Notes from Goose Island
This article was originally published on the Qqs Projects Society Blog. Please see their blog for more stories.
My name is Morgan Hocking. I am a scientist with Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver with the Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management. I feel very privileged to have also been nominated as the Coastwatch Director of Science, working alongside William Housty, Collin Reid, Jordan Wilson and crew.
William and Colin were tied up down south and coordinating clam surveys for Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department (HIRMD), so it was just Jordan and I who left Bella Bella early Wednesday morning. En route we picked up SFU researchers Christine, Ummat and Caitlyn, who are also doing work on Goose Island. These folks are surveying the bird and plant communities of Goose Island under the direction of John Reynolds at SFU.
Here are some highlights from our time in the field:
• Jordan and I set up some insect traps on the islands. The traps were set up on 50m transects perpendicular to the shore. Purpose was to 1) survey the insect biodiversity in Goose Island group, 2) understand how communities change with the types of plants and the distance from the shore (marine nutrient input), and 3) look at insect ‘cleanup crew’ as indicators.
• The SFU bird crew had spent over a month already on Goose and had set up 50 bird monitoring sites on the different islands and habitats. Jordan and I worked with them briefly with some of their vegetation surveys. It was really interesting to see how dramatically the plant communities changed over short distances. The over-browsing by deer in some areas was also evident.
• Christine Rock, one of the leaders of the SFU bird crew, is a master bird handler and bird bander. On several mornings, Jordan and I worked with her to ‘mistnet’ some birds. We set up a 3 m high by 10 m long fine net between two poles and then attracted birds breeding nearby by using call-playback. Christine would then take body measurements on each bird, band the birds with an individual band and take a poop sample.
• Jordan really enjoyed working with Christine and getting the bird training. He learned both the standard ringers hold and the photographers grip, some of the bird songs and bird ID. However, Jordan also had considerable knowledge already and Christine noted that for the Chestnut backed chickadee, “Jordan’s calls and whistles were better at attracting the bird to the net than the call from the speaker!”
• Overall, working with Jordan was a pleasure because our skill set balanced out very well. Because of my scientific training, I have more of a rigorous approach to collecting information from the land, asking more specific questions, and then dealing with the data afterwards so it can be useful. Jordan possesses a wide knowledge of many different species, and his eye for spotting things (whether it’s shells, cool rocks or species on the beach or distant deer that blend so well into their surroundings) speaks greatly to his deep-rooted traditional knowledge of these wild places.
• At high tide in the lagoon, Jordan and I went out deer hunting via canoe. I learned the Heiltsuk names for buck and doe. Bucks were preferred, which is an example of traditional harvest management to sustain their populations. On one occasion in particular we almost got a healthy buck, but Jordan ended up disappointed. For me it was all quite exhilarating, as I have never hunted before.
• On the last two nights we also stayed up to 2 AM and either walked or canoed through the lagoon doing owl surveys. One species noted in 1948 to be present on Goose was the Western screech owl. This is an endangered species so it would be very exciting indeed if it were still present on Goose. We did observe one owl fly over us across the lagoon but were unable to tell the species. More owling nights are definitely needed!
So now we are all back home and the SFU bird crew is back in town and heading back south to process all of their data and results. Meanwhile, Jordan and I, and William, Colin and Carl, will be heading back out there for more Coastwatch fieldwork including some rock cod surveys, deer pellet transects, clam and crab assessments and to collect the final insect traps. Looking forward to all of the crew being out there together!