Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Crab Spiders

Continuing on the bug theme, the other day I was walking by some flowers and I noticed a fly (or wasp?) on one of them. As I got closer it seemed odd that it wasn't moving. Usually flies don't sit still for very long. Finally I realized the fly was dead and in the grasp of a crab spider. It was quite hard to see the spider since its color matched the flower and it was hidden inside the flower. Here was what I initially saw:

crab spider on flower

And the closeup view:

crab spider on flower

I checked out the nearby flowers and found another fly of the same kind, also in the grasp of a similar crab spider.

The funny part is that I've been looking for crab spiders on and off all summer. I've looked in the kinds of places where I've seen them before but haven't found any. And now two in one day in one place.

I went back to the same flowers the next day and found one of the crab spiders still lurking in wait. But without the distraction of a meal it was a bit more skittish and moved around the flower when I got too close with the camera lens.

crab spider on flower

Then a few minutes later when I went to look at another, totally different kind of flower, there was another crab spider. This one was on a white flower, and correspondingly was almost white. Crab spiders can change color to match their surroundings, a useful skill for an ambush predator.

crab spider on flower

Then when I got home and looked at my photos on the computer, I found crab spiders in two more of my flower photos! Have I been blind all summer or have they really just suddenly appeared everywhere?

This was just meant to be a photo of the backlit flower. Can you spot the crab spider?

spot the crab spider

See all 7 photos

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Paper Wasps

paper wasp collecting wood fiber

Sitting outside on our patio, these yellow and black wasps are regular visitors. They are a little annoying buzzing around, and make you a little nervous about being bitten. I hadn't really paid attention to what they were up to until recently, when I realized the regular visits were to collect wood fiber from our weathered table. They use the fiber to build their gray paper like nests.

Next time I took my coffee outside I brought a camera. Eventually I had a visitor. They become quite occupied once they start harvesting which allowed me to take lots of photos. I took stills and video with my new Sony RX10m3 and my Nikon 7200 + macro lens. Both did a reasonable job. Up close the wasps are actually quite attractive with their glossy black and bright yellow.

paper wasp

Once you watch them closely you notice that they gradually back up as they harvest, leaving a differently color stripe on the wood, about an 1/8 of an inch wide and 3/4 of an inch long. Then I realized the whole table top was marked up this way!

I couldn't really tell where the fiber was going. Were they swallowing it to later regurgitate? Once I looked at the photos and video on the computer I could see they were just collecting a ball of fiber that they then carried away. It's hard to see because they collect it under their body. Here's a shot that shows it:

paper wasp collecting wood fiber

You can also see it in the last clip of this video.

See all 7 photos

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twenty Five

Another long run today. We've been out of town for the last week so I'd only managed one short run on Friday after we got back. I wasn't sure if that would make me rested or rusty. The last two weekends I've managed 20 km fairly easily, relatively speaking, so in my mind I was thinking 25 km might be doable. But I'd play it by ear, these days I don't take my runs for granted.

I figured I'd try to keep my heart rate under 130 for the first half, which translated to an average pace of 10.5 km/hr. And no racing! I started to come up behind two other runners and despite wanting to speed up to pass them I held back. That worked out because they slowed down to walk for a while so I could pass easily. But then there was another big group ahead which I was slowly catching up to. Thankfully they took a different route so I was on my own again.

The first half went easily. A few minor aches and pains but all transient. After my coffee stop, as usual, it took me a few kilometers to get back into the flow. I began to have doubts when my right knee started to act up but, like last week, it soon settled down again.

After the 18 km loop I switched my watch from speed to distance. From here it was just a matter of completing the 25 km, pace was secondary. I knew my heart rate would probably start to increase and my aim was to not let it get much over 140. Amazingly it was holding steady at about 125. But after a short uphill where I could feel my heart pounding it still didn't go up, which made no sense. I looked closer and realized I was displaying my average heart rate for the whole run. I switched to my current heart rate and I found it was up to 145. Oops. I eased off a bit and got it down around 140.

Earlier I had even entertained the fantasy of 30 km but that last 5 km was harder than I thought it would be. At first I had to force myself to slow down to keep my heart rate at my target of 140, but soon enough I had to force myself to keep it up there. It started to creep up over the last two kilometers. I gave up trying to keep it under control and it went over 150 for the last kilometer, peaking at 155. That was still well under my peak of 165 last week. And I'd done fairly well keeping my average down to 128 compared to 134 last week.

