Sylvia Pincott’s 2010 Pender Post articles

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Birds in Winter
January Naturescape Notes 

I was rather embarrassed after last month’s article in which I questioned the discomforts of sheep with rain-soaked fleece. Helen Allison reminded me that the lanolin in fleece ensures the run-off of rain, and the animals do not become saturated. Why did I forget that? I did have a bit of a laugh a few days later, however, when I noticed a few sheep wearing coats during the cool wet weather! Maybe they read my article!

Thinking further on dealing with winter, we are “south” to some of the northern breeding bird species who spend their winter with us. Others head to the proverbial “south”, and may travel remarkable distances.

Others are resident and with us throughout the year. These include the Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, House Finch, Purple Finch, and four woodpecker species - Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Northern Flicker. Our other seldom seen woodpecker, the Red-breasted Sapsucker, is a rare winter visitor. The return of the Robin in spring, tra-la, does not apply here for they are resident throughout the region – Their cousin, the Varied Thrush, joins them for the winter. I expect both will be welcoming the abundant hawthorn berry crop this year.

Some species such as Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks are irruptive in their movement, turning up from time to time, depending upon food source fluctuations.

Meanwhile, some of our summer friends are basking in warmer climes. Violet-green Swallows and Tree Swallows head to Mexico and Central America. Barn Swallows, travelling as far south as Argentina, may have a round trip journey of up to 22,000 km. American Goldfinches might stay around, or travel anwhere from just south of the border to Mexico. Seen here during the winter they appear rather drab in colour, the brilliant yellows of the males awaiting breeding season.

While the Rufous Hummingbirds head to the Yucatan Peninsula, the Anna’s Hummingbird is a non-migratory species that has pushed its range precariously northward. They have become quite dependent upon the kindness of committed friends keeping feeders available throughout the winter months. This is no small challenge in freezing weather, for it is important that the feeder sustenance be consistently available, particularly at daybreak. In fact, if one is unable to make that faithful commitment, it is best not to provide hummingbird feeders in winter. There are a number of possible ways of keeping a feeder warm and available through all weather. Check out http://www.dongorney.com/humfeeder.htm Marina Horvath is using the first option and finds that it works very well!  (This link is no longer available)

The added marvel of migratory coming and going is that the birds often navigate their return to the exact spot of nesting the previous year. I like to share the story of Violet-green Swallows that returned to their nest box which had hung from a gable of our Abbotsford home the previous year. The box was removed during the winter to prevent House Sparrow occupancy, but the returning swallows soon alerted us to their need, chirping and fluttering around the hook that had held their house. A hurried trip up a long ladder remedied the situation and the birds immediately took possession!

Small miracles, usually unobserved but repeated in countless ways each season.

A recent presentation on Pender, sponsored by PICA and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association (CPAWS), brought Dr. Art Martells to tell us about the treasury of life on and around the Scott Islands, located off the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island.

Remotely located though they are, these islands and surrounding waters are internationally recognized as one of the world’s most important seabird breeding locations. Over two million seabirds seek out these islands annually to nest, raise their young, and feed in surrounding waters.

Three of the five islands in this chain are protected as Ecological Reserves, and two are designated as provincial parks. Unfortunately their surrounding waters do not have protection, and essential foraging areas at sea overlap human activities and threats, which include chronic oil spills and dumping, fishing by-catch, transport and cruise ships, log booms, and petroleum exploration.

Recognizing the vulnerable ecology of these waters, the Federal Government has committed to an initiative to ensure that appropriate protective measures are established to protect foraging areas around these islands. In 2000, following 3 years of campaign pressure from CPAWS-BC, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) began a pilot Marine Wildlife Area (MWA) process, the first in Pacific Canada, at this site, and on March 19th 2007, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced his government’s commitment to fund completion of the Scott Islands as one of Canada’s next nine marine protected areas (MPA). Sadly, little seems to be happening with the process at the moment, and environmental challenges continue and increase

I was intrigued to learn more about the life of the birds of the Scott Islands – many of them the species that we see in our offshore waters here. For instance, 90 percent of Canada’s population of Tufted Puffins nest there. These birds travel out to sea as far as 80 km each day to feed on smaller fish such as sand lance. They have been recorded carrying up to 64 fish at once as they return to their nest. They can fly at a speed of up to 64 kph, and are able to dive to a depth of 24 metres.

Fifty percent of the world’s population of Cassin’s Auklets depend on this area. They travel out as far as 75 km, and “fly” underwater to depths up to 50 metres. They feed on krill (and may, themselves, be fed on by fish). They lay a single egg, and both parents incubate. As with other seabirds laying few eggs, they are unable to respond quickly to population losses.

Seven percent of the world’s population of Rhinoceros Auklets nest here, with their chicks tucked into burrows up to two metres in depth. They, too, trravel as far as 75 km

out to their fishing grounds. They are able to dive to a depth of up to 50 meters, and are apparently better at “flying” underwater than above.

Nearly all of BC’s population of Common Murrelets nest here. They are highly social birds, breeding with a density of up to 35 birds per square metre. They lay only one egg, pyramidal in shape as an adaptation to nesting in a crowd on precarious cliff edges. Fledging at three weeks, the chicks leap off their cliff, then to be fed at sea.

Once numbering in the millions, the Sharp-tailed Albatross, with its wingspan of 2 1/3 metres, is now threatened globally. Twenty percent of the global population breeds on the Scott Islands.

Recognizing the vulnerable ecology of these waters, the Federal Government has committed to an initiative to establish a Marine Wildlife Area to ensure that appropriate protective measures are established to protect foraging areas around these islandsIn 2000, following 3 years of campaign pressure from CPAWS-BC, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) began a pilot Marine Wildlife Area (MWA) process, the first in Pacific Canada, at this site, and on March 19th 2007, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced his government’s commitment to fund completion of the Scott Islands as one of Canada’s next nine marine protected areas (MPA).

Sadly, little seems to be happening with the process at the moment, and environmental challenges continue and increase.

Common Murre

  • Nearly all of BC population nests here.
  • Eat a variety, dive to 70 metres.
  • Highly social, dense breeding – up to 35 birds/square metre on cliff ledges! Lay one egg, pyramidal in shape (adapted to cliff edges).
  • Chicks fledge at 3 weeks, leap off cliff, to be fed at sea.
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Common Murre
(Uria aalge)

Characteristics

Little is common about the common murre. This unique seabird is the largest species of Alcidae, weighing about a kilogram fully grown, and amazingly versatile. It can dive to 90 metres, and leaps from cliffs when it is only three weeks old. The common murre is a sleek, duck-shaped bird that resembles a penguin: black down the back and white in the breast and belly. In the winter, its cheeks also become white, and the white colouring extends up the neck. It has a flat, sharp, dagger-like black bill and a small, rounded tail.

Breeding and Feeding

The common murre is a highly social, engaging species. It breeds in colonies on isolated islands, where many birds gather to raise their chicks. These large gatherings create the densest breeding assemblage of any bird. As many as 75 pairs might nest in a single square metre. The birds are diurnal and known for their loud, raucous cry, and therefore easily heard and observed. The female lays a single egg precariously on a narrow cliff or ledge, directly on bare rocks or soil. The egg varies in colour, from off-white to greenish-blue and has a pear-like shape that prevents it from rolling. Each egg has distinctive markings that help the parents recognize it. Both parents incubate the egg for 28 to 35 days and always stand facing the cliff to protect and warm the egg. Since these nests are exposed and vulnerable, one parent must remain with the chick at all times to protect it. The other parent brings the chick fish several times per day. After it hatches, the chick only remains at the breeding site for about three weeks. Then it takes a spectacular sky-diving leap to the water below, where it swims out to a waiting parent. At this time, the chick is only a quarter of its final adult weight. The father goes to sea with the chick and feeds it for two more months, while the mother remains at the colony. Common murres pursue a varied diet, feeding on fish, squid, shrimp-like crustaceans called krill, and even marine worms. They eat almost any marine life up to 30 grams. They reach breeding age at five to seven years.

