered to be invasive in my part of the world. I actually photographed the plant below as I was going to the store along the trail. You may be able to see a few pieces of hail on the conifer leaves on the bottom left of the photo.

I always enjoy seeing a holly bush with its lovely red berries, especially around Christmas time. The plant does seem to be spreading in my area, though. I hope it doesn’t become a problem.

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I often travel along the urban trail where I took the photographs shown above. Its borders vary considerably. In some places they are carefully cultivated, as shown in the photo below. In others they are wilder and left to their own devices, unless they interfere with the trail itself or with the water flow in the creek that travels beside one section of the trail. I took the photo of the sword fern in one of these wilder areas.

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A section of the trail on the day after the snow

As can be seen in the photo above, the snow generally doesn’t last for long where I live. We may get a little more this weekend. As usual, though, the weather forecast may not be accurate. If the snow does appear, I plan to take more photos along a different section of the trail and at a higher elevation.

Raccoons in British Columbia: Clever and Interesting Animals

Raccoons are interesting animals to observe. They are often nocturnal, which is the case for the animals in my neighbourhood. In some areas they are also active during the day, however, as shown in the Stanley Park photo below. I took the photo by a seating area in front of a concession stand. Food remains left by park visitors are a great temptation for raccoons.

Raccoons are considered to be clever creatures and are great climbers. I enjoy watching their antics. Readers may remember the case of the raccoon who climbed a Minnesota skyscraper in 2018. She was live-trapped on the roof of the building and released into a safe area. Unfortunately, raccoons are sometimes considered to be pests in my part of the world.

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A raccoon in Stanley Park

The scientific name of the raccoon is Procyon lotor. The Pacific northwest raccoon (my local form) is classified in a particular subspecies: Procyon lotor pacificus. It belongs to the family Procyonidae, which also includes coatis and kinkajous. The raccoon is the largest and bulkiest member of the family. Its name is sometimes spelled “racoon.” It’s native to North America but has been introduced to Europe and other parts of the world.

Raccoons have a distinctive appearance compared to other wildlife in my area. Its most noticeable features are the black mask over the eyes and face, the black rings on the tail, and the arched back. The hunched appearance is due to the fact that the hind legs are longer than the front one. The animal’s face is pointed. Its front paws are dexterous, enabling the raccoon to manipulate objects that it discovers.

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A photo of raccoons by skeeze, CC0 public domain license

Raccoons are omnivores and eat a wide variety of food, depending on what they can find. They are adaptable animals that are found in many habitats, including forest, marshland, and urban areas. Most animals are inactive during winter, although they don’t enter a true hibernation. In cities, the animals may be active all year.

Racoons are known for dipping their food into any water nearby as though they are washing it. The behaviour isn’t completely understood. Some scientists have suggested that wetting the object improves the animal’s sense of touch and allows it to the examine the food better.

The animals have both a capable brain and a capable body. Though they can’t run very fast, they manipulate items with their front paws, climb trees easily, and descend head first. They are good swimmers. They can also stand on their hind legs, although they don’t seem to do this very often. They may perform the behaviour as a warning sign when humans get too close.

Raccoons generally mate in late winter or early spring in my area. Male raccoons are sometimes known as boars, females as sows, and youngsters as kits. Gestation lasts for around sixty to sixty-five days. Generally two to five kits are born in the spring or a little later in the year. The kits nurse for around two months and stay with their mother for a while after they are weaned. They sometimes remain with her until the next breeding season.

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Photo of a raccoon kit by edbo23, CC0 public domain license

Until a few years ago, I used to see raccoons travelling along my suburban road at night. Sometimes a family would climb on to the balcony of my home and play. Now I mostly see the animals during the day in Stanley Park.

The disappearance of the animals from my neighbourhood roughly corresponded with the time that the city issued garbage cans to residents for the weekly pick-up. Before this time we put out unprotected bags, which the local crows (and perhaps the raccoons) loved. I have heard of raccoons opening garbage cans and getting into them, but they don’t seem to have done this along my road. Containers with lids that raccoons can’t open are important.

Staying one step ahead of the animals and preventing them from finding food can be very helpful. It’s not unheard of for a raccoon to enter a home through a pet door in order to feed on cat or dog food. The door may need to be blocked to prevent this from happening. Farm birds should be housed in a secure enclosure so that raccoons can’t reach them. Any other food sources that are being raided should be removed or protected.

