Look But Don’t Linger

Ocean swell landing on a group of small islands, with gulls.

Ocean Surge at the Storm Islands (click to enlarge)

We’ve passed close by the Storm Islands a couple of times on our way to and from BC’s Central Coast.

They lie mid-channel about 20 km northeast of Vancouver Island – right about where the massive and open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound meet the only marginally less open waters of Queen Charlotte Strait.

The islands are well named, since they’re exposed to heavy swell coming in from the Pacific Ocean, even on relatively “calm” days like the one shown here.

It’s definitely not a place to stop over, unless you’re a gull. Or a storm-petrel. Apparently the Storm Islands are one of three rocky island areas that, altogether, support the majority of nesting storm-petrels on Canada’s entire west coast. We didn’t spot any when we passed by – but then, we didn’t exactly linger.


If you’re on Gabriola Island this weekend:

Be sure to catch the Gabriola Photography Club’s annual Spring Show on Sunday afternoon, May 7 (details here). See you there!

What a Difference…

coastal islands and channels

The view at 1800 hrs (click on images to enlarge)

To borrow from the old song, what a difference a day makes – or even just 12 hours!

The photo above was taken from our boat on an August evening at about 1800 hours (6 pm in land-talk). We were on our way home from a summer-long journey up the BC coast, and we’d just dropped anchor in a cozy cove at the mouth of Fish Egg Inlet. Before starting dinner preparations, I took a moment to savour and photograph the view: looking through one of the anchorage’s “windows” into adjacent Illahie Inlet, with hints of the Coast Mountain range in the background.

Our plan was to head out early the next morning, as several long and challenging passages lay ahead and we needed to take advantage of any decent weather on offer.

But as it turned out, an early start wasn’t possible. Here’s the view looking in the same direction the next morning at 0600:

Foredeck of boat with islands nearby, barely visible through the fog.

It was as if someone had drawn a huge, almost opaque isolation curtain right around our boat. (In reality our view was more obscured than the image shows – I’ve increased the contrast a bit so that you can make out the nearby shores without too much eye strain.)

The fog lifted by 1015 and we were finally able to get underway. With the late start we didn’t get as far as we’d hoped that day, but fortunately we had built extra time into our itinerary for unforeseen delays like this.

That morning was a good reminder of why mariners commonly refer to August as “Fogust” on the BC coast – and how important it is to keep your plans and expectations flexible when travelling by boat.

Into the Mystery

Into the Mystery: entering Fish Egg Inlet (more photos below; click to enlarge)

Fish Egg Inlet reaches eastward from BC’s Inside Passage, extending into the mainland coast and forming part of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Fish Egg is more than just your “average inlet”: it’s a huge complex of bays, islands, reefs, channels and tidal lagoons – an intricate labyrinth that wasn’t even charted until the early 1990s. This, despite being just around the corner from Rivers Inlet, a 45-mile long fjord that was first charted 200 years earlier by Captain George Vancouver’s men.

Cruising guidebooks published since Fish Egg Inlet was surveyed sound an ominous warning to watch out for rocks that were missed on the chart. So it’s no wonder that even today, few boaters stop to explore the inner channels of this remote and mysterious place.

We entered Fish Egg on an overcast July morning and meandered around its islets and channels – albeit cautiously. We had numerous options, and eventually chose a beautiful, private spot deep inside the Inlet, well protected from wind and seas.

headland with islands beyondThe next morning dawned foggy but bright, and the calm water made for wonderful shoreline reflections best viewed from a dinghy or kayak.

Rocky shoreline reflectedDuring the time we spent in Fish Egg Inlet, we were gloriously alone, save for various birds and a dozen seal moms with their pups. I was glad we hadn’t let the warnings in our guidebooks scare us off.

Cirque du Matin

Our morning coffee has been served up with entertainment over the past week: a small, lively and highly agile acrobat has been performing right outside our living room window. (Click photo to enlarge; more photos below.)

Squirrelly is normally away in the forest, busy gathering Douglas fir cones (which are abundant on our property) and caching them in the many mounded middens he’s created. Douglas fir seeds are, after all, a favorite food for Red squirrels, and we often see him sitting on a tree limb, munching on a cone.

Most years he shows up at our bird feeder in late spring, presumably in search of a bit of variety. Or maybe “he” is actually “she”, and is seeking some extra nutrition for a young pup.

This year Squirrelly came a couple of months early – perhaps a signal that after our long, cold winter, the midden is low on grub. Fortunately he/she doesn’t ask for much: just a few sunflower seeds each morning, collected in a display of derring-do, and daintily eaten one at a time.

The morning show is well worth the cost of a few seeds, and after the winter we’ve had, we figure we should give the little guy/gal a break. So we’re welcoming our acrobatic visitor – at least for now.

See below for the impressive technique that Squirrely learned in about half an hour of trial and error. Even as I write this post, she’s learning yet more tricks that I haven’t yet had a chance to photograph!

The approach: checking out that roof and what lies below.

