Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scenes from Beacon Hill

   I always think I need to go far into the wilderness to get great nature photos. Part of an afternoon at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria reminded me that I don't.

   Beacon Hill sits between downtown Victoria and the cliffs that face Juan de Fuca Strait. Well-used by residents, the 81 hectare (200 acre) park sports a diverse population of creatures that tolerate urban conditions.

   Besides these commonly seen denizens, hawks and owls lurk in the tree tops and a heron rookery survives despite annual attacks on their eggs and chicks by bald eagles.


   This successful outing reminded me that nature is right outside my door. I just need to make time to get out there — and bring my camera.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Clean sweep at Willows Beach

No dead birds were found on my survey today. Whew.

Not really surprising since oil, or oiled animals, from the boat that sank (see previous post below) would have had to come all the way in the Juan de Fuca Strait then hang a left to come up Haro Strait, and weave around some islands to land on Willows Beach.

That's not impossible when you consider the complexity of tides and currents, plus a big Pacific storm last night, but I didn't find anything more alarming than driftwood at the high tide line.

Hats off to the people at COASST (Costal Observation and Seabird Survey Team at the University of Washington) for getting the word out and co-ordinating beach surveyors throughout the Pacific Northwest for a fast response to this incident. I'll be interested to know if people found oil in other locales.

In my experiences with fisheries and forestry, our neighbours to the south tend to do a better job managing and protecting their resources than we do up here. In addition to powerful environmental organizations, the state departments responsible actually do their jobs instead of playing politics. Imagine.

I know that will surprise many Canadians, but our image of ourselves as environmental stewards has never been true. We just had so much natural wealth it took a lot of chipping away at it to reveal that fish, trees and water can disappear. And if we don't change our ways, they will.

Monday, February 07, 2011

This just in

An 80-foot boat sank off Cape Alava in Olympic National Park in the state of Washington last Thursday. That's not far from here, so the people who organize BC Beached Bird Surveys, Bird Studies Canada, have called for volunteers to scour the coasts around Victoria and area for signs of oil or animals in distress due to oiling.

I've been a volunteer beached bird surveyor since last January and have only seen one dead bird in that time. Thankfully. The purpose of the program is to gather baseline data on the incidental oil already washing up on our coast and the impact it has on wildlife. This with the hopes of keeping the moratorium on oil tankers tripping through Georgia Strait, the body of water between Vancouver Island an the mainland.

The vessel in question sank with over 14,000 litres (or 3,800 US gallons) of fuel onboard. I can't picture how much that is, but I do know that one litre of oil can contaminate two million litres of water. Thank you Transportation Tune-Up.

I also know what a beach littered with dead birds looks like.

I came across this die-off of common murres at Pachena Bay near Bamfield, B.C. in 2008. It's what got me started in the Beached Bird Survey.

I hope not to see anything like it when I head out to do the emergency survey this week.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A question of culling

There's been talk lately of culling deer on southern Vancouver Island. In Garden City, it seems, folks are fed up with herds of herbivores chowing down on their pansies and petunias.

While some talk, others have been hunting in the suburbs with crossbows and leaving beheaded deer carcasses behind. 

Wolves and cougars keep populations in check in less urban areas on the Island but cities offer refuge for deer and the open habitat with a wide variety of foilage they prefer. Wolves and cougars that follow them into town get shot on sight.

Besides reducing annuals and perennials, large deer populations remove the shrubs and plants songbirds rely on — especially on islands.

The results of recent research done on the San Juan Islands (where this lovely creature was photographed) suggest that the larger the deer population, the fewer kinds, and numbers, of birds. 

A similar study done on Haida Gwaii in 2005 found songbird abundance 55 to 77 per cent lower on islands where deer lived for more than 50 years, compared to islands with no deer.

Similar problems exist in the Gulf Island archipelago to the east of Vancouver Island.

The researchers state that if deer are not actively managed, local extinctions of native plants and birds will accelerate in the decades to come.

I'm generally not for human interference with wildlife, but humans tend to be the cause of such problems. Animals are introduced to places they may not have colonized on their own because we want to eat them, or look at them.  

And songbirds already have enough to contend with as they are hunted by house cats, lose habitat to development and fly into windows. Migratory bird populations are in sharp decline across North America. Birds will be further threatened by the effects of climate change.

Or maybe we should leave well enough alone since our meddling usually creates more problems.