Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Good-Bye My Turtle Girl

It started as just a joke, when my daughter asked me for a small aquatic turtle at the pet shop. I had to blink twice, to make sure I was reading the 79.99 price tag correctly, and then I replied, "If you want a turtle, I'll catch you one from the lake, and not one of these puny ones, a good sized one."

So when we decided to go canoeing at Burnaby Lake in late June, my daughter reminded me of my "promise". So I tossed a plastic tub into the canoe, just in case. Sure enough, within minutes of putting the canoe in the lake, we saw a turtle sunning itself on a log, and the chase was on. We hadn't thought to bring a net, so I ended up catching it with my bare hands. It was a pretty exhilirating experience.

I had told myself that if it was a native turtle, we'd return it, and if not (i.e. a pet shop turtle released into the lake) then we'd keep it. So after catching it, we checked at the pet shop (while trying to buy a suitable aquarium for it; we ended up getting a perfectly sized one for $40 on Craigslist), and it was one of the 3 varieties of turtle they sold. But when I checked online, I found that it was a Western Painted Turtle, which is also native to this area. So as a compromise, I guess, we decided to keep it only for the summer, until the kids return to school.
Painted turtle in the garden
I read that the female has a narrower tail than the male, but having no other turtle to compare it with, I only guessed that this was a female. Nice smooth dark shell, maybe 10" across. Gorgeous red & black pattern underneath (I should have taken more photos), and beautiful yellow markings on her skin. We couldn't agree on a name for her, so she just became my "Turtle Girl".
Turtle sunning on rock
I took her outside some times, let her run in the yard. I discovered that turtles can really move when they want to! Wow! She was a little speedster. But most of the time, we kept her in the tank, with just enough water in the bottom for her to swim, and two large rocks for her to climb onto, to "sun" herself (I tried to click on the recessed light above the tank whenever she did this). She seemed to like the clump of grass I added to the tank, and was often "hiding" near it.
Turtle tank
The tank was in an alcove at the landing of our main staircase. So over time she got used to us passing by, and only panicked when we stopped. Lately, she had stopped panicking at all, and only backed away when we approached. But still, we could never think of her as a pet, only a captive. When I picked her up, she hissed and tried to claw herself out of my grip. I learned two tricks to holding her. One was holding her from the back, close to her tail, so she could only push my hand with her back feet, but not dig her claws into me. The other one (I think she was not amused!!) was to hold her completely upside down, holding the edge of her shell, so she couldn't dig any of her claws or feet into me at all. I wish I had a picture of that. She looked so undignified, but she also got very calm when I did that (maybe the blood rushing to her head had something to do with it).

I don't know if she ever ate or not. We bought her the floating pellets for turtles (a combination of vegetation and protein), and I tried tossing in bits of romaine lettuce and dandelion greens, but couldn't tell if she ever ate any of them, or whether they all just ended up in time jammed in the intake of the filter. Apparently turtles can go for weeks and even months without eating. And when they hibernate buried under the mud in winter (I guess in Vancouver they may or may not actually hibernate), they can go for many months without breathing. Pretty amazing.

Well, in two weeks the kids are back in school. We survived a spell of very hot weather (a few times we found her with her head pulled back into her shell, and I felt sorry for her that she didn't even have any cool water to retreat into), and now the weather has cooled, and the kids are at camp near Burnaby Lake this week. So it seemed the ideal time to set her free.

Today was an extremely stressful day at work, but I had decided this was the day, so I put her into a plastic tub and took her with me when I went to pick up the kids. I have to say I cried the whole 10 minutes I drove to camp, and I already missed her terribly. I'm sure tonight will be awfully quiet, without her clunking around at 5AM, knocking the filter (which is suction-cupped to the side of the tank) out of the water so that it starts sucking air....

I'm already trying to decide if we want to put a few fish into the tank, or just remove it altogether. We saw some 99 cent goldfish at the garden center the other day, which seems pretty tempting. But then again, maybe our hamster and two sea snails might be enough for now.