Status

As its name suggests, common murres are widely distributed throughout the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans. About 8,200 common murres – nearly the entire provincial population – breeds on the Scott Islands. Almost all of these birds, or over 4,000 pairs, breed at Triangle Island alone. During the winter, common murres are distributed along both inner and outer coastal areas and prefer the protected marine areas off straits, inlets, bays and channels. The common murre is red-listed in B.C., a designation that would make it endangered under the province's Wildlife Act.

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Tufted Puffin
(Fratercula cirrhata)

Characteristics

The tufted puffin is a beautiful and ornate seabird. At 780 grams, it is a large member of the Alcidae family, and a medium-sized bird overall. It is mostly black with a white belly. The puffin is most notable for its beautiful plumes, or tufts, and large, bright yellow bill. Some adults have a white, triangular face patch, while others have a darker face. Juveniles look similar to the adults but the bill is smaller and darker. Tufted puffins are diurnal, or active at the colony in the daytime.

Breeding and Feeding

The tufted puffin is a pelagic bird that comes ashore only to breed. It breeds in colonies on isolated islands, where many birds gather to raise their chicks. To nest, they dig burrows with their bill and feet, or nest in crevices in shoreline rocks. In the burrow, the female lays a single white egg in June. The nest chamber is usually well lined with dry grasses and other vegetation or feathers. Both parents incubate the egg for about 45 days. When the chick has hatched, both parents feed it each day. They may bring the chick a billfull of food once or several times daily. The adults feed mainly on zooplankton, but feed the chick small forage fish of which sandlance is the most important. The chick fledges after 40 days or more in the burrow.

Status

Tufted puffins are distributed in the northern Pacific Rim. About 70,000 tufted puffins breed on the Scott Islands. This is 90% of the entire national population, or 2% of the global population. Most of them, or about 30,000 pairs, breed on Triangle Island, making it the single largest tufted puffin breeding colony in BC. During the winter, the tufted puffin is distributed mainly on the outer coast; some birds stray to the inner coast. The tufted puffin is blue-listed in BC. This designation means the species is not immediately threatened, but of concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.


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Rhinoceros Auklet
(Cerorhinca monocerata)

Characteristics

The rhinoceros auklet is an unusual member of the Alcidae family. It is actually a puffin, not an auklet. But its outward appearance differs noticeably from other puffins. A medium-sized bird at 500 grams, the rhinoceros auklet has mostly gray plumage that is darker on the back, and a white and grey belly. It has yellow eyes and a thick, pointed yellow bill. It is a rather ornate bird, with two white stripes on either side of the head and a large horn-like projection that appears on the beaks during the breeding season. The species is mostly nocturnal. By day, it tends to stay on the water. On land, it remains hidden in the burrows. Occasionally, it enters or leaves the burrow in daylight. At night, rhinoceros auklets compete for nesting spots, dig burrows, lay eggs, and feed their young.

Breeding and Feeding

Rhinoceros auklets begin to breed at 3-5 years of age. They breed in colonies on isolated islands, where thousands of birds gather to raise their chicks. They nest in burrows that they dig with their bills and feet. The female lays a single white egg in the spring. Sometimes the birds line the nest chamber with vegetation. Both parents incubate the egg underground in the burrow for about 45 days. Once hatched, both parents feed the chick, usually once per night each. They feed the chick a billfull of small fish, in particular Pacific sandlance, but also sometimes Pacific herring, and even some young rockfish. Fish is the species' main food source. The chick fledges in about 55 days.

Status

Rhinoceros auklets are distributed throughout the northern Pacific Rim. More than 80,000 breed on the Scott Islands. This is 12% of the national population, or 7% of the global population. The breeding colony on Triangle Island alone consists of over 40,000 breeding pairs. During the winter, the rhinoceros auklet is widely distributed in both the inner and outer coast. Many birds from B.C. are found off the coasts of Washington and Oregon states. Rhinoceros auklets are not designated as a species at risk nationally or provincially in Canada.

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Cassin's Auklet
(Ptychoramphus aleuticus)

Characteristics

The Cassin's auklet is a small member of the Alcidae family. The bird weighs less than 200 grams, and is mostly grey-brown with a white belly, white eyebrows and blue feet. It has a short, dark bill with an obscure yellow base. The juvenile looks similar to the adult, but is paler and has a white throat. Like penguins, Cassin's auklets possess the unique ability to “fly” underwater using wings as flippers. Despite their considerable numbers, they are rarely seen in BC waters, spending most of their lives on the open ocean. They come ashore only during the nesting season, arriving on the colony well after dark and returning to sea before dawn. They only remain ashore in daytime when incubating eggs or brooding small chicks.

Breeding and Feeding

Cassin's auklets breed in colonies on isolated islands. Thousands of birds gather at the same location to raise their young. To nest, they dig burrows with their bills and feet. The female lays a single white egg at the deep end of the burrow. The parents take turns incubating the egg in 24-hour shifts. After the chick hatches, about 38 days after the egg was laid, both parents typically return once each night to feed zooplankton to the chick (mainly copepods and euphausiids, and some larval fish). The birds forage up to 80 kilometres from the colony, carrying the food back to the chick in a unique throat pouch. The chick “sips” the bright pink, soupy zooplankton directly from the parent's throat. When the chick is old enough to be left on its own, both parents forage during the day and return at night to feed the chick. At about 45 days, the chick fledges to begin an independent life at sea. Two or three years later, it will return as an adult to find a mate and breed.

Status

Cassin's auklets are distributed only in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from the Aleutian Islands south to Baja California. The two million that breed on the Scott Islands represent 55% of the entire global population, or 70% of the national population. Triangle Island alone supports the world's single largest colony with an estimated 548,000 breeding pairs. Cassin's auklets are distributed on outer coastal waters throughout most of the year, and rarely come near shore. The birds tend to aggregate near zooplankton, their primary food item. Cassin's auklet is blue-listed in BC. This provincial designation means the species is not immediately threatened, but of concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.

Provincial Species of Concern in the Scott Islands Group1

􀂃 Horned Puffin – Red listed – Scott Islands breeder

􀂃 Pelagic Cormorant (pelagicus) – Red listed – Scott Islands breeder

􀂃 Brandt’s Cormorant – Red listed – Scott Islands breeder

􀂃 Common Murre – Red listed – Scott Islands breeder

􀂃 Thick-billed Murre – Red listed – Scott Islands breeder

􀂃 Tufted Puffin – Blue listed – Scott Islands breeder

􀂃 Cassin’s Auklet – Blue listed – Scott Islands breeder

􀂃 Red-necked Phalarope – Blue listed – migrant

􀂃 Buller’s Shearwater – Blue listed – migrant

􀂃 Flesh-footed Shearwater – Blue listed – migrant

􀂃 Laysan Albatross – Blue listed – 

􀂃 Northern Sea Lion – Red listed – Scott Islands breeder


Sylvia Pincott


Mute Swans at Hope Bay - Islands Independent

Recent visitors to Hope Bay are a threesome of Mute Swans, Cygnus olor - a species not previously recorded on Pender.  Not native to the area, they were introduced to Victoria in the late 19th century as the “classic” swan of Europe.  And classically beautiful they are, with their long, slender neck, dabbling to feed on aquatic vegetation and invertebrates.  Especially charming is the sight of a tiny Mute Swan cygnet riding on the back of its parent!

