Friday, 9 September 2016

Sunday, 4 September 2016


Hiking in BC, both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. Nearly half the world's population, some 25,000 grizzlies, roam the Canadian wilderness. This photo of Edward (yes, we named him) was taken off the west coast of Vancouver Island by Larissa Harding of Great Bear Nature Tours.

Both bear families descend from a common ancestor, Ursavus, a bear-dog the size of a raccoon who lived more than 20 million years ago. Seems an implausible lineage given the size of their very large descendents.

An average Grizzly weighs in around 800 lbs (363 kg), but a recent find in Alaska tops the charts at 1600 lbs (726 kg). This mighty beast stood 12' 6' high at the shoulder, 14' to the top of his head. It is one of the largest grizzly bears ever recorded. This past month this king of the forest was seen once again in the Washington Cascades -- the first sighting in 50 years.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Monday, 20 June 2016

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Tuesday, 3 May 2016


The Stawamus Chief, the second largest freestanding piece of granite in the world, has made Squamish one of the top rock climbing destinations in North America. 

This magestic peak is said to have been one of the last areas of dry ground during a time of tremendous flooding in the Squamish area.

Many cultures have a flood myth in their oral history and the Coast Salish people of Squamish are no exception. They tell of a time when all the world save the highest peaks were submerged and only one of their nation survived. Warned in a vision, a warrior of the Squamish nation escaped to safety atop Mount Chuckigh (Mount Garibaldi) as the waters rose.

After the flood, a magestic eagle came to him with a gift of salmon to tell him that the world below was again hospitable and ready for his return. He climbed down the mountain and returned to find his village covered by a layer of silt.

All his people had perished, but the gods gave him another gift, a second survivor of the flood, a beautiful woman who became his wife. For their gift of generosity they had shown, the couple took the eagle as their chief totem and have honored it through generations of Coast Salish people.

Thursday, 28 April 2016


The Cretaceous-Jurassic exposures near Harrison Lake, British Columbia are an easy two hour drive from Vancouver and another hour or so to our final destination, the unyielding siltstone of the Callovian Mysterious Creek Formation.

A few hours of collecting yield multiple bivalves, ammonites, including what looks to be two new species. 

Amongst the best specimens of the day are several small, fairly well preserved Cadoceras (Paracadoceras) tonniense, a few Cadoceras (Pseudocadoceras) grewingki and two relatively complete specimens of the larger, smooth Cadoceras comma. Further up the road, we photograph blocks of buchia and large boulders encrusted with perfectly preserved belemnites, cigar-looking numbers from ancient squid.

Interestingly, the ammonites from here are quite similar to the ones found within the lower part of the Chinitna Formation, Alaska and Jurassic Point, Kyuquot, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The siltstone here at Harrison has also offered up a small section of vertebra from a poorly preserved marine reptile, a find I'm rather keen to make one day. So, after much hammer swinging, I've enjoyed a splendid day, collected beautiful specimens and feel a wee bit closer to the big find. Returning like a soldier from battle, I carefully package and log my booty, returning home the happier for it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Thursday, 21 April 2016


Over vast expanses of time, powerful tectonic forces have massaged the western edge of the continent, smashing together a seemingly endless number of islands to produce what we now know as North America and the Pacific Northwest. 

Intuition tells us that the earth’s crust is a permanent, fixed outer shell – terra firma. Aside from the rare event of an earthquake or the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s, our world seems unchanging, the landscape constant. In fact, it has been on the move for billions of years and continues to shift each day.

As the earth’s core began cooling, some 4.5 billion years ago, plates, small bits of continental crust, have become larger and smaller as they are swept up in or swept under their neighboring plates. Large chunks of the ocean floor have been uplifted, shifted and now find themselves thousands of miles in the air, part of mountain chains far from the ocean today or carved by glacial ice into valleys and basins.

Two hundred million years ago, Washington was two large islands, bits of continent on the move westward, eventually bumping up against the North American continent and calling it home.

Even with their new fixed address, the shifting continues; the more extreme movement has subsided laterally and continues vertically. The upthrusting of plates continues to move our mountain ranges skyward – the path of least resistance.

