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Western Grebe - Special Dance

The Western Grebe is the largest of the six grebe species found in British Columbia. It measures about 64 cm in length and weights up to 1.8 kg.

The Western Grebe is best distinguished by its long, curved neck. With the exception of the less common Clark's Grebe, the Western Grebe is the only one of our grebe species that has contrasting black and white plumage year round. The Western Grebe is recognized by its high-pitched, far-reaching creak-creak call.

The legs of the Western Grebe are set back on the body and the feet are lobbed rather than fully webbed like a duck's, providing it with strong propulsion under water. This species is usually found on water except when nesting. They are found in large groups at breeding colonies, on lakes during migration and on the ocean in winter.

Western Grebe may be observed throughout the year in British Columbia. Winter concentrations are best observed in southern coastal waters. During the summer months viewing is best at specific interior lakes and wetlands.

Our province is home to three main nesting colonies of Western Grebe. These are located at Shuswap Lake, the north arm of Okanagan Lake and the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area. A viewing highlight is the opportunity to observe the courtship behaviour of this bird.

Once seen, you will never forget the unique Western Grebe "dance". This elaborate and energetic display begins soon after the grebes reach their nesting colonies in late April or early May. Know as the "rushing ceremony", two grebes engage in advertising calls and various head movements, then lunge forward and run rapidly across the surface of the water, side-by-side, for up to 20 metres. While running, the birds maintain an upright posture with their long necks stretching upwards and their heads bent forward at a 90 degree angle.

After courtship, Western Grebe build a nest of vegetation with a base of rotten or decaying plant material. Nests are located in stands of bulrush or cattail in open water or a grassy marsh. The nest may float or be built up from the bottom. Once hatched, the young can often be seen riding on their parent's back.

The Shuswap Lake site is located at Salmon Arm. Over many years, considerable community effort resulted in critical marshland acquisitions, control of shoreline development and the implementation of boating restrictions.

The Salmon Arm Grebe Festival was established to celebrate the local grebe colony. The year 2000 event is planned for the weekend of May 27 and 28. For event information contact the Festival [P.O. Box 55, Salmon Arm, B.C. V1E 4N2; (250) 832-5200 or (800) 661-4800].

For more information on Western Grebe, contact the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks [P.O. Box 9374, Stn. Prov. Govt., Victoria, B.C. V8W 9M4] to request a copy of the brochure Wildlife in British Columbia at Risk - Western Grebe. This is one of a series of wonderful fold-out brochures on British Columbia's species at risk.


Did You Know - Food for Thought

British Columbia residents spent over $790 million on wildlife viewing activities in our province in 1996.

The Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks is guided by the British Columbia Provincial Wildlife Strategy to 2001, and through the Wildlife Program works to achieve three main goals.

The second goal is to provide a variety of opportunities for the use and enjoyment of wildlife, including viewing, hunting, trapping and other uses (as long as those uses are consistent with maintaining the diversity and abundance of species).

British Columbia Wildlife Watch is the program specifically undertaken by the Ministry to meet its viewing objectives.

Only two other provincial or territorial jurisdictions are known to have some form of coordinated viewing program, Alberta and Yukon.


Local Phone Directories - New Partnership

Your local phone book is the source of plenty of useful information. Now there is another reason to look in your local book! Through a partnership with Western Phone Directories many of the latest community directories have a new page with wildlife viewing information.

The British Columbia Wildlife Watch page contains basic information about the provincial program and site specific information for up to 5 or 6 sites. The space in each directory is generously provided to the program free-of-charge. This partnership is another example of how British Columbia Wildlife Watch is working to make viewing information available.

Information is now available in six recently published directories, including Burnaby-New Westminster, Sunshine Coast, Comox Valley, Surrey-North Delta, Delta-Ladner-Tsawwassen and Tri-Cities.

Watch for a similar wildlife viewing page in other community directories published by Western Phone Directories. Viewing pages are being prepared for at least six directories to be published throughout the summer, including Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, White Rock, Abbotsford-Mission, Langley, Chilliwack-Harrison Hot Springs and West Vancouver-North Vancouver.


Positive Viewing Experiences - Great New Reference

There are several good references available on planning and developing viewing opportunities. The latest gem is Providing Positive Wildlife Viewing Experiences - A Practical Handbook. Published in March 2000 by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, this 68 page reference is a must for any individual, group or agency interested in the creation of positive viewing experiences.

