Monday, October 8, 2012

Hiking On Gerald Island

Yesterday I rowed out to Gerald Island, here in Nanoose. It is about 1 km out to the Gerald Island  shoreline, and takes me about 10 minutes of easy rowing in calm seas, and about 20 minutes of hard rowing in choppy seas with a contrary wind. Yesterday was fairly easy, with winds generally less than 1 knot. 

One the way out I saw all three species of cormorants and a few Harlequin Ducks on the large rock at the mouth of First Bay, here in Moorecroft Regional Park. A bit further out, was a single Western Grebe. A fly-by Rhinoceros Auklet was the only other bird of interest on the trip out, or for that matter, on the trip back. The large numbers of Pacific Loons and gulls that have been present the past few days, appeared to have moved on. Other than a few Mew, California, and Glaucous-winged Gulls feeding locally, gull numbers were way down. 

The first bird I noticed upon landing on Gerald Island, was am immature Sharp-shinned Hawk. It was in pursuit of a small flock of Pine Siskins. After giving up on catching one of these tiny finches, it flew directly to the shoreline of Vancouver Island, entering the forests of Moorecroft, somewhat below the canopy. I would see two more of this species do the exact same thing over the next two hours. I do not know how they got to Gerald Island, but I suspect they were using the Texada to Ballenas to Gerald route. The other bird of interest I spotted on Gerald Island, was a Northern Shrike, quite contentedly catching grasshoppers along the NW shore of the island. In many Octobers, the grasshoppers would be long gone by the time this migrant from the far north arrives.

Walking on Gerald is interesting. The island is only lightly forested with Douglas firs, red cedars, grand firs, arbutus and trembling aspen. An odd forest composition anywhere in BC. There is also some Rocky Mountain juniper, Saskatoon, ocean spray and Pacific crab apple in the shrub layer, which is places, is impenetrable. Rare coastal plants such as prickly pear cactus and coastal wood fern grow in fair abundance on parts of the island. For the most part though, much of the island is rock which is covered by thin grasses or lichen and moss. A small wetland dominated by red-osier dogwood sits in the center of the island, but because the vegetation is so thick, only the presence of wetland plant species and numerous mosquitos convinces one that there is any water at all on this otherwise dry and rocky island. Most of the shoreline is either sheer rock and short cliffs, or hills of steep rock, making hiking into the interior of the island difficult. There are three places to land a small boat on the island, which lead to routes to reach the center of the island, with varying degrees of difficulty. At it's highest point, it is about 175 meters high, and offers some great views of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and the surrounding Salish Sea. There is one active Bald Eagle nest on the island. I have read undocumented reports of Peregrine Falcons nesting on Gerald Island as well. I have seen no evidence of this, and decent cliff ledges are in short supply here. Turkey Vultures do nest on the island, on the ground in dense vegetation. The island is well known as a major roost site for Northwestern Crows in the winter. The actual number of crows nesting here can vary quite a bit from day to day through the winter though. With the large amount of open ground and bare rock and grass on the island, it does appear to be an attractive migration stop for the more open country species.

The only presence of mammals on the island, are the numerous runways through the grass, and scat piles from River Otters. Harbor seals and both California and Steller's Sea Lions feed in the waters around the island, but do not appear to haul out here with any regularity. Probably because there are other more appropriate haul out spots nearby.   

List of birds noted from Gerald Island on 7 October 2012:

Harlequin Duck: 8
Surf Scoter: 5
Red-breasted Merganser: 2
Common Merganser: 2
Pacific Loon: 32
Common Loon: 2
Red-necked Grebe: 1
Western Grebe: 1
Brandt's Cormorant: 5
Double-crested Cormorant: 11
Pelagic Cormorant: 9
Mew Gull: 22
California Gull: 10
Glaucous-winged Gull: 18
Northern Flicker: 5
Northern Shrike: 1
Northwestern Crow: 3
Chestnut-backed Chickadee: 11
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 5
Brown Creeper: 4
Bewick's Wren: 3
Pacific Wren: 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 23
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 4
American Robin: 12
Varied thrush: 1
American Pipit: 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 6
Spotted Towhee: 11
Savannah Sparrow: 14
Fox Sparrow: 9
Song Sparrow: 26
White-crowned Sparrow: 5
Golden-crowned Sparrow: 22
Purple Finch: 4
Pine Siskin: 123

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