WHEN summer draws to a close, pink fireweed flowers present a beautiful picture against the autumn sky, and blackberries glisten on their canes providing tasty treats for hungry birds.
One morning we'll wake up to a touch of frost on the lawns, and the crisp clean smell of a fall day. Bird migration is now underway with untold numbers moving through coastal British Columbia. It has been called the 'mystery of migration,' and although much is known about the annual movements of birds (and other wildlife), there is still much to be learned. The idea that a tiny rufous hummingbird can find its way to the North Shore from its wintering grounds in Mexico and then return to the same area is simply amazing. It's almost as if birds have their own built in GPS (possibly they do!).
One fine day at Maplewood Conservation, we watched skeins of high-flying Canada Geese winging their way south. Possibly these were northern geese heading for the marshes of California.
But what is a skein? It is the collective term for a group of geese in flight - when they land, they become a gaggle.
Recently visitors to the sanctuary at Maplewood were thrilled to get excellent views of a beautiful green heron. It is a small member of the heron family compared with its larger local cousin the great blue heron, and is a rare species locally.
September is a wonderful month to watch for waxwings - lovely tan-coloured birds with black masks and red 'waxy' areas on their wings.
Two species occur on the North Shore - cedar and Bohemian (rare). Cedar waxwings love fruit like wild cherries and wild crabapples, but they are excellent flycatchers too, snatching dragonflies from mid-air.
Dragonflies are also a favourite of the purple martin. The martins of the conservation area are departing the North Shore in September and migrate all the way to South America (Brazil).
Turkey vultures have also been seen moving through the North Shore on their way to Mexico, Central America and beyond. Other raptors will also be migrating "in passage" with some, like the rough-legged hawk, staying Coastal British Columbia is of world importance (IBA - Important Bird Area) for migrating shorebirds, with birds coming from breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada's Arctic.
Tidal flats and salt marsh habitats are critical for their survival. Watch for Western, least, pectoral sandpipers, yellowlegs (two species) and the long-billed dowitcher.
There is always a good chance to spot a rarity like a curlew or godwit. Some shorebirds winter on the North Shore including dunlin, greater yellowlegs, and sanderling.
Shorebirds are often hunted by raptors like the peregrine falcon and merlin (a small falcon).
Gulls and terns are yet another aspect of autumn's excitement. Our locally common breeding species is called the Glaucous-winged gull.
Other gulls like Bonaparte's, mew, California, and ring-billed should be watched for too. Terns are related to gulls and are sometimes chased by jaegers who try to make the terns give up their catch by harassing them.
The South Coast of British Columbia is a major wintering area for ducks, geese, and swans. Starting in September, watch for scoters (three species), goldeneyes (two species), longtailed ducks and northern pintails as well as green-winged teal.
Autumn on the North Shore is a buzz with nature's wonders for all to enjoy - from migrating birds to deer, otters, and more, like delicate crystals of frost, or dew sparkling like diamonds on a spider's web. And colourful mushrooms too in local woods.
Al Grass is a naturalist with Wild Bird Trust of British Columbia, which sponsors free walks at Maplewood Flats Conservation Area on the second Saturday of every month. Next walk is Oct. 13. Meet at 10 a.m. at Maplewood Flats, 2645 Dollarton Hwy., two kilometres east of the Iron Workers Second Narrows Memorial Crossing. Walks go rain or shine. www.wildbirdtrust.org.