This dynamic movement has created the landscape we see today and helped form the fossil record that tells much of Washington’s relatively recent history – the past 50 million years. Chuckanut Drive is much younger than other parts of Washington. The fossils found there lived and died some 40-55 million years ago, very close to where they are now, but in a much warmer, swampy setting. The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta; imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi.

The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of this formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.

This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs and plants that thrived here. Plants are important in the fossil record because they are more abundant and can give us a lot of information about climate, temperature, the water cycle and humidity of the region. The Chuckanut flora is made up predominantly of plants whose modern relatives live in tropical areas such as Mexico and Central America.

While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the outcrops of the Chuckanut Formation.

Tracks of a type of archaic mammal of the Orders Pantodonta or Dinocerata (blunt foot herbivores), footprints from a small shorebird, and tracks from an early equid or webbed bird track give evidence to the vertebrates that inhabited the swamps, lakes and river ways of the Pacific Northwest 50 million years ago.

Fossil mammals from Washington do get most of the press. The movement of these celebrity vertebrates was captured in the soft mud on the banks of a river, one of the only depositional environments favorable for track preservation.

The bone record is actually far less abundant that the plant record, except near shell middens, given the preserving qualities of calcium and an alkaline environment. While calcium rich bones and teeth fossilize well, they often do not get laid down in a situation that makes this possible.

Hence the terrestrial paleontological record of Washington State at sites like Chuckanut is primarily made up of plant material.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Tuesday, 29 March 2016


Plant fossils from the Okanagan highlands, an area centred in the Interior of British Columbia, provide important clues to an ancient climate.

While the area is referred to as the Okanagan, the term is used in a slightly misleading fashion to describe an arc of Eocene lakebed sites that extend from Smithers in the north, down to the fossil site of Republic Washington, in the south.

The grouping includes the fossil sites of Driftwood Canyon, Quilchena, Allenby, Tranquille, McAbee, Princeton and Republic.

These fossil sites range in time from Early to Middle Eocene, and the fossil they contain give us a snapshot of what was happening in this part of the world because of the varied plant fossils they contain.

While the area around the Interior of British Columbia was affected, McAbee, near the town of Cache Creek, was not as warm as some of the other Middle Eocene sites, a fact inferred by what we see and what is conspicuously missing.

In looking at the plant species, it has been suggested that the area of McAbee had a more temperate climate, slightly cooler and wetter than other Eocene sites to the south at Princeton, British Columbia and Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

We see ginko, a variety of insects and fish remains, the rare feather and a boatload of deciduous evidence. Missing are the tropical Sabal (palm), seen at Princeton and the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) found at Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Wednesday, 23 March 2016


Dragonflies, from the order Odonata, have been around for over 250 million years. The most conspicuous difference in their evolution over time is the steady shrinking of their wingspan from well over two and a half feet down to a few inches.

Voracious predators, today they dine on bees, wasps, butterflies and avoid the attentions of birds and wee lizards --  but back in the day, they had a much larger selection of meals within their grasp. Time has turned the tables. Small lizards and birds who today choose dragonflies as a tasty snack used to be their preferred prey. 


Sunday, 13 March 2016


Those working in the Jurassic exposures on Vancouver Island are a determined crew. Most of the sedimentary deposits of the Jurassic are exposed in the hard to reach areas between Nootka Sound and Cape Scott.

By the time these ammonites were being buried in sediment, Wrangellia, the predominately volcanic terrane that now forms Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands, had made its way to the northern mid-laditudes.

This detail of the Jurassic ammonite, Paltechioceras sp. shot with an ultra-low f-stop, is from an all but inaccessible site in Sayward, Bonanza Group, Vancouver Island.

We did a fossil field trip up there a few years ago with the Courtenay & Qualicum beach crew. The drive up the mountain was thrilling as the road narrowed until it was barely the width of our wheel base. Thrilling to say the least.


Saturday, 23 January 2016


Fossil crabs, several dozen species of mulluscs including the elusive tusk shell have been found in the fossil exposures of the Lincoln Creek Formation, southern Olympic Peninsula, near the town of Porter, Washington, 46°56'20"N, 123°18'38"W.

It is a site I return to each year to see the erosion and what new specimens have worked their way to the surface.

