Eagles on the Islands

One day in April, I peered from a cliff down into an eagle’s nest balanced near the top of a Douglas fir tree. A bald eagle mother with a two-metre wing span and lethal talons and beak was ever so gently placing food into the tiny beak of her three-day-old chick. A touching scene.

We’re fortunate, for eagles are an iconic sight in the Gulf Islands. Their nests are near the tops of tall Douglas fir trees and usually within 100 metres of the sea. Over four months I watched as the eagle mom incubated two eggs and then lovingly nurtured the single chick (the other egg never hatched).

For four years I studied this eagle pair and bonded with them. I learned that eagles mate in February and usually lay two eggs around the end of March. The female incubates the eggs for about 35 days, with occasional help from the male. Once hatched, eaglets are fed by both parents; at six to seven weeks they start feeding themselves.

By the end of June chicks are as large as their parents but still have not left the nest. They are dark brown in colour, and do not develop the

distinctive white head and tail feathers until they reach adulthood at about four to six years.

Finally, in early July, eaglets are ready to fledge although it takes some coaxing by the parents to get them to take that first flight.  Surprisingly, they are bigger than the parents because the initial, temporary feathers are larger to help them fly.

In September, most eagles leave their territories to catch salmon and socialize in spawning areas, returning later in the fall. Then the young eagles find their own territories and start the life cycle once more.

 

Happy Trails on the Gulf Islands

I lace up my hiking boots, but where to go? Should I ramble in the still, sombre forest surrounded by moss, ferns and giant trees? Or should I walk along rocky beaches communing with sea stars and barnacle encrusted rocks? Or should I climb to a viewpoint and gaze upon a panorama of islands sprinkled on the waters as though by the hand of God? I decide to set out on a quest and seek out the very best hiking trail in this gaggle of islands.

On my island of Pender, walking trails are abundant and I know them well. My favourite is George Hill where I’m soon labouring uphill, through moist forest and then a meadow and onto the summit. I sit next to a spindly Garry oak, watching ferries and the distant snow-capped mountains on the mainland. Ah, wonderful.

At Galiano Island, the choices are many, but the Bodega Ridge trail draws me. I stroll along humming and happy passing ramrod-straight Douglas firs, which are like battalions of tall, slim soldiers standing at attention. But interspersed here and there in their ranks, mockingly, are gangling arbutus trees, chaotic like hippies. What a blessing to be alone, immersed in nature.

My quest continues. Disembarking from the ferry at Mayne Island, I check the trail map and head for the Halliday Ridge hike in Mount Parke Regional Park. The deep forest and views from the top are wonderful, but best is hearing a loud rat-atat-atat and then seeing a pileated woodpecker, its red head a blur as it attacks an old log, sending wood chips flying.

Saturna Island is next, and soon I am at the top of Mount Warburton Pike. Gazing at the isle-dotted Salish Sea, I can’t argue with those who judge the Pike the finest lookout in the Gulf Islands. I meander south-east along the Brown Ridge trail wrapped in sunshine and peaceful solitude. The walk is special for the trail was made not by humans but, most unusually, by resident feral goats, whom I can see grazing here and there farther down the hillside.

Another ferry carries me to Salt Spring Island where I seek out the Chris Hatfield trail in the northern edge of Ruckle Park. I sit beside a pond, where reflections of towering trees and a split-rail fence glisten in the water. I continue deeper into the lush rain forest, passing trees whose branches are festooned with beards of bright green moss. Under a tree are a shovel, several buckets and a sign inviting hikers to dig up gravel, fix part of the trail farther along and return the empty pail on return. What a clever idea! At Yeo Point I sat with my back against a sun-warmed boulder gazing at passing boats and ferries. Following a creek upstream, the gurgling of water grows louder until I see rapids swirling and tumbling down moss encrusted rocks, surrounded by ferns and tall trees.

I return home having hiked many great trails. But I think I’ll have to do it all over again, for I can’t decide which one is best.