The native Trumpeter and Tundra Swans may occasionally be seen here in winter, or passing through as transients.  Mute Swans are found in lagoons, lakes and estuaries of Southern Vancouver Island, and a number of birds are known to winter in Fulford Harbour.  The mature Mute Swan may be distinguished by its orange bill with a black “knob” at its base.  Our Hope Bay group is made up of one mature and two immature birds, and they appear to be accustomed to people.  Don’t let that encourage you to become too friendly with them, however, for they can be rather cranky if disturbed, particularly at nesting time.  They don’t have the distinctive honking or hooting voice of our native species, but they are pretty good at hissing when annoyed.  For now, they seem to have found an idyllic sojourning spot on Hope Bay.


What to Watch for in March
March Naturescape Notes

Signs of spring seem early this year, but I look to the month of March for shouts of the season as our islands come to life in myriad ways. What to watch for in March?

From the largest to the smallest, there is action in this month of the spring equinox. Pender Bald Eagles will be settling into nesting, having been reclaiming possession of their nests and refurbishing since November. They will be busy with incubating, then feeding their young until late June or early July.

We can expect to see Rufous Hummingbirds returning to us from Mexico mid-month, so be ready with your feeders! Blossoming Red-flowering Currant will await them – they depend upon each other!

Look for Violet-green Swallows in early March, returning from Mexico and Central America. Plan to have nest boxes cleaned and ready for them. Swallows returning to their box of the previous year may reclaim their home by placing a few feathers in it, although nesting won’t commence for some weeks yet.

By the end of the month, however, you could put out offerings of nesting materials for the Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Hummingbirds. They welcome pet brushings, soft fluffs of fleece and, best of all, the downy puffs from marsh Cattails. No drier lint, please.

Turkey Vultures will return this month too, perhaps from as far distant as South America. Occasionally they will overwinter in southwestern BC and one was, in fact, observed on Mayne Island during this year’s Christmas Bird Count.

Sounds of spring will echo with chorusing frogs and migrating warblers, and we might even hear pronouncements such as “quick three beers” from the Olive-sided Flycatcher, announcing its return from South America.

Mid-month, the native Mason Bees will begin exiting their nesting chambers to commence a life cycle anew. They have spent many months in metamorphosis, tightly confined to cocoons within their nesting tunnel. In nesting boxes that we may offer, these tunnels are pencil diameter and about ten cm in depth, usually accommodating five cocoons. Laying her eggs, the Mason Bee deposits female eggs first in the back of the tunnel, and males at the outer end. This ensures male emergence first. They wait in anticipation near their doorway for females to emerge, and mating is the first order of business after the female chews her way through the mud wall of her cozy little cell and arrives into the light of day.

You may see queen Bumble Bees foraging on early blossoms as they begin to build their colonies anew. The queen is the only member of the colony to overwinter, and until establishing a new brood, she will be busy with nest building, egg-laying and feeding her larval young. Once mature, they will care for her and ongoing brood throughout the summer. The bumble bees that you will see then will be the workers - smaller replicas of the early queens observed this month.

Blue-eyed Mary will begin to carpet mossy slopes in March, and Chickweed Monkey Flower will tuck itself onto rocky ledges on the same slopes. Calypso Orchids, Blue Camas and Chocolate Lilies will be waiting in the wings to show their pretty faces and dance for us in April and May!

Scott Islands Proposed Marine Wildlife Area

A recent presentation sponsored by PICA and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association (CPAWS), brought Dr. Art Martell to tell us about the treasury of life on and around the Scott Islands, located off the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island.

Remotely located though they are, these islands and surrounding waters are internationally recognized as one of the world’s most important seabird breeding locations. Over two million seabirds seek out these islands annually to nest, raise their young, and feed in surrounding waters.

Three of the five islands in this chain are protected as Ecological Reserves, and two are designated as provincial parks. Unfortunately their surrounding waters do not have protection, and essential foraging areas at sea overlap human activities and threats, which include chronic oil spills and dumping, fishing by-catch, transport and cruise ships, log booms, and petroleum exploration.

Recognizing the vulnerable ecology of these waters, the Federal Government has committed to an initiative to ensure that appropriate protective measures are established to protect these foraging areas. In 2000, following 3 years of campaign pressure from CPAWS-BC, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) began a pilot Marine Wildlife Area (MWA) process, the first in Pacific Canada, at this site, and on March 19th 2007, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced his government’s commitment to fund completion of the Scott Islands as one of Canada’s next nine marine protected areas (MPA). Sadly, little seems to be happening with the process at the moment, yet increasing environmental challenges continue.

We were intrigued to learn more about the life of the birds of the Scott Islands – many of them the species that we see on the waters surrounding us. For instance, 90 percent of Canada’s population of Tufted Puffins nest there. These birds travel out to sea as far as 80 km each day to feed on smaller fish such as sand lance. They have been recorded carrying up to 64 fish at once as they return to their nest. They can fly at a speed of up to 64 kph, and are able to dive to a depth of 24 metres.

Fifty percent of the world’s population of Cassin’s Auklets depend on this area. They travel out as far as 75 km, and “fly” underwater to depths up to 50 metres. They feed on krill (and may, themselves, be fed on by fish). They lay a single egg, and both parents incubate. As with other seabirds laying few eggs, they are unable to respond quickly to population losses.

Seven percent of the world’s population of Rhinoceros Auklets nest here, with their chicks tucked into burrows up to two metres in depth. They, too, travel as far as 75 km out to their fishing grounds. They are able to dive to a depth of up to 50 meters, and are apparently better at “flying” underwater than above.

Nearly all of BC’s population of Common Murres nest here. They are highly social birds, breeding with a density of up to 35 birds per square metre. They lay only one egg, somewhat pyramidal in shape as an adaptation to nesting in a crowd on precarious cliff edges. Fledging at three weeks, the chicks leap off their cliff, then to be fed at sea by the father for two more months.

Once numbering in the millions, the Short-tailed Albatross, with its wingspan of 2 1/3 metres, is now threatened globally. Twenty percent of the global population breeds on the Scott Islands.

While breeding in New Zealand, the Sooty Shearwater also depends upon these waters. Up to a million of these birds fly a return journey of 65,000 km to feed in these and nearby waters during our summer months.

We hope that the Federal Government will be true to its commitment to protect these essential, sensitive, and vulnerable waters.

Sylvia Pincott


“On the Fence”
(An Ode to Disappearing Hedgerows)

The bird sat on the brand new fence, surveying all around.

Spring wheat was shooting in the field, abundant on the ground.

The single tree was sprouting out pale leaflets, fresh and new

Into the cool and spring-like air, all bathed in morning dew.

The rooks and starlings circled, and in their squabbling fashion,

Laid claim to every roosting branch for product of their passion.

The little bird upon the fence took off and flew away –

And sadly, on the balmy breeze, the others heard him say:

“Some birds nest high up in trees, some on a building’s ledge,

But what becomes of birds like me, whose nest was in the hedge?”

