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.