City-wide Composting article
January Naturescape Notes
Metro Vancouver is talking with supermarkets, restaurants and cafes about their rotting vegetables, leftovers and paper cups as it forges ahead with plans to develop a food-waste composting site in the region this year.
The project proposal, which would take 100 to 150 tonnes of garbage out of the region's landfills each year, is expected to go before the waste management committee next month with hopes that Metro could start building the facility by May, said Toivo Allas, manager of policy and planning for Metro Vancouver.
Why doesn’t Vancouver have a city-wide composting program? A status report on Greater Vancouver’s slow movement toward sustainable waste management.
I made my lunch today in an outdoor kitchen on the warm and idyllic Hawaiian island of Kauai. As a volunteer with the organization WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), I came to Hawaii to learn about sustainable agriculture practices while living on an organic farm — for curiosity’s sake mainly — as well as the prospect of figuring out how to become an amateur organic gardener at home in Vancouver.
I have a cozy cabin to sleep in, and all the organic food I can eat. But one of the best things about living on the farm is that there is never a question about where the scraps from all that organic food will go, since compost is one of the most vital commodities here. It breaks down in the hot sun in a matter of days, and since the people who live on the farm all try to consume products that produce as little garbage as possible, almost all of our “waste” goes back into the earth immediately to re-enter the nitrogen cycle.
It’s one thing to compost when you have acres and acres of plants and animals hungry for nutrients, but quite another when you live in a major metropolitan city. At home I am an avid recycler, but I’m ashamed to admit I have never taken the composting plunge. Between work, school, and everything else that keeps a young urbanite busy, lugging my weekly food waste to a composting centre just doesn’t entice me. And I’m clearly not in the minority.
Mike Levenston, the executive director of City Farmer, the city’s non-profit backyard composting education centre, estimates that between 40 and 45 per cent of Vancouver proper’s single-family households compost, and that the numbers are much lower for apartment dwellers, based on statistics from a 2003 City of Vancouver report. While backyard composting is the simplest and most energy-efficient mode of waste reduction, it clearly doesn’t work for everyone.
So an obvious question presents itself: why doesn’t Vancouver have a city-wide composting program? Other Canadian cities have invested in extremely successful green-bin programs over the last decade. In 2000, the city of Edmonton spent $100 million on a centralized composting program, and that same year Halifax diverted fully half of its waste from landfills with a combination of city-wide recycling and composting initiatives. Other municipalities that have jumped on the food-recycling bandwagon include Gold River, B.C., Hamilton, Ontario, Ontario’s Peel Region (which includes Mississauga), and just this past April Ottawa announced its own plan to put a $25 million residential composting initiative in place by 2008.
Given B.C.’s environmentalist grassroots, as well as the sustainability targets set by the City of Vancouver’s EcoDensity initiative, it seems only logical that Vancouver should be following close on the heels of those cities. Unfortunately, bureaucratic foot-dragging and a huge backlog of projects created by this past summer’s city workers’ strike have set an already late-in-coming composting pilot project back another six months.
Marcel Pitre is the project engineer in charge of Metro Vancouver’s Food Waste Composting Demonstration Trial. He says the trial, which will use a type of composting technology called the Gore Cover System, has been in the planning stages for about two years now, and the pilot itself was supposed to get under way in July or August of this year.
The City currently collects and composts yard trimmings only at the Vancouver Landfill in Delta using a relatively low technology system involving outdoor, static piles. The Gore technology to be tested is currently in use at more than 150 composting facilities in 25 countries, and produces high quality compost in eight weeks while minimizing its inherent odours by trapping them with a GOR-TEX layer of fabric, similar to that used in outdoor apparel.
But with the CUPE strike gobbling up city managers’ time for nearly three months, the composting trial never got off the ground this summer. It is only this week that the Gore equipment will finally arrive at the Vancouver landfill in Delta, with the first experiments scheduled to begin the week of November 12.
