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.

Just Posted

Moms of those killed by illicit opioids take to B.C. Legislature in call for action

Moms Stop the Harm, a nationwide network of families who have lost loved ones to overdoses rally

Gwaii Haanas Report: Talking About Everything plan

By Victoria Leslie A dinner of crab legs and clam fritters, halibut… Continue reading

115 new wildfires burning across B.C. due to 19,000 lightning strikes

More fires expected to start today, says BC Wildfire Service officials

CHN seeks injunction against logging at Collison Point

Weeks after ordering an end to a blockade there, the B.C. Supreme… Continue reading

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

VIDEO: Canadian toddler caught practising hockey skills in crib

Eli Graveline is getting praise from far and wide as the internet freaks out of cute throwback video

Man shot dead in Surrey ID’d as hockey coach and father of two

Murder of Paul Bennett – a respected Peace Arch Hospital worker and ‘champion of sport’ – ‘not random’

Serial killer Robert Pickton transferred to Quebec: victim’s family

Pickton was convicted in December 2007 of six counts of second degree murder

Canadian Syrian children’s choir not to attend festival over fears about U.S. travel

Many kids are recent immigrants from countries covered by Trump travel ban

B.C. teacher ends Jeopardy! winning streak, taking home US$69,000

Ali Hasan, from New Westminster, has been gaining fans as a “one-man invasion,” says Alex Trebek

Jett Woo highlights 5 Canucks choices on Day 2 of NHL entry draft

WHL star out of Moose Jaw tabbed in Round 2

In a matter of hours, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to drive

Change was announced as a royal decree in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammen bin Salman

Feds announce measures to protect endangered whale species

Canada’s Whale Initiative is part of the federal government’s $1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan

Most Read