The View From Home - Grampies Go Valencia to Paris: Spring 2024 - CycleBlaze

February 4, 2024

The View From Home

"The View From Home" is the title of a song by autoharp master Bryan Bowers. Though Bryan was born in Virginia, he came to represent the West Coast for us, in years past. We especially like this verse:

"Out on the road, we tell all the turkeys

Yes it's always raining and the sun never shines

But all the natives know when the mountain lifts her skirts

The view from home will flat-out melt your mind"

Despite proposing that all there is to see out here is The Dump, we have spent time visiting other parts of our natural environment. In this post we are running through some of what we saw at nearby beaches and bays, and then in the fields, and our own forest. It might seem like all we are describing is birds, but fear not, we eventually move on to ... trees, some dead, some alive!

While we don't live right by the water, we are very close to Cowichan Bay, which is where the Cowichan River, that drains a sizable bit of the rain forest to our west, enters the Saanich Inlet. The Saanich Inlet separates us from Saltspring Island, and is part of the Salish Sea, which describes the waters on the side of Vancouver Island not facing the open Pacific.

Cowichan Bay can be seen at about the middle of the map. The Cowichan River comes from large Lake Cowichan, which sits in the middle of Vancouver Island. The City of Vancouver can be seen in the upper right of the map, but Vancouver usually seems very remote from us.
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Cowichan Bay is a peaceful place, though much visited by tourists to this area.
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Like at Victoria Fisherman's Wharf, Cowichan Bay has some picturesque float homes.
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Saltspring Island is just across the way. I guess one could easily paddle there in calm weather, but for us to cycle on Saltspring takes a ferry crossing from further north.
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Down by the beach we usually just see large ships that for some reason anchor off Saltspring Island. But this time a derelict orange boat has come ashore. We sometimes read news stories of ships anchored in the bay, for years, with officials trying to figure out how to move them off.  It will be interesting to see how long this orange boat stays on the beach. We have no idea which authorities might be responsible for removing it, or we might try giving them a call. In the meantime, it gives beach walkers something to look at!

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Karen PoretIt’s a *“reject” from McCovey Cove in San Francisco Bay :) And, today being 2/4/24 is officially “Willie Mays Day”…* because the boat is orange and black; San Francisco Giants colors…
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2 months ago

Our beach does not seem to contain any particularly special birds, but it does often have large gatherings of gulls, and ducks like Mallards. The gulls are interesting to watch, for their trick of carrying shellfish aloft and dropping them, presumably to help in getting them open.

24079 Mallard Duck male
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24080 Mallard duck female
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Glaucous winged gull
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Glaucous winged gull juvenile, first winter plumage
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The glaucous winged gull was dropping shellfish from some height to help break them open.
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 A little north of Cowichan Bay town, we found a greater variety of bird life. With one, though, we were sure we were looking at a metal sign, or something, on a post. But when we zoomed in, the camera revealed a Blue Heron in a strange pose that showed no wings and only one leg.

Great Blue Heron in lollipop pose for a cold foggy day.
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We also saw two types of duck that we had not seen before.

24081 Surf Scoter
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24082 Lesser Scaup
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And here was a Cormorant, not being quite as weird as the Heron, but still striking some crazy poses, before settling for the standard Cormorant drying the wings one.

Foolish looking Double Crested Cormorant
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Nope, still not right.
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Finally, a decent pose
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 As we watched the sea, the sea - in the form of seals - was watching us.

Seals, checking us out!
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We headed off to go look for geese and swans in the farm fields, but first noticed a sea star by the dock. Further north, near Parksville, these and also sand dollars are very common.

Sea star, probably not alive.
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Well fed, at the Cowichan Bay Marina.
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We slowly drove our electric car along the nearby roads, scanning the adjacent fields.  At these times Dodie always says "Go slower, go slower", but really any car is not good for seeing much. We are too lazy, or chilly, to take out our bikes, however.

Despite the speed of the car, Dodie did spot a field of geese. These were definitely Canada geese, not the smaller Cackling Geese, which are similar but which we have never seen.

24083 Canada Goose walking on a wet, soggy field.
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Bill ShaneyfeltPurveyor of a million goose grenades on the bike path along rivers and ponds around here. Scourge of bike trails!
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Bill ShaneyfeltThey can be a real menace up our way also. There are frequent articles in the local papers where the impact on farmer's fields is bemoaned.
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2 months ago

In Europe, one of the pleasures is in watching the always elegant swans on many waterways. We have a lot of swans here as well, but we rarely see them in water.  We did see one this day, at the beach, but mostly they like dry farm fields, for cleaning up crop leftovers.

