Chris Mann – “What are Exoplanets and how are they studied?”

Chris Mann – “What are Exoplanets and how are they studied?”
by Tom Koleszar, 21 Jan 2021.

Chris is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal (UdeM) currently studying extra-solar planets, or “exoplanets.” His talk started with an introduction to the domains of astronomy and the methods used in the study of the cosmos. He then focussed in on planets and especially exoplanets, describing what they are and how they are found and studied. It is a field of research that is still very young, but progressing rapidly, especially as new tools and technologies become available.

We got a flavour of what is out there – several thousand exoplanets have been identified to date, with more coming all the time. The variety of sizes, orbits, and compositions discovered to date is astounding! Towards the end, Chris gave us a quick overview of his own work, using a telescopic array in New Mexico to verify and detail discoveries made by an orbiting observatory.

In closing, Chris answered all sorts of questions on exoplanets and other space subjects in a very knowledgeable manner. Thank-you Chris!



Glyn Williams-Jones – “Mt. Meager Volcano”

Glyn Williams-Jones – “Mt. Meager Volcano”
by Tom Koleszar, 13 Feb 2020.

Glyn is the Chair of the SFU Department of Earth Sciences & Co-Director of the Centre for Natural Hazards Research.  His talk was all about the Mt. Meager volcano which lies near the upper Pemberton Valley, only 115 km NE of Powell River.  During his visit to Powell River, Glyn also spoke to the emergency planning committee of the Qathet Regional District.

Glyn gave us an overview of the Mt. Meager complex and its most recent eruption 2360 years ago, which was comparable in size and style to the Mt. St. Helens 1980 eruption.  He then covered the recent (2010) landslide and the potential for much bigger future slides in the Mt. Meager area.  These are very significant natural hazards!

The volcano is currently degassing, with three new fumaroles having recently opened through the ice cover.

Given its relative proximity to populated areas, Mt Meager is the focus of much current research, including ice mapping, numerical modelling, subsurface imaging, and activity monitoring.  And it may even become a NASA test site, testing equipment for missions to icy outer solar system moons!



Mark Koleszar – “Geological tales of Iceland”

Mark Koleszar – “Geological tales of Iceland”
by Andrew Bryant, 17 Oct 2019.

Mark recently completed his Masters thesis at the University of Iceland, entitled “Flat-topped volcanic edifices in Vonarskarð, Central Iceland, and on the Kolbeinsey Ridge“.   You can learn more about his research here, or read his full thesis here.

Geology is one thing.  Iceland is something else.

Over the course of three years, Mark got to visit places that few humans have ever seen – indeed his principal field study areas are about as remote as it gets.  Iceland is a place of wonder; waterfalls, volcanoes, ponies and puffins.  And Mark (and family) are very talented photographers.

So I think it best to let the images speak for themselves.

Strokkur Geyser, Haukadalur Valley
Click on the image to see it in action!
– T. Koleszar



Mike Demuth – “Cold Matters: Cryospheric Change and Related Hydro-ecological Functioning”

Mike Demuth – “Cold Matters: Cryospheric Change and Related Hydro-ecological Functioning”
by Tom Koleszar, 26 Sep 2019.

Mike is an Emeritus Research Scientist in Glaciology and Cold Region Environments who lives part-time in Lund.  Mike’s talk introduced us to Earth’s cryosphere and then focussed on mountain glaciers.  More can be learned about the cryosphere here.

We learned a great deal about how to measure glaciers and track changes to their mass balance over time – not a simple task!  Direct field measurements shown included stake farms, digging pits, and drilling holes through the ice – in all kinds of weather!  Remote sensing through photography, Lidar, and satellite measurements is also very valuable today.

The talk then turned to focus on the results – the dramatic changes taking place today in most of the world’s alpine glaciers.  Warming conditions and changes to precipitation patterns can be seen very clearly in the ice measurements – one advantage of cryosphere research is that it is easy to eliminate weather noise for climate data.  The changing ice mass then has pronounced hydrology effects downstream on resource industries, agriculture, wildlife, recreation, and domestic water supplies.

In closing, Mike paid homage to some of the original 19th century workers in glaciology, and showed some more great pictures of some nice days – and not so nice days – in the field.

Barbara Sherriff “Moai and volcanoes of Easter Island…and Patagonian glaciers”

Barbara Sherriff “Moai and volcanoes of Easter Island…and Patagonian glaciers”
by Andrew Bryant, 23 May 2019.

