Marbled Murrelet Nests

In the birding community, that means Marbled Murrelet. We use the first two letters of each word in the name… ,it’s a long story.

You may have heard of them if you have been on the West Coast  for a few years. They’ve been in the news. They are one of the very few animals that require Old Forest to survive.  It’s mandatory, obligatory.

Why, you might ask? Therein lies quite a story. You see Murrelets, are a kind of seabird related to puffins and auks. They spend most of their lives on water, not in trees. And they’re not exactly aerial acrobats either. Just to get airborne, they beat their wings as hard as they can, then they paddle their legs and skip across the water, sometimes plunging through a higher wave, before they get into the air. Once in the air you’ll see their shape is like a little, stout, robin-sized football.  So they don’t turn easily.

The next thing to know about MAMUs, is that they nest in trees in old forest. For a long time biologists couldn’t figure out where they nested. As a rule, this family of birds nests on rocky islets and cliffs, places like that. So that’s where they searched.  Until, in 1976, a tree surgeon who was cutting dead branches high in a huge old Douglas Fir in a State Campground in California. He came nose to beak with a downy young bird. Having no idea what it was, he took it to a Park Naturalist, who identified it. This was the first nest of a Marbled Murrelet ever accepted by the scientific community. Later it was realized that there were several earlier finds in British Columbia, the earliest of which was in 1955, in some old field notes discovered less than 10 years ago (Earliest Well-Described Tree Nest of the Marbled Murrelet: Elk Creek, British Columbia, 1955).

The California nest had been on thick bed of moss on a big gnarly old branch near the top of the tree. There was no actual nest, just the moss.  That’s what it needs to raise its young.

So let’s go back and think about how these birds fly. They aren’t very agile in the air. So flying through forest can be tricky. The nests must be near the tops of the trees for the birds to access them.  Steep slopes and trees that emerge from the general canopy are favoured.  After hatching, the parents go back and forth from the ocean at dawn and dusk, feeding them fish, until they are ready to fly. And when they do fly, they get one chance to get it right. Essentially they just push off the branch and fall until their madly flapping wings catch the air. Their very first flight has to take them as much as 15 km to the ocean.

To conserve the populations of Marbled Murrelets on Vancouver Island the Provincial Government established Wildlife Reserves of old growth. There are only a couple of them around Sproat Lake. It’s not surprising since not much old growth is left there. But there are eight in the Nahmint Valley and a couple more in the Cous Creek Valley. Unfortunately Mosaic Forestry Management has no plans for setting any wildlife reserves aside.

Opinions differ as to whether what has been set aside is sufficient to ensure to viability of Marbled Murrelets in the future.  Remember, old forests don’t last for ever. It just seems like it

A Canadian Tree Species Only Found in the Alberni Valley, and Vancouver Island

It’s Oregon Ash; in Latin, it’s Fraxinus latifolia. And it has a confused story. One confusing thing about it is that besides the trees on Vancouver Island, the rest are in the United States. Another is that my sources are divided on whether it is a native tree, introduced, or naturalized.

The Conservation Data Centre of BC regards it as a native tree, and has designated it S1S2 which means imperiled or critically imperiled. But it muddies the situation when the report comments “Only 2 of the populations (Port Alberni and, Saanich) appear to be of native origin.” Apparently, they can also be found in some urban landscapes around Victoria and Duncan.

In the United States, the natural range of this tree extends through Puget Sound south to Southern California.

What’s it look like, you may wonder. It’s a deciduous broad-leafed tree. It doesn’t get all that tall. It is the only native tree around here that has a compound leaf. The seeds have wings similar to maple seeds. You’ll find it around wet fertile areas where there is lots of black organic mater, not peat.

I know where there are some specimens. But because they are considered imperiled you’ll have use torture to get me to say where. But I think there are more that haven’t been discovered. So if you are out for a walk, keep your eyes open for this tree.

