September was an interesting month in Vancouver. For over a week, the skies above the Lower Mainland were blanketed with wildfire smoke from the fires burning in Oregon and California. One morning, we recorded the worst air quality in the world and the smoke gave the city an eerie, apocalyptic look. After the smoke cleared and the sky was visible again, being outside was much more pleasant. Here's a collection of photographs I took in the month.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of going on a road/camping trip to Lac Le Jeune, in British Columbia's Southern Interior. On the way there, we decided to take the slightly longer and scenic Fraser Canyon route. This route passes through the stunning Fraser Canyon, where steep mountain faces have been carved out over thousands of years by the forces of Canada's second largest river. This is a truly breathtaking route that takes you through many tunnels running under steep cliff faces and introduces you to plants such as Horsebrush, Sagebrush, and Ponderosa Pine. These plants are able to survive in these hot and dry parts of the province.
As you drive along this route, you pass by pretty old towns that were established during the Fraser River Gold Rush of the mid 19th century. As we were passing through these beautiful towns and landscapes, I couldn't help but think that it is in these areas that atrocities against Indigenous took place. As settlers and prospectors moved up the Canyon, there was significant violence against Indigenous peoples and many smallpox epidemics broke out, some of which killed upwards of 70% of Indigenous peoples in the region. I believe that it is our responsibility to understand and be educated on the past and present injustices towards the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia and beyond so that we can work together to create a better future.
As we reached the town of Lytton, a town that often registers the hottest temperatures in Canada, we caught a glimpse of the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser River. As these rivers meet, the distinct colour of the rivers becomes clear, with the Thompson's blue water meeting with the greener, brown water of the Fraser. While filling up for gas in Kamloops, I spotted a small group of Black-billed Magpies. These striking birds belong to the same family as Crows, Jays, and Ravens. With their long tails and dazzling plumage these birds, that are not found on the coast, were a pleasure to watch. Once we arrived at our campground at Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park, South of Kamloops, we set a fire and enjoyed marshmallows and the calls of Common Loons coming from the lake. The next day, we met up with friends for a hike at nearby Stake Lake and its surrounding cross country ski trails. Turkey Vultures soared above while Dark-eyed Junco's chirped away in the forest. Upon arrival back at the campground, I ventured to the lake and spotted an American Pipit feeding along the lake's edge. This bird wasn't shy as I advanced in front of it and it continued to walk straight towards me coming to within 10 feet. A picturesque sunset over the lake was the perfect way to spend our last night in the Interior. The next morning, we left and this time took the more direct Coquihalla highway. In Merritt, we stopped in a dry grassland and I snapped a few shots of the flowering Horsebrush. These plants are perfectly adapted to preserving precious water in a dry climate with their thin leaves coated with small hairs pointing upwards reducing their overall surface area to the harsh sun.
What a wonderful trip it was!
As spring progresses, with summer around the corner, whether in a home garden or a temperate rainforest, floral diversity is abundant. Many plants are beginning to bloom with some early flowering plants producing their fruits, such as Salmonberry and Blueberries. Many smaller plants may be overlooked, including Foamflower, (Tiarella trifoliata). Found on the edges of conifer forests, these plants in the Saxifrage family display small and precious white flowers that form an upright stalk. This plant exemplifies the many wonders of nature that can easily be overlooked. With increased floral resources available, female worker bees are now out in full force collecting nectar and pollen for their hive, or for many solitary bees, pollen for their larvae. British Columbia is home to roughly 600 species of bees, many solitary species. Solitary bees do not live in a social group, instead nesting in natural cavities or underground burrows where they lay their eggs. The life cycle of these bees differs from the familiar honey and bumblebee. As summer approaches, keep your eye out for all the big and little creatures that surround you. You never know what you'll discover!
