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.

The Pond Creatures

Animal-like shapes in the ice on a pondSome strange and wondrous beings visited our backyard pond in recent days, taking advantage of the unusually cold weather we’d been experiencing.

They disappeared last night, and I doubt I’ll see them again this year.  After a month of sunshine and extreme (for us) low temperatures, we’re finally getting back to our “normal” west coast winter: grey skies, rain and – mercifully – warmer temperatures.

The daily dose of sunshine was nice while it lasted, and I enjoyed meeting the lovely, dancing pond creatures. But I’m a true west coaster, so I’m happy enough to have the familiar sound of rain on the roof once more.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

Secretly Awake and Watching

Closeup of kiwi vine trunks with eye-like knot and peeling bark

Here on the West Coast, the predominant winter colours are green and brown – hues that I find restful and in a way, reassuring. With no foliage or flowers on the deciduous trees and vines, their architecture comes to the fore. Life seems simplified: whittled down to the basics, quiet and less complicated than during the growing season.

In our kiwi patch, there’s no sign left of those luscious yellows of fall – only bare limbs, peeling bark and the deep slumber of winter. Still, I can’t help feeling the vines are secretly awake, watching intently from their corner of the garden for any possible hint of spring.

Light and Shadow Play

Light and shadow over the mountains of Princess Louisa Inlet

Royal Morning (0800 hrs) – click on photos to enlarge

Over the three days we spent in Princess Louisa Inlet last summer, we watched a fascinating play of light and shadow.

This steep-sided, narrow inlet is tucked far into BC’s Coast Mountain Range, so morning light is slow to arrive. When the sun finally makes it over the eastern peaks, it lights the tops of the mountains along the western shore first.

Mountain with sunlight at top, shade over the forest below

Morning Monarchs (0800 hrs)

As the daylight slowly grows, it arcs down to the lower elevation treetops, filling in the rest of the western shore and eventually both sides of the inlet. By mid-afternoon, the process starts to reverse as the sun vanishes behind the giant peaks to the west.

Light and shadow over high elevation mountains, with waterfalls and forest below.

Afternoon Majesty (1600 hours)

To give you a sense of scale, one of the waterfalls in the photo above is James Bruce Falls: at 840 m (2760 ft), the highest measured waterfall in North America and 9th highest in the world, according to Wikipedia. The steepness of this landscape is breathtaking – but down at sea level, it means fewer hours of direct sunlight than you might otherwise expect.

Depending where you moor, you can enjoy morning light or afternoon light. We anchored just west of iconic Chatterbox Falls – the much photographed spot at the head of the Inlet which has been drawing boaters to this regal destination for close to a century.

Sheets of mist from a waterfall in the forest, blasting out over the beach

Chatterbox Reigns (0930 hours)

We’d had heavy rains in the spring, so by the time we got there in late June, Chatterbox was roaring – blasting huge sheets of mist out over the estuary at the head of the Inlet. When the morning sun finally made it over the mountain peaks to the east, the mist was backlit, providing a shimmering light show: perfect for viewing from our cockpit with a late morning coffee in hand.