In the end it was my left knee that was starting to get painful (instead of my usual right one). It seemed like 25 km was about what my body was prepared for. That wasn't too surprising because I haven't really done that much mileage this summer. I might have been able to force myself to go 30 km but it would have been painful and risked doing some damage.

I ended up with an average pace of 10.4 km and a time of 2 hr 25 min. At first I was only planning 10 km/hr and 2:30, but after the first half I thought I might make 10.5 and 2:20. Close enough. 25 km is the furthest I've run in probably 30 years so I can't complain. My knees are a little sore but with any luck that won't last long.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Air Adventures

on glide for the next cloud

We just got back from three days at Air Adventure Flight School in Drayton Valley, Alberta (an hour south east of Edmonton). We really enjoyed our last visit learning how to operate tows so we thought we'd come back for a little more training and flying. Claudio, the instructor, has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is a great teacher.

We assumed we'd be able to work on some high wind kiting, but for once on the prairies the wind was very light. But that was ok because the conditions were great for flat land thermal flying. I was pretty happy with getting four flights over an hour long in three days. And we also worked on our landing accuracy, not so critical on the prairies, but important in the mountains.

ready to be towed up

The first day, I had an hour and a quarter flight. I could have stayed up longer but everyone (including me) wanted to get some lunch since it was 3:30. Humorously, I had trouble getting down due to a big thermal right over the landing area. Eventually I had to use big ears (pulling lines to fold in the tips of the wing) to get down.

lift off

The second day Shelley got towed up first and initially it looked like it might be a short flight. But she managed to find a thermal and stay up. By the time I towed up she was well above me. I headed over to where she was to catch the same thermal. Linking up the clouds I stayed up for over an hour and a half this time. A slight misjudgment put me inside a cloud for a few minutes which was a bit disconcerting but up high over the flatlands there are no mountains to run into so I just flew straight till I came out again. (Thunderstorm type clouds would be another story but, as you can tell from the photos, these were fairly benign clouds.) It was fascinating to watch the clouds swirling around, forming and dissolving, especially when you got up close beneath them. I spent most of the time studying the clouds above me and ended up with quite a sore neck from looking up all the time.

Considering how many photographs I take on the ground, I'm terrible at taking photos in the air. When I'm flying I just like to concentrate on the flying. Although I carried my camera on a few flights I only pulled it out once, when I was on a long smooth glide between clouds.

North Saskatchewan river

Air Adventures location

Eventually I landed back at Air Adventure for a bathroom break and to quickly grab something to eat and drink. And then went straight back up again. As soon as I released from the tow I headed east for the only cloud in reach. Once you get off tow the clock is ticking. Either you find a thermal quickly, or all you get is a short 10 minute glide back down. It was a minor gamble - if I didn't find any lift under the cloud I wouldn't make it back and I'd have to land in some random field (no big deal). But I lucked out and caught another thermal back up. Once you get up higher, the thermals are larger and you're closer to the clouds so you can find them easier. Often it's the first climb that's critical to getting a decent flight. In addition, counter-intuitively, it's actually safer up high since if something goes wrong you have lots of time to fix it or deploy your reserve parachute.

The last day was a bit of a gong show for me. I launched first and I soon as I left the ground I realized that the unusual silence meant I had forgotten my vario. This is a flying instrument/computer that tells you your altitude, and more critically how fast you are sinking or climbing. It beeps to tell you this so you don't need to constantly look at it. And this beeping becomes something you automatically depend on. Without it, and away from the ground or any other reference points it's actually quite hard to tell whether you're going up or down, which is obviously key information! They say flying without a vario is good practice to get more in tune with the feel of your glider but never having tried to thermal without one, I wasn't too confident. (Note: it wasn't dangerous, it was no problem to glide down and land, it was only a matter of whether I could find the thermals and climb in them without its help.)

Luckily, I realized I wasn't totally without instruments. I wear my Suunto (Ambit 3 Peak) GPS watch when I'm flying, so I could switch it to altimeter mode. It doesn't respond as well as the vario, and doesn't have any audible tones, but at least I could get an idea of how high I was and whether I was sinking or climbing.

