Posted by: jwhiff | January 8, 2011

Friday Birding and Salt Marsh Watch

Over the Christmas break, Rod Macvicar informed me that, all over the Lower Mainland…including our own Inlet here in Port Moody, the salt marsh habitat is disappearing.  If you recall, we visited and observed the salt marshes just before the break.  At the time, we were most interested in observing the wildlife that relies on this habitat.  Some of this wildlife, namely the Canada Geese that come frequently to feed on the grasses, are the direct cause of the loss of the salt marsh habitat.  They are simply eating it into oblivion.

I pondered this issue over the break.  I knew that my class would certainly find the “solution” to the problem–culling the geese–controversial.  I also thought it might be possible for my class to observe the habitat for changes over the year.  We could count numbers of Canada Geese we notice feeding on the Inlet.  Plus, we could continue our inventory of local animal species that rely on this habitat.

I decided to go for it this first week back from Christmas holidays.  The first day back, I made arrangements to take 5 students for a lunchtime walk around the salt marsh on Friday, my day off.  This is something that I plan to do every week.  I decided it would be a win-win situation for my students, Quentin and me.  My students would have their continual connection with the Inlet, and Quentin and I would have a nice bird watching outing every Friday.

Our first outing was excellent.  The students were bubbling over with enthusiasm for every creature we saw.  I was happy to witness their enthusiasm, but even happier that Quentin was immersed in it.  What great role models for my little guy!  I snapped pictures and took video of the salt marsh, although I think I need to go back and get a few more close ups (I forgot gum boots).  We saw no Canada geese, but saw all kinds of other birds including a female downy woodpecker, buffleheads, common mergansers, and a bald eagle.  Surprisingly, a small white ermine ran across the path in front of us as we wandered towards the hatchery.  It seemed so out of place in its white winter coat amongst the brilliant green of the ivy that lined the trail where we were walking!

Anyway, it is the start of something good, I think.  I did not get a chance to get my students started on their individual projects this first week back, but plan on doing so this week.  Part of me still feels a little torn about getting the kids to focus in on one animal so soon in the process.  They are simply loving adding to their lists of new animal species.  This simple task is really opening their eyes to the diversity of wildlife here in the city and allowing them to forge a connection with the inlet.  I am not sure about what I am going to do about this yet.  I think I’ll need to discuss it with Ruth and Rod to see what they think.


  1. Maybe your students could look at an issue or a question rather than a particular organism. Or perhaps the compromise would be for them to find out how a certain organism fits with the inlet ecologically – what it takes, what it gives, what other organisms it affects, etc. I share your thoughts that zeroing in on one beast will narrow their focus and change the nature and direction of the project more than you would like.
    How great that you are doing the Friday field trips! I have been quite impressed with what else you are doing beyond the classroom i.e. taking your kids on the first Thursday of every month to serve dinner to women in need and also fundraising towards this.
    I am really really puzzled by your sighting of an ermine, a mink in white winter fur. I didn’t think they changed colour in the Lower Mainland. What a great thing to spot!
    By the way, Rod’s name is spelled MacVicar. Everyone gets it wrong and he doesn’t care.

    • I really like the idea of seeing where an animal fits into the inlet ecologically. I think emphasizing the connections, rather than the individual animal, makes the most sense. I was speaking to a high school biology teacher recently, and he kept commenting on how stuck many kids seemed to be in thinking of animals as interesting little worlds unto themselves. Many did not instinctively understand the idea of every animal (including ourselves) having a place in a wider ecosystem.

  2. Sounds like fun! What characteristics did the downy woodpecker have that made you know it was female?


    • It was fun, Kaleb. At first, we didn’t know what the bird was. It didn’t have any exciting woodpecker colours (such as red). After watching it for a while, we could tell it was a woodpecker by the way it was behaving (hopping up the truck of the tree and pecking, of course). We had a little bird book with us, looked up woodpeckers and made a quick identification.

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