Spring bird migration is peaking and luckily some parks in the region have remained accessible, allowing me to witness a variety of wonderful birds passing through. Most of these birds are stopping here to refuel on their northern bound migration to breed and raise young. One of the areas I've been spending lots of time at is Iona Beach Regional Park. This park hosts a variety of ecosystems including tidal flats, marsh, river estuary, and deciduous woodland. Numerous warbler species, with beautifully coloured plumage, that is often partly or fully yellow, can be found at this time of the year. Yellow-rumped Warblers arrive early in April and are the more common species. There are two subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warblers, the Myrtles of the East and Audubon's of the West. Although the Myrtles are more common in the East, it isn't uncommon to find them in the West. The Audubon's subspecies is distinct as it has a bright yellow throat that the Myrtles lack. Along with warblers, many other songbirds are singing their hearts out in hope of attracting a mate. Some of the more vocal birds at the moment include Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, American Robins as well as the locally uncommon Yellow-headed Blackbird. Purple Martins, a large member of the swallow family, are arriving back to claim their nest boxes on the Fraser River. Breeding populations of these long distant migrants had once dropped to very low numbers in southern British Columbia. Thanks to conservation efforts, including the creation of nesting boxes, there has been a steady recovery of the local breeding population. Also benefiting from nesting boxes are Tree swallows. These brightly coloured birds continue to collect materials for their nest boxes while displaying their acrobatic flight as they pursue flying insects. Shorebirds, including Dunlin, are stopping to refuel on the food rich tidal flats of the Fraser River Delta, in flocks of thousands. Many of these birds will migrate to Alaska and northern Canada to breed with some species breeding above the Arctic circle. In high latitudes, they can take advantage of the abundant food and longer days in which to forage.
In the city, Cherry blossoms are now losing their petals, carpeting streets and sidewalks with pink snow!
I hope you and yours are doing well in these crazy times. I have been trying to get out in nature, whether it be in the garden or the beach, connecting with the seasonal wildlife and flora. I was delighted to spot an Anna's hummingbird nest in our neighbours cherry tree. You might remember that last year, our other next door neighbour had an Anna's Hummingbird nest in their plum tree. It was such a pleasure to see 'Plum', a committed mother, raise two successful chick. I look forward to 'Cerise' (Cherry in French) do the same this year! Hummingbird eggs are the size of a tic tac and the young can fledge (leave the nest) within a month. These birds, as well as many insects, are enjoying the bounty of flowers on the Red-flowering currant in our yard!
Soon many migrating songbirds, including a diversity of warblers, will pass through the region on their spring migration. Queen Elizabeth Park, which I live close to, is a migratory songbird magnet, so here's hoping to getting some spring migration birding in!
Firstly, I hope everyone is staying safe and doing well out there during these unprecedented times. Like I mentioned in my last post, I've taken advantage of social distancing to get some birding and photography in. I recently added a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch to my life list, bringing it to 256 species, and 89 on the year! Many birds are building their nests and males are attempting to attract females with their melodious songs. I'd like to highlight some fascinating courtship and nest building behaviour used by some birds that I have photographed.
Marsh Wrens, as photographed below, are interesting because males will start by building many dome shaped nest in marshy vegetation in their territory and follow by singing their sharp and punctuating songs to attract females to their prepared territory. In the marsh, having a large and resource rich territory is important for many birds when it comes to attracting mates. Another such bird is the Red-winged blackbird, a polyganous species. Studies have proven that males with a larger territory attract more females, who will move in and build their nests at the base of vegetation. These males will in turn sire more offspring.
It's also a delight to see birds arriving back north to breed such as Tree and Violet-green Swallows, as well as Rufous Hummingbirds. The Rufous Hummingbird makes the longest migration of any bird with relation to its size. Some of these 3.4 gram/3.75 inch long birds will breed as far north as Alaska with populations wintering in the southern United States and Mexico. In the next month, an array of birds will arrive or pass through the region including warblers, many songbirds, shorebirds, swifts and swallows, and raptors.
Nature is amazing and there is so much to see if you pay careful attention to your surroundings.
I look forward to seeing more birds pass through the globally designated Fraser River Delta Important Bird Area (IBA) to rest and refuel on their incredible migrations.
Spring is just days away! The late winter weather has been nice and allowed me to go out and take lots of photos recently. Being able to go out birding and take photos during this period of self isolation has been a blessing. I hope everyone is well and taking care of themselves and others by following appropriate precautions. There is no denying it, these are hard times, but I encourage you to take time to do the things you love. For me it's been biking, connecting with nature, and drawing. I can't wait to share more photos with you all this spring!