I headed for the nearest cloud. The edges of a thermal are often bumpy due to turbulence so that was the first clue. But just because you get bumped around a little that doesn't necessarily mean you've found a thermal. After a bit of searching, and getting lower and lower, I found a climb and managed to gain enough altitude for breathing space. In the end I managed to stretch the flight out to over an hour even without my vario. We were expecting short warm up flights because it was still early for the thermals and not many clouds yet. So I also hadn't dressed as warmly as I should have. It's cold up high, just like it would be high in the mountains. And, of course, you have a constant 35 km/hr wind from flying which makes it even cooler.

Shelley coming in to land

One of the tricks with this kind of flying is to watch for hawks and other birds circling and climbing, meaning they've found a thermal. (Which they are much better at than us!) But for some reason there weren't many hawks in the air with us. Another clue is dust or fluff being lifted up by a thermal. I did see some of that, but usually only after I'd already found the thermal. On the ground there was a plague of grasshoppers and occasionally one of them go flying by, having been lifted up by a thermal, which is pretty amazing when you're thousands of feet above the ground! (My high point was about 2300m / 7500ft, which was 1500m / 5000 feet above the ground, i.e. roughly a mile up.)

Why are we chasing the clouds? Because they're usually where the thermals (i.e. rising air) are. The sun heats the ground, which warms the air next to it. Eventually, that warm air rises. When it gets high enough it cools off and condenses into a cloud. But thermals don't last forever. Once the source of warm air ends, then there's no more thermal and the cloud will dissipate. Chase one of these fading clouds and you'll find nothing. Instead you want to find the ones that are just starting or at least still growing. In the mountains the thermals often come off ridges or peaks, but you don't have that in the flat lands so the clouds become more key.

I landed, took a brief break, and then got geared up for another tow. Shelley went up and it was my turn next. Except there were mechanical problems. We ate lunch while the winch was adjusted and then headed back out again. Shelley said she'd go last as she doesn't stay up as long (famous last words!) Another pilot went first but didn't find any thermals and had a short flight. I went next and, as before, once off tow headed straight for the nearest cloud. But this time I found nothing :-( Either the thermal below that cloud had ended or I just didn't find the right spot. By the time I gave up I had just enough height to glide back to the landing spot. Shelley was just taking off and had a great flight - finding thermals and cruising around for 45 minutes. That was the last tow of the day so I watched from the ground jealously. I think the real "reason" I sunk out was because I was starting to think I had a handle on this thermal flying!

Shelley landing

Despite the frustration when it doesn't work out, I like the challenge of thermal flying. It suits my analytical mind set, and yet since you never have enough information and can't actually see the wind or thermals, it's also a guessing game. And the reward when you get it right is that you get to stay up and fly longer :-)

Shelley after landing

For a more polished video, check out Shelley's

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Another 20

Thankfully, I didn't suffer many after effects from last week's 20k run. I could vaguely feel my knee the next day, but more tight than painful. Otherwise I was a just a bit tired.

I did an easy 5k on Tues. and an easy 7k on Thurs. to make sure I allowed for recovery. No hard intervals this week.

I wasn't sure how far I'd go this Sunday. Maybe just the 11k loop? Or maybe 15k? Or something in between? But when the time came, I felt good, and it was a beautiful sunny day without being too hot. I reached the decision point and didn't even really think about it, I just kept going on the longer 18k loop. And then when I was on the last section I figured I might as well stretch it out to 20k again.

My knee started hurting at about 15k, but I knew I could tough it out for another 3k to get home so I just sped up (it bothers me less if I run fast). In the past, once it started to hurt it didn't stop, but to my surprise, this time it went away after a short time.

The trails were quiet today, probably due to the long weekend, so I had no one to chase or be chased by. But I still averaged 10.9 km/hr on the first 2/3 so I figured I could probably run fast enough on the last third to average 11 km/hr and finish in under an hour and fifty minutes. (Last week was 1:55) That went well at first and I ran at 12 km/hr for a while. But my heart rate started to climb and the last couple of kilometers it was a struggle to keep the pace up. My watch showed that I had made it to an average of 11, but presumably only just, so I had to keep my pace up to at least 11 or the average would drop below. (Not that anyone would care, but setting challenges like this for myself makes it more fun.)

