POWELL RIVER, B.C. Sept. 4, 2016/ Troy Media/ – The end of August is a spectacular time of arrivals and departures up the Sunshine Coast.
The black bears and a few grizzlies are heading to their ancestral salmon rivers to harvest the first pinks, cohos and springs; the bald eagles are almost ready to return from the Harrison and Squamish rivers where they hold their annual fly-in gatherings.
Their departure from Skelhp in mid-July is without fanfare. One day, you just notice they are missing. Just like one day you know they are back.
We share Skelhp with six resident bald eagles: two nesting pairs and two juveniles. When they disappear, their ecological niche is filled by a pair of turkey vultures and a lone red-tailed hawk. You can easily mistake them for eagles if you have a lazy birder’s eye. This year, they were also joined by a lone merlin, a small falcon that flies fast and low through the branches when chasing forest prey.
The pink salmon arrived by the thousands in mid-July last year, and milled about in the mouth of the inlet for several weeks until early August. And then one day, they too moved on in a massive school. Suddenly, the waters out front had no jumpers, and you could troll the bay for hours without getting a bite. This week, I went up Lang Creek looking for pinks finning in the shade of the big rocks, and there was none in sight. Similarly, we haven’t seen any jumping in the bay. This is odd according to the Audubon Field Guide, which notes that pinks, the most abundant of Pacific Northwest salmon, spawn in even numbered years. After all – it’s 2016.
Equally missing in action are the humpback whales who stayed with us last year from mid-July to mid-November. There were three of them, two adults and a calf, and they patrolled the inlet from one end to the other with regular playful rolls, flipper slaps and open-air breaches. Their ‘lobtail’ tail displays were soon legendary among ferry riding tourists and locals alike. So far, this year they are reported in the waters up north near Desolation Sound and Savary Island, but for some reason they have been avoiding us. My commercial fishing friend David says it’s all about food. “They are probably attracted to Skelhp’s vast stores of krill, anchovies and squid – when the feed is there.”
Down at ground level, there was lots of amphibian action this summer. Our family has been routinely awakened by the reverberating kree-eeks of a Pacific treefrog somewhere on the front deck by the koi pond. Numerous attempts have been made to locate the croaker, and only last week were we successful. He hides in the pottery recesses of our ‘fountain head’ by the pond. The clay nook he shelters in adds a great echo to his early morning serenades. Predictably, when I took my iPhone out to photograph him this morning, he had disappeared. Maybe next week.
Nocturnal walks have provided two surprising western toad sightings. If you haven’t seen them before, they are startling because of their size (Skelhp’s are 10 to 15 cms in length) and sluggishness. They are also strangely silent because they lack vocal sacs. You can carefully pick them up for close inspection, but be mindful not to be vigorously peed on as I was last month. So far this year, the resident bullfrog has been absent. Maybe the merlin got him. We’re hopeful he is just hiding out and listen for him nightly.
The last crop of blackberries is just now ripening. The black-tailed (or mule) deer are big harvesters, aggressively competing with me in the areas I have selectively cultivated. While I haven’t seen them actively browsing the blackberries, the black bears are also August harvesters. I know this because, on my daily runs to the Skelhp ferry terminal and back, there are big scatters of bear dung on the road, chock full of blackberry seeds.
And just when you think you think you’ve figured out all the players in Skelhp’s August cast, it changes. Today, a humpback returned, lobtailing right out front. The pinks will be in the creek soon, and the bald eagles won’t be far behind. They are the dramatis personae of fall.
Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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