Pitre explained that the pilot project will consist of a variety of composting tests using different composting “recipes.” Mixing yard and garden trimmings with commercial food waste, Pitre and a team of Gore technology specialists will adjust the ratios of different types of organic wastes to see what works and what doesn’t, what smells and what doesn’t, and will ultimately determine whether a massive, centralized composting plant could handle all of Vancouver’s table scraps.
If they find the perfect recipe, Pitre estimates such a facility could potentially save 200,000 tonnes of waste coming from Metro Vancouver region homes from hitting the landfill each year. Not only that, but it would significantly reduce the city’s greenhouse gas output, since organics are one of the greatest sources of methane and carbon dioxide gases produced in anaerobic landfill conditions.
So far the pace towards composting progress has been steady but slow, if not stalled. But now that the cogs at city hall are groaning back into gear, Pitre says the study phase of the demonstration trial could be over by next April, and Metro Vancouver could have a recommendation for Vancouver city council as early as June. If that happens, Pitre says there’s no reason Vancouver and neighbouring municipalities couldn’t have green bins ready at the curb in 2009, diverting anywhere from a quarter to a third of our waste back to the soil.
Susan Antler, the executive director of the Composting Council of Canada, explains that the immediate financial costs of centralized composting often deter cities from implementing it — a point reiterated by Pitre, who believes economic considerations are the reason it has taken Vancouver so long to get moving.
Antler says it costs most municipalities around $30 per tonne to dispose of waste in landfills, versus anywhere from $70 to $100 per tonne to compost. But the local agricultural sector in composing cities almost always creates a market for the city’s compost products — a shift that usually takes anywhere from three to five years, Antler says. The costs go down and people are able to reap the benefits of a more sustainable waste management infrastructure. The air is cleaner, soils become richer, and with compost typically selling at $20 to $40 a tonne, taxpayers are happy too, because the composting market partially offsets the higher costs of collecting organic refuse.
In Greater Vancouver’s case, the price charged for waste disposal at the landfill gate is $65 per tonne, a figure which does not reflect the even higher costs associated with residential collection.
Meanwhile, at Seattle’s Cedar Grove Composting centre in Everett, WA — the closest facility to Vancouver that employs Gore technology — market offsets have brought the amount charged to the public by the private composting company down to $30 per tonne.
While there is no guarantee such a facility would charge the same low rate in Vancouver for organic waste disposal since there is no telling yet exactly what type of composting market would emerge in B.C., it appears that composting could actually end up less expensive than traditional landfill disposal, given the $35 differential between the comparative and relatively local disposal rates.
Either way, sustainability is about sacrifice. By sacrificing convenience and up-front costs intelligently and effectively, we can ease our environmental consciences and lessen our unjustifiably massive carbon footprint on the world. In this case, a centralized composting facility would lessen the burden of waste management in Vancouver for generations to come. Let’s hope the bureaucratic stumbling blocks are now behind us, and continue to push our elected representatives to make it easier on all of us to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste by turning it into a resource.
- Kate Webb is a political science student at UBC and currently employed
Loss of Words
February Naturescape Notes
I’ve often wondered about the intense interest that children find in dinosaurs (me too!), considering the fact that these amazing creatures have been extinct for millions of years. Could it happen that many other wonders of nature could become a mere virtual reality as extinction follows extinction, while their “reality” remains on the screen?
An increasingly urban population, with its resultant disassociation from the natural world, recognizes less and less the intricacy and precious nature of intact ecosystems Without that caring connection, we stand to lose the life systems upon which we all depend. For our planet, as with all things, to know something is to care, and caring leads to “caring for”.
The disconnect of young people from the natural world was underlined recently with the removal of many “countryside” words from the new edition of the 10,000 word Oxford Junior Dictionary. These words have been replaced with new techno (is that a word?) jargon such as blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail. The electronic BlackBerry replaced our delicious blackberry, and other banished words include:
Beaver, canary, colt, doe, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stork, thrush, weasel, wren.
