by Tina Kelly
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: January 2017
“When the leaves change colour.” “Salmon spawning.” These were the two most common answers I got after I posed the question, “What is a seasonal nature event that you look forward to?” Now whether these represent true favourites or just what came to mind due to the timing of the question (October and November in order to meet the publishing deadline!) I don’t know, but in order to gather ideas for every month, I cast the question wider to nature nut friends and colleagues. Get your pen and calendar ready for their top suggestions.
Catch a storm on the wild west coast. The towns of Tofino and Ucluelet have made a profitable industry out of storm watching. The force and power of winter waves can be breathtaking.
Can’t make it out to the coast? Depending on the direction of the wind, local beaches may offer a fun but less dramatic version. After a wild storm is the perfect time to look for a wide range of seaweed species. Algae growing in deeper regions is ripped up, churned around and thrust up on the shoreline. See how many different types of red, green and brown seaweeds you can find.
Before deciduous trees sprout their leaves in spring, walk your neighbourhood and go on a hunt for birds’ nests. You might be surprised by the variety—in size and shape—of birds’ nests you have nearby. When nesting season comes, you’ll know where to look for the action.
Hang a seed feeder to attract birds and take the time to learn how to identify them with a field guide. Suspend a sugar-water feeder and watch the speed at which a hummingbird’s tiny wings flap.
Stop and find the roses—some native plants flower as early as March. You may find some native plants are brightly coloured, Indian plum, and some are strongly scented, skunk cabbage, for example. Flowering time depends on weather and elevation so keep your eyes out through the following months for other species.
Witness a small part of the grey whale’s 16,000km migratory journey along the Pacific Rim. As a celebration of this annual migration, Ucluelet and Tofino host a variety of events for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival. Grey whales travel close to shore on their journey north to Alaska and at times you can watch for them from shore. Pacificrimwhalefestival.com
The Canada goose gets all the glory but there is another goose in town and it has its own celebration. Every April, Parksville has a party for the brant goose; these geese are feeding and resting along the shores before they migrate back to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
Camas, a unique purple native flower, blooms in Gary Oak Meadows, a habitat fragmented all over Greater Victoria. To see large fields of camas visit Beacon Hill Park.
Great. Did I say great? Great low-tides occur at the end of May. Be sure to check tidal heights at tides.gc.ca before heading out. Lower tides increase the diversity of sea stars, sea slugs, cucumbers, crabs, chitons, urchins and other marine life you will find. Don’t worry if you miss them, there are more good low tides in June.
June is the month when citizens worldwide give a nod to the ocean with World Oceans Day. Officially celebrated on June 8, local environmental and ocean-loving organizations typically host their public parties—to encourage participation by people of all ages—on a weekend either side of that date.
Learn about the flora and fauna commonly found in June by joining Parks Canada’s Bioblitz. This year’s blitz will take place on Pender Island. Hang out with experts, participate in walks and talks, and engage in citizen science. pc.gc.ca
It’s time for the harbour seal baby boom. From late June to early September, harbour seals give birth and regularly leave their newborn pups on rocky outcrops or beaches. In order for pups to gain a substantial amount of fat in a very short time, mothers routinely head out to feed and then return to nurse. Remember to keep your distance and keep pets away.
Another marine mammal is a regular occurrence during the summer months. Endangered Southern resident killer whales travel a fairly predictable route in search for salmon. Saturna Island’s East Point, in the Southern Gulf Islands, is considered a land-based whale-watching site due to the amount of times whales transit past. Gulf Islands National Park Reserve offers killer whale-focused interpretive programs at East Point.
Remember all of those native plants you watched bloom in the spring? Head back to look at those same plants and check out their berries. (Note: check guide before eating).
Walk the shoreline in August and you may encounter a smack of jellyfish. The natural seasonal end to their lifecycle along with their lack of ability to swim against waves and currents results in beached jellies. The rule of thumb to remember for local jelly species, white or clear jellies are safe to touch, jellies with colour will sting.
Experience the magic of bioluminescence in August and September. To get a glimpse of microscopic animals emitting the light—that is bioluminescence—set out after dark and head to the shoreline. Throw rocks in the sea or swirl hands in the water off of a dock; if it’s the right time and right place, the water will glow.
Look up for large birds soaring in circles in the air. It’s hard to miss turkey vultures—with a wingspan of almost 2 metres—going round and round as if they’re lost. What’s the purpose? These vultures are kettling. As they ready themselves to migrate for the winter, they soar in thermals that will help them coast south across Juan de Fuca straight.
Fungus fun begins this month if the weather is our usual wet, wet, wet. Peak time to look for mushrooms is September and October when moisture is high. (Note: check guide before eating).
The vulture may have flown south from here, but many bird species fly south to here. They leave the interior or Arctic to spend winter here where waterways are free of ice. One bird, the bufflehead, is tremendously punctual, returning annually in time for Bufflehead Day on October 15.
Watch leaves turn colour and fall. Walk your neighbourhood and count how many different types of leaves you can find.
If you live in Greater Victoria you likely don’t need a reminder for this one—the annual salmon spawning event at Goldstream Provincial Park is an iconic West Coast experience. Historically, Goldstream’s salmon run begins at the end of October and continues on through November. The exact timing can vary due to water level and other environmental factors. Note: other salmon rivers on Vancouver Island may also differ in spawning time.
Revisit Goldstream River and view a bald eagle extravaganza. Salmon carcasses draw in eagles providing them with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Past winter eagle counts at the river have been as high as 276 birds in one day. They aren’t the only birds looking for an easy meal; many gull species are there to scavenge a fishy meal.
Tina Kelly is the Director of Learning at the Shaw Centre of the Salish Sea.
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