Creatures of the Forest in Yellow Point: a Guide to the Habitat and Habituations

Creatures of the Forest in Yellow Point: a Guide to the Habitat and Habituations

You know you’re not travelling the globe this year so why not use that time to take in the beauty that Vancouver Island has to offer!!!

I was fortunate enough to have a dear friend who belongs to the Yellow Point Ecological Society offer to share a study they are doing which will in turn become a handbook to give to landowners in the area about how to preserve/help the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. Below is the work of my friend Pamela Walker. Hope you enjoy. As it is longer than what my newsletters normally are, I decided to turn it into a 2-part series so stay tuned for the second half next week.

Creatures of the Forest in Yellow Point: a Guide to the Habitat and Habituations

By Pamela Walker

Many creatures in the world are in danger of extinction due to habitat depletion. It is true here in Yellow Point as well. But, since we do have a tiny bit more green space available here, how can we help the care and house hairy and not-so-hairy mammals in order to increase animal diversity at least in our neck of the woods?

Below is a list of some mammals and other zoological creatures present in our area and ideas about how we can assist them in their ever decreasing world:

Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura):

Did you know that a flock of flying vultures is called a kettle, but just hanging around they’re called a committee, venue or volt and when eating a carcass together, they are called a wake.  Although they live and breed all over Vancouver Island, they winter in the south. As turkey vultures are not good flyers, they rely on thermals and prevailing winds keep them aloft. You can sometimes spy a kettle of these southbound carrions in Yellow Point looking longingly at the Salish Sea waiting for the conditions to be right in order to cross the wide water. This usually occurs in late September or early October.  Alternately, check the Nanaimo airport where some prefer to hop on a plane with other snowbirds. With a dead racoon under each wing, they don’t like to check their luggage as they are considered carry-ons.

What you can do to help: If you see a dead animal on the road, move it well off the tarmac, when it is possible and safe for you to do so. Many birds, including owls and vultures, are killed just for cleaning up after careless drivers. And remember: when eating an apple in the car, don’t just fling the core out of the window unless you are sure it will make it all the way to the bush. An animal’s life may depend on your good pitching arm.

Herring:

Each spring, usually in March, and for a period of two to three weeks, the Pacific Herring (Clupea harengus pallasi) come back to spawn. Yellow Point’s Heron Park is a marvelous place to catch the action. The female Herring lays her eggs—about 20,000 of them! —before the male Herring comes to fertilized them. When the eggs come in contact with the water, they become very sticky and will attach themselves to seaweed, floating wood, the beach itself, or anything that is available. Somehow, the sea lions—both the California and the Stellar’s Sea Lions— know when all this is coming down. They will flock to the sticky but tasty roe as do the Bald eagles and the ducks, like the scooters and Oldsquaws (Clangula hyemalis).

What you can do to help: Never forage for seaweed for your garden during herring spawning. The bucket of vegetable nutrients just may be housing thousands of herring eggs that will die if removed from the water. And, while walking the beach, watch where you tread. Remember those sticky eggs may be attached to whatever your Trackers are tracking through.

Otter:

If you see an otter in the ocean around here, chances are it’s a river otter (Lontra canadensis) which doesn’t seem quite right, but it’s true. Because of their superfluity of hirsutism—sea otters (Enhydra) can boast over 100,000 hairs per square centimetre, more than any other creature on the planet—they were harvested almost to the point of extinction in the late 1800s and early 1900s for their pelts. Today, although on the rise once more, the population on the entire island is thought to be only about 2,000. Sea otters eat mostly sea urchins and molluscs and use their tummy as a table and a rock as their knife and fork. Because they live their entire lives in the water, they rely on kelp, which they wrap around themselves when sleeping, and wrap around their babies when they go off to find them food, which keeps the otter from floating away.

River otters, on the other hand, are in abundance and, as long as there is a source of fresh water near by, chances are it’s a River otter. Raised in a den for about two to three months before ready to venture out, baby otters can be seen with their mum in both Ladysmith harbour and the Salish sea playing in the water and fishing for fish, crabs, and other invertebrates. Being born either on land or sea, they are raised by the female in the water. Otters have been even known to down a Canada Goose if they are quick enough. River otters tend to weigh around 14 kg. Sea otters can tip the scales over 35 kg.

What you can do to help: If you see a baby otter, do not attempt to pick it up. Chances are, its mum is not far away and she will not appreciate your babysitting blunderings. And remember, not only do we have to save the land forests, the kelp forests are endangered and need our help as well. Kelp is used as a binding agent in products such as ice cream, yoghurt, and tooth paste. Never take kelp from the beach unless it is already detached from its roots.

Trumpeter Swan: Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) come in low over the treetops on Cedar Road to land, two or three at a time, into the Davis’ farm. “With a 2.5m wingspan, the world’s largest waterfowl exemplifies aerodynamic magnificence. Mimicking the landing gear of a plane, pairs of wide, webbed feet drop down at the last instant to break their fall with a finesse that would make the best bush pilot burn with envy. Seconds after landing, the new arrivals come to a quick halt, fold their winds, arch their necks like bass clefs, and drift regally off to join other swans already on site for the night. An aristocratic bugling call and response rises among them that makes the homely honk of Canada geese and the quotidian quack of mallards sound decidedly plebian.”

This scene is repeated twice daily on lakes and ponds throughout the Yellow Point area. The population has rebounded remarkably from near extinction in the 1960s to well over 10,000, some Yellow Point farmers put out winter feed for the swans. This is part of a coordinated plan not only to provide for the birds’ welfare but also to protect the sensitive grassland on which livestock depend for summer grazing. A hefty 10-kilo swan has a big appetite. More than a thousand of them remain to winter here and form the largest colony on the west coast of North America. Smaller flocks settle in the Lower Mainland, while others fly as far south as Oregon.

What you can do to help:  The Trumpeter swan is no longer over-hunted but we must make sure the rules are never relaxed again. Also, learn more about the fascinating story of how one man, Ralph Edwards, living alone in Tweedsmere Park, BC, single-handedly saved this swan population from near extinction. Wouldn’t that be a nice legacy for your life?

 

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