This week, we've been working out on the salt marshes off Westham Island. A salt marsh, in case it isn't obvious, is the upper part of the intertidal zone where salt-tolerant plants such as worts, sedges, and rushes can be periodically covered at high tide. In the delta of the Fraser River, the marshes and mudflats extend out for probably a couple of kilometers at least. We've been working with a government biologist, counting different types of native vegetation out there in order to assess how much the marsh has eroded over the past thirty years - and the answer seems to be a lot, in some places. From what I understand, the erosion of the marsh is mainly due to rising sea levels and over-grubbing by snow geese.
It's muddy, dirty, exhausting work - it's a 45 minute slog through the mud and a short canoe ride across a channel just to get to the site, and then we're on our knees in the muck all day getting poked in the eye (or nostril) by bulrush stems. But the sun is (usually) shining, we can see all sorts of birds (harriers, yellowlegs, sandpipers, bald eagles, swallows, wrens, herons, etc), and there's something about working outdoors, especially by the ocean, that really connects you to the planet. Measuring the workday by high tides and low tides and sun and rain makes me feel like I'm remembering something more elemental that I'd forgotten along the way. And the landscape is beautiful - I find it really interesting to see the different vegetation zones change as you move away from land, as different species adapt to different water and salinity levels.
This is prime real estate as far as eagles are concerned... this pair built their nest on an old navigation tower, and are raising two young that are about to fledge. This particular site comes complete with adjacent tower (excellent for stretching your wings and letting the wind take you off), multiple perch sites, breathtaking views, and even a small live tree growing out of the corner for shade.
A hanging marsh wren nest, woven around and suspended by cattail stalks.
Our accompanying government biologist suspected this was a harbour seal placenta/birth sac... and NOT the plastic bag we all initially thought it was!
Tomorrow is our last day working on this project, and I'm looking forward to (hopefully) a more relaxed week of bird counts next week!