Raccoons use dens for both shelter and reproduction. Sites chosen for the dens include abandoned burrows created by other animals, hollow trees and logs, areas under rocks, barns, attics, chimneys, and crawl spaces under homes. Entrances to buildings used for human purposes should be blocked.

If an animal does become a problem, it would be good to find a pest controller that uses a humane method to remove it. Humane pest controllers that live-trap animals and move them far away and into the wild are available in many areas. It’s much better to prevent a problem than to solve one, however. A relocated raccoon may be successful in its new habitat, but it may not be. The animals have lived for as long as twenty years in captivity but may have a dramatically shorter lifespan in the wild. It would be nice to help them live as long as possible.

The Canada Goose in Vancouver: Photos and Facts

I love hearing the honks of Canada geese as they fly overhead and looking up to see their V formation in the sky. The sound always reminds me of the Canadian wilderness. In reality, the birds are found in the United States and Northern Mexico as well as Canada and are seen in cities and towns and well as wild places. Canada geese can be found at any time of the year in the Vancouver area.

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Canada geese that I photographed in Stanley Park in summer

Physical Appearance and Identification Problems

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is an attractive bird. Its neck is long, thin, and black. Its head is black, too, except for the white patch on each side of its face. The two patches are joined by a white “chinstrap” under the head. The bird’s upper body is brown to grey. Its underside is usually paler and changes to white at the back of the body. Males and females look similar.

Most of the birds in the photo above are clearly Canada geese. It might surprise some people to know that it’s not always easy to identify the birds, at least in the Vancouver area, due to the presence of a similar bird. The cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii) was once classified as a subspecies of the Canada goose but is now considered to be a separate species. It resembles a Canada goose in appearance but is smaller and has a shorter and thicker neck, as shown in the photo below.

Unfortunately for people who want a definite identification of the bird that they are observing, the cackling goose hybridizes with the Canada Goose, producing birds with intermediate features. In addition, some subspecies of the Canada goose are smaller than others. Another confusing factor is that the apparent length of a Canada goose’s neck varies according to what it’s doing. These points can sometimes make identification of a bird difficult.

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A cackling goose photo taken by Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 license

Habitat and Diet

The Canada goose is found in water of different types, wetlands, and grain fields. Some birds frequent grass in urban areas. A flock of geese on an urban playing field can be an interesting sight but can also be annoying because of the droppings that are produced. The birds eat aquatic plants, grass, grain, and small animals.

The first two Canada Geese photos in this post show the birds at Stanley Park, a large and very popular area in Vancouver. The park is located by the ocean. As can be seen, the geese in Vancouver don’t seem to mind being in and near sea water at all. I took the photo of the gosling at John Hendry Park, which contains a small lake (Trout Lake) as well as grassy and treed areas. The goslings were very confident and came close to me as they fed on grass. Their parents were watching carefully, though.

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A Canada goose that I photographed while he or she was preening on a Stanley Park beach

Reproduction

Canada geese stay in flocks until the mating season. They mate for life. If one of the birds dies, however, the other one will likely choose a new mate.  The nest is a mound of vegetation and is constructed near water. The female incubates the eggs and the male protects her. The clutch generally consists of four to seven eggs. Incubation takes about a month.

Once the goslings are born, they stay with their parents for some time as they grow. They don’t leave to start independent lives until the next spring. The birds are said to have a lifespan of up to twenty-four years.

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A gosling at John Hendry Park

Observing the Birds

The Canada Geese in my area are used to people and don’t seem to mind our presence as long as we stay at a respectful distance. They usually move away if humans get too close, however. Some birds are more confident than others or more confident in certain places.

I would have thought that a pair of geese with goslings would be especially cautious. They probably are in many places, but in certain spots in my part of the world this is a good time to observe the birds closely.

Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park is a popular spot for bird watchers and for people who like to feed birds (hopefully with healthy food). The Canada Geese that choose to appear here with their goslings seem quite content to have people approach them to take photographs. They continue to graze by the lagoon as the photos are taken, but even here a parent stops grazing occasionally and lifts a watchful eye.

Canada geese and cackling geese are two of my favourite birds to observe. I don’t mind if a flock is composed entirely of Canada geese, entirely of cackling geese, or a mixture of species and hybrids. They are interesting animals.