The long, dark winter is over.
by Don Enright
Yesterday, we took a walk along St. John Point. We’ve been leading our Sunday visits there for a while now, and it has been remarkable to watch the changing of the seasons along its rocky shores. Particularly this year, with its wild and wooly storms—we’ve had to cancel at least once, when none of our participants could dig out of their snow-filled driveways.
But yesterday dawned bright, crisp and sunny, and a record crowd of eighteen gathered in Miners Bay to make our way to the southeast tip of the island. Mike Nadeau and I led the way, and we proved to be a compatible pair, Mike scanning the forest floor for wildflowers and mushrooms, me with my eyes in the trees looking for birds.
As the group gathered to introduce ourselves at the property’s entrance, Mike spotted salmonberries in bloom. Everything is late this year, even on sunny St. John Point, and early wildflowers are still hard to find.
As we set out along the trail, Mike’s keen eye for green found a rattlesnake plantain not yet in flower—it’s a local wild orchid—and shortly afterward spotted the telltale round leaves of its cousin, the fairy slipper or Calypso orchid. They’ll be spectacular in a few weeks.
We made our way along the trail slowly. ‘Trail’ is a generous term—the property is largely undeveloped, which is one of the things that makes it so valuable from an ecological point of view. Miner’s lettuce, sanicle, starflower, nettle—all were sprouting fresh and green. They’ll have some catching up to do, these coastal wildflowers.
The group seemed more than happy to pause every few minutes in the spring sunshine to marvel at mushrooms or scan for seals in the water. And everywhere along the way was the sound of birds calling.
At this time of year the bird mosaic is changing: our resident chickadees and nuthatches are banding together with migrating spring warblers in temporary communities called mixed-species flocks. It’s a way of staying safe: there are Cooper’s hawks in the forests of St. John Point. By banding together, the tiny songbirds have extra eyes to look out for those birds of prey (and less chance of any individual being taken, in the “anybody but me” strategy of flocking and schooling.)
Sure enough, among the metallic beeping of nuthatches was a song I haven’t heard since last summer: the orange-crowned warbler. Once you learn the sound, you won’t forget it—it’s a bit like the sound of running your thumb along a comb.
We made our way out of the Douglas fir forest toward the rocky, Arbutus-lined shoreline, and we heard a soft chirp on the breeze. I raised my binoculars and found my first violet-green swallow of the year. It was patrolling up and down the cliffs, no doubt searching for insects on the updrafts. He must have been hungry from the long trip up; they spend their winters from southern Mexico to Nicaragua. At first glance, the violet-green looks a lot like its better-known cousin the tree swallow—but in the bright sunlight this morning we could make out the shimmering purple and emerald hues that give it its name.
Out on the water, a common loon was diving industriously. They’ve been around all winter—our region is home to hundreds if not thousands of winter loons—but now his drab white-grey winter plumage had given way to the elegant black-and-white beadwork that is such a welcome sight on northern lakes in summer.
We paused for snacks along the shoreline and soaked up the spring sunshine. We spoke of the future of this place, as a wild space protected in perpetuity, where Mayne Islanders and visitors from away will gather and walk every spring—to feel the fresh breezes, hear the wild birds call, and reconnect with a little bit of nature.
Yesterday morning, more than ever, it felt like a place worth saving.