The whitish strata consists of tuffaceous siltstone and sandstone with concretionary beds throughout. They are slightly older than originally thought, coming in around 37 million-years, straddling the Eocene-Oligocene border. Here a lovely crab, Pulalius vulgaris, sits in the sand. He would be in good company at the site amongst the more common scaphodpod shells and other wee gastropods.

The whitish aragonitic shells of scaphopods are conical and curved with a planispiral curve, looking a bit like an elephant's tusk, hence their common name. They prefer to live on soft substrates in subtidal zones so they are not as abundant or readily visible on our beaches as their gastropods and bivalves compatriots. Tusk shells and their fossil relatives, however, are found commonly in the sediments at Porter and other localities throughout the Pacific Northwest while crabs are found, but more rare.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Thursday, 29 October 2015


During the Miocene and Pliocene, 12-1.6 million years ago, a diverse group of extinct proboscideans, elephant-like animals walked the Earth.

Most of these large beasts had four tusks and likely a trunk similar to modern elephants. They were creatures of legend, inspiring myths and stories of fanciful creatures to the first humans to encounter them.

Beyond our neanderthal friends, one such fellow was Quintus Sertorius, a Roman statesman come general, who grew up in Umbria. Born into a world at war just two years before the Romans sacked Corinth to bring Greece under Roman rule, Quintus lived much of his life as a military man far from his native Norcia. Around 81 BC, he travelled to Morocco, the land of opium, massive trilobites and the birthplace of Antaeus, the legendary North African ogre who was killed by the Greek hero Heracles.

The locals tell a tale that Quintus requested proof of Antaeus, hard evidence he could bring back to Rome to support their tales so they took him to a mound at Tingis, Morocco, where they unearthed the bones of a Neogene elephant, Tetralophodon.

Tetralophodon bones are large and skeletons singularly impressive. Impressive enough to be taken for something else entirely. By all accounts these proboscidean remains were that of the mythical ogre Antaeus and were thus reported back to Rome as such. It was hundreds of years later before their true heritage was known.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Monday, 29 December 2014

Monday, 17 November 2014

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Sunday, 30 March 2014


If you were a fish living in the warm turquoise waters off the coast of Bonaire, you may not hear those words, but you'd see the shrimp sign language equivalent. It seems Periclimenes yucatanicus or Spotted Cleaner Shrimp is doing a booming business in the local reefs by setting up a fish washing service.

That's right, a Fish Wash. You'd be hard pressed to find a terrestrial Molly Maid with two opposable thumbs as studious and hardworking as this wee marine beauty.

This quiet marine mogel is turning out to be one of the ocean's top entrepreneurs. Keeping its host and diet clean and green, the spotted shrimp hooks up with the locals, in this case, local sea anemones and sets up a fish wash... picture a car wash but without the noise and teenage boys. The signage posted is the shrimps natural coloring which attracts fish from around the reefs.

Wash on, wash off.

Once within reach, the shrimp cleans the surface of the fish, giving the fish a buff and the shrimp its daily feed. The credit for this lovely photo goes to Paul Sutherland

Friday, 14 February 2014

Wednesday, 8 January 2014


Steeped in mist and mythology, the islands of the Queen Charlottes abound in local lore that surrounds their beginnings.

Today, the Hecate Strait is a tempestuous 40-mile wide channel that separates the mist-shrouded archipelago of Haida Gwaii from the BC mainland. Haida oral tradition tells of a time when the strait was mostly dry, dotted here and there with lakes. During the last ice age, glaciers locked up so much water that the sea level was hundreds of feet lower than it is today. Soil samples from the sea floor contain wood, pollen, and other terrestrial plant materials that tell of a tundra-like environment.

The court is still out on whether or not the strait was ever completely dry during these times, but it certainly contained a series of stepping-stone islands and bridges that remained free of ice.

An ancient Haida tale, recorded in the late 1800s by a Hudson’s Bay Company trader, records the island's glacial history. Scannah-gan-nuncus, a boy who lived in the village now called Skidegate, had canoed up the Hunnah, a once roaring tributary to Skidegate Channel that is now a rocky creek, seldom deep enough to navigate.