There are 3 main sections; special challenges (ethics, impacts and feeding), planning for positive viewing experiences (managing people and designing facilities) and educating viewers. Each section has numerous site-specific examples and case studies with a contact listed for most, including name, mailing address, phone number and e-mail.

To obtain a copy send a $10 U.S. money order to Watchable Wildlife Inc. [5097 Pine Ridge Drive, Golden, Colorado, USA 80403] or download an electronic version from the Watchable Wildlife Inc. web site.

Watchable Wildlife Inc. is a non-profit organization established in 1999. A representative from British Columbia Wildlife Watch, April Mol, sits on the Watchable Wildlife Inc. Board of Directors. While the initial focus of this organization will be in the United States, many of the products developed will be very applicable to situations in Canada.

The mission of Watchable Wildlife Inc. is:

    to enhance, elevate and promote wildlife viewing and nature appreciation for the benefit of society, while building community awareness, understanding and support for the conservation of the wildlife and habitats upon which these activities depend.

Viewing in the Comox Valley - Latest Brochure

The seventh brochure in the Visit Our Wildlife series is now available. Thanks to the generous support of Shell Canada's Shell Environmental Fund, Visit Our Wildlife in the Comox Valley has been printed. It highlights 13 wildlife viewing sites located in and around the Vancouver Island communities of Courtenay and Comox.

One of the viewing highlights of this area is the large wintering population of Trumpeter Swan. With viewing best from mid November through to March, as many as 2,000 swans have been counted in some years. Swans may be seen throughout the area's Farmlands, but especially between Courtenay and Merville. Please note that farmlands are private and viewing is from the road only. During the annual Trumpeter Swan Festival in early February some farm sites are open for short periods.

The Puntledge River Hatchery has two sites. At the main site off Powerhouse Road spawning salmon may be observed from mid September to the end of November. There are specific periods for Chinook, Coho, Chum and Pink Salmon. The upper site is located on Forbidden Plateau Road. It contains a series of ponds and troughs where young fish, transferred from the hatchery, are fed and reared. Coho, Chinook and Steelhead are raised here.

The Courtenay River Estuary offers a wide range of viewing. Winter is best for Trumpeter Swan and during the migration periods shorebirds are numerous. Bald Eagle, Mallard and Great Blue Heron are common year round. Waterfowl species use the area in every season. Pacific Herring spawning in March attracts many gulls, Harbour Seal and Osprey. An extensive trail system leads between several viewing facilities, through the estuary and along part of the Courtenay River.

The Paradise Meadows area of Strathcona Provincial Park offers visitors many trails into the sub-alpine meadows. Throughout the late spring (depending on snow melt) and summer months wave after wave of wildflowers bloom attracting a variety of butterflies. Late June to early July is usually the peak for wildflowers. Birdlife includes Gray Jay, Steller's Jay, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Hermit Thrush.

A number of viewing sites are found just south of Courtenay, including the Fanny Bay Conservation Unit. This site is made up of many distinctly different habitat zones. Together they make up an area that attracts a wide diversity of wildlife. Watch for Harbour Seal in the bay and estuary. The forest and upland areas are home to wrens, chickadees, warblers and vireos. The marine waters and mudflats are visited by grebes, heron, ducks, Osprey, Bald Eagle, shorebirds, gulls and Belted Kingfisher.

Fall migration is a good time to visit Sandy Island Provincial Marine Park. Watch for Black-bellied Plover, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Sanderling and Short-billed Dowitcher. From October to April many waterfowl species may be seen.

Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island is worth the two short ferry rides. Situated on the eastern point of the island, a 6 km loop trail along the shoreline and through the forest is most enjoyable. Spring wildflowers abound. The tall cliffs are home to several Pelagic Cormorant colonies. There are many locations where visitors may sit and watch the activities in the colonies without disturbing them. Harlequin Duck are often seen along the shore.


Soon to be Available - Visit Our Wildlife

Two more Visit Our Wildlife brochures will soon be available. Volunteer work is responsible for their completion and WBT Wild Bird Trust of British Columbia has assisted in securing funds to print them.

The Visit Our Wildlife in Chilliwack brochure will include viewing sites in the communities of Chilliwack, Cultus Lake, Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs. It should be available in late June. Funds to print this brochure have been approved by the Chilliwack/Sardis Chapter of Canada Trust's Friends of the Environment Foundation.

The Visit Our Wildlife in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows brochure will be available later this summer. Shell Canada's Shell Environmental Fund is providing the printing funds.