But don’t mistake it for an introduced ash tree in someone’s yard. There are two other Ashes that are planted around here: European Ash and Green Ash. I’m going to leave how to tell these apart for you to research.

Oregon Ash May flowers

The Hole-in-the-Wall Conundrum

There is a debate in town about whether this place should be a tourist attraction. Some say it already is. Others say “keep it as is”. And other issues swirl around it. The actual location of the hole is on land owned by the City of Port Alberni, but getting to it is on land controlled by Mosaic Forest Management. They are not known for welcoming people on their property without due notice. And there is more stuff too.
Here are a few shots of it to illustrate what else is there.

Roger Creek makes a U-turn at the Hole-in-the-Wall. Here it is cutting through cliffs of shale, a very soft rock. So the early engineers who built the first waterworks for Alberni took a short cut through the rock wall
And the water falls into a little swimming hole where only the most adventurous dares to use the rope.
Upstream from the Hole, where Stokes Creek joins Roger Creek is another dam from the same ptoject. The end of an old pipe is visible on the right.
The remains of the first water supply to serve Alberni before it merged with Port Alberni originally. These hoops originally bound wooden staves. However, a century later, just the the hoops are left.
A rough trail leads downstream from the Hole-in-the-Wall to this dam at the top of a waterfall…
Seekers Media Video crew in the field. Hired by the city and its partners to promoting things to do in the valley, whether they are on private land or not. there have been other film crews here as well.
These Inukshuks were all built by visitors playing with the flat rocks that litter the creek banks. Roger Creek has some of the best skipping stones I’ve ever seen.

Overnight Camping at Nahmint Recreation Site closed.

I was surprised to hear from a friend in Victoria that one of my favourite Recreation sites is closed to overnight camping, and it is closed for the foreseeable future according to Robert van der Zalm, the BC Coast Regional Manager for Recreation Sites & Trails. The site is closed for all of this year. He said a review of service levels will be conducted in the fall. I guess that means looking at the budget. So there is no guarantee it will ever be open for camping again.

But it is a beautiful campsite, the most beautiful in the Alberni area. You camp in a large stand of very tall old Douglas Fir and Hemlock. There are 12 sites, some of which are a short walk in. A wild creek thunders down the mountainside past the campsite. A little path allows you to get great views of it. A long rocky beach with willows and logs piled around allows visitors to have a swim and some privacy as well if you want. When we last visited, we saw someone on a paddleboard across the lake at the other recreation site, Blackie’s Beach. The access is remote, but it is a bumpy two-wheel-drive all the way. That site is not closed, but has only 6 sites.

One of the dead trees looming over the campsites

This campsite is mentioned several times on the web.  And there are more websites about the circle route, the drive from Port Alberni south along the western shore of the Alberni Inlet before turning inland and up along the north side of Nahmint Lake to the campsite at the north end. From there the road continues to a junction. The right fork takes you up and over a pass with Gracie Lake in it, before descending to Sproat Lake. When you get close to the lake a fork takes you eastward, back to Port Alberni.

The Nahmint Lake area is popular. Patti and I did the driving tour last weekend. We encountered people all along the route, and even on a side tour upriver from the lake.  Where we crossed a big bridge over the river at the north end of the lake, a fellow on a bicycle showed up. He had started in Port Alberni, 56 km back. And he had another 27 km to go back to town. Some of them were fishermen. Others were touring on motorcycles. And some were just out for a picnic by the lake, like us.

The gate to the Nahmint  site is closed and a sign is posted announcing the closure of the site due to “overhead hazards caused by dangerous trees.” But there is a small turnout by the gate where there is room to park and walk down to the site. I didn’t see any wind-thrown trees  hung up in other trees or anything. I did observe a few dead trees with limbs that could break off. Each has a number spray-painted on the trunk. One of them had the top broken off, and the top had driven itself into the soil a good two feet in its fall. It is truly alarming to think what that could have done to someone.

However, it does seem a shame to think that government isn’t providing enough money to keep a popular Recreation site open.