Acorn, almond, apricot, beetroot, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, brook, buttercup, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, crocus, dandelion, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, ivy, lavender, leek, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, spinach, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow.
Many other words of British heritage and Christianity were extracted as well – even “sin” is no more!
Of the animals and plants listed above, many seem part of our every day life on Pender Island (even though we would like to see the last of the invasive “gorse” and “ivy”). With a narrowing recognition of the natural world, the incentive for conservation of natural systems will surely diminish.
Banishing the word “fungus”, for example, ignores the vast significance of fungal networks beneath the ground in maintaining the health of the plant life above (the photosynthetic lungs of the planet), to say nothing of the essential invertebrate life with associations reaching out to all creatures beyond, both great and small.
Quoting Robert Bateman from a Canadian Press article, "This is another nail in the coffin of human beings being acquainted with nature. If you can't name things, how can you love them?"
For a further loss of words, Google “Oxford Junior Dictionary”.
Not to lose hope entirely, there are some wonderful programs taking place within the Gulf Islands and on Vancouver Island to reconnect children with nature. Resulting from these efforts, a second international NatureChild Reunion forum is scheduled for March 5-8 in Victoria at Royal Rhodes University. This initiative of the Kesho Trust aims to re-enchant children with a direct experience of nature and an understanding of the web of life. Parents, grandparents, teachers, group leaders - all those who are motivators and facilitators of children’s activities - can have a role in fostering a closer connection between children and the natural world. Learn more at http://www.naturechildreunion.ca
Food, from Soil to Supper
March Naturescape Notes
The services of nature are taken for granted in most aspects of our lives. The casual waste of food became a train of thought following a recent news report on the possibility of expanded composting services in Metro Vancouver. A curbside compost pickup program could divert possibly 100,000 tons of food waste annually from landfill.
Having just distributed our supply of completed household compost into a wee new veggie garden bed, I think of the amazing natural processes that work for us to transform organic scraps into black gold that will sustain ongoing life in the cycle of nature. This step of renewal is often lost in the convoluted process of food distribution today.
Continuing with thoughts of the sad quantities of food waste generated by our lifestyle of over-abundance, let us consider the systems that bring this abundance to us. Soil processes are primary - the transformation of plant and animal matter back into the land. Here we have countless organisms functioning in harmony – most microscopic, but extending to the likes of the more visible earthworms and the web of life beyond. All life is dependent upon these soil processors. Were they not functioning, we would find ourselves buried in plant and animal waste.
Beyond the soil, invertebrate life must function in harmony – with pollinators and predators awaiting the precise time for their participation towards fruitful crops. Irrigation water from precious and dwindling sources is essential too.
If the crop is organic, soil is enriched with added organic material to ensure its ongoing fertility. In non-organic agriculture, chemical fertilizers and pesticides must be manufactured and transported, with significant expenditure of fossil fuels on the one hand, and loss of life in the soil on the other.
Harvest time depends upon varying levels of fossil fuel expenditure, as does transport to and handling at distribution centres and beyond. Crops may be shipped (often by air) in their natural state, or processed and packaged into containers that have been manufactured miles, continents, or oceans away. Then, of course, crops may be diverted into meat production, which is another story, with its entire sequence interjected before final distribution as food. Eventually, after many fossil-fuelled steps along the way, this super-abundance reaches its destination of grocery shelves or restaurant kitchens, with refrigerated energy ensuring freshness. It’s a long way to come, perhaps even to be discarded before use – to a landfill as a dead end – or to a composting process to begin some sort of life anew.
Thinking things through, from beginning to end, encourages one to appreciate even the smallest sunflower or sesame seed for all that has gone before in its lifetime - to appreciate the abundance that comes to us daily with scarcely a thought or consideration of the systems, both natural and manufactured, that have brought it to us. And, it certainly presents a strong case for organic foods, locally grown.
It is with thoughts such as these that we are thankful for and celebrate the Pender Community Garden initiative, and wish them well as their first planting season draws near. May they have bountiful harvests and many pleasures from nurturing the land and the life within.
