Spring Rhythms and Routines

Red-breasted sapsucker on a tree trunk

“Sappy” on the job site (click to enlarge).

In these unpredictable and troubling times, it’s good to have a few things you can rely on. This spring, one dapper bird and a whole lot of small amphibians provided me with just that.

For a month or longer,”Sappy”, the bird in the photo above, would show up at his worksite (or perhaps her worksite – the sexes look alike). There, at the old, multi-trunked Bigleaf maple just outside our front door, he/she would put in a lengthy shift, working up and down the main trunk, tapping and poking the rough bark for sap and insects. The routine never varied, which I found comforting.

Red-breasted sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus ruber) live in our region year-round, so we often see these beautiful birds, or hear their calls, which remind me of a supercharged squeaky toy. But it was a treat to be able to watch this one at such close range, often at eye level, for so many days. Sappy has moved on since then, likely to some other nearby tree, where he/she is probably busy sharing parental duties with a mate.

Another creature that has brought me comfort this spring is the Pacific Chorus frog (AKA Pacfic Tree frog, Pseudacris regilla). I haven’t seen any – we won’t for a few months yet – but each night for the past eight weeks, a loud choir has been steadily broadcasting from our pond, as lusty males call out in search of mates.

The pulsing rhythm of their song has lulled me to sleep. And it has brought me comfort in the knowledge that these imperiled amphibians are still here, striving to bring forth the next generation.

Long may Sappy tap, and the Chorus frogs sing.

Morning Revelation

Islands half hidden by fog on a bright day

“Morning Revelation” (Grappler Sound, 0745 hours, July 2021) – click to enlarge

We left our anchorage in Mackenzie Sound at 0630, rushing to make it through Kenneth Passage on the last of the ebb. A band of fog clung part way up the mountains beside and behind us, but we could see blue sky ahead, so were hopeful the fog would lift and we’d have good visibility for most of our passage.

But the weather gods weren’t on our side. Fog dogged us through the narrow channel west of Kenneth, making it nerve-wracking to spot the multiple drift logs swirling about in the current, which was now against us as well.

Even when we reached the wider waters of Grappler Sound, clarity was elusive – as is often the case on summer mornings in the Broughton Archipelago. Fog rolls in from Queen Charlotte Strait and sticks around until early afternoon. It can be stealthy: it appears to lift, only to move around and descend again a few minutes later, thicker than ever. That’s OK when we’re at anchor, but we don’t want to get caught travelling in such deceptive conditions, especially these day when there are so many drift logs, which radar can’t detect.

The fog entirely blanketed the intricate shorelines and passages between our boat and our intended destination (hidden somewhere in the photo above) so we needed a duck-in. Luckily Carriden Bay was close by, with calm water, sunshine and plenty of room to anchor. We’d passed it many times before but this was the first time we’d stopped. It was a good place to practice patience while we watched and waited.

Two hours later we were underway again, thinking the way was clear – but soon the fog returned with a vengeance. We needed yet another duck-in, this one secure enough for overnight anchorage as we weren’t going to keep playing this game.

At 1045 we made it into Tracey Harbour, just before fog filled its opening passage. We’d never been there before, and it proved a good discovery – nice enough that we stayed for two nights. It’s unlikely we would have gone there if not for the fog, so in that sense, I guess the stealthy beast actually did us a favour that morning.

PHOTO SHOW:  “Breathing Space”, an exhibit by three members of the Gabriola Photography Club, runs until April 14, downstairs at the Gabriola Medical Clinic (weekdays). Together we’re showing about 30 prints, and “Morning Revelation”, the photo above, is one of mine on display. You can find more info here.

Space to Breathe

A kayaker in front of three small islands with blue sea and sky radiating out from centre.

One of my images in “Breathing Space”, a new exhibit that opened today.

I love the shift in perspective I get when I’m aboard our boat for an extended period of time – when we unplug from the online world, leave the clamour of human affairs behind, cast off our lines and immerse ourselves in the marine world.

Sight lines lengthen and my eyes refocus. No longer surrounded by tall trees, I watch the sky open up to reveal the fascinating dance of advancing and retreating clouds and weather systems.

As my sea legs return, my breathing deepens. The steady rise and fall of the tide – its ebb and flow like the breathing of the planet itself – becomes our metronome for life afloat, and a key factor in many of our daily decisions.

Anchored far away from the usual soundscape of traffic and neighbours’ comings and goings, I’m able to discern new sounds: a baby seal calling for its mom; sandpipers peeping as they forage on the nearby shore; the breaths of a porpoise, swimming slowly back and forth as it feeds outside the bay.

NEW SHOW:  I’ve teamed up with two other members of the Gabriola Photography Club to present a new exhibit, called “Breathing Space”, which runs until April 14, downstairs at the Gabriola Medical Clinic (weekdays). Together, we’re showing about 30 prints, with each of us bringing our own perspective to the theme. You can find more info here.

Dodging the Drift

Beach littered with logs and woody debris

The photo above is a view from Orlebar Point on Gabriola Island. (Click on this or the images below to see the details.)

It’s not unusual to see big logs on this exposed shore. Escapees from logging operations frequently wash up here, especially when we have extreme high tides, as we did last week.

But what’s different this time is the proliferation of shattered, woody debris among the logs.

Different, but not really surprising. Southern BC experienced unusually heavy rains last fall. Steep areas that had been impacted by logging or summer wildfires must have been primed and ready to let loose a torrent of woody debris when those rains hit. And of course, everything eventually flows to the sea.

Driftwood in water on foggy day

It reminded me of our boating trip last summer, when we found our routes littered with myriad pieces of shattered forest (likely from the massively destructive landslide in Bute Inlet the previous fall).

One narrow passage we’d enjoyed in the past was completely choked off by woody debris, forcing us to do a quick 180 and take a longer route. Currents in another passage contained swirling logs, tricky to dodge even at slack water.

Heavy logs and large tree stumps floated into our anchorages with incoming tides. Things went bump in the night a few times, making for less than optimal sleeping conditions.

Logs, tree stump and other floating debris

One day we were forced to weigh anchor and move to another bay when a floating tree insisted on taking our spot. Another time a runaway tree blocked the entry to the only decent anchorage in an area we’d hoped to explore.

Overall, it seems that glacial melt, steep slopes, deforestation, and extreme weather events are conspiring to make safe boating a bit more challenging each year.

I do love modern navigation gear, but it’s not enough. Anyone boating in the Pacific Northwest would be wise to also employ a decidedly old-fashioned mariner’s practice: maintaining a constant watch.

Stay safe out there!