The Club’s very own Barbara Sherriff, well-known for her globetrotting adventures, recently returned from another epic voyage – this time to Easter Island and the glaciers of Patagonia!

Always the consumate educator, Barbara provided a hugely informative and highly amusing talk, deftly switching from tidbits about geology (did you know the Moai all wore “hats” of red volcanic scoria carved from a single quarry at Puna Pau?) to social commentary (why we could all benefit from adopting aspects of  “Bird Man Culture“).

In turn, we learned about:

  • Why there’s an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean
  • Where the Rapa Nui people came from
  • What happened to them
  • What the giant statues represent
  • The difference between a Moai and an Ahu
  • How the Moai were made
  • How they were moved
  • Why they were toppled
  • What happened to the native trees

Whew.  And if that weren’t enough, we were then taken on a side-trip to the glaciers of Chile and Argentina, where we got to witness something truly amazing…Barbara up at sunrise…

…and this…

Jeff Belcher “B.C. Wildfires: past and future”

Jeff Belcher “B.C. Wildfires: past and future”
by Andrew Bryant, 25 Apr 2019.

Jeff Belcher works for the BC Wildfire Service.  He spent the first ten years working in the interior of the province out of Williams Lake and Alexis Creek.  He grew up in Courtenay, so made the move to Powell River just over a year ago to be closer to home and enjoy the unbeatable coastal lifestyle.

Jeff’ spoke about the 2017/2018 wildfire seasons, with specific reference to “his” area, the Coastal Fire Centre (CFC).  The thing that impressed me the most was the scale of things.  We’re talking about huge areas of forests (almost 17 million hectares) and resources (210+ people) – not to mention aircraft, trucks, chainsaws, and other personnel drawn in from across the Province – or across Canada – or even from Australia or South Africa!

By comparison with other Fire Centres, the Coastal Fire Centre had a “quiet” 2018 season, with “only” 297 fires and ~150,000 hectares burned.  The Northwest Fire Centre had fewer fires (150) but these burned an extraordinary 843,000 hectares.   Equally impressive were the trends over time.  In a word, they’re up.

Jeff provided some helpful links, for example to the B.C.’s FireSmart Program, which seeks to educate landowners about how best to protect their own properties.   He also shared some fascinating graphics…some of the smoke you saw last August…may having been coming from Siberia!

Steve Gordon – “Goats, grizzlies and goshawks: adventures of a habitat biologist”

Steve Gordon – “Goats, grizzlies and goshawks: adventures of a habitat biologist”
by Andrew Bryant, 21 Mar 2019.

Steve works for the B.C. Ministry of Environment as a “Habitat Biologist” based out of Nanaimo.   He prefaced his talk as “not to be interpreted as expressing government policy”…and then told his story.  And what a story it is.  He’s served variously as a “Land Use Planning Biologist”, “Ecosystem Section Head”, “Field Operations Supervisor”, “Forest Ecosystem Specialist”, and “Habitat Protection Officer”.

But the bulk of his career, and the bulk of his talk, has been related to mountain goats.

As part of his M.Sc. research at Royal Roads University, Steve spent two years observing mountain goats in their natural habitats high in the backcountry behind Powell River.  His focus was to evaluate the impact of helicopter-logging on the behaviour of these magnificent beasts.

In biological terms, mountain goats are quite unusual.   The species (Oreamnos americanus) is the only species in the genus.   They live in impossible terrain.  Where death is a  single mis-step away.  That’s what mountain goats do.  That’s what mountain goats are.   Life on the edge.

Oh.  And Steve did it too.  It rather looks like he enjoyed it.


David Hancock – “Understanding the lives of Bald Eagles”

David Hancock – “Understanding the lives of Bald Eagles”
by Andrew Bryant, 28 Feb 2019.

David has spent most of his life studying west coast and arctic wildlife, but is most well-known for his work with Bald Eagles, beginning with his pioneering population surveys during the early 1960s while a graduate student at UBC.

Although a world travelor, published author and interested in all birds of prey, David has focused much of his recent efforts following the bald eagle adaptations to the urban environment.  In 2006, he and fellow Director Dr. David Bird founded the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, which promotes the conservation and appreciation of wildlife and their habitats through science, education, and stewardship.

Today David is involved with various Bald Eagle projects, including his pioneering programs broadcasting live streaming web cameras to the general public and consulting on Bald Eagle mitigation programs, where he brings his ecological understanding of “Speaking for Eagles” to the business table.