April Naturescape Notes
The tiny wonders of the avian world, the Rufous Hummingbirds, have returned to us from their winter in the southern US and Mexico! Seems like March 14th was the first big day, with four reports of birds sighted on that date! The sleet and gale force winds of the day following did not provide them with a warm welcome.
During the winter months, upwards of 20 Anna’s Hummingbirds on North and South Pender have been lovingly assisted through difficult days with regularly tended feeders. A big salute to those who provided feeders to supplement the slim natural food resources for their wee friends. This was no small commitment, requiring early rising each day to ensure that feeders were thawed, ready and waiting at the crack of dawn for their small dependents. Without those feeders, it isn’t likely that these little resident birds would have survived the rigours of this past winter.
The Anna’s Hummingbird is a non-migratory species, having pushed its range precariously northward over recent years. It is the Rufous hummers that make the long migratory journey, often returning to exactly the same location each spring. It is difficult to tell the two species apart – both are less than eight cm from end to end, weighing less than a nickel!
The Rufous holds the scientific record for making the longest hummingbird trip with the shortest elapsed time between banding and recapture – an amazing 1248 km in 15 days. Its migration route from Mexico to Alaska is the longest of any North American hummingbird and, in proportion to its size, it makes the longest migration of any bird in the world. The birds fly alone, rather than in flocks.
The male Rufous arrive first – up to three weeks ahead of the females – and leave first, in late June and through July, likely moving to mountain meadow wildflowers. Housekeeping duties are left entirely to the female – building the nest, incubating the eggs, and feeding the young. She has a very busy life while the male flits among the flowers!
Her chosen nesting site is usually in a coniferous tree (76%), often at the branch tips of western red cedar. Deciduous trees and shrubs are also used, including maple, arbutus, oak, salal, oceanspray, salmonberry and honeysuckle. More unusual places have included wind chimes, Christmas lights along a gutter, and a metal loop on a wharf piling!
What a treasure the nest is – a four-cm moss bowl, lined with plant down and decorated with a camouflage of lichen and/or paper from the nest of a paper wasp. Spider webbing attaches it securely to its branch. Try offering a marsh cattail somewhere near their feeder as a source of the plant down that they look for. You will be surprised how readily it will be taken!
The blossoms of native shrubs provide the first nectar, particularly the red flowering currant, followed by salmonberry. When landscape planning, keep the hummers in mind. Leave native vegetation undisturbed wherever possible, and ensure that the garden is chemical-free. For the planted garden, honeysuckle, foxglove, monarda, phlox, hardy fuchsias, and flowering quince are particular favorites. When selecting hanging-basket fuchsias, remember that single blossoms are hummingbird-friendly. The elaborate doubles are inaccessible. Tiny insects also make up a significant part of the hummingbird diet, so pollinator-friendly plants are important too.
If you supplement natural food sources with a feeder, the correct sugar/water mix for early spring is 1:3, and for summer 1:4. Mix and boil for four minutes. Select a feeder with red on it. Place in a shady location and keep it clean! This is critical! Change the solution every three or four days, and rinse the feeder thoroughly in hot water each time. Never use red colouring or chemicals of any sort in the solution, and never use honey. Refrigerate unused solution.
Hummingbirds can fly forward, backward and even upside down briefly, which they accomplish by spreading their tail and doing a backward summersault. Each species has specific aerial maneuvers for communicating, territorial defence, and courtship, but not much is known about what they mean.
If you wonder how many hummers are visiting your feeder, bird-banders suggest that you count the number of birds you see at any one time and multiply by six – each a special little miracle we are privileged to share!
May Naturescape Notes
May 21st is noted as International Biodiversity Day. Fitting for the occasion, the Pender Islands Conservancy Association is holding its Annual General Meeting, at the Library, on that date. Guest speaker Graham Boffey will share with us highlights of some of the beautifully diverse trails on the Penders.
