September 17, 2013

On a still morning just before this year's fall equinox, Dave and I gathered our binoculars, spotting scope, notepads, thermos and snacks.  We headed for the high bluff at Brooks Point Regional Park for a stakeout.  Our gear was heavy and awkward, but we didn't have far to walk - nor long to wait.  Soon our surveillance subjects showed up: flitting through the tall grasses around us, moving in the quiet waters below, and in the fir branches overhead. 

We'd come to count the birds.  Everything sporting a feather made our heads swivel and  pens scratch. Before long our count included over a dozen bird species.

First off were our "residents", those birds that make the island their home year-round. High in the
Douglas firs Chestnut-backed Chickadees push their bills into fir cones.  Below us a Great Blue Heron fishes in the chilly saltwater.  A flock of Band-tailed Pigeons explode out of a nearby Garry Oak - a special appearance.  Unlike their city counterparts, these pigeons like mature forests with an understorey of berry-rich shrubs. Band-tails are long-lived (up to 22 years) but are late maturing and produce few eggs.  This, combined with habitat loss, has put them on the provincial Blue List of Species at Risk (along with the Great Blue Heron), for while their range is expanding their numbers are dropping.

Pender has "summer visitors" too, birds that come here to breed and nest.  As summer fades, they begin to depart for southern destinations.  Birds migrate not to escape the cold of winter but to move towards an abundance of food.  Most swallows, for instance, have already left, winging their way south to where airborne insects are plentiful.  But, still here were a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Like many songbirds, they will launch their migratory flights just after dusk and fly until after midnight.  Turkey Vultures, too, are on the verge of leaving.  We watched as two adults sunned themselves, perched on a towering snag; they were joined by a fledging who managed to destroy their peace, pestering yet another meal out of its parent's crop.  Soon they will catch the lift of a thermal to help them cross over the strait, and so begin their migration to Mexico and places farther south.  Turkey Vultures typically leave the Penders by early October, sometimes together in large groups called “kettles".

And then there are the birds coming to the islands' shores to overwinter.  Looking down at the rocky reefs fingering out from Brooks Point we could see that the first gang had arrived.
Eleven brightly-plumaged Harlequins bobbed about the seaweeds - feeding, preening and resting.  Soon more "winter ducks" from the north will arrive - Mergansers, Buffleheads and Goldeneyes.

Autumnal migration also means a chance to glimpse species not normally seen on Pender, they're simply passing through: "transients".  In recent years a Northern Harrier and a Say's Phoebe were seen here on the bluffs - most unusual.  So when Gerry McKeating walked by and mentioned he had just spotted 3 American Pipits on Brooks Point, we were thrilled.  American Pipits are an uncommon fall migrant that like exposed shorelines and open fields.  Several hours later we saw them darting along the ground, frequently changing direction as they fed on grass seeds and insects. Pipits nest in the high arctic as well as in B.C.'s alpine country and migrate as far south as Central America.  Once again, we appreciated the importance of the Park in providing a migratory stepping stone for tired, hungry birds on epic journeys.

The day slipped by, the tide rose.  Dave and I watched the birds go through the rhythm of their day, sometimes arrested in their activities by walkers passing through, at other times focused and undisturbed.  Brooks Point offers a wonderful tapestry of habitats - shoreline, grassy headland, mature forest, wetlands.  Birds need this tapestry intact.  So do I.

Birds seen on September 17th, 2013

23 species

Water Birds:

Great Blue Heron
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Surf Scoter
Belted Kingfisher
Harlequin Duck
Glaucous-winged Gull

          Land Birds:

Turkey Vulture
Band-tailed Pigeon
American Pipit
Red Crossbill
Spotted Towhee
American Robin
Song Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Flicker
Purple Finch
Yellow-rumped Warbler

...and tricky, fast moving hawks, too difficult to positively identify.

Jill Ilsley with Dave Manning

Brooks Point Regional Park Ecosystem
More Than Just A Pretty Face

Chocolate Lilies

The field of delicate chocolate lilies on Gowlland Point is not only strikingly beautiful, it’s also a classic example of the display of spring flowers in a Garry-oak meadow, one of the rarest and most threatened ecosystems in Canada.

To survive, native plants like the chocolate lily not only need space to grow, they need buffer zones around the space to ensure the health of the surrounding plant communities on whose survival the lilies depend, as well as protection from the invasion of non-native species like broom, gorse, daphne, and thistle.

Ensuring the connectivity of small ecosystems is the key to long-term survival.  The wedge of land linking Gowlland and Brooks Points is the linchpin on which the ecological integrity of the regional conservation area depends.

Garry Oaks: Part of an Endangered Ecosystem 

The Phase III property has a mosaic of ecological features considered provincially at risk, including a mature Garry oak stand.  More than 102 bird species have been recorded including eagles, herons, murrelets, auklets and harlequin ducks.  Pods of orcas pass by, often feeding close to land.

Garry oaks are the only native oak trees in western Canada.  Only about 1-5% of the former extent of Garry oak ecosystems in British Columbia remain today.  Garry oak ecosystems are vibrant communities that are about a lot more than Garry oak trees.  They are populated by hundreds of species of plants, insects, birds and other animals, many of which are considered to be endangered or threatened.  A red listed Sharp-Tailed Snake was recently identified on the Phase III parcel.

Garry oak ecosystems range from shady woodlands, to deep-soil open meadows with scattered trees, to the shallow-soil rocky coastal bluffs we more often see on Pender.  The Garry oak trees in Phase III are found in mixed stands with other trees, mainly Douglas fir, under which spring wildflowers, grasses, mosses, lichens, and a variety of shrubs flourish.

Sharp-tailed Snake: Endangered and in need of protection

The Sharp-tailed Snake is a small, non-poisonous snake, reddish-brown, yellowish-brown or grey. Its name comes from a thorn like pointed tail. Its range is about 2km.  It is usually found along south facing slopes in rocky areas.  It is rarely seen preferring to stay undercover.  The snakes are most active when the land is cool and moist. They hibernate during cold periods in the winter. The snakes lay eggs in June and July and these hatch in the fall.

The Sharp-tailed Snake is protected under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).  The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has designated the Sharp-tailed Snake as endangered because the species occurs in low numbers and has a highly fragmented distribution in only a few localities in south western B.C.  The confirmed Sharp-tailed Snake location in the Garry Oak ecosystem at Brooks Point Regional Park is one of a very few populations found on pubic land.  Protecting this confirmed Sharp-Tailed Snake habitat from subdivision and development supports the regional priority and long term goal of the B.C. Recovery Strategy of preventing further loss and fragmentation of habitats of the Sharp-tailed Snake.

Fundraising goal reached December 2013!

Brooks Point - For Future Generations video
CBC4Kids Brooks Point Photos
Conservation Partners 2013- 2014
Acquisition Phases

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