My daughter helped me release her into a shallow pool at the edge of the lake. Instead of heading out into the lake, our Turtle Girl quickly headed straight into the tall grasses at the other side. We could hear her for some while, pushing her way through, the grasses wiggling to indicate her progress. When we turned for home, I felt relieved that she was back home where she belonged, but I'll surely miss our Turtle Girl.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Garden Related Glimpses : mid-Aug 2008

Here goes with some more garden photos, and other miscellaneous photos from August. Instead of my usual close-ups, here are a few wider views of my garden:
Garden photo
Here is our fairy house, with blooming lilies towering above it:
Fairy house
Here is my hummingbird corner, with a lush butterfly bush cascading over a clump of crocosmia, and a set of red monarda falling to the right:
Hummingbird corner
Here is one of challenges I regularly deal with, blackberry vines reaching over the fence into my garden (those nasty things seem to grow one foot or more per day!). The large purple plant on the right is a purple sage. To the left of it, the straggly flower stalks of Stachys byzantina (Lamb's ear). I don't much like the look of the flowers, but I leave them for the bees (especially the little mason bees) which are all over them. To the far left, our red currant bush, which bore more than a 4L (1 gallon) bucket of berries this year:
Invading blackberry vines
I was very pleased to gather a large harvest of lavender flowers from my neighbour, before her landscaper removed the large plants this year. While I had the lavender drying on a number of cookie sheets and other trays on the kitchen island, the fragrance throughout the house was amazing:
Lavender drying
I also made a batch of lavender jelly. I was very pleased with the natural colour of it (yes, just lavender, certo & white sugar, no other additives or preservatives). Oh, and did I mention that it tasted good, too? My 9 year old daughter has been asking for it on toast for breakfast ever since.
Lavender jelly
While I'm posting photos, here is one of Alouette Lake, BC, from above. My husband and I discovered this viewpoint while off-roading a few weeks ago:
Aloutte Lake from above
Yesterday (Sunday) we took the kids canoeing from Barnet Beach across and up into Indian Arm, to escape the heat. It was indeed much cooler there, and ended up being a beautiful day to canoe, with only the occasional drops of rain. We spotted this harbour seal with her pup on the shore, mainly because a pair of kayakers ahead of us had already stopped to watch. Otherwise we may have missed them on the rocks, since they were quite well camoflauged:
Harbour seal with pup in Indian Arm
Here is a closeup from the same photo, you can better see the mother seal with her pup (he was not interested in looking at us, so that is his back end, you can see the flipper on the right side):
Seal with pup closeup

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Those Rascally Squirrels

Last week, I was taking photos in the garden, when a squirrel ran along the fence, climbed the neighbour's house, and hung sideways, screaming, with some large object in its mouth. So I snapped a quick photo, and then continued with my garden photos without any further regard to him.

Then a couple of days ago, I saw a squirrel (seems to always be that same dark character) hanging from my espalier apple tree, stripping off an apple. That little bandit! Suddenly it all came together... I had wondered how I had counted 5 little round apples forming in the tree at the far end of my yard, and yet last week I was walking through, and found not a single one, and no sign of any having prematurely dropped to the ground.

I'm thinking those little bandits probably got our early pears, too. There were maybe 6 tiny pears, but they disappeared also without a trace.

So thinking of this squirrel screaming the other day, I decided to crop & get a better look at what was in his mouth, and sure enough, that looks like an apple to me.... What do you think? (Click the photo for a larger image.)
Squirrel with stolen apple
If I had known, it should have been me screaming at him, not that rascally character screaming at me!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Swallowtail Butterfly Photos

With my new camera this year that actually allows me to take some decent close-up photos, I've been fascinated with capturing images of the bumblebees which I adore. Here are a few of my recent favs (as always, click on the image for a larger view):
Bumblebee closeup
The bees love the globe thistle (Echinops banaticus) even more than I do (which is a lot):
Bumblebees on globe thistle flower
A couple of days ago, a swallowtail butterly flitted into the garden, and didn't seem to mind me chasing him around with the camera as he visited my many plantings of Echinacea purpurea (Purple coneflower):
Swallowtail butterfly
Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower
Swallowtail butterfly on Echinacea purpurea
Swallowtail butterfly
True to its name, the Buddleia davidii (Butterfly bush) is attractive to the Swallowtail butterfly (although the smaller white Cabbage butterfly doesn't seem to give it much attention):
Swallowtail on butterfly bush
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