As we appreciate the privilege of calling these Pender islands “home”, I hope we will recognize them also as the biodiverse home of many other species. Indeed, the Gulf Islands are one of the most ecologically diverse areas of Canada - and the most threatened ecosystem in British Columbia. Knowing this reminds us that, while enjoying the pleasures of Pender, we surely have a responsibility to care for our special place. “Preserve and Protect” is our Islands Trust mandate, and one entrusted to each of us to live by.
With our mild maritime climate, critical habitat has historically been provided here for many species. These indigenous species - birds, mammals, amphibians, insects, plants, etc. - so beautifully interconnected within their niche, cannot just move on as they are pushed aside by human activity. This is their unique home place. An island ecosystem is particularly fragile, with its finite boundaries.
Sadly, with growth, development, and introduction of invasive species, much has been lost of our exceptional biological diversity. The Herbaceous ecosystems, for example – the lovely open, mossy outcrops with wildflower meadows – are now found on only 0.9 percent of North Pender. Similarly, undisturbed Garry Oak / Arbutus Woodland ecosystems cover only 4.6 percent of the island. Remaining Wetlands and Riparian areas are very tiny. This tells us that there is a desperate need for careful stewardship to conserve these last remnants of this unique home place.
And, with thoughtful planning, there is much that we can do to offset our impact and to care for our natural world as a legacy for future generations. This legacy is becoming of increasing importance as we are faced with the issue of global warming. Retention of trees, for instance, is one of the most significant contributions we can make towards offsetting carbon emissions.
It is interesting to reflect that traditional care for the land, urban or rural, has focused almost exclusively on plantsnative - usually exotic species, and often to the exclusion of species – plants, animals and insects.
The principles of Naturescaping bring an added dimension to caring for our land, where allother life forms and their fascinating relationships are considered in balance. The challenge of planning and planting will be not only that of aesthetic appeal for us, but how useful our choices are to the life forms that may share our space. When cared for in this way, our landscapes become dynamic, providing opportunities for fascinating observations and discoveries.
The more we observe and learn, the more we learn to care, and to care forInternational Biodiversity Day. I hope that in recognition of (and beyond), that we will have the sensitive hearts needed to care for the biodiversity at our doorstep.
Naturescape at Community Hall
June Naturescape Notes
You may have noticed changes taking place in the central garden at the Community Hall, where a Naturescape planting is now taking form! Previous plantings had rather outgrown themselves, and invasive species were taking hold. It seemed that the best way was to start over, and with volunteer muscle the project began in April.
Since then, Pender magic has happened with a “to remain anonymous” garden elf doing much of the tough work preparatory to planting. What a gift!
A Naturescape garden seemed appropriate to the setting, encouraging the message of caring for wildlife habitat at home.
Naturescape is a province-wide program that encourages residents of British Columbia to care for the land on which they live in an ecologically sensitive way – promoting a commitment to stewardship, sustainable landscaping, and preservation of biodiversity.
By ensuring food, shelter, water, and a safe place for wildlife to rear their young, our properties can support habitat for an amazing diversity of life – from the essential micro-organisms of the soil to the songbirds, small mammals, amphibians and invertebrates.
Plants are chosen as attractive to wildlife in various ways – such as providing pollen and nectar for beneficial insects, nectar for hummingbirds, berries for birds, and safe shelter for the life forms of the soil ecosystem. Preferably these plants will be indigenous to the area. Additionally there are some horticultural varieties that are pollinator friendly, non- invasive, and deer resistant, adding a broader range of possibilities to the garden. The aromatic herbs such as lavender, oregano and thyme are examples that you will eventually see in the hall garden.
Native shrubs chosen include Red-flowering Currant, Orange Honeysuckle, Low Oregon Grape, Saskatoon, Indian Plum, and an unusual double-flowering Salmonberry. Bulbs and herbaceous perennials will be added along the way.
And, the pathway transecting the centre of the bed will lead to a wee bench and a special tree in honour of a special lady. More about this later!
