A western toad in Gwaii Haanas. (Andrew Wright/Submitted)

Gwaii Haanas Report: Herring spawn and burrowing murrelets are telltale signs of spring

By Victoria Leslie

As the storm season slows down, life begins to spring up and out of hiding in Gwaii Haanas.

Imagine looking out onto calm ocean waters and bright green landscapes as the sun rises and birds chirp. This is what I think about when I imagine how spring looks and feels in Gwaii Haanas.

Spring is here and the birds are shouting from the treetops and wave crests. One of these birds are ancient murrelets, a species at risk that are in Gwaii Haanas to burrow and breed from April to June. About half the world’s ancient murrelets nest on Haida Gwaii in the spring.

Each spring, my colleagues on the Gwaii Haanas resource conservation team set up audio recording units on designated islands to monitor ancient murrelet activity. Some islands have invasive species such as rats or raccoons that prey on birds by eating eggs, chicks or nesting birds. Islands with introduced rats or raccoons have almost zero ancient murrelet activity. Instead, these small black and white birds prefer smaller, far-flung places with fewer predators. Their easy-to-access burrows make them easy prey for marauding mammals, such as rats and raccoons.

These seabirds raise only two young each year. When the chicks are two days old, they have to embark on a long journey out in the ocean with their parents for food. This year I learned that whales and ancient murrelets enjoy the same food: small fish and krill that are abundant in our waters.

Another telltale sign of spring in Gwaii Haanas are landscapes are full of vibrant plants such as western bog laurel and lady slippers, along with new and old animals making an appearance. Fun fact: marten kits’ eyes are open this time of year after being alive for six weeks. Also, tadpoles of Haida Gwaii’s only native amphibian, the western toad, are hatching in our islands bogs and trying their best to hide from the introduced Pacific tree frog, which is a threat to their very existence.

Within the waters of Gwaii Haanas there is plenty of marine-life action linked to herring season. Each year, herring spawn in the spring on green kelp. Herring roe on kelp is k’aaw in Haida. The spawning turns the water a milky blue with spouts from snacking grey and humpback whales feasting as they refuel for their migration north.

Protecting the cultural resources of Gwaii Haanas is always important and springtime brings ideal weather for the Gwaii Haanas team to renew work at some of the 700 known archaeological sites. This delicate work ensures our globally renowned cultural sites are maintained for visitors and locals alike.

Springtime is my time to turn over a new leaf as I start my third season as a summer student at Gwaii Haanas. I’ve been studying psychology at the University of Victoria and I love coming back here to use my seeds of knowledge from school. Gwaii Haanas allows me to plant those seeds to strengthen and gain knowledge and experience. I was born and raised on Haida Gwaii and coming home to work at Gwaii Haanas is my favourite part of the year.

Gwaii Haanas

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Haida Gwaii libraries resume inter-branch deliveries

Users can once again access materials from entire Vancouver Island Regional Library system

Masks mandatory in Old Massett as Haida Gwaii COVID cases total 26

Old Massett Village Council says curfew will be enforced with community service

All-Islands Protocol Table working to restore Haida place names

List of 12 priority names created; Queen Charlotte, Port Clements councils vote to support changes

B.C. premier ‘not going to be apologetic’ about closure of Haida Gwaii fishing lodges

Horgan says ‘public health takes the priority’ over business in implementation of travel restriction

B.C. mogul sells private Naikoon properties to parks system in $1 million deal

NIHO founder Rudy Nielsen sells 320 acres to BC Parks; Ministry statement expected in ‘coming months’

53 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths cap off week of high infection rates in B.C.

Roughly 1,500 people are self-isolating because they either have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

3 Vancouver police officers test positive for COVID after responding to large party

Union president says other officers are self-isolating due to possible exposure

New mothers with COVID-19 should still breastfeed: Canada’s top doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam made the recommendation during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Collapse of Nunavut ice shelf ‘like losing a good friend:’ glaciologist

The ice shelf on the northwestern edge of Ellesmere Island has shrunk 43 per cent

Most Read