The Haida the legend accurately records that it used to be several times deeper. Tired from paddling upstream, Scannah-gan-nuncus landed to take a nap. “In those days at the place where he went ashore were large boulders in the bed of the stream, while on both sides of the river were many trees. While resting by the river, he heard a dreadful noise upstream. Looking to see what it was, he was surprised to behold all the stones in the river coming toward him. … all the trees were cracking and groaning … he went to see what was crushing the stones and breaking the trees. On reaching them, he found that a large body of ice was coming down, pushing everything before it.”

Scannah-gan-nuncus’ experience with the glacier would have been familiar to the inhabitants of the Queen Charlottes. In recent years, the highest peaks are often bare of vegetation and snow-covered during most of the year, but back in the time of the glaciers, these same local mountains were the birthplace of advancing ice.

Precipitation and a significant drop in temperature gave rise to the Queen Charlottes ice-sheet, a thick mass of flowing ice that ran tandem with the Cordilleran sheet in the Hecate Lowlands.

Strolling around you can see where the glaciers left their mark on the Islands’ U-shape valleys, once a steep V-shape, now scoured smooth by glaciers that also deposited the erratic boulders can been seen sitting like sentinels on the beach.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Monday, 28 October 2013

Thursday, 17 October 2013


A great temple to the god Amon was built at Karnak in Upper Egypt around c. 1785. It is from Amon that we get his cephalopod namesake, the ammonites and also the name origin for the compound ammonia or NH3.

Ammonites were a group of hugely successful aquatic molluscs that looked like the still extant Nautilus, a coiled shellfish that lives off the southern coast of Asia.

While the Nautilus lived on, ammonites graced our waters from around 400 million years ago until the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years.

Varying in size from millimeters to meters across, ammonites are prized as both works of art and index fossils helping us date rock. The ammonites were cousins in the Class Cephalopoda, meaning "head-footed," closely related to modern squid, cuttlefish and octopus. Cephalopods have a complex eye structure and swim rapidly.

Ammonites used these evolutionary benefits to their advantage, making them successful marine predators. I shared some ammonites with my wee paleontologist cousins this weekend, Maddison and Malena. They were impressed with the amazing range of species and body styles. Their favorites were the ones from Alberta and England with their original mother of pearl still intact.

Ammonites cruised our ancient oceans expertly capturing prey with their tentacles. We danced around the deck pretending to be predators from ancient seas. Picture a hungry fellow at a smorgasborg with just a dash of crazy. Now add water.

Thursday, 5 September 2013


About two dozen families of eurypterids “sea scorpions” are known from the fossil record.

Although these ancient predators have a superficial similarity, including a defensive needle-like spike or telson at their tail end, they are not true scorpions. They are an extinct group of arthropods related to spiders, ticks, mites and other extant creepy crawlies.

Eurypterids hunted fish in the muddy bottoms of warm shallow seas some 460 to 248 million years ago before moving on to hunting grounds in fresh and brackish water during the later part of their reign. Their numbers diminished greatly during the Permian-Triassic extinction, becoming extinct by 248 million years ago.

Euripterids are found in Canada, mostly notably at the Ridgemount Quarry near Niagara Falls. This near perfect specimen of Eurypterus remipes, held by my young cousin Sivert, was named the official state fossil of New York in 1984.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


Out in the woods and wondering what the temperature is? Slip down to the nearest stand of deciduous trees to search for the wee Snowy Tree Cricket, Oecanthus Fultoni, part of the order orthoptera.

Snowy Tree Crickets and their cousins double as thermometers and wee garden predators, dining on aphids and other wee beasties. Weather conditions, both hot and cold, affect the speed at which they rub the base of their wings together and consequently regulate their rate of chirping.

Listen for their tell-tale high pitch triple chirp sound in the early evening. Being in Canada, our crickets chirp in Celsius. Simply count the number of chirps over a seven second period and add five to learn your local temperature.

If didn't bring your calculator with you into the woods and you're still operating in old-skool Fahrenheit use this handy conversion. Double the temperature in Celsius, add 32 you'll get the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit.

This beautiful photo of Muir Woods outside San Francisco is by Aussie photographer, Paul McClure.