Upon completion of these, the Visit Our Wildlife series will total nine brochures.


Economic Justification - Latest Results

Several recent studies have shown the importance of wildlife-related activities as outdoor nature based activities and the contributions of this form of recreation to both provincial and local economies.

A new publication of the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks - Environmental Trends in British Columbia, 2000 - presents 15 key indicators of BC's environment. For the "green economy" indicator, BC's goal is the "provision of social, economic and outdoor recreational opportunities consistent with maintaining a naturally diverse and healthy environment".

One of five main points made for the green economy indicator is that "the economic value of direct wildlife activities was estimated at over $790 million in 1996". Direct activities are defined as trips away from home where the main purpose is to watch, photograph or study wildlife. Also stated is that "almost 864,000 provincial residents, or 29% of the adult population, participated in direct wildlife activities". This represents an increase from 23% in 1983.

These figures are taken from the Ministry's March 1998 report - Economic Value of Wildlife Activities in British Columbia 1996. This report also summarizes the number of days (all or part) in which BC residents participated in direct wildlife activities - over 17.8 million days in 1996!

Similar trends are documented in most jurisdictions across Canada. In Volume 14 of the Eyes on Wildlife Newsletter, the results of the highlights report from Environment Canada - The Importance of Nature to Canadians: Survey Highlights - was summarized. This report was based on the 1996 national survey, and was the latest in a growing series of documents dating back to 1991 showing the economic value associated with the public's participation in wildlife-related activities.

The second report based on the 1996 survey is now available - The Importance of Nature to Canadians: The Economic Significance of Nature-Related Activities. Copies are available from Environment Canada by phoning 1-800-668-6767. The results also are available on the internet.

Some of the highlights from this report are:

  • In 1996, 20 million Canadians spent $11.0 billion in Canada on nature-related trips or around their homes. Specifically, Canadians spent an estimated $1.3 billion for wildlife viewing activities, 1.9 billion on recreational fishing and 823 million on hunting. The largest amount, $7.2 billion, was spent on the broad category of "outdoor activities in natural areas".
  • Of the $1.3 million, $488.1 million was spent on wildlife viewing as the main activity whereas viewing as a secondary activity was estimated to involve expenditures of $813.7 million.
  • The economic impact of Canada's $1.3 billion spent on wildlife viewing was estimated to support 22,300 jobs and generate over $605 million in government tax revenues.
  • On average, wildlife viewing participants spent $297 in 1996, or $17 per day of participation. Participants from Saskatchewan ($344), Alberta ($433) and British Columbia ($420) spent higher amounts than the national average. When viewing was the main activity, the average national expenditure was $322 in 1996, or $30 per day per participant.

It is important to remember that the above figures do not include the economic values resulting from tourism-related wildlife activities. However, the Environment Canada report references a comparable survey conducted by the U.S Census Bureau revealed that 1.1 million U.S. visitors spent $705.3 million (in Canadian dollars) in Canada on fish- and wildlife-related activities, including $322.2 million on viewing in 1996.


Bird Tracks

Skagit Valley Provincial Park

    The Ross Lake day use area, Chittenden Meadow and Whitworth Meadow all contain plants and flowers that attract more than 20 species of butterflies. A special identification booklet, Butterflies of the North Cascades, is available to help you in identifying the different species. From Highway 1, about 3 km west of Hope, take the Silver/Skagit Road exit (Exit #168). From the highway, Whitworth Meadow is about 54 km, Chittenden Meadow 59 km and the Ross Lake day use area 60 km.

Sasquatch Provincial Park

    Located about 10 minutes northeast of Harrison Hot Springs, the beaver pond near the Hicks Lake day use area is worth a visit. Look for evidence of the resident beaver family. A trail leads around the pond and from spring through early fall listen for the call of many birds. Watch for Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Sapsucker, chickadees, Steller's Jay, warblers, vireos, and Tree, Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows. The best times to observe are at dawn or just before sunset.

Crabapple Creek, Whistler

    This creek wanders through the Whistler area. One section runs along the Valley Trail. During May and June look for Rainbow Trout spawning in this section of the creek. Kokanee Salmon may be observed in September and October. From Highway 99 turn north onto Lorimer Road, heading away from Whistler Village. There is a light at this intersection. Continue on Lorimer Road down the hill to either Crabapple Drive or Whistler Cay Estates. The Valley Trail with views of the creek can be accessed at either of these locations.