Signs of spring

Pine siskin (Spinus pinus)

Pine siskin (Spinus pinus)

Exiting the sad season

It may be of little comfort to my friends on the east coast, buried under Snowmageddon, to learn that spring has arrived early here, but it is no less appreciated by west coast SAD sufferers, when “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” stirs amongst the winter shadows. Goodness knows, the Doomsday prophesies of our political class hold no promise of renewal.


As early as the first week of February, I made my first foray to local marshes, in search of songbirds.

In my own backyard, pine siskins visited en masse. Last year, I hung an old Niger seed feeder (a leftover from a time spent adjacent to a wetland), without expectation that these boreal birds would visit the city. So I was surprised this spring when an “irruption” of fifty finches descended upon my feeders. They swirled around like whirling dervishes, flitting from feeders to my garden water-feature, all the while squabbling, as is their habit.

Unfortunately, this social excitement often caused them to collide with nearby windows (to the benefit of observant Cooper’s hawks), so I switched the tube-feeders to black sunflower seed, which siskins find hard to crack, rather than the expensive hulled variety. Now, just a few turn up to taste the Niger. Presumably, I’ve encouraged them to continue their northward journey (though they often stay at this latitude year-round).

Meanwhile, the usual juncos, brown creepers, nuthatches, bushtits, the house-family of house finches, house wrens, house sparrows, and house mice are daily foragers in my yard, with the latter excavating a disconcerting amount of soil from under the upper tier of the waterfall.

I’ve added a couple of these new bird photos to the fauna gallery.


The first flowers to burst their buds belong to the fervent indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), followed soon after by flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), a favourite of hummingbirds (We are blessed to have the over-wintering Anna’s hummingbird). Last year, I bought specimens of both plants for the newly-established garden.

The mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii), another early-riser and fellow native plant, is not far behind with its unusual pea-green fronds, followed by delicate white blossoms. Last year, I caught a fly warming its wings on the first flush of leaves. See that image in my flora gallery.

My modest collection of bonsai (decimated by theft and neglect) also demanded early repotting, with the Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) popping distinctive lime-green tufts of needles and purple, thistle-like immature cones. My remaining karamatsu (唐松) specimens are the result of air-layering from a “parent” (centre-left below) that now stands over three feet tall with a base trunk girth of 20cm (8″). It too received a bonsai container, after 18-years in a training pot.

The semi-cascade tree, featured in the accompanying gallery, began its life independent of parent branch at the right (1997) and left (2001). Give it another 20-years of training and we might have something worthy of the name “bonsai.”

Larch air-layers

Larch air-layers

Last weekend’s visit to Hartley Castle, completed in 1908 by James Dunsmuir, son of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, on the blood, sweat, and tears of Vancouver Island’s indentured coal miners, almost convinced me to overlook the family’s horticultural and social imperialism.

The grounds, including a respectable Japanese garden, designed by Ishiburo Kishida, offered up a riot of bursting blossoms and swelling buds. The bog garden was redolent with native skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), a member of the arum family, bordered by the aforementioned vermillion flowering current, cherry blossoms, hellebore and other species, both native and introduced.

Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle

A camera for all seasons

On this trip, I restricted myself to the lightweight convenience of my iPhone. The composite of images above were edited with a combination of phone apps, such as Photoshop Express and Instagram, as well as computer-based software, including Photoshop CS6 and Nik Analog 2.

Sure, the 36 megapixel files from my Nikon D-800 are extraordinary — you can see the detail, even rendered at webpage resolution. I used this camera to shoot the birds and flowers in the appended gallery and feature image.

The limitations of the iPhone remain in its lack of depth-of-field control, which I often fight with fake tilt-shift filters, and the (wide-angle) focal length — no portraits, please!). Adapters are no remedy for these limitations, yet, though something called Beastgrip aims to change all that. Mind you, for all the trouble and expense of equipping an iPhone with grips and lenses, I think I’ll stick with my DSLRs.

Of course, there are a plethora of compact cameras, digital and analog, on the market. I won’t review them here; that’s not the aim of this post.

Every season holds its beauty — I’m considering heading east to find some winter, before it’s too late. Sometimes I have to remind myself to follow Edward Abbey’s advice:

“Leave your dens, abandon your cars and walk out into the great mountains, the deserts, the forests, the seashores. Those treasures still belong to all of us. Enjoy them to the full, stretch your legs, expand your lungs, enliven your hearts ― and we will outlive the greedy swine who want to destroy it all in the name of what they call growth.”

Flowering Currant

Flowering Currant

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  • Kathy - Another superb collection of photos, Raymond!March 27, 2015 – 1:55 pmReplyCancel

    • Raymond Parker - Thanks Kathy. Glad you liked them. Just spent the day in the mountains. Hopefully I made something for another post.March 27, 2015 – 4:50 pmReplyCancel


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