Nature Highlights

Eaglet and Dad - Photo: Barb Biagi

Eaglet and Dad – Photo: Barb Biagi

The waters around Hornby Island are designated as an Important Bird Area, and along with Comox Valley and Baynes Sound have the second largest concentration of wintering waterfowl in BC. During the winter, every kilometer around the island you can see a “basic kit” of overwintering birds: a pair of common loons, a pair of horned grebes, a pair of red-necked grebes, a great blue heron and a kingfisher! Bald eagles also frequent the shores.

The herring spawn in March attracts tens of thousands of birds, as well as large numbers of eagles and sea lions. This is the crucial beginning of the year for much of our marine ecosystem. Helliwell Park, looking at Flora Islet, is an excellent viewing spot. Norris Rocks is a major hangout for wildlife; a boat is required to see the area. Eagles lay their eggs shortly after the herring spawn.

Intertidal life is rich with sea stars, sea cucumbers, seaweed, sand dollars, crabs and other creatures. Occasionally orcas, sea lions, seals and otters are spotted from shore, along with flocks of seabirds and shorebirds.

Grassy Point is known for gorgeous sunsets and has an alluring display of wild camas flowers. Sandpiper Beach provides a panoramic south-facing outlook and is a wonderful place to watch the moonrise on clear nights and the sunrise on any day. Tribune Bay and Whaling Station Bay offer inviting sandy beaches, while Ford Cove and Helliwell Park reveal interesting sandstone formations.

River Otter - Photo: Paula Courteau

River Otter – Photo: Paula Courteau

On Shingle Spit, a shifting gravel bar that changes from year to year, there is a large shell midden exposed by erosion. The upland habitats adjacent to Lambert Channel (the body of water between Hornby and Denman)are part of the dry Garry oak/Douglas fir forests that are restricted in British Columbia to the Strait of Georgia. Helliwell Provincial Park is at the northern edge of Garry Oak distribution, which occurs at drier sites and is home to the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (currently the subject of a habitat restoration project).

Many native plants cover the island, including trillium, chocolate lily, bleeding heart, Indian paintbrush, spring gold, gold stars, blue-eyed Mary, calypso orchid, orange honeysuckle and sea blush.

Black-tailed deer are observed year-round in the fields, forests and crossing the roads.

Peregrine falcons and merlins are seen hunting with their young in mid-summer. The forests are filled with the chorus of songbirds and frogs sing loudly from ponds in the spring.

Chum salmon return to spawn in Beulah Greek from mid-November to December depending on water levels in the creek. The fish can often be glimpsed in the pool to the south side of Central Rd. where the creek passes through a culvert under the road west of the Co-op.

The warm water and shorter days of the end of summer make it a great time to experience the glow and glitter of bioluminescence in the ocean.