Nora Turner, Southsea, England
As submitted by Marie Armstrong


Earth Day
April Naturescape Notes

April 22 is Earth Day – a time to pause and wonder at the marvels of our Planet Earth, and to think about a new commitment that each of us might make towards caring for the world around us. If each of us were to pledge to do one more thing, we could collectively make a big difference.

One of the easiest and happiest commitments is to get to know more about the natural world of Pender, and to become a personal steward of the land on which we live. When we discover the intricacies of life at our doorstep, and better recognize the inter-actions of the web of life, we will feel well rewarded for our efforts to nurture nature close to home – and beyond.

As stewards of our land, we will appreciate the importance of leaving natural diversity intact wherever possible, recognizing its complexity and the needs of the life forms working in harmony therein.

As we face the global challenge of mitigating climate change, undisturbed landscapes make a vital contribution in sequestering and storing carbon. The sad irony in the CO2 challenge is the one-sided focus on energy production and the attempt to reduce emissions, while destruction of forests and their related life systems continue to eliminate a most significant natural means of absorbing the carbon of concern.

Each of us, on our own land, has opportunity to make a big difference, where undistubed life systems will provide a significant carbon offset contribution, while providing a happy homeplace for the life of the land!

In gardened areas, we can enhance diversity by selecting plants that will provide for the needs of wildlife – be it safe shelter, or food in the form of nectar, seeds, nuts, berries, or associated insects. Native plants, with their specialized faunal connections, are an important first choice. There is certainly a wonderful sense of connecting, to see hummingbirds flitting through the flowers of red-currant or salmon berry! “Our” Rufous hummers checked in on March 13 – nicely timed for both!

We can extend hummingbird opportunities with horticultural additions such as summer fuchsias chosen on their behalf. The hardy shrub Fuchsia magellanica Riccartonii is a much favoured choice. For hanging baskets, choose single flowered fuchsias for easy hummingbird access. A sequence of hummingbird flowers through spring and summer will keep their attention, while they capture ours! Remember, too, that hummingbirds feed on many tiny insects to provide the protein of their diet.

Gardening for the pollinators is another opportunity, inviting a variety of important visitors such as bumble bees and mason bees to share our wealth, while they provide a fascinating show in return. Herbs such as rosemary, lavender, oregano and thyme are excellent pollinator plants – and are deer resistant too (fuchsia is not)

This Earth Day, plan to make it an Earth Year, caring for and celebrating the natural wonders of our Pender Islands.

Sylvia Pincott


May!
May Naturescape Notes

May is surely one of the loveliest months of the year! Soft days, the dawn chorus, nesting time, seeds germinating, a spring lushness as trees are freshly clothed, and the softness of mossy slopes, still in their bright spring greens. How fortunate we are to share and, I hope, care for these special islands.

“Our” Violet-green Swallows returned to claim their nest box on April 12 - about ten days later than usual. I had been concerned over their delay, and it was with relief that I heard their excited twittering as they checked out their quarters. They have nested on the side of our house for the last six years. Talking with a friend recently, I learned that “her” swallows have been using a nest box in a tree for twenty years! I wonder how many generations that would be? The maximum recorded life span for the Violet-Green Swallow is 6.8 years. How many lifetime kilometres would add up with their migratory journey each year to Mexico and Central America and back?

Violet-greens often claim their nest box by putting in a token feather or two, some weeks ahead of actual nest construction. In May, they will begin unique pre-dawn courtship flights. Listen for their tiny chittering calls in flight from 3:00 a.m. until daybreak. Serious nest building and egg-laying will get underway in late May, with eggs hatching in mid-June, and young fledging early in July. Eggs are incubated by the female for about two weeks, and both parents care for the young birds until they fledge in 16 to 24 days.

Other songs we are tentatively celebrating is what seems to be an increased chorus of the Pacific Tree Frogs this year. The chorus had seemed sadly diminished over the past few years. I am wondering if any of you have observations on this? I’d love to hear from you. I know that one interested little fellow turned up on Bonnie Parks’ garden bench to welcome the Field Naturalists as they set out on a walk in mid-April!

May is a month of many tiny miracles, if we have the ears to hear and the eyes to see – and the heart to care!

Sylvia Pincott


Batty Returns
June Naturescape Notes

Our big excitement in May was the return of “Batty”, the Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, to our carport storage room where he roosted last summer! I wrote about him then - a blue-listed species, not previously reported on Pender Island! My Pender Post article prompted confirmed reports from two other locations, telling us that Batty had Pender cohorts!

In September our little friend took leave of us to migrate to a winter hibernaculum. Very few hibernation sites are known in BC, but one of them is a cave on a nearby Gulf Island. It is thought that this species has a migration range of about 50 km, so perhaps he did a little island hopping.

Batty returned on May 7th - a wee miracle, it seemed, returning to his favoured cupboard after spending 8 months huddled in a chilly cave!

Before leaving in the fall he would have accumulated an additional 40 percent of his summer weight in the form of fat to see him through the winter. I am sure he appears noticeably smaller than when we last saw him. He will now be busy fattening up on his menu of night-flying insects.

Male Big-eared Bats roost alone, but the females gather in small maternity colonies. May I encourage you, this summer, to keep watch in out-buildings for bats hanging from an open place rather than roosting in a narrow crack as is the custom for our other bat species. And watch for the big ears! I would love to hear from you - 6797 - should you see one.

Another distinction of this species is a special sensory ability to glean insects from vegetation. Other species concentrate on aerial insect captures, but our bat has additional talents. Strangely enough, a couple of years ago I had observed a bat foraging along a row of broad bean plants. I wondered then about such unusual behaviour, learning later that this would have been one of our friends. As it turned out, one of the two reports received last summer was from an out-building next door to the broad-bean foraging location!

So, it’s back to a summer of creeping quietly into our storage room, not wanting to disturb Batty during his daytime sleeps!

And at the same time, let’s commence with another season of “Operation Bat-Watch” on the Penders!

Sylvia Pincott


Forage Fish
July Naturescape Notes 

“All things are connected”. My Naturescape Notes are usually woven from the intricate threads of the web of life at our doorstep. I would like this month to take our thoughts to the larger doorstep of the shoreline surrounding these islands – the place of transition that leads to the wonders of the Salish Sea and the life therein. Equally intricate are the threads of connected life from shoreline to the mysterious depths.

For much of the life of the deep, a healthy shoreline is essential to its well-being. Last month, PICA guest speaker, Ramona deGraaf, told us of the profound importance of undisturbed shorelines for the reproduction of what are collectively known as forage fish. In the following, I will refer to notes from Ramona:

Pacific salmon, Great Blue Heron, and our beloved Orca depend upon healthy shorelines, down to the very pebbles and grains of sand. These charismatic predators are among the many species that feed on the forage fish of the sea, whose life cycle is directly dependent upon those pebbles and grains. Herring are the most familiar of the forage fish, but Surf Smelt, Pacific Sand Lance and Capelin are other species that spawn on ocean shorelines.

Perhaps you have seen silvery Surf Smelt leaping at high tide? Using the beach surf, ripened female smelt rush to release their eggs, while the males release their sperm into the water. Once fertilized, the eggs will be carried to the highest reaches of the waves. These tiny eggs, only one mm in diameter, quickly produce an anchor-like membrane that catches onto pebbles — a weight belt that tumbles the eggs to incubate in nurseries a few centimetres below the beach surface.