I managed to stick it out and finished the 20k in an hour and 49 minutes. That's a 55 minute 10k pace which I was happy enough with, considering I've only recently been able to do longer runs. Although not so impressive when I think I'd have to keep that pace up for twice as long to do an under four hour marathon (42 km). And to think they're closing in on a two hour marathon is simply mind boggling. I'll stick to competing with myself :-)

My heart rate averaged 135 (versus 130 last week) and peaked towards the end at a relatively high 165. My first 20 minutes was around 120 and then I picked up the pace a bit and it went up to 135 and stayed around there for the first 2/3. Normally my recovery is quite fast - when I stopped for my coffee it was down around 70 after 5 minutes. But after my push at the end of the run it took quite a bit longer to drop below 100. But I kept my heart rate monitor on and twenty minutes later, sitting outside drinking a smoothie, I was under 60 and as low as 53. I had been thinking my resting pulse was around 55 but judging from that, it might be closer to 50. Either way that's in the "athlete" range of most charts. However, you have to take that with a grain of salt since there's a lot of variation from person to person.

We're heading out to Alberta to do some more paraglider training next week so I'll have a break from running. And then we're traveling for a couple of months starting at the beginning of Sept. so I won't get a chance for too many more long runs this summer. I'm glad I've had a few decent ones the last little while.

PS. I apologize for these self centered running posts. They're more of a running journal than anything. Feel free to skip.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Still Running

I ran 20 km today, which wouldn't be that exciting, except it's the first time I've been able to run that far in the last two years that I've been struggling with IT band knee problems. I'm not sure what's changed but over the six weeks or so I've managed to extend my runs farther and farther without problems. My last six "long" runs have been 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and then today 20. I kept expecting to run (pun intended) into problems, but it just kept coming together.

Honestly, before this stretch I was starting to think I'd never see 20 km again. To a non-runner that's probably meaningless, but for me it was sad. It's tough enough to accept your own gradual decay without it being quite so blatant. I've still been running but it's been limited to what my knee would allow. Because it's not the knee joint itself, I can still do intervals and hills and stay in shape. I just couldn't do long runs. I don't mind toughing it out through a certain amount of discomfort, that's part of the game. But this knee problem was a show stopper for me.

It wouldn't have been so bad except that a few years ago I got back into running more and found, to my delight, that I could still run quite far and hard (relatively speaking). I ended up running 20 km most weekends for the second half of that summer and loved it. The next summer I was raring to go again. I'd mostly just run on the treadmill over the winter, and mostly shorter interval workouts, but when spring came I felt I wasn't in bad shape. So it was a shock when I ran outside for the first time, and after only a few kilometers my knee was killing me and I ended up walking home. It seemed worse that it was out of the blue. I hadn't had any problems with my knee running on the treadmill over the winter. Not even a twinge.

I gradually (and painfully) worked my way back up to about 10 km but it was a far cry from the summer before. A couple of times we'd been away for two months on longer trips and I'd had a good long break from running. I thought surely that would give my IT band time to recover or heal or whatever it needed to do. But it didn't seem to work that way. As soon as I started running again it would come back full force. I tried various exercises and stretches and "smashing". None of it seemed to make much difference despite keeping it up faithfully for months.

After two years of this, I have to admit I was starting to think it was something I'd just have to live with. After all, I wasn't getting any younger and one has to expect certain betrayals from your body. But it seems like I've been given a reprieve, and regardless of how long or short it lasts, I am very grateful.

I like to think that I'm not very competitive but the truth is that's mostly because I avoid competitive situations. If I get into those kind of situations I'm as competitive as the next person, if not more. When I headed out on my run today I wasn't sure how far I'd go. I was hoping to make the loop around the bridges which is 17 or 18 km. Last week I'd managed 15 km without any trouble so it didn't seem too much of a stretch. But I took it easy, running at a moderate pace (for me) of about 10.5 km/hr. At that pace my breathing is still easy and my heart rate low. That worked well for about 7 km. Then I saw another runner up ahead. As much as I try not to, I always want to pass people ahead of me. So I sped up a bit and passed fairly easily. But then there was yet another runner ahead of them and I had to speed up even more to pass again. So now I'm running about 11.5 km/hr and my breathing and heart rate are picking up.