Thanks for reading and take care,
With spring, in Vancouver, just around the corner it seemed like a good time to start some seeds inside. For that I needed potting mix. These mixes contain soil as nutrients, perlite, that allows for more oxygen around the roots, sand, for drainage, and peat moss to retain water. I was hoping I could find a mix without the latter as peat moss is unsustainably harvested from bogs in Canada’s north. Unfortunately, Canadian Tire didn’t have any, and I’ve never really had luck at any other gardening stores. The more sustainable alternative to retain moisture is coconut coir, the by-product of coconut husk. It is no secret that harvesting peat from bogs is bad practice, yet no major brands have changed to replacing peat with coir in their mixes. This has left the consumer who wants to make sustainable choices asking, do I really want to buy soil, perlite, sand, and coir separately and make my own mix? If you don’t, I do not blame you as it is more expensive and time consuming. This is the type of situation where I feel conflicted about gardening. I am left thinking that it is ironic that florally diverse bogs must be harvested in order for well-intentioned gardeners to create habitat in their yards. Can we not have the best of both worlds? I think we can. This video shows you how you can make your own mix and avoid the unsustainable choice of the average potting mix. I believe that this issue must be given greater attention, but there is no better way to address it right away than by making sustainable gardening choices this growing season.
You might be asking yourself, what makes bogs so special and worth protecting? Bogs are created over hundreds or even thousands of years as partially decaying vegetation fills in a body of water, such as a lake. Large amounts of carbon are stored in the partially decaying plants below the surface, making bogs very important carbon sinks. The soil that is formed by this partially decayed material is what we refer to as peat. Growing on the surface of these soils are a variety of mosses, including sphagnum moss (as labelled on potting mixes). Due to the highly acidic and nutrient poor soil, plants in bogs have adapted remarkable ways to survive. Look no further than the round-leaved Sundew, a carnivorous plant that cannot survive on the soil’s nutrients alone. For additional nutrients, the plants attract insects by excreting a nectary substance on their leaves, that in the sun, looks like dew, giving them their names. They then break down their prey using special enzymes. Bog species have adapted to very specific ecological conditions, which puts them at risk if bogs are harvested unsustainably.
Is coir a sustainable alternative? With regards to sustainability, I want to make it clear that coconut coir is not a perfect solution as it requires being shipped over long distances from tropical nations where it is processed. Although there is more use of fossil fuels in the shipping of coir than peat, preserving bogs means preserving natural carbon sinks. I think it is also worth mentioning that we cannot simply re-build a bog. Bogs are formed over hundreds to thousands of years. With regards to reclamation of habitat after harvest, here is a quote from “Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment” published by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council Committee “there are several options for peat land reclamation. They include the transformation of the site into a new, (but ecologically changed), functioning wetland providing values such as waterfowl habitat; development of an agricultural cropland; or a forestry plantation on-site”(2001). To summarize, new habitat can be created, but not in the form of a bog.
Below is a photo gallery of a variety of bog plants as well as a video on how to make a mix that includes coir. It should be noted that these photos are taken at Camosun bog in Vancouver, with the exception of the first photo in the gallery (taken near Québec City). Although they do not completely portray the flora of bogs in the north where harvesting occurs, many related species are found in both areas.
Burnaby Lake Regional Park is home to a great diversity of birds. In the winter, the lake is frequented by many species of waterfowl. At Piper Spit, I spotted 22 species of birds, nine of which were ducks. One of these ducks was the Mandarin duck, a bird closely related to the Wood duck. This bird, native to China, is widely considered the world's most beautiful duck.
There doesn't seem to be a consensus as to how this bird arrived at the lake, but many think it may have escaped from a duck breeder in the area. Whatever the reason, it was a pleasure to see this stunning bird. Other birds present in large numbers were Long-billed dowitchers, a medium sized shorebird, American coots, Lesser scaups, and Red-winged blackbirds. If you're looking to get an up close look to many beautiful birds, I recommend visiting Piper Spit!
I'm using my power as a photographer to highlight nature's beauty and the reasons worth protecting our incredible planet