Hanging on with back feet, lifting the roof with front feet.

Squirrel in bird feeder

Stretch the neck and reach down with the mouth. Note the five little toe pads braced against inside of feeder.

Squirrel eating a sunflower seed.

The reward: big black sunflower seeds, enjoyed one at a time. Yummy!

Enough Already!

Hummingbird flapping his wing

“Shove off, Winter!” says Hummy (click on photos to enlarge)

Little Hummy, our resident male Anna’s Hummingbird, wasn’t pleased with the last few rounds of snow we’ve had. Nor was I.

Winter has been a long, drawn-out affair here on the west coast this year, with repeat snowfalls ever since early December and lower temperatures than we’re used to. The amount of white stuff we’ve received may seem trivial to readers from other parts of the continent, but it’s been a test of west coasters’ resilience. I’ve lived here all my life and can’t recall a winter that felt so protracted. I’m not alone: every week I hear others saying, “Enough already! No more snow!”

I expect Hummy concurs. Unlike most hummingbirds, Anna’s don’t migrate with the seasons. Here on BC’s south coast, where winter is usually a mild affair, they’re now year-round residents, having slowly extended their range north from California over the past few decades. Ever since they showed up at our place for the first time about five years ago we’ve kept the feeders topped up all winter. In return the hummers have delighted us with their colourful presence and cheerful chatter throughout the darkest part of the year.

But right now, Hummy must be wondering why his family ever moved up here.  Like me, he’s done with winter, but as the meterologists keep telling us, winter’s not done with us yet. To which Hummy and I have only one thing to say: “Harrumph!”

Male Anna's hummingbird

Recognizing Resilience

Heron on a log boom with tiny fish in beak

Great Blue heron: model of resilience (click on photos to see details, including the catch)

When the power of peace-loving people around the world brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989, we rejoiced – never imagining that almost three decades later we’d see new walls being erected to separate and divide our human family. It’s a disturbing time, when anger, fear, hatred and lies seem so prominent that they’re almost starting to feel “normal”.

If we’re to make it through all this, we need to keep clear heads, understand and remember what’s important in the world, and take action to protect it…again, and again, and again. It could be a long and exhausting road – which means we will need major reserves of resilience, both personal and collective.

Towards that end, I think it could be useful to recognize and share some of the models of resilience that we each find in our lives.

heron with eel-like catchThe Great Blue heron in these photos is (at least so far) a survivor of humanity’s assaults on its habitat. It fishes alongside the creosoted pilings of a log sorting ground, with the thump, grind and squeal of boom boat engines, conveyor belts and sawmill blades for a soundscape.

The industrialized shoreline is a far cry from the dense forests and unpolluted mudflats that its heron ancestors knew – yet this bird manages to eke out a living here, one tiny fish at a time. As much as I’m appalled by what we’ve wrought to its home, I’m inspired by the bird’s resilience.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic: what inspires resilience for you? How can we help build and nurture each other’s resilience through these challenging times?

Treasuring the Wetlands

Pond surrounded by yellow grasses

Buttertubs Marsh, a 100-acre wetland in Nanaimo, BC (click to enlarge & see the details)

With so much ill-informed and noisy rhetoric lately about “draining the swamp”, this year’s World Wetlands Day is more important than ever.

Wetlands are among the world’s most productive habitats, every bit as important as tropical rainforests. Thanks to the many vital ecosystem services they provide, they’re as critical for human survival as they are for the myriad species of plants and animals that live in and around them.

Yet over the past century the world has lost almost two thirds of its wetlands, with most of the loss in the last 50 years.

Today is World Wetlands Day. This annual event is observed  on February 2, marking the date in 1971 on which the international Ramsar Convention, a treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, was signed.

World Wetlands Day is aimed at raising awareness of the importance of wetlands and the valuable benefits they bring us. This year’s theme is “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction”: how healthy wetlands – and yes, this includes swamps – can help us cope with extreme weather events. It’s an increasingly important topic as we face the mounting impacts of climate change.

Enough draining already, thanks. Instead, let’s treasure and preserve our remaining wetlands at home and around the world – today and every day of the year.

For more info on wetlands and World Wetlands Day:
The Importance of Wetlands (Ramsar)
Why Canada Matters on World Wetlands Day (Huff Post)
Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction (World Wetlands Day)

Rosehip Alley

Rosehips with a path beside them

Late afternoon at Rosehip Alley (click to enlarge and see the details)

Years ago we made a little path through the dense and chaotic tangle of wild rose bushes on the southern edge of our property, so we could walk among the masses of delicately scented blooms that appear each June.

But I love “Rosehip Alley” in winter as well, especially in the low-angle light of late afternoon.

Perhaps part of its charm lies in the opposites of shape, texture and colour that I find in these thickets in winter. The canes are long, linear, stiff and dangerously thorny (although muted in their hues). By contrast, the hips are plump, round, smooth and inviting to the touch – and intensely red, bringing a welcome passion to what can sometimes feel like a drab winter landscape.