Similarly, in winter, the Pacific Sand Lance move to shores of sand or fine gravel for spawning. After weeks below the surface, these tiny beach babies, only three mm long, swim out with the ebbing tide.

“From Little Things, Big Things Grow”, is a theme of the BC Shore Spawners Association, with whom Ramona is affiliated. The year-round abundance of forage fish determines the survival of larger predators. For species of rockfish and salmon, estimates of their reliance on Pacific Sand Lance alone is 10 to 50 per cent of their diet. Sand Lance and Herring make up 72% of the diet of adult Chinook Salmon – the favored prey of the Orca.

Marine shore spawners face an uncertain future in British Columbia. Many and varied shoreline modifications have sadly interrupted this beautiful cycle.

“Hardening” of shorelines with walls or rip-rap destroys the immediate beach area and ultimately interferes with sediment deposition on shorelines nearby. Breakwaters and boat ramps may do the same. Removal of protective shoreline vegetation is another concern. In many ways, the development or alteration of shorelines is resulting in the serious loss of spawning habitat for these key species.

PICA is looking forward to working with the BC Shore Spawners Association in assessing and monitoring Pender shores. If you would be interested in helping out with a regular sampling program, please contact me at 6797. With “Adopt A Beach” volunteers working towards cleaner shores, we hope to ensure that they are also healthy shores for the many lives dependent upon them.

Sylvia Pincott


Lawns!
May Naturescape Notes

Lawn-mowing time again – for some! How many of us here remember life in the “burbs”, when peaceful Sundays were lost to the persistent whine of the power mower? I thought it might be fun to reflect on lawns this month, with a piece that did the rounds a few years ago – author unknown.

One can’t help but wonder what lawns are all about! With a strange affection for a sweep of green, North Americans constantly battle plants that thrive naturally, to grow grass that demands constant attention – mow, rake, edge, thatch, aerate, feed, weed, water, and winterize.

Imagine a conversation the Creator might have with St. Francis about this:

“Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there? What happened to the lovely garden that I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance plan – plants that grow well, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from their blossoms attracted butterflies and bees. Their fruits invited flocks of songbirds. Now all I see are green rectangles.”

“It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord – the Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’, and went to great effort to remove them and replace them with ‘lawns’.”

“Lawns? But they are so boring. They don’t attract butterflies, birds and bees - only grubs and sod worms. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?”

“Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing the grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.”

“The spring rains and cool weather make grass grow quickly. That must make the Suburbanites happy.”

“Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it – sometimes twice a week.”

“They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?”

“Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.”

“They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?”

“No, sir. It’s just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.”

“Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?”

“Yes, sir.”

“These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.”

“You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.”

“Amazing! Well, at least they kept some of the trees. Trees were a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. They grow leaves each spring to clean the air and to provide beauty and shade. In the autumn the leaves fall and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. And, as they decompose, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.”

“You had better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and burn them or haul them away.”

“No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and keep the soil moist and loose?”

“After throwing away your leaves, they go out and buy something called mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.”

“And where do they get this mulch?”

“They cut down trees and grind them up.”

“Enough! I don’t want to think about this any more!”

Aren’t we fortunate on Pender! With the natural beauty of the islands, we are blessed with the opportunity to let nature do our landscaping for us. A Naturescape concept reminds us that the further we get from natural diversity, the more work we make for ourselves – lawns being the case in point!

Sylvia Pincott


Batty
September Naturescape Notes

One of our summer visitors this year has distinguished himself by the simple fact of not having been seen on Pender Island before! While that may seem unexceptional, we celebrate his appearance and are happy to give him an official welcome!

He is a Townsend’s Big-eared Bat – a blue-listed species, not often recorded in BC! He is an ideal guest, asking nothing of us but quiet days to hang from the ceiling of our carport storage cupboard, where he rests up for his nightly forays in search of moths, mosquitoes, and other flying insects. While we don’t have many mosquitoes, there is an interesting abundance of moths. On a recent warm evening I counted six species as they fluttered outside a brightly lit window.

As you will see from his photograph, “Batty” is very cute – at least “only a mother could love” kind of cute. Another rather descriptive name he has been known by is “Lump-nosed Bat”.

I had observed him hanging from the open ceiling for a number of weeks, but only as a little blob. That was until early July when Keith’s visiting daughter and her husband decided to tidy our storage cupboard! I worried about disturbing the bat in the process, but he turned out to be only mildly concerned, merely stretching his head down to check things out. Seeing his silhouette then, I recognized the BIG ears, and ran for the camera! That was indeed a bonus day, for we ended up with both a tidied cupboard, and a new bat for the record!

Something I was not aware of is that Townsend’s Big-eared Bats do not roost in narrow cracks as do Little Brown Bats, but prefer an open ceiling situation. (I guess they need room for their ears!) That should have been my original clue, but I was clue-less in that regard until reading more! We do have Little Brown Bats roosting in a crack in our carport from time to time, with tiny guano offerings sometimes dropped onto the car. The tenacity of these droppings amazes me. We can drive around for days without them being dislodged!

Batty’s GPS coordinates and roosting details have now been forwarded to the British Columbia Conservation Data Centre to officially record this first observation on Pender.

I am now wondering if he may have the company of more of his kind on our islands. While the males roost alone, maternity colonies of females and young are in small gatherings. The clue to initially distinguishing them would be their hanging from an open ceiling - in an out-building, or perhaps under the eaves. If you have such a visitor, observe closely for its remarkably long ears. I would love to hear from you if you think you have such a candidate! Please call me at 6797.

Likely in late September, our little friend will leave to spend six or more months in a winter hibernaculum. Before leaving he will have accumulated an additional 40 percent of his summer weight in the form of fat to use as energy through the winter. It is thought that Townsend’s Big-eared Bats remain year-round within a radius of less than 50 kilometres. Very few hibernation sites are known in BC, but one of them is a cave on Thetis Island. Perhaps that is where Batty will be heading. We will miss him, and will hope for his return next spring!

Sylvia Pincott


Pender Magic
August Naturescape Notes

Our Islands can truly weave a magic spell for those who have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to care.

Recently, very caring house guests explored the Ocean Access trails of the north of North Pender, and travelled the roadways on foot – looking closely all the way!

At the ocean end of the first trail of the day were Harbour Seals – particularly a mommy and pup. When ferry wash surged ashore the seals dove below, surfacing a few minutes later to ride the swell, with baby clinging to the back of Mom! How could it grip such a sleek surface, we wondered?

Leaving that experience, it was on to the next trail, minutes away, and just in time for a small pod of Orca’s to cruise by - close to shore and complete with calf! This sighting was crowned by an Eagle drifting low over the pod – no doubt from the nest just overhead, from which we had been enjoying the first flights of this year’s fledgling.

The next trails brought a River Otter crunching on shellfish, a mink exploring the shore, a Northwestern Garter Snake, and a flying abundance of dragonflies! A hole in a clay bank along the shore revealed itself to be the nesting cavity of Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Aerial insects, harvested by foraging parent birds, were transferred at regular intervals to hungry beaks within the nest. This observation provided the second only record of this species nesting on the Penders!

As the day drew to a close, a family of American Goldfinches lined up to be fed a last bite before bedtime. Rays of the setting sun reached into the forest floor, brightening spots that are seldom touched with direct sunlight. “Our” Townsend’s Big-eared Bat left his daily roosting quarters to begin his nighttime foray in search of flying insects – moths being his special prey. A crescent moon ended the day, reflecting on the waters between Pender and Saltspring.