The elements of wood and stone are included in Naturescape gardens, representing natural features such as logs and stumps - important habitat for the smaller participants of the ecosystem. The posts add a structural backdrop to allow separate planting areas in a large space such as this, and will blend in with the growth of the plants.
Bark mulch will be applied for the final grooming. It is important to keep the soil covered with mulch whenever possible. It will hold moisture, moderate temperature of the soil, hold back weed growth, and gradually break down, returning the organic material to the land. Mulches nurture the organisms of the soil, which will, in turn, feed the soil, and ultimately the plants.
The bird bath will have a perching branch placed alongside, for birds seem to appreciate a place to “park” as they consider their bathing opportunities!
We very much appreciate the opportunity to bring new life to the Hall garden, and for the working partnership between PIRAHA (particularly Joyce and Les Steeves and Colin Hamilton) and the Conservancy Association, PICA, who, through a kind benefactor, will also cover the cost of the plants for the project.
It is a special blessing of our community that volunteers are willing to see projects through (as has been the history of the Community Hall). We are thankful for all who have offered their support.
August Naturescape Notes
It appears to have been a very successful nesting season for most of the songbirds this year! There have been Chickadees in numbers difficult to count in their enthusiastic little swarms - and newly fledged Purple Finches sporting tiny feather tufts looking like devilish wee horns, incessantly demanding, even to the point of climbing on top of the poor overworked parent (usually Daddy!)
Fledgling Northern Flickers appeared in early July, keeping both Mommy and Daddy very busy. The male is identified by a red “moustache”, while the female does not have that debonair look.
Young Hairy Woodpeckers soon learned the ropes at the suet feeder and began feeding on their own. Male Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers have a red topknot set back on the head. The red cap of the young male is forward on the head, making it easy to distinguish the young birds for their first few weeks after fledging. The females are without the cap. As with most birds, the young are similar in size to the parents – perhaps even a bit larger!
A species that has brought considerable interest to the Penders this year is the Red Crossbill. This bird is one of the wandering, or irruptive species. I have not seen them here often, but this seems to be a bonus year. They are a little larger and heavier in appearance than the finches, but the red colouring of some of the males is very similar and they may be superficially confused. The name “Red” Crossbill can be confusing, in that there is quite a broad range of plumage colour, with the males varying through brick red, orange and yellow – brightest on the crown and rump. The females are olive green or yellowish, while the young are striped. All have dark wings and a short, notched tail.
Their bills are distinctive when there is opportunity to see them in profile – mandibles crossed and perfectly designed for prying apart the scales of cones and enabling extraction of seeds with their long tongue. Individuals may be “right-beaked” or “left-beaked”!
The erratic wanderings of Red Crossbills may coincide with abundant cone years in various areas, and judging by the Douglas Fir crop this year, things look good for the coming winter’s cone supply. It is conjectured that the birds are erupting to the coast for lack of cones in the beetle decimated pine forests of the Interior of BC. That may not be the case, however, because there are apparently up to 8 subspecies with beaks specialized for foraging in various conifers – pine, fir, hemlock, spruce, etc. They certainly also have a fondness for black oil sunflower seeds at feeders, and opportunity are thus being offered for close viewing for many of us these days.
Discovering Townsend’s Big-eared Bats!
We had a particularly interesting visitor to our Pender Island home this year, one who distinguished himself by the simple fact of not having been seen on our island before. While that may seem unexceptional, we were happy to celebrate his appearance and to give him an official welcome!
He is a Townsend’s Big-eared Bat – a blue-listed species, not often recorded in BC. He was an ideal guest, asking nothing of us but quiet days to hang from the ceiling of our carport storage cupboard, where he rested up for his nightly forays in search of flying insects – small moths in particular.
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 been aware of him hanging from the open ceiling for a number of weeks, but only as a huddled black blob. During a July closet cleanup session, however, he stretched his head down to check us out. Seeing his silhouette then, I recognized the BIG ears, and ran for the camera!
