Another Year

Here we are in January of 2022!  My last Blog was months ago and I cannot offer a good excuse for my silence.

Members of the Cowichan Valley Naturalists continue to be involved in Citizen Science Projects: Bird Surveys; Invasive Plant removal; Planting of Native plants and Fish Forage sampling for some examples. In cooperation with CERCA and two of the industrial groups in the estuary we installed several excellent nature interpretive signs along the old rail line trail at Cowichan Estuary.

Fieldtrips, although infrequent at this time, are still in the offing.  Presentations by a variety of Speakers are taking place twice a month via Zoom.

Throughout 2021 the unprecedented weather events in this province have surely brought the majority of us to the realization of our Climate Change Emergency. Therefore my wish for 2022, is that we do take action in as many ways as we are able.  With credit to Kathleen Dean Moore, the author of  “Great Tide Rising”,  if you are concerned that you cannot do much as one person, then stop being one person.  Join one of the many groups that are working toward a healthy future for all life on earth (including us).

CVNS offers a chance to learn about the biodiversity and natural ecosystems of the Cowichan Valley.  We would be happy to have you join us.  Email for a complimentary copy of our latest newsletter.

September Waterbird Survey

It has been a while since I have written anything here.  Who knows where the time goes?

The long dry summer seemed to cause me to draw into my shell.  Now we have had some rain, although  I am still hoping for more.  I do love this time of year – so much colour and thankfulness for the harvest.

September is the restart of our Coastal Waterbird Surveys.  I participate in the Cowichan Bay zone.  I am thankful for the people who come out to help.  Willie Harvie is one of them.  She is an outstanding photographer and the big lens she has on her camera, often helps us identify a bird that is some distance away, as she can quickly take a shot that we can view and compare to the Bird Guide.

One never knows what one will find on a survey.  Here are a couple of shots from Willie taken on our September count:

  1. Determining species of gulls is always a challenge!
  2. Sometimes it is good to look down!

Heat Dome Devastation

The recent, record-breaking heat-wave, described as a heat dome, caused shocking devastation on some many fronts.

Our Violet-Green Swallows abandoned their nest. We watched four adults swirling around in front of the birdhouse on one of the hot afternoons and then they were gone.  I knew that no young had fledged as I had been keeping an eye and ear on the birdhouse ever since the adults started nest building.  There had been lots of activity, but no sound of hungry, young birds.

It took a day before I realized they were definitely gone, and it was with dread that I opened the nest box.  Luckily, there were no dead chicks or even eggs.  But I found a beautiful, feather-lined nest which had taken so much work.  What a waste of valuable energy.  Others had even worse results. Neighbours grieved for dead chicks, one which had managed to pull itself out only to die under the bird house with its siblings dead in the nest.

Another tragedy came to light when I learned that our Eel-grass transplant project was cancelled (or hopefully just postponed).  The extraordinarily high levels of E.coli in Cowichan Bay made it unsafe for the divers to enter the water.  There are likely several causes for this huge increase in the bacterial count in the Bay, but one contributing factor could be the rotting invertebrates that were cooked at low-tides during the heat wave.  Thousands of mussels, clams and other invertebrates perished during the heat dome.  These would have been the food source for seabirds and other marine predators. The chain reaction is frightening.

Will more of us now realize that climate change is real, and do whatever possible to try to turn the tide?

Bats on a Solstice Evening

It was nearing 21:45h on June 20th.  Steve and I were visiting Bruce and Adele with several other friends.  The sun had set behind Mount Prevost an hour earlier.  Adele disappeared and then I heard her call, Gail, come here quickly! Through the twilight, I spotted her sitting on a beautiful old wooden bench at the edge of the trees.

We all hurried over and I sat beside Adele. Look, just up, right in front she whispered. Suddenly a bat darted right in front of me.  Then another, a pause and then another.  Bill attached his ultra-sonic microphone (from Wildlife Acoustics) to his iPhone via the data port.  Immediately, signals appeared on the screen, accompanied by intriguing high pitched calls.