The bad part about passing someone is that then my ego insists on staying ahead of them. Usually that's not a problem. People often speed up when you come up behind them, but once you pass they usually settle back to their normal pace. But occasionally you make the mistake, as I did this time, of passing someone that is happy to go faster, and they stay right on your tail, forcing you to keep up the faster passing pace. So I ran the next 6 km faster than I'd planned. It was still an ok pace for me, I'd just planned to take it a little easier. I think my pursuer figured I wouldn't be able to keep it up, especially since it was just some old guy :-) I thought they might be right, but eventually I won the silent battle and my follower dropped further and further behind. So much for not being competitive! I have to admit it feels pretty good to out run someone thirty years younger than me. Gotta take our pleasures where we can :-)

As usual, I stopped for a quick coffee at about 13 km. It's probably not the smartest thing running wise, but it's a part of my routine that I enjoy. Although I get some recovery time and rehydrate (with water as well as coffee), getting going again can be a little tough. I'm careful not to let my knee stiffen up while I'm sitting (a lesson I've learned the hard way). When I started again today I could soon feel my knee and I was ready to be pissed off and depressed, but then I realized it wasn't the IT band on the outside, it was the inside of my knee and it was minor and soon went away.

Running is definitely a blend of mind and body. But at times like these, it's easy to start thinking of your body as something separate, as an opponent rather than a partner. Really, it's more like a good friend who isn't above telling a white lie or two "for your own good". So some of those odd transient aches and pains I interpret more as a ploy to try to make me stop doing things my body thinks are somewhat ill advised (like running long distances).

My plan had been, if all went well, to run 17 km. At first after my break, I thought that was going to be more than enough. But then I got back into the rhythm and actually felt pretty good. So I just kept going past home and added another 3 km to make a round 20 km. Although I felt decent, I was started to feel a little tired. Where earlier I'd been running over with a heart rate under 140 bpm, now I was running slower but at 155 bpm. It didn't help that it was getting warm - by the time I finished it was 24c and the sun was hot - not ideal conditions for running.

I finished the 20 km in an hour and 55 minutes, about 10.5 km/hr, a little faster than I'd planned (due to my competitive streak) but not far off. My heart rate averaged about 130 bpm which seemed reasonable. I've been working on increasing my cadence and I average about 85 this run. And the best part was that I felt good afterwards.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't just a walk in the park. By the end my quads hurt, and I could feel my hamstrings, and my feet were getting sore. But it's been so long since I could get past the limits of my knee to reach those feelings that I welcomed them like old friends.

Nevertheless, I'm hesitant to get too excited. My knee problems could come back on my next run, possibly even as a result of this run. I'll just continue to take it one day at a time, and enjoy the "bad" days along with the good ones.

* Sorry for all the speeds, times, distances, and heart rates. No doubt they're meaningless to anyone but me.

See my other running posts

Photos of the Week

house wren with bug

A last shot of the house wren that nested in our birdhouse. At this point she was still busy feeding the young ones. The next day they were all gone. It amazes me that one day the young are in the nest being fed, and the next they're out on their own. (Although some birds continue to feed the juveniles even after they've left the nest.) I was hoping to see the young ones but I haven't seen a single house wren since they left.

I'm pretty sure this is another juvenile waiting to be fed. There were three of them hopping around in the bush. You can see the remnants of their bright yellow mouth used to attract the parent's feeding.

juvenile waiting to be fed

I think this was one of the parents. It was also hopping around in the bush making it difficult to get a decent photograph, especially against the bright sky. It looks like it managed to catch a dragonfly (a good trick!) My standing there seemed to make it too nervous to feed its offspring so I moved on.

dragonfly for breakfast

This cute little chipmunk seemed to be quite curious about the world.


Whereas this gopher (Richardson's ground squirrel) seemed more annoyed that I was invading his territory and was giving its high pitched alarm call.

gopher (Richardsons ground squirrel)

The rabbits at Innovation Place are becoming so common and tame that it's no longer much of a challenge to photograph them. This one let me get close enough for a good portrait.


