Friday, July 8, 2011

The British invasion

I started a new job this week - it's going to be a hodgepodge of things, I think, but all conservation-oriented, and with hopefully not a few bird surveys. For the past two days, however, we've been mapping Spartina grass on the Roberts Bank mudflats near Tsawwassen, BC. Spartina is an invasive grass from England that's been found up and down the western coast. Like all invasive species, it seems, Spartina spreads rapidly and is a pain in the butt to get rid of, outcompeting local plants and decreasing habitat for marine invertebrates, fish, and birds.

Roberts Bank is a very alien, very magical landscape. Walking toward the water from the dikes, you wade through a few metres of vegetation before coming out onto a muddy soup, which lasts another few metres. Then finally the ground hardens, and what looks like a prehistoric or lunar terrain emerges with cracked mud and channels and pools everywhere that the tide has formed. The oozy mud under the pools and rivers is also strange... there's a thin brown surface layer, but the sludge below is a soft black colour and actually feels really lovely on the skin.

Sadly, I couldn't bring my beloved SLR and 200 mm lens out in the muck with me, which was disappointing because I saw so many amazing birds that I just couldn't capture with my point & shoot. Of course there were gulls and swallows everywhere, and little sandpipers that were too far away for me to identify. There was also a small family of killdeer that would shriek and suddenly lift off if we got too close to them, and tons of herons and eagles doing flyovers. The first morning, we also saw a Northern Harrier swooping over the shore grasses looking for a snack. I also identified my first Caspian terns, and solved a bit of a puzzle - Davis and I had been hearing their strange raspy scream all over Richmond but we were never able to get a good look at them to figure out what was making that noise. Mystery solved!

If you roll over the images there should be some text popping up - the pictures were just so cruddy in the first place that I didn't want to clog them up with too much writing. Okay so the rollover thing doesn't seem to work. In the first picture, there are some Caspian terns mixed with gulls in the foreground - the terns have a black crown and a bright red beak. In the distance, what I initially mistook to be a fleet of small sailboats is actually a bunch of great blue herons, fishing out in the shallows. In the second photo, the flagged plant is that dastardly Spartina, and a killdeer.


  1. Not only does your job sound terribly interesting, but your photos are positively wonderful as well! The coloration and focus is really beautiful!

  2. Sounds like a fun job!
    I love the picture of the footsteps :D

  3. Hi, Victoria,
    I followed you back here from my comment thread. I'm loving your blog already!

    We occasionally go to Mud Bay Station, where the mud is similar to yours at Roberts Bank. I've wondered how safe it would be to step out on the mud; how far down is it possible to sink? A couple of times we have lost shoes in that muck, once with a two little kids in tow. They howled!

    What kind of gear do you use?

    I love that cracked mud photo!

  4. Hi Victoria, nice blog!I saw you comment on Susannahs blog and came to take a peek. You take great photos of interesting things.I'm thinking the fine sludgy black mud must be coal as Roberts Bank is a coal loading superport.The dust can be a problem sometimes. Maybe it sinks because of the weight or something. Watch for Westshore Willy the friendly resident Orca who hangs out there.

  5. I have never heard of Roberts Bank, it looks like a very eerily interesting place to explore!

    Congrats on your new job!! Hope you are having a wonderful week :)


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