Just when you think you have a bit of handle on the natural world, it throws you a curve. My latest epiphany – one of those “aha” moments Mother Nature is so fond of providing – happened while in Clayoquot Sound looking for nest sites for an endangered species, the Marbled Murrelet.
Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratorus) are a strange mix: seabirds who nest in coastal old-growth rainforests. Rather than construct a nest, they lay their single egg in the thick moss which festoons the large branches of old-growth trees. Our team’s task was to find potential nesting “platforms” according to stringent criteria based on previous research. We were to look for level surfaces (usually big branches) more than 15 metres above the ground and more than 18 centimetres in diameter. Once we identified candidate trees, a second team (crazier than ours) would climb them and see if they could find a rare nest.
My epiphany resulted from staring into the trees through fogged binoculars for a full week. Although I’ve spent lots of time looking at trees, it had never before been from the perspective of a prospective house hunter. Perhaps it was the rain (133 mm in one 24-hour period), but I truly came to feel I knew what Marbled Murrelets wanted in a nest. Heck, there were even a couple of big branches covered with thick, shag-like moss I could have happily flaked out on myself.
I’ve always favoured flora over fauna in my natural pursuits, but the Clayoquot experience provided a whole new perspective. It showed trees and other plants don’t exist in isolation – they also provide homes and food for animals, many of which we’ll never notice.
Whistler is home to lots of secretive animals, too. Many of the most numerous, like bats and rodents, are most active at night. The most we’ll ever see of them might be a small shape scurrying by, or other clues like small burrows or piles of clipped vegetation. But just because we don’t notice them doesn’t mean they’re not there.
August 16 – Sunset Nature Walk. Lost Lake Park. Meet rain or shine at the Spruce Grove baseball diamonds at 7:00 p.m.. Free for members, $2 for non-members.
Website of the week: To find out more about denizens of forest canopies, click on: www.canopyproject.org. And watch for the presentation on Marbled Murrelets to be given by Cathy Conroy of the Whistler Naturalists later this fall.
Written by: Bob Brett