24084 Trumpeter Swans, gleaning in the fields.
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Ever since Joni bought us a book on bird feeding, we have been watching the local birds outside our window.  Until we put out our feeders though, we had no idea of just what birds live nearby.  Here are a few that we are seeing at this season:

Chickadee picking out a seed.
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Got one!
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The House Finch has one too.
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Male and female House Finches. So pretty.
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Spotted Towhee.
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Song Sparrow.
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Silly Song Sparrow doing the splits.
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Junco trying to land on the suet feeder.
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Male and Female Juncos.
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The bird feeders are lots of fun, but the bird are very messy. The Nuthatches in particular will sit on the feeder and go through the seeds, discarding up to a dozen, before finding just the right one, and taking that  one off to the forest. Meanwhile, Towhees , and also squirrels, are below, going through the castoffs.

The squirrels enjoy cleaning up the dropped seeds.
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Karen PoretAh, the maintenance crew ! :)
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2 months ago

In this season, only one species of Hummingbird is about - the Anna's. They are so terribly cute! We learned that Hummingbirds are only found in the New World. This could account for the fascination of European friends that watch the birds from our window during visits.

Hummingbirds sip nectar from the special feeders.
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Three kinds of Woodpecker live in our area, but the Downy is the one we are seeing now. It is quite small, and lacks the very red head, that you would expect from Woody Woodpecker. Woody was more likely a Pileated.

24085 Downy Woodpecker
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There are three or four types of owls in our area, with the most common being the Barred Owl. It's the one whose call sounds like "Who Cooks for You?"  It seems in summer we hear this all the time. But right now its the "Who ha who who who" of the Horned Owl. You hear this at night, with little chance of a photo, so we have put in a stock picture.

24086 Great Horned Owl - stock photo
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Dodie has been spotting some hawks, usually perched atop light standards, along the highway. We finally got a chance to photograph one and think we have the ID correct.

24087 Red Tailed Hawk
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Bill ShaneyfeltHawks are so variable they drive me nuts, but red tails are usually readily identifiable.
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Bill ShaneyfeltIt is particularly hard when you can only spot them at a distance and even with a fairly good zoom camera they tend to look very alike.
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2 months ago

 We are fortunate to have some woods that are part of our place, where you can go for a walk and feel like you are in a real park. Usually I am out there in summer, sawing up trees that fell in the winter, but we did take a walk now, no doubt proving that our packing is done and we can afford the time.

This is the kind of fallen tree I like, for firewood, except that this one will be hard to get to. We decline to cut down any trees, so we are always on the lookout for ones that fall down naturally.
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This stream eventually reaches the salt water where we see all the gulls.
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Aha, now here is a good fallen tree!
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See Dodie down at the other end. This will give me a good activity in summer, bucking, transporting, and splitting. Dodie is usually the stacker.
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Some logs just stay where they fell. Either on the ground or when still standing, they show clearly that they were supporting woodpeckers.
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Bill ShaneyfeltKinda punky looking for a fire... so, yeah, let the critters have it.
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Bill ShaneyfeltWe refer to them as "woodpecker trees". It is a real privilege for us to support the local ecosystems on our small farm. This is a large reason why we have not cleared or developed the forested part of our land.
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2 months ago



In our rain forest area it is normal to see mossy trees
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This yew tree is a bit of a rarity here. The anti cancer drug Taxol was isolated from this tree. Well not this exact one, but this kind of tree.
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The original old growth forest was probably logged at our place over 100 years ago. We do have one remnant, which is a large conifer along our driveway. In the photo, for scale, you can see the telephone pole. The tree is perhaps 600 years old.  Should it fall in our lifetime (unlikely), we are toast, in terms of getting out of our driveway!

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Scott AndersonBrian Bowers! There’s a name I haven’t heard in ages. My first wife and I heard him perform in Seattle in 1972, when he was just making the step up from getting by as a busker.
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Scott AndersonHow lucky you were to hear him at the start of his career.
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Andrea BrownTo Scott AndersonHe was making the state universities circuit in 1977, and I saw him at least twice, so talented and a personable performer.
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2 months ago