I'm still enjoying the water lilies on the pond.

water lilies

water lily closeup

Some of them almost remind me of exotic sea anemones.

water lily closeup

The water hyacinths are also starting to bloom.

water hyacinth

Off the water, the real lilies are still delightful, especially with a little late afternoon backlight and a nice out of focus green background.


I think these next tiny flowers are one of the native ones we've planted in our garden but I'm afraid I don't remember what they are. They're pretty, even without a name :-)


There are lots of dragonflies around the pond. Not quite so many Bluet damselflies as before, but now a lot of these, which I think are Cherry-faced Meadowhawks.

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

One morning I rode my bike to work instead of walking and noticed a group of pelicans on a gravel bar. I left my bike in the tall grass and bushwhacked down the bank to where I could get an angle on them. The pelicans can be skittish so I tried to move slowly and stay in the bushes. I just had my little ZS100 (250mm lens) but they let me get close enough. I eventually was out in the open quite near them, but they didn't seem concerned, perhaps because I'd approached slowly enough. Or maybe they were just too busy preening :-)

pelicans on the river

After taking a bunch of photos, and with the pelicans still ignoring me, it occurred to me to take some video (which I don't often do). Although they weren't doing much, it was fun to watch see them preen and two of them turn their heads around to tuck their long bills under their wings to sleep.

I was walking by some long grass and out of the corner of my eye I noticed something on one of the blades of grass. Usually it's nothing, but you never know, so I checked it out and found it was an interesting looking spider eating a small moth. (There was also some sort of cocoon above it which I'm not sure was related to the spider.)

spider eating moth

I enjoy searching for the fishing spiders whenever I go by the pond. Sometimes they're easy to spot, other times they are quite well hidden. I think these are six spotted fishing spiders, but that refers to spots on their underside, not the more numerous ones on their back.

fishing spider

Here's a female carrying its egg sac.

fishing spider with egg sac

Since I've been observing the fishing spiders for the last few years, I've only ever spotted the nursery webs half hidden on the concrete wall of the pond. But in the last week I've spotted four of them built more or less in the open on the reeds. Maybe I've just never noticed them there before, but they seem so obvious I'm not sure how I'd miss them.

fishing spider nursery web

You can see the empty egg sac at the bottom of the photo. All the little tan spots are baby spiders. It's easy to see how the nursery web protects them, but I wonder what they eat at this stage? Maybe each other? Or nothing? Maybe they're just letting their skin dry out and harden ready for the outside world. They don't seem to stay in the web long, a day or two later and it will be abandoned. I never spot the babies outside the nursery - they're too small. (They are around though - looking at one of my photos of a large female, when I zoomed in on the computer I could see a tiny baby nearby.) I rarely even see the males which are about 1/3 the size of the females. I wonder if the females are out sunning (and therefore I see them) because the warmth helps the development of their eggs.

See all 41 photos

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Photos of the Week

A random assortment of photos taken at Innovation Place and on my walks back and forth to work.

I always enjoy seeing the pelicans at the weir. (Taken from the railway bridge with the RX10m3's 600mm lens)

white pelicans at the weir

I had trouble tracking this Swainson's hawk against a bright sky. If only I could fly my paraglider half as gracefully.

Swainson's hawk

Lots of different water lilies on the pond these days. The water is somewhat dirty and distracting so it's nice to be able to turn it black.

water lily

I love the details of them. Sometimes they seem to glow with an inner light.

water lily closeup

water lily closeup

The giant water lilies aren't flowering yet, but the leaves are impressive (about 18 inches across!)

giant water lily

Lots of other flowers around too. Interesting to observe the flowering process.




I'm not sure what kind of flower this is, it's on a large bush / small tree and the flowers are huge - grapefruit sized, and quite interesting inside.


And the usual birds are about - sparrows, robins, magpies, crows, and chickadees. The sparrows know to come around the outdoor tables where people eat lunch, looking for crumbs.


This robin was shy about having a bath while I was watching. Every time I moved to get a better angle it would stop and look around innocently.

American Robin

The jackrabbits are becoming common at Innovation Place. It's a rare day when I don't see them, and usually it's several times a day. Some of them are smaller so I assume there's a new generation around. They seem even more tolerant of people than their parents.


My thanks again to Innovation Place for their lovely gardens, and for being able to walk to work along the river.

See all 30 photos