Bats can be identified by the frequency of their calls.  Bill’s microphone picked up four different calls which were instantly identified by an app on his phone.

The Little Brown Myotis – image taken from the Missouri Department of Conservation website.

The Silver haired Bat image taken from the University of Wisconsin website

Adam Mann, Environmental Solutions and Innovations.

The Hoary Bat image taken from Animal Spot website

The Mexican Free-tailed Bat image taken from the Arizona Highways website

Bruce and Adele’s property has several good sites for bat roosts. Bill suggested that high in the tall Douglas Firs – with their thick, coarse bark  – would likely be a place for bats to find a roosting spot.

Bill is working on a Bat project with CERCA.  These data can be added to the project.  Thank you Bill for sharing this amazing technology.  Thank you Bruce and Adele for inviting us to be there. What a way to celebrate Solstice!


Grosbeaks and Aspens

Thanks, again to Kerry Finley for the following delightful account – including a bird and a tree – a perfect story for a Nature Blog!
Also thanks to Mike Yip for the photos of the male and female Grosbeaks.  Mike’s latest book: “a beginner’s guide to the common VANCOUVER ISLAND BIRDS” is one I am often browsing through to learn more. GM
A Drunken Robin in Macoun’s Aspen ?
Early June is a rich time to be born at the height of verdure and bloom. Today on my daily walk to McDonald Park swamp, headwaters of Tsehum Harbour, I was thinking of John Macoun, Dominion Naturalist, who thoroughly explored this small drainage with its giant Black Cottonwoods and its understory of Macoun’s Trembling Aspen, and its distinctive plant community. I forget which native culture called it the Happiness Tree because it was always chattering in the wind. Unfortunately the ferry traffic passes nearby so bird song is diminished so when I heard an unusual alarm call – a high clear beerk, I stopped and waited some time before it began singing from the rustling aspens. It was worth it. I was transported into the aspen canopy with one of the cheeriest singers I have heard. A new bird ! Try as I might I could not spot the singer in the fluttering leaves. This is always exciting, so I hurried back and called Bob Peart, a birder, and he played back several songs from vireos and warblers but none matched. He suggested the Black-headed Grosbeak but then his app broke down, so I checked out the Cornell Labs site, and in a moment I recognized it. Bob said that they occurred on a few wet sites on the peninsula where Black Cottonwoods are found.
Macoun’s Vancouver Island aspen is a glacial relict. It has larger leaves and a different phenology of bloom than the prairie aspen. The aspen’s trembling is attributed to its long stem and leaf design which allows it to withstand strong winds by whiffling, but the incessant rustling and dancing of the leaves also create a special acoustic environment where certain species can hide and sing in the canopy. So maybe the rustling Aspens evolved its noisiness to conceal those songbirds that could best protect it against infestations. Just thinkin.
Like Bob, we are more bird listeners than bird watchers. We may not know them by their English names, but certainly by their distinctive songs. Many native names mimic the songs of species.
Gone away is the Blue Bird, here to stay is a New Bird.
Listen here :
In western North America, the sweet song of the Black-headed Grosbeak carolling down from the treetops sounds like a tipsy robin welcoming spring.

Swallow Time

I am enjoying visits from a pair of Violet Green Swallows as they perch on our deck railing above their nest box.  Their presence always makes me smile and I hope the aerial insect population is healthy this year.  Therefore it was timely when this came into my inbox recently.  Thanks to Kerry (kj finley) an IBA caretaker for Roberts Bay Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. GM

Swallow Time

26 May, 2021

Rough-winged Swallows are so-called because the leading edge of their primary feathers have hooks and projections, the purpose of which is unknown.

Yesterday was a spectacular day in North Saanich with towering cumulus after a refreshing and welcome light rain. These conditions evidently gave rise to a large release of aerial insects which attracted a considerable flock consisting of all three species of swallows over my field and over the Garry Oak copse.

I estimated that there were about 35 at one time, most Violet-green, two Barn Swallows and two Rough-winged Swallows. I spent much of an enjoyable afternoon watching them with their spectacular movements and grace. Each of them seems to have their particular maneuver but the Rough-wing seemed to me to have the edge on grace.