How blessed we are to live on these lovely islands, where the worlds of land and sea come together. Few places remain with possibilities similar to Pender magic. Let us treasure this blessing, looking closely, learning more, learning to care, and to care for the life of the land and sea around us. It is precious and precarious, and needs our caring hearts and zealous protection.

Sylvia Pincott


Purple Martins
September Naturescape Notes

Great excitement in late July, when 15 Purple Martin chicks were banded on Pender, as part of the Purple Martin Stewardship and Recovery Program for southwestern British Columbia.

Inspired, in 2008, by the success of a nest box program on Mayne Island, it seemed only fitting that Pender Island put out a welcome to any of the birds that might venture across Navy Channel. Thus, the Pender Islands Conservancy Association, PICA, installed a number of nest boxes on two shoreline locations – one on pilings in Shingle Bay, and the other just south of Medicine Beach. Last year four boxes were added to pilings offshore from Roesland. Thanks to Bob Vergette, Keith Pincott, Parks Canada, and other PICA friends for box construction, installations and banding assistance.

Western Purple Martins depend upon finding nesting cavities near to shorelines, but steady loss of habitat over the years brought them close to extirpation from our province. By 1995 the total number of active nests known in British Columbia was down to 55 – all in artificial nest boxes, mainly erected on pilings. Through the efforts of the PUMA Recovery Program, the population, by 2009, had grown to 500 pairs nesting at 46 colony sites around the Strait of Georgia, and an estimated 1630 young birds headed off with their parents to spend the winter in South America!

A highlight of the 2009 banding season was the sighting of two 11-year-old female birds that were banded in 1998! This year, three geolocators were sighted on returning birds, and one was retrieved - out of the 20 placed on birds last year!. This will provide important migration information for this population of Martins. An exciting comeback for the birds, thanks to dedicated participants in the PUMA Recovery Program.

As one of the participating groups, PICA has been guided by coordinators, Bruce Cousins and Charlene Lee of Nanaimo. Following our observation of nesting activities at two Pender locations this year, Charlene came to us on just the right date to include our chicks in the PUMA banding program and research studies. Very gently the little ones were placed in a bag, lowered to the boat, carefully banded and put back in their box. Two boxes from the Medicine Beach location, and one from Roesland had families – 15 chicks in all!

The Purple Martin is the largest swallow in North America - about half as large again as other swallows of our area. Their entire diet can be described in a word – insects!

By a delightful coincidence, friends from the mainland visited Roesland on Friday (the 13th!) and observed three newly-fledged Martins parked on a snag beside the white bench at the end of the Roe Islet - being fed and encouraged by the parent birds.

And, to make it even more interesting, just as our friends were about to head back along the trail, a stump close by suddenly erupted with termites taking wing, providing wonderful fodder for our little friends! Insects – yum!!

Other friends, while kayaking past the Medicine Beach nest boxes on the 14th, observed a pair of adult Martins with just-fledged young.   Since the age of the broods in the two boxes at this location differed, these would have been the younger of the two. The “older” fledglings from next door would have been flying for several days and could even have been on their way south.

Such a miracle to think of these little birds, in a few short weeks, going from egg, to helpless nestling, to birds with the instinct and strength to fly hundreds of miles a day to their winter destination. For fascinating information and photo’s, check the Western Purple Martin Foundation website at www.saveourmartins.org.

 PS. This will let you know that our iconic little bird, the Winter Wren, Troglodytestroglodytes , is now to be known as the Pacific Wren, Troglodytes pacificus. It was recently reclassified when it was learned that it is a species separate to the Winter Wren east of the Rockies. Oh well, it’s Latin name still remains bigger than the bird!

Sylvia Pincott


Seasons
October Naturescape Notes

For everything there is a season, and as the summer season slips into autumn, transitions in life occur throughout the natural world.

The wasps have surely had their season this year, but their abundant numbers are reduced now to hibernating queens tucking themselves into safe shelter to begin their colony anew next April. With a life cycle similar to the bumble bees, the much larger queen will be seen foraging in early spring, as she begins nest construction and establishes her supportive family. At first it is up to her to forage and feed her larval young, but as soon as they develop and are able to care for themselves and for her, she will remain within the nest - sole producer of eggs and offspring for the season.

The wasps that frustrate picnics are usually Vespula pennsylvanica, the Western Yellowjacket. Their nest is an underground structure, and may contain up to 5000 individuals at peak of season!

Picnic tips include setting a place for the wasps to dine! – a tiny dish of the protein part of your meal off to the side. Gently direct the wasps to it and they will eventually concentrate their efforts there. Sometimes they may land on a hand or arm – not to sting, but to nibble. Another source of protein?Swatting and arm-swinging usually only incites their wrath and brings forth their stinging end.

Similar in appearance to the Yellowjacket is Dolichovespula arenariaDolichovespula maculata, whose nest is the familiar above-ground paper creation of chewed wood and plant fibers. The black and white Bald-faced Hornet has a similar above-ground nest structure.

While it may be difficult to accept these as beneficial insects, they are indeed serious predators of the likes of aphids and flies, often serving as pollinators in the process. Those unfortunate people with great sensitivity to wasps or bees (not necessarily both – for they differ chemically) will be welcoming back their freedom of the outdoors, as the season of the wasps declines.

As the wasps wane, termite eruptions from beneath the ground begin – a reproductive swarming of their colony. Tiny black Western Subterranean Termites (looking like tiny winged ants) emerge over a very brief period – ours happened on September 8th this year. I noticed that protein-hungry wasps didn’t miss the opportunity to await termites at the location of their emergence.

The larger pink Pacific Dampwood Termites are more noticeable through late September as they flutter up from the ground, often to be nabbed by hungry songbirds. I observed a Chickadee vacate the sunflower feeder to nab one of these apparently tastier morsels in flight!

After swarming, surviving male and female termites bond when the male is attracted to the pheromone “fragrance” released by the female. Future “kings” and “queens”, they search for a suitable site to establish their permanent home. Their wings are shed, and they will excavate a small chamber and seal the entrance. They bond for life and mate periodically, building a colony that may take 8 to 10 years before dispersal of a reproductive swarm.

Termites, as do wasps, usually bring anxious thoughts and negative connotations, but fear not – the two species of our area are not setting sights on your house and home, but rather choose decaying wood and root systems for their home place. That being said, if the wooden part of a structure is in direct contact with the ground, termite opportunities could be offered there.

And, it is time, as I write, to say farewell to “Batty”, our Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, as he heads off to join his cohorts in an unknown cave for the winter months. We will surely miss him, and hope for his safe return next spring.

Cones:

The intricate and varied means of plant reproduction is a complex business, to say the least. I am particularly intrigued by the cones of native conifer trees – with each species specialized in its unique way.  Thinking about it, I guess being a species is about being special!

While cone production tends to be somewhat cyclical, I have noticed this year that there is an exceptional abundance of cones on some Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, and Western Redcedar.

Douglas-fir cones are the most prevalent on the ground here.   Up to 10 cm in length, they are easily identified by three-pronged bracts emerging  below each scale – looking, perhaps, like the tail end of a wee mouse plunging into the cone!  These are the female “flowers” of the plant.  The male flowers, or pollen cones, are a mere centimetre or two in length, soft in texture, falling to the ground after distributing their pollen in early spring.  The Douglas-fir has a reproductive cycle that extends from pollination to seed drop in the autumn of the following year.  These seeds are important for crossbills, winter wrens and song sparrows.

