Friday, September 13, 2013

Co-caretakers in British Columbia: Active Pass IBA

Bald eagle
Brett Hare was an intern with Nature Canada's conservation team in the early part of 2013. He spoke with Rick Whitman, Minas Basin Important Bird Area Caretaker, about his role in the IBA Caretaker program.

The Active Pass IBA is located within the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, which are a small chain of islands between Vancouver and Victoria.

Michael Dunn and Mike Hoebel have been co-caretakers at the Active Pass IBA since 2007. The two had known each other previously and were both neighbours to the IBA.  

“We’re both keen birders” Mike explained.  “We’ve been involved in organized bird watching for a long time.
“We created our own hand maps and identified “hot spots” for birds” Michael added.

Active Pass is an active marine channel located between Galiano Island and Mayne Island. The two caretakers are located on separate sides of the channel with Michael operating within the Mayne constituency while Mike operates within the Galiano constituency. Active Pass is part of the main ferry route between Vancouver and Victoria, making it one of the busier IBA’s in terms of people passing through the area. Over 100,000 people inadvertently visit this IBA each year as they pass through by ferry.

“I make a bird count every time I take the ferry” Mike explains.  “This gives us a fairly accurate snapshot of bird populations in the IBA.”

Active Pass is comprised of high, rocky-sandstones and bluffs, with many pocket-pebble beaches and sandy bays.  Mayne Island was a significant site during the gold rush, attracting many to its shores during this time. The area is historically significant for First Nations, with an archaeological site located near Georgeson Bay.  

Both caretakers initiated a stewardship program designed to involve the community with the IBA. The program asked shoreline property owners if they would volunteer for bird counting to provide accurate data sets on bird numbers and species within the IBA. This led to accurate bird counts being conducted weekly, monthly, and seasonally depending on volunteer support.  

“We received funding for our work on stewardship programs from various sponsors” Michael stated.  “This funding was used to train residents and create signage for the IBA.”

The Active Pass IBA is easily accessible to the public as pedestrians can walk to the various beaches on the islands and ferry access allows those not living near the IBA a chance to travel to the islands and experience the area in a more intimate way.

Tidal currents in the area are extremely active. The underwater topography allows for upwelling which brings nutrient-rich water towards the surface, attracting many species of birds and aquatic organisms to the area. Marine mammals such as orcas, sea lions, and seals are common in Active Pass, and recently humpback whales were witnessed in the area which is uncommon.

There are 3 species of migratory birds found in large congregations throughout Active Pass including the Pacific Loon, Brandt’s Cormorant, and Bonepart’s Gull. Recently, the levels of Pacific Loon and Brandt’s Cormorant using the pass have been significantly lower than in the previous 10 years. Instead, there has been an increase in other gulls such as the California gull and Mew gull. Bald eagles nest throughout Active Pass, which has had a significant impact on other bird species due to predation.

“We don’t have a lot of shorebird mudflat habitats” Michael explained.  “We miss out on a bunch of species.”

Both caretakers are involved in a number of educational programs designed to bring awareness to the IBA.  

“100,000 people move through the pass each year, 1,000 or so per day in the summer” Mike stated.  “We have in the past made approaches to B.C. ferry’s to distribute a brochure or display signage highlighting the Active Pass IBA.”

“Having a naturalist on board during the summer educating the public about habitats for birds would be a great way to promote the IBA” Michael added.  “It would be a wonderful opportunity to provide a quick thumbnail about sea birds.”

There has been a motion to unite all IBA’s within the area into a single, composite IBA. The chambers of commerce have expressed interest and there have been discussions regarding a regional wildlife festival which would strengthen the unity between the local IBA’s.

The Active Pass IBA presents a plethora of marine diversity ranging from whales, sea lions and other marine mammals, to various gulls and other aquatic bird species.

Michael and Mike both commented that, “there’s always something new to be seen!”

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