Wednesday, 7 March 2007

snow geese

Ashley left for Holland, Monday night. He will be away for about 10 days. This time, his trip includes a week in Nigeria, of all places.

Nevertheless, with the prospects of long lonely days with just me and the kids - and spring break next week - I thought it would help the sanity, of all, if we got out of the house as much as possible.

Miraculously, yesterday was a lovely day, so we headed for Westham Island for a picnic.

I have probably rattled on about Westham Island before, so I apologise for once again, blowing the trumpet, for this glorious spot.

Westham Island is a flat piece of land in Delta, British Columbia. Much of the island is farmland, with a few farmhouses dotted over its surface. A dike surrounds the island to save it from Fraser River flood waters.

At the northern tip of this very small island is the George Reifel Bird Migratory Sanctuary and Alaksen National Wildlife Area.

Alaksen incorporates the Sanctuary, but is primarily known as an environmental and wildlife research facility. You can visit there and walk the trails. We went there yesterday for the first time. The kids had a ball watching a barge drift along the Fraser, and traipsing through the dark woods, in search for the perfect walking stick. We also managed to hear a noisy woodpecker, though he remained visually elusive, despite three sets of eyes scanning the tree tops. It was fun, but I must take my hat off to the Bird Sanctuary, it is more inviting and visitor friendly, and the birds are definitely more abundant there.

We always love to feed the birds when we go. It is always a treat to scatter the first handful of golden seeds, and watch the birds swarm around us like bees. Most run over in their waddling way, some paddle furiously from the nearest pond and a few swoop down from...I don't know where - heaven, for all I know. Soon enough we are surrounded by a 100 or so ducks, all vying for their share of the seed spoil.

Anytime of the year is a good time to visit the Bird Sanctuary; spring is fun, because the baby birds are about, but the mothers are understandably protective and thus, can become rather aggressive. The ideal time to go is winter, the place is a winter migratory bird sanctuary after all.

The best and possibly most famous example of this winter phenomenon is the annual visit of Snow Geese. Thousands upon thousands of Snow Geese descend upon select spots along the North American west coast, from their nesting home, Wrangel Island; a Russian island located in the Arctic Ocean, north of Siberia.

Every time we have gone out to see the snow geese, their collective has merely been a lashing of white frosting in the distance, but yesterday, a roadside pasture was blanketed in white, like a foaming sea, moving, rising and falling, rushing in and ebbing away like the tide. Occasionally something would rile them and the entire flock would take to the sky; so many there were, that their swirling mass unit did something to my sense of balance, just as a fading tide might, when one stands in the shallows watching a broken wave rushing back into the ocean.

Their collective sound was of such volumes that I actually took pity on the residents of Westham Island, since living with that constant racket would surely give anyone a headache. If I could possibly describe their squawking, I would have to liken them to a panic among brokers on a crashing stock market floor, two minutes before closing time - take a look at the movie Trading Place, if you can't quite imagine it.

Every year the snow geese arrive to this neck of the woods - that amazes me. What draws them to this spot time and time again? Is it that few other places can be matched for the abundance of food and relative safety from predators? Do they realise that they are protected and even admired by the local people here, that their journey and calling upon our fair shores is so greatly anticipated that they think themselves to be kings and queens among us mere mortals and resident mallards? Or is it something else, something innate, as it is with Salmon heading up stream to spawn in the same sacred waters of their own births?

There is a silent genius about the universe's design, in that we must observe, study and take notice of things, in order to gain knowledge of our unanswered questions. Don't you think?


Kimberly said...

Oh what memories you brought back! My family used to visit the bird sanctuary often. I remember my young girl fascination with the swans or the white ducks, which we rarely saw. I was always so sad as the geese gobbled up the wheat we threw out, and the white beauties simply glided along, unperturbed.

Catherine said...

I do. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Another beautiful post, Strauss. And I always love the links you leave for us, your readers!

Jay said...

Sounds like a lovely place, and if it always inspires such introspecion, then sign me up.