The Grand Fir, like the Douglas-fir, bears male and female flowers on the same tree, but from there it is quite different.  Female flowers appear only on the upper side of topmost branches, with the male on the lower side of  lower branches.  This is the tree that sends out clouds of yellow pollen dust in April.  It seems strange to me that the pollen dust is below its ultimate landing place, but I guess enough of it is carried by the wind to do the job.  Through the summer a small number of cylindrical woody cones up to  10 cm in length develop in the tree top, standing erect on their branches.  (Douglas-fir cones are erect until after pollination and then become pendant.)  Grand Fir cones mature in the autumn of the first growing season and then disintegrate, leaving a slender, spike-like cone axis still on the tree.  This is a characteristic only of the genus Abies, the true firs.  No other native evergreen cones break up in this manner.  Falling an average distance of about 50 metres from the parent tree, these seeds remain viable on the forest floor through one overwinter period, providing welcome winter food for wildlife.

The Western Redcedar bears tiny cone-like fruits, with the male and female terminal on different twigs of same tree.  The female cone, only about a centimeter in length, ripens in late summer, but doesn’t disperse seeds until the following year.  The tiny cones sit erect on foliage sprays, showing up like small dried flowers in a winter bouquet.  It is a prodigious seed producer, but the seeds are so small (about 400,000 per pound) that birds and rodents seldom bother to eat them.

Both Western Yew and Rocky Mountain Juniper bear their male and female “cones” on separate trees.  The yew has a hard seed covered by a fleshy pea-size cup, bright red when it sheds in October.  Its bright colour attracts birds and is distributed by them, unharmed as it processes through their digestive tract.

The berry-like cones of Juniper cling to their tree all winter, providing a favored source of food for birds.  One scientist reportedly found that 900 juniper fruits passed through a single Bohemian Waxwing in five hours!  There aren’t many Junipers on Pender, but there is a remarkable example of a tree completely defying gravity, hanging horizontally over the shore at Peter Cove in Trincomali.  How it survives, I don’t know – particularly in that most of its trunk is bare of bark!

Also scarce are Shore Pines, Pinus contorta, the coastal version of the Lodgepole Pine.  They bear the more typical “pine cones”, prickly and woody, five to six cm in length.  They are also prolific seed bearers – with tiny seeds, 100,000 to a pound.  These cones may persist on the tree for years, with seed remaining viable.  Sometimes cones persist so long that they may become enveloped and encased in the wood of the tree!

Such is the marvelous diversity of the natural world.

Notes:

Prickly woody cone 1 ½ to 2 inches long.  Two inch needles in bundles of two.

It sheds in October.  Male and female flowers on separate trees (also juniper).  Red colour attracts birds – seed unharmed through digestive tract.  Flat short two-ranked needles.

Rocky Mtn Juniper - picturesque living snags, partially stripped of bark.  Berry-like cone.  Birds eat  Fruit clings to trees all winter, making an excellent foodsupply.  One scientist found that 900 rm juniper fruits passed through a single bohemian waxwing in five hours.  Male and female flowers on separate trees.

“Seed rains” have been measured as a few million per acre.

Aug-Sept an erect oval cone ½ inch, small winged seeds – ripen  in late summer, shed following year.  Seeds so small, rodents seldom bother to eat them – 400,000 per pound..  Prodigious seed producer – typical “seed rains” have been measured as a few million per acre each year in mixed stands containing this species.  Seeds germinate in either fall or spring, but very few seedlings survive.  Cones ripen in one season.  They sit erefct on foliage sprays, showing up like small dried flours in a winter bouquet  Usually a tree of moist habitat 3to 120 inches of rain per year or more.

Differences in cones are extreme – from the clusters of tiny cones on cedars to the extravagant woody structures of various pines.

Seed pollination and distribution has myriad dependencies, with the insect connection being paramount.  Specialized pollinators sequence through the season.   Solitary mason bees start in March, with their early life cycle ensuring abundant orchard crops, and well-pollinated maple and arbutus trees.  Domestic honey bees are hard workers throughout the season.  They, and native bumble bees, are “social” insects, working together as part of a large colony.  There may be 50,000 honeybees in a colony, and a few hundred bumble bees.  There are possibly 16 species of bumble bees in our area.  Honeybees are unique in that they have abundant stores of nectar that may be exploited for honey production -  providing an additional benefit to their pollinating services.  Other pollinators include wasps (most species don’t sting).

Solitary bees may be gregarious, but they work independently in creating their own nesting chambers.

Grand Fir Abies grandis - cones mature in fallleaves are needle-like and flattened in cross section, often notched at the apex.  Needles flat, many or all spreading horizontally from opposite sides of the twig.    Spirally arranged on twise, but often appear to be two-ranked on lower branches.  Needles are usually notched at their tips and appear in two distinct rows from the twig.    Male and female flowers borne separately on same tree in spring.  Douglas-fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii.

Once seed is pollinated and set, seed distribution is another step along the way.

Fruit and seed production this year seems particularly abundant, and we have enjoyed feasting on Pender plums, pears, apples, tomatoes, blueberries, and blackberries.

Alders have small cones, too.  Pacific Yew Trees have berries.  

Western Hemlock Cones

The small, numerous seed cones are greenish to reddish-purple and turn brown with age.

The cones are small, pendulous, slender cylindrical, 14-30 mm long and 7-8 mm broad when closed, opening to 18-25 mm broad. They have 15–25 thin, flexible scales 7-13 mm long. The immature cones are green, maturing gray-brown 5–7 months after pollination. The seeds are brown, 2-3 mm long, with a slender, 7-9 mm long pale brown wing.

Ecology

Flowering and Fruiting- Western hemlock is monoecious; male and female strobili develop from separate buds of the previous year. Female strobili occupy terminal positions on lateral shoots, whereas the male strobili cluster around the base of the needles (4). Flowering and pollination begin from mid-April to late April in western Oregon and continue into late May and June in coastal Alaska. The solitary, long (19 to 32 mm; 0.75 to 1.25 in), pendent cones mature 120 to 160 days after pollination. Time of maturity of cones on the same branch is variable; ripe cones change from green to golden brown. The cone-scale opening mechanism does not appear to develop fully until late in the ripening period. Seeds are usually fully ripe by mid-September to late September, but cone scales do not open until late October. Empty cones often persist on the tree for 2 or more years.

Although flowering may begin on 10-year-old trees, regular cone production usually begins when trees reach 25 to 30 years of age. Mature trees are prolific producers of cones. Some cones are produced every year, and heavy crops occur at average intervals of 3 to 4 years; however, for a given location, the period between good crops may vary from 2 to 8 years or more. 

Sylvia Pincott


Fairies
November Naturescape Notes

Could it be that there really are fairies at the bottom of the garden? When we think about it, there is a lot happening for us that we take for granted. Waste disposal is one of Nature’s amazing services that we seldom consider – but waste doesn’t just “go away”. Indeed, it is only through the services of a multitude of small organisms that we are not buried deep in excrement, corpses, and debris!