Something I had not known is that Townsend’s Big-eared Bats do not roost in narrow cracks as do Little Brown Myotis 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 from time to time in a crack above our carport, with tiny guano offerings sometimes dropped onto the car. The tenacity of these droppings amazes me. We can drive around for weeks without them being dislodged!
Something else I learned about the Townsend’s species is that they have a special sensory ability to glean insects from vegetation. That answered a question for me from a couple of years back when, during a bat-watching evening with some young friends, I observed a bat swoop down and check out a row of broad beans!
I wrote about “Batty” in our monthly Pender Post, wondering if he might have the company of others of his kind on our islands. The clue to initially distinguishing Big-eared Bats would be their hanging from an open ceiling - in an out-building, or perhaps under the eaves. While the males apparently roost alone, maternity colonies of females and young are in small gatherings. To my delight, we had confirmed reports from two other locations – one, interestingly, less than 100 metres from where I had observed the broad bean forager two summers ago! The second sighting revealed two bats. Was this a tiny maternity colony, or two males roosting together, I wonder?
Late in September our little friends took leave of us to spend six or more months in a winter hibernaculum. Before leaving they would have accumulated an additional 40 percent of their 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 a nearby Gulf Island. Perhaps that is where Batty and friends will be heading. We will miss him, and will hope for his return next spring!
GPS coordinates and roosting details of our new friends have been forwarded to the British Columbia Conservation Data Centre to officially record these first observations on Pender Island.
December Naturescape Notes
With the skies pouring forth rains as I write, I think of the creatures exposed endlessly to the weather. Whilst it may be “lovely weather for ducks”, I wonder how much extra weight the sheep carry around with their sodden fleece? The deer are looking rather bedraggled at the moment, and the birds seem to appreciate the shelter of the domes above their feeders.
The relative “comfort” of metamorphosis takes many creatures through the winter months – a time of transformation from egg to adult, mostly among the invertebrates, but including amphibians, and even some aquatic creatures such as sea stars and sea cucumbers, each of which has a larval form bearing little resemblance to the transformed adult.
Variations on the theme of metamorphosis are endless. The transformation of butterflies is perhaps the best known, with the transition from egg through several stages (instars) of caterpillar that feed and grow and change. Eventually the time is right for a cozy cocoon to be spun, providing the chamber in which the final transformation from larva to flying adult takes place. Once wrapped in its cocoon, the caterpillar almost melts into its new self, at one point reduced to little more than a heartbeat amongst a solution of transforming cells. Springtime will be a time of release for the butterfly to break forth from the restraints of its cocoon, flying in search of a mate, to reproduce and begin the cycle anew.
The Mason Bees are tucked away in their cells through the winter. In the wild these cells may be within appropriately sized holes in trees – such as those provided by the activity of Red-breasted Sapsuckers as they seek liquid sustenance beneath the bark.
Nest boxes for Mason Bees provide short tubes with room for several eggs to be laid within individual chambers, each cell provisioned with a pudding of pollen and nectar, and partitioned from its neighbors with a thin wall of mud. Each female will lay about 35 eggs, creating individual cells for each through March and April. Soon the eggs evolve into a larval stage – a lump of a larva growing larger as the pudding pile grows smaller. After a few weeks, when the food is gone, the larva manages to spin a delicate cocoon of silk around itself, the interior of which is varnished with a waterproof coating – well-insulated quarters for the chilly days of winter.
Weary from its labours, the larva rests for a month or so before changing into a pupa, resembling an insect mummy tightly wrapped within its pupal case. Finally, in September metamorphosis completes, with transformation from pupa into adult bee. Through these wet and chilly months the bees sleep within the protective confines of the cocoon, awaiting the first warmth of spring to emerge as one of our most important pollinators.
All the while, the eggs of frogs have transformed into tadpoles. When its metamorphosis is complete, the tadpole will become a frog. But the frog will never become a prince!