By Maleea Acker, September 2016
Metchosin uses citizens and volunteer scientists to create a low-cost but impressive inventory of species.
FIVE YEARS AGO, a group of naturalists in the Capital Region realized there was no comprehensive list of species that inhabited the varied ecosystems in their rural district of Metchosin. Despite containing rare ecosystems like coastal bluffs, Garry oak meadows, and Douglas-fir forests, naturalists Kem Luther, along with Moralea Milne and Andy McKinnon (the latter two now serving on Metchosin’s council) decided to see who they might be sharing their community with (other than humans).
By Maleea Acker, July 2016
Habitat Acquisition Trust volunteers help to save local frogs, salamanders and other amphibians.
ONE NIGHT LAST SPRING, when John Potter and Joan Hendrick were out scanning a kilometre of dark, rainy road by their house in the Highlands, a woman stopped her car to ask if they were looking for something. “Yes,” replied Hendrick, “dead amphibians.” She laughs as she tells the story, but she can’t picture a rural road on a warm, wet night these days without thinking of the casualties likely happening around the region. “I didn’t understand,” she says, “until I started walking. You see them everywhere.”
By Maleea Acker, May 2016
James Clowater’s urban arboreal vision.
IN THE WORLD OF West Coast restoration ecology, native species usually hold a pinnacle place of importance in the minds of decisions makers, scientists, and the public at large. Trees such as Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple and Garry oak support a host of native birds, insects, mammals and mosses. Restorationists push the importance of wildlife corridors made of native shrubs in urban areas. Botanists cherish lands unmarked by development—where native species can thrive unmolested—and often wave their hands in dismissal at horticultural gardens and urban trees as if they don’t merit attention at all.
By Maleea Acker, March 1, 2016
Nurturing native species, young farmers and the land.
OFF THE PAT BAY HIGHWAY, on Saanich’s Haliburton Farm, James Miskelly points to a clump of lime green leaves poking out of the rich earth. “That’s sea blush,” he tells me, proudly. The small-leafed annual, usually a rare sight in Garry oak upland meadows in mid spring, smatters the soil like a groundcover. The more I look, the more I see. Kristen Miskelly, James’ wife, wades through the wetlands at the western edge of their plot while telling me about the area’s tree frog song in spring. “It’s deafening!” she says, with glee.
By Maleea Acker, February 2016
Knowing our fellow creatures inspires Ann Nightingale’s passion.
WHEN LIFELONG Vancouver Island resident Ann Nightingale started birding in the 1990s, she had in her head American naturalist Ken Kauffman’s words. If people could name 50 plants and animals in their own area, said Kauffman, it would fundamentally change how they fit into the world. A chance opportunity with a co-worker took Nightingale out to Skirt Mountain (now Bear Mountain) on her first birding trip. “It knocked my socks off,” she tells me. Within a year of studying, she could identify most of the birds in the Capital Region.
By Maleea Acker, January 2016
Cheryl Bryce’s Community Tool Shed.
Last November a group of volunteers, spearheaded by Songhees Band member Cheryl Bryce, gathered at Beacon Hill’s Petting Zoo parking lot. As usual for these monthly gatherings, someone brought tools, including shovels, gloves, loppers and a tarp. Others brought tea. There were geography students, Sierra Club members, and ardent restorationists. All were looking to make a difference to a south coast ecosystem that used to supply food to entire nations of indigenous peoples before the arrival of European colonists.
By Maleea Acker, December 2015
Nurturing herring would allow other species to rebound in the Salish Sea area.
By December, rain and the darkness of winter blankets the Capital Region. Berries hang like rubies from the darkening limbs of the arbutus. Storms shawl the coast with salt spray. Songbirds have migrated to their southern homes. But as the days shrink to their shortest and the Salish Sea takes on its jade-green clarity, a dark pulse of fish are gathering in the deeper waters of our coast, waiting for spring.
Biologist Jacques Sirois would like to see these fish—Pacific herring—return to their pre-1960s population, a restoration he argues that would have cascading effects not just on marine life, but on how we live in and think of this region.
By Maleea Acker, November 2015
Carmel and Woody Thomson show how love of place can keep it safe.
Back in the late 1990s I learned of a legendary property in West Saanich that a few lucky UVic students lived on each September through April. On tiny Maltby Lake, there was a large house for communal living and a smaller off-the-grid cottage for a couple. When I finally visited one fall, the students renting from caretakers and part-owners Woody and Carmel Thomson were playing banjo on the lake’s dock, stoking the woodstove and exploring the hand-cut trails that circle the lake and fan out through its forests. The paths wound through Douglas fir and cedar laden glades, into open meadows of Garry oak and moss and along headwater streams for the Tod Creek watershed. I thought I had stumbled on paradise.
By Maleea Acker, October 2015
Thanks in part to volunteers like Dorothy Chambers, coho salmon are thriving in Colquitz River—but for how long?
A walk along the Gorge Waterway in the months of October and November usually yields the occasional splash of a salmon. Last fall those splashes, amidst the smooth currents of the waterway, became a leaping river, as mature coho salmon returned from the open sea to their natal spawning streams. “It felt so amazing, exciting and satisfying” to see the high returns, Dorothy Chambers tells me. “Close to 4000 passed under the Admirals Bridge.”
Chambers, a Gorge-Tillicum resident and nurse, assisted in counting 1600 coho in the Colquitz River in 2014. This year Chambers, a Colquitz River Steward and 25-year volunteer for Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park and the Gorge Waterway Initiative, is hoping again for thousands, but climate anomalies may pose the newest threat.
By Maleea Acker, September 2015
Malcolm Rodin volunteers his time to nurture native (mosquito-eating) songbirds.
Esquimalt resident Malcolm Rodin has a passion for native songbirds. It began with summers on his grandfather’s farm in southern Saskatchewan. Each summer, he tells me, “Barn swallows would nest in all the outbuildings. I just got this love of them. You could climb up and look in the nests and really enjoy them.”
By Maleea Acker, October 2013
Complaints about deer eating gardens and farmers’ crops may be louder, but biologists are raising concerns over deer’s affect on native flora and fauna.
A red-tailed hawk landed on my balcony railing last month, fluffing its feathers and peering backwards at me through the window. The raptor, perching on streetlights above the Pat Bay Highway or searching my grass for a meal, helps keep populations of rodents and small mammals in check in the same way that cougars, wolves and bears manage forest land deer.
By Maleea Acker, April 2013
Victoria was described as a “perfect Eden” by Sir James Douglas. But then the sweet song of bluebirds disappeared.
This spring after darkness descends, thousands of songbirds will navigate up the Pacific Flyway, travelling north to their summer breeding territories. Migrating from Central America, Central Mexico and the Southwestern United States, it’s possible to see their slight forms against the moon, or even hear their furious wing beats as they traverse the Olympic Peninsula, Juan de Fuca Strait, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and up the reaches of Vancouver Island.
Amidst the Violet-green swallows, Golden-crowned sparrows, and Yellow warblers, Julia Daly, project technician with Victoria’s Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT), is crossing her fingers for the return of a few Western bluebirds, which have not bred here since 1995. That is, until last year.