Consider, for a start, our septic tanks and sewage disposal systems. What a lot of abuse we throw at them! It isn’t the “normal waste” that is the problem. The countless aerobic and anaerobic bacteria residing there are designed to thrive and multiply as they digest the natural waste that we provide. It is unfortunate when chemicals far beyond their coping capacity are included in our offerings – “anti-life” ingredients such as anti-bacterial soap, for instance, when it is bacteria that we are depending upon to do this work for us – or Drain-O, bleach, harsh detergents, caustic cleaners, unused drugs, etc. Perhaps it’s time for us to give a thought to those tiny workers who are at the receiving end of our waste stream, and ensure that they have a healthy environment in which to do their work!

Uncountable numbers of terrestrial organisms die each year, and their remains are consumed by organisms in the soil. In the process, soils render harmless any potential human pathogens in waste and in the remains of the deceased life forms. While human waste is generally discharged into disposal systems of some sort, the waste of all other animal and plant life is returned to the soil.

How much waste and dead organic matter is produced and processed each year? In “Nature’s Services – Societal Dependence on Natural Ecosystems”, editor Gretchen Daily references an estimate that the amount of live organic matter produced each year (net primary production by plants and animals) totals about 132 billion metric tons (dry weight) of organic matter (give or take a few billion tons!).

Not only must this amount of organic matter be processed, it must also be recycled back into the land in a form that will sustain the soil and the subsequent life therein. “Nature’s Services” continues “…. In the space of the period at the end of this sentence, diverse microbial species process the particular compounds whose chemical bonds they can cleave and pass along to other species, in assembly-line fashion, end-products and by-products of their specialized reactions.”

When we think about it, how often do we come across a dead animal, bird – or even an insect? Remarkable processes are at work – from the microscopic to the more apparent. When we look closely, even the beleaguered wasps are important processors, quickly gathering and consuming the least of lifeless protein.

Being mindful of the life in the land should surely give us pause before we reach for chemical solutions to insect “problems”. Pesticides are seldom selective of their victims, and the good are impacted along with the “bad”. Soils can soon be rendered lifeless with continuous chemical impacts, no longer able to continue the cycle of life from death. Choosing “organically grown” is not only healthy for us, but it spares the life of the land to continue with its vital work.

Let us give a thought and thanks for the tiny “fairies at the bottom of the garden” that do the dirty work for us!

Sylvia Pincott


Covenants
November Naturescape Notes

October 15th was an exciting day for us! As of that date, a conservation covenant protects our treasured North Pender Island property, ensuring that it will be cared for into the future. While we know that we will care for it in our lifetime, we realize that without covenants there is no guarantee as to what may become of it after we are gone.

In preparation for the covenant, an ecological baseline inventory was completed. It revealed that there are two sensitive ecosystems on the property, and five endangered plant communities!

The Herbaceous Ecosystem features open mossy slopes with shallow soil. Here, many tiny treasures of ferns and wildflowers have appeared since an invasive cover of Scotch Broom was removed from the slopes four years ago.

The Woodland Ecosystem, a “tongue” of the Garry Oak meadow of George Hill, with lovely Arbutus, Douglas Fir, and two tiny Garry Oaks, is the most threatened ecosystem type found within the Islands Trust area. It, too, is coming to life with lovely wildflower surprises following broom removal.

The few remaining Herbaceous Ecosystems make up only 0.9% of North Pender, and Woodland Ecosystems, only 4.6%. These ecosystems are also recognized by Islands Trust as Development Permit Areas, where certain land-altering activities require a development permit. We recognize these places as something very special and increasingly rare, and are thankful that they are now completely protected.

The remainder of our 2.5 acre property is mature forest, reaching the 80-year threshhold between young and mature. Here the four-foot diameter Douglas fir and Western Redcedar could spell money to a less sensitive owner, and construction projects could obliterate sensitive habitat in a flash. This is where four species of woodpeckers find wildlife trees in which to excavate their nesting and feeding cavities. These cavities are used in subsequent years by other cavity nesting species such as Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Nuthatches, perhaps the endangered Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, or Western Screech Owls. We have recorded 55 bird species on our property, and we have noted at least 20 species nesting here.

We sincerely appreciate the assistance of the Nancy Waxler-Morrison Biodiversity Protection Fund, for assistance in covering the costs of placing our covenant - costs such as the baseline inventory, land survey and legal expense. This special memorial fund is administered by the Pender Islands Conservancy Association. Perhaps you have land that you treasure and for which you would like to provide future protection. Information about the assistance of this fund may be obtained by contacting Barrie Morrison at barrie@interchange.ubc.ca

Our covenant is held jointly by Islands Trust Fund under their Natural Areas Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) and the Pender Islands Conservancy Association, and is registered on title to our land. Under NAPTEP there is the special encouragement of a 65% reduction in property taxes on the protected land. All in all, a win/win agreement!

We are remarkably blessed, further, in that three properties next and near to us are now also protected by covenants. Our dear friend, Marilynn King, purchased these beautiful properties for the purpose of conservation, caring for their unique and sensitive biodiversity – her legacy for the future. The four properties, hers and ours, form an almost contiguous link of approximately 8 acres between ocean and the protected area of George Hill Park, allowing the biodiversity of the land to have almost uninterrupted connections.

It is comforting now to know that safe habitat will remain on these properties, in perpetuity, for the unique and at-risk diversity of life – from the tiny creatures of the soil ecosystem to the tall trees of the forest and their associated life systems.

Sylvia Pincott


Christmas Bird Count
December Naturescape Notes

John James Audubon, who lived from 1785 to 1851, is, to this day, North America’s best known ornithologist. It may be questioned whether his fame rests on his ornithology or his work as an artist, but his combined accomplishments of observation and bird artistry are unsurpassed.

Audubon’s records provide a remarkable history of North American bird life. His work created an awareness of the birds of America and the horrific losses that were occurring through unrestricted hunting practices.

His name has become indelibly associated with the movement to protect and conserve American birds. In 1904, the National Audubon Society was formed to pressure for legislation for the protection of birds, and the Society continues its work today as a highly respected voice for conservation in Canada and the United States.

Christmas bird counts throughout North America are organized by the Audubon Society, and on Saturday, December 18th, The Pender Island Field Naturalists will once again coordinate the annual Audubon Count for our Islands.

We will join a flock of tens of thousands of “citizen science” volunteers expected to participate in this 111th annual tally, representing all Canadian provinces, the United States, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and several Pacific islands where North American breeding birds spend their winters.

The information provided on this annual count (the longest running wildlife census) provides important data to assist in an assessment of the status and health of North American bird populations, providing a “snapshot” of where the birds are at this time, and their relative numbers, from one year to the next. Ornithology is a field of scientific study that depends heavily upon the observations of naturalists and backyard birders such as you and me!

You may join up with a team to comb forests, fields and shorelines, or you may observe your feeders at home. Please give Gerald McKeating of the Pender Island Field Naturalists a call if you would like to take part – 629-3840.

As an opportunity to brush up on your birding skills, please join us at Gerry’s presentation “The Birds of Christmas”, 7:30 pm, Friday, December 10th at the Library. A field trip to Magic Lake will follow the next morning.

In the meantime, perhaps you will want to add a bird watcher’s guide to your library. Dick Canning’s “Birds of Southwestern British Columbia” is my favorite, and is available locally at Talisman. Being a regional guide, it saves sifting through a number of species that would not be seen here. Many of us, of course, would be lost without our old faithful Peterson or Sibley guides, for one can always discover interesting tidbits of information travelling from one field guide to the next. And, don’t forget to have your camera ready for that once in a lifetime photo-op!

Sylvia Pincott




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