There is a world of difference between here on the farm and Roberts Bay, just 2 km away. Seldom do the swallows ever appear around the bay; their prime habitat is the fields and Garry Oak meadows of North Saanich, as well as the snags and deadwood that provide them ( Violet-greens ) nest cavities. All the swallows are on the decline thought to be due to the loss of aerial insects. It was really interesting to watch the mixed feeding flock shift from a position over my house to just above the Garry Oak canopy, shifting back and forth in their foraging patterns.

With the towering cumulus, backlit, the grace of the swallows against them, and the towering Garry Oaks, it was heaven on earth.

Birds are essential to human health and well-being.


Mating moths

Thank you Katharine Staiger for this photo of mating Sphinx moths (Smerinthus ophthaimica) found on a peony in their garden. This is likely one of the largest moths that can be found in the Cowichan Valley. I am guessing the large one is the female, measuring about two inches.  The hind wings, which have the striking eye spots are not opened here.  I guess they were not trying to attract attention.  Gail

Nesting time

Bruce Coates and his friend Dan have been keeping an eye on this Common Bushtit’s nest.

These little balls of feathers with long tails build the most distinctive nests in this region.

The Common Bushtit is a delight to watch when they swoop down on a suet feeder in the winter.  A whole flock of 20 or more can arrive, covering the whole feeder, and taking turns getting a spot.  Then they leave as quickly as they arrived.

Now they are paired up and raising families.  The male and female can be distinguished by eye-colour: males being completely dark and females with a striking yellow ring around a small dark centre.


A strange sight – Herring headstands?

If you were walking along a sandy beach and saw this, what would you think?

This is what a couple of friends of mine discovered some years ago.  After photographing this, they went closer and discovered the answer:

It seems that herring not only have a lot of vertebrate predators (including us!);  they also have some invertebrate predators.  Sea anemones are lazy carnivores.  However, having the ability to snare anything that nears them from any angle makes them effective predators of small fish that get too close.  It took the anemones longer than it took the tide to recede, to consume these herring.


Allison Albrecht photos

Eric Marshall Memorial Bursary Fund

I am happy to tell you about another way to help children experience nature.

Thanks to Jim Wisnia for writing about this:

The Eric Marshall Memorial Bursary Fund will make bursaries available for children to attend nature and science day camps at the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre as noted in Amy Clinton-Baker’s article in the May-June edition of the Valley Naturalist.  Eric was enthusiastic about volunteering to share his knowledge and support at these day camps as well as class visits to the Nature Centre.  By continuing to contribute to the Eric Marshall Memorial Bursary Fund we can ensure that finance is not a barrier to children and youths wishing to participate in these nature education programs in the future.

Donations can be made online through Canada Helps <>, sending an etransfer to or by mailing a cheque to CVNS, 55 Station St., Duncan, BC, V9L 1M2.  Please include a comment that the donation is for the Eric Marshall Bursary Fund.

April 27th Willie’s Wildflower photos

Thank you Willie Harvie for your generosity in sharing these photos.  Willie uses a zoom lens to photograph flowers as well as birds.  This allows her to get shots without going off the trail – something important for us to remember.  At this time in the Cowichan Valley you can find these beauties:  Blue Camas; Chocolate Lily (with Shooting stars in the background) and Deltoid Balsamroot.

Migrating shorebirds

Now is the time to watch for migrating shorebirds.  Here is a Greater Yellowlegs photographed yesterday by Wilma Harvie at Cowichan Bay.  You might find one if you walk along Dock Road or at the end of the Ducks Unlimited trail. Gail


April 13 2021 Spring has sprung

April 13, 2021  by Gail

After a long hiatus, our website blog is up and running again!

This is my first attempt!  I will try to keep it going with nature news from around the valley.  Stay tuned!

The weather finally feels like spring. Here are some of the beautiful wildflowers that can be seen around the valley.  Photos are by Wilma Harvie

Shooting Star Dodecatheon hendersonii ; Chocolate Lily Fritillaria affinis;

Fawn Lily Erythronium oreganum