Friday, June 28, 2019

A Shopping Moratorium

Tomatoes and Herbs on the Deck
Yesterday, I heard something I hadn’t heard for a long time. It was the sound of raindrops pattering down on the roof.

For the last six weeks, we have had no rain. We have been experiencing a drought. The grass outside is yellow and crunchy. The arbutus trees have been dropping their leaves. When I walk along the parched trails, I kick leaves underfoot as if it were autumn.

We live in a coastal rain forest, not the desert. So the rainfall was very welcome.

As a consequence of the drought, our area has water use restrictions. We can only water our yards and gardens for a few hours every second day. (Vegetable gardens are exempted.) We are asked not to use water to wash cars or to hose off driveways.

We have installed soaker hoses to water the shrubs. We don’t water the grass or use a sprinkler. We’ve used lawn clippings to mulch the gardens.

This is the third consecutive summer of drought in this area. Although I haven’t lived on Vancouver Island long, local people tell me that this weather pattern is atypical. The fire risk as at a high level and it is still only June.

The recent hot dry summers in this area are most likely a consequence of climate change. A recently released report on the changing climate said that Canada, especially the more northerly parts, can expect more degrees of warming than the world average, due to the climate crisis. One reason is that as the glacial ice and snow in the arctic and on the mountain tops melts and is not replenished, light from the sun will be absorbed rather than being reflected by the white snow. That will warm the land and air, causing the remaining glaciers to melt even faster.

The more I educate myself about climate change, the more worried I become. The consequences of rapid warming for human civilization, animals, and plants are dire.

But there are positive changes taking place too.

People are now talking about climate change. It is a topic in the media now, whereas for so many years the topic seemed to be avoided. Now our national broadcaster, CBC, regularly reports on climate related issues as well as solutions that individuals, communities, and various levels of government are implementing. Cities, and regional districts like mine, are developing policies and plans to reduce their carbon footprint and take action to mitigate climate change. For example, my regional district has been very proactive in developing a solid waste management approach that diverts waste from landfills. Each household recycles, sorting their household waste into compost (food and yard waste), paper products, recyclable plastics and metals, and garbage (for the landfill).

Since I last wrote about this topic, I have continued to look for additional ways to do my part to reduced my carbon footprint. Here is a list of new I initiatives I have taken in the last two months.

1. I met with my financial advisor and divested my retirement portfolio of fossil fuels. I replaced those mutual funds with funds that are investing in green technology.

2. Reduced beef/lamb in my diet to once a week.

3. Now do most of my grocery shopping at the nearest store (3 km.) to reduce driving, and if I am in the nearby city anyways, I mostly shop at a locally owned independent grocer that offers local produce, meat, and dairy products.

4. To reduce our water usage, we bought and installed more soaker hoses, we mulched the gardens, and we don’t flush the toilet overnight (ewwww).

5. I convinced my service club to offer a vegetarian alternative at the next community pancake breakfast. Now instead of pancakes and sausage, people can choose to have pancakes and fruit instead.

6. When I put away my winter clothes a few weeks ago and brought out my summer clothes, I realized I have way too many clothes. So I have implemented a shopping moratorium for myself. I will not buy any clothing, footwear, ore jewelry for myself until 2020.

I believe that as individuals make personal changes changes, we will make a difference and also inspire ourselves to change policies and practices at a broader social level.

On a totally different topic, I am heading off on an adventure with my daughter. In my next post, I’ll tell you all about it!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Animals Around Us

Upper Pond With Lotus Bloom

A Haven For Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

As I have mentioned before, we purchased our home from people who were avid gardeners. The entire backyard is beautifully landscaped with shrubs that bloom from spring until the fall, and it also has two ponds and a mini waterfall. It has several birdhouses, a bee house, a bat-house, a bird feeder, and a birdbath.

Our yard is a haven for birds, bees, and butterflies. All summer long, the blossoms are alive with buzzing bees -- bumble bees, honey bees, and other types. I am not very knowledgeable about identifying butterflies, but in the last few days, I believe I have seen both Western Tiger Swallowtail and Pale Swallowtail butterflies in our yard, and a blue butterfly that might be a Blue Copper.

As well, we have many birds. We have a pair of humming birds, one with a green head and one with a red head (a female and male pair of Rufous Hummingbirds, I think). One day when I was out in the yard wearing a red shirt, one of the hummingbirds hovered only a foot away, trying to determine if I was a large red flower, I guess. The same day, a tiny bird of an unknown species that was perched on the rose arbour a few feet from me flew over and was about to land on my head. I felt the whirring of tiny wings just above me. It realized its mistake and continued on.

The birds I recognize include American robins, varied thrushes, juncos, chickadees, and sparrows. There is a yellow bird that looks like a canary (possibly the Common Yellowthroat?), and many other little birds. There are crows, ravens, and Northern Flickers. Just the other day, a Pileated Woodpecker came by and pecked at the trunk of a Douglas fir tree just beyond the back fence. Once a Great Blue Heron paid a visit to our pond. I ran out and counted the fish, but they were all still there.

Sailing past the Douglas fir trees, we frequently see bald eagles, hawks, and sometimes a pair of turkey vultures. Presently, we believe that there is an eagle nesting in one of our Douglas fir trees. We can't make out the nest, but we hear the eagle vocalizing all day long. We've also heard the call of an owl, red winged blackbirds, and ring-collared doves.

We don't use any chemicals of any sort in our yard, and I think that is why it attracts so many species. 


Other Species in Our Yard and Nearby

Vancouver Island Deer
As well as the birds, bees, and butterflies, there are a variety of other animals that share our space. The deer are so commonplace here that I never remember to take photos of them even though I see them almost every day in our yard or around the neighbourhood. The photo above is of a pair of deer at a new house under construction down the road from us.

Bug at the Pond
There are many wild rabbits in the neighbourhood. A large white rabbit with a black spot on its eye and a smaller brown bunny spend a lot of time grazing in our yard. One day when I walked around the streets, I counted eighteen different rabbits on my walk.

One evening, I surprised two raccoons fighting (or mating?) in a nearby ditch. Our next door neighbour has been plagued by raccoons getting into her garbage but fortunately we haven't had that problem.

I've seen two different variants of garter snakes in our yard, and Rob spotted either a salamander or lizard in the garden the other day. Sometimes a little green tree frog shows itself. We have all manner of interesting insects, including June bugs, dragon flies and damselflies. As well, we have various slugs and worms, and in the pond there are snails and leeches.

Goldfish at Feeding Time
 Our lower pond has goldfish in it. I am fascinated with the goldfish, and spend lots of time watching them each day. This winter, we wondered if they had survived as we did not see them for months. But once the water warmed up in the spring, they reappeared. Most of them made it through the winter. There were thirteen fish when we first moved here two years ago, and we now have approximately twenty-eight fish. The goldfish have been having babies! The minnows are black, grey, or brown. As they mature, they turn orange. Some of the mature fish are orange and white, and one large fish is all white.
Canada Geese
I also see lots of animals in the forests around us, and in the nearby little lake and ponds. On a recent mountain bike ride, I paused for a break, and a skunk walked calmly across the path I had just ridden down. I stayed very still and watched the cute little cat-like animal stroll by. 

On my forest hikes, I often stand by one of the many ponds to see what I can see. The largest pond is home to many ducks (buffleheads, mallards). One day, the two Canada geese shown in the photo were there. They were disturbed by my presence and kept swimming back and forth in front of me, honking loudly. I went back on the trail and came out again at a different viewing spot. The two geese spotted me instantly and swam over to chase me away. That same day, I saw some Brant geese come to the pond. Brant geese are a protected species that migrate through this area in the spring. When the Brants tried to land, the Canada geese chased them away.

Clams at the Estuary
I have read that there are at least six cougar dens on this peninsula where we live. Although my son and my neighbours have seen cougars here, I haven't seen one. There is reported to be a resident bear. I haven't seen it, but I did see a bear this spring in nearby Coombs. It was on the bike path, so we took a little detour on our bicycles.

My Daughter and Oysters

Abundant Ocean

Our peninsula is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and its great abundance of life. Last week, there was a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) in the bay on the far side of the peninsula. I didn't see them, but a number of people posted pictures and videos.

There are many sea lions and seals here. In the spring and fall, from everywhere in the area you can hear sea lions barking. We have not gone fishing much, but when we went out on our friend's boat last week, Rob dropped a line. He caught and released a small ling cod. Last week, hiking along the shore with my daughter, I saw sea stars and sea anemones. We gathered some oysters and few clams.

Kate Takes a Breather
We don't have an oyster knife for shucking oysters, but we managed to shuck them using a screwdriver and one of Rob's sturdy knives. We each slurped down a couple of raw oysters, and the rest of the dozen went into a seafood chowder, along with a handful of clams. Delicious! Afterwards, we returned the shells to the beach. (Note that we carefully read the government website beforehand to make sure that we were gathering the shellfish in an area that was safe and permitted.)


The Pets

Oliver Sitting on my Legs
Of course, no blog post about animals would be complete without mentioning those important fur-covered family members, Kate and Oliver. Kate is our elderly Blue Heeler cross. She still loves her hikes and walks with me, but now I have to take it slowly and give her lots of rest breaks. She also likes to cool off along the way in a pond or the lake.

Oliver, our cat, also is elderly. He is quite hobbled with arthritis. He loves to bask in the sun, or sleep on a chair out on the deck. If we're in the yard, he follows us around. He's a very cuddly guy.


A Frog Story

A Frog in Our Pond
This spring, a frog appeared in our pond. I was thrilled to welcome this new pond resident. At first, every time I came near the pond, it jumped into the water. But after awhile, it became used to me and would just sit there blinking and sunning itself as I fed the fish.

A few days ago, I went online to try to determine what type of frog it was. We have a serious problem on Vancouver Island with an invasive species of frog, the American Bullfrog, which has been taking over wetlands and killing native species of frogs. It is a voracious predator that can eat fish, mice, painted turtles, salamanders, ducklings, and other small birds. That's why I was so excited to welcome what I thought was a native species of frog to our pond. I believed our frog was not an American Bullfrog because it was smaller than other bullfrogs I've seen, and also because it didn't produce the easy-to-identify bullfrog croak.

So, I was horrified to discover from my research that our frog was, in fact, an American Bullfrog -- a female one. Rob set up a special USB camera with a computer so we could zoom in on it to make a positive identification. Females are unable to vocalize. They can travel quite a long way to get to a pond, where they will lay up to 50,000 eggs at a time. I frantically read websites about the history of the bullfrog's introduction to the area (one website said they were brought in by restaurant owners who wanted to serve frogs' legs and when the business failed, released into the wild), watched videos of them eating all manner of things, learned that they carry amphibian pathogens, and looked at maps showing that their territory is expanding. I had a sleepless night worrying that we were harbouring an invasive species and that our pond soon would be full of bullfrog tadpoles.

Meanwhile, Rob read the frog control website to learn how to exterminate it, and then calmly followed the instructions while I refused to watch. Invasive species or not, I had become fond of "our" frog. But culling it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful that Rob was willing to do it. We no longer have a bullfrog in our pond.