Presently, he is helping develop the Bald Eagle Tracking Alliance in the Fraser Valley – a project he spearheaded with the HWF. David has developed a monitoring database of over 400 pairs of nesting Bald Eagles in the Lower Fraser Valley that enables an understanding of competing eagle territories.  You can even follow tagged eagles in real-timecheck it out.

An amazing body of work, and an amazing speaker.


Jason Leane – “Citizen Science And The Discovery Of Novel Fungal Species”

Jason Leane – “Citizen Science And The Discovery Of Novel Fungal Species”
by Andrew Bryant, 21 Feb 2019.

Jason Leane is not a scientist – he works as a technologist at Brooks Secondary – but citizen-scientist he most assuredly IS.  So a lifelong interest in science and biology has translated into a most unusual and interesting hobby…and a fascinating talk for us!

In a nutshell, the advent of quick and affordable gene sequencing technology has allowed us to classify species based on genetics as opposed to physical features.  That’s why Jason has a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine in his kitchen…yes you heard that right…
yes, he’s been literally cooking DNA…
and learning lots in the process.

Jason’s been examining local mushrooms.  It seems he’s been finding some that may be slightly mis-categorized, wildly mis-named, or suspiciously far from their known habitat.  He may even have found a new species  – or ten.

Because as more data emerge, in the fungal world at least, we’re discovering that we’ve been wrong.  A lot.  Luckily, in science, being wrong means you get to learn something.  We learned a lot…from the largest organisim on Earth to amazing, real-time DNA analyes using a smart phone.

Amazing.  Keep on cooking!



David Bedry – “Nature photography: basics and more”

David Bedry – “Nature photography: basics and more”
by Andrew Bryant, 19 Jan 2019.

Long-time club member and skilled photographer David Bedry provided an informative look at “getting it right” when creating images…no matter what gear you use.

He began with a 1979 Kodak film called The Beginnings of Photographic Composition.  If that sounds dated or dull, well…trust me it wasn’t!  Indeed, it was solid introduction to the principles of good photography…which David’s been kind enough to expand upon here.

In a nutshell, whether you shoot with a smart phone, a basic point-and-shoot, or a high-end DSLR, these principles (framing, lines, balance, rule of thirds, etc) will improve your photography.  Because they’ll make you think about the shot before you pick up the camera!

The second part of David’s talk was solid fun.
We explored a diverse selection of his own images – combined with his humorous and candid appraisal about why this particular shot is a keeper and why, oh my word…
this one’s a dud.

Nicely done.



Andrew Bryant – “The operation was successful (sort of): reintroducing Burrowing Owls, 1989-90”

Andrew Bryant – “The operation was successful (sort of): reintroducing Burrowing Owls, 1989-90”
by Lois Bridger, 22 Nov 2018.

Andrew provided a humorous look at the hands-on, and sometimes very labour-intensive methods needed to reintroduce a species.   The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is one of only four species officially listed as “endangered” or “threatened” under the BC Wildlife Act.  They were considered “extirpated” from the province by the late 1970s.

The first reintroductions occurred at Vaseux Lake in 1983 and 1984.  Later ones took place near Osoyoos.  Andrew worked on Burrowing Owls for two years – while struggling to finish his thesis at the University of Calgary and simultaneously chasing marmots on Vancouver Island!

Burrowing Owls rely upon other burrowing animals such badgers.  With much of the area being farmed, there are now fewer of those than there once were.  Artificial burrows can solve that problem.  Andrew and his team had to work in a treacherous environment as they crossed paths with rattlesnakes, fires, ticks and the particularly hazardous spines of cactus!  The work could also be demanding, as they had to dig out the burrows in order to access the owlets.  One burrow entrance was a whopping 22 feet long – not easy work on a hot summer day!

The process of gaining the required permission from Washington State was an enormous undertaking – not to mention the paperwork involved in transporting owls across the border. Andrew had to first survey the owls in Washington State in order to collect the owl families for the reintroduction project.  Occasionally there were fatalities which were always heart wrenching whether they happened during transportation or due to predators (mostly coyotes, weasels and other owls) after the reintroduction.  Habituation pens in Osoyoos did increase success but losses still occurred.

The population did increase but not enough to make the population viable, and after the project ended in 1990 the numbers again declined.

The story, however, doesn’t end there.  Andrew recently discovered that a group of volunteers (Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC) has been again trying to reintroduce the burrowing owls.  With their improved design for artificial burrows they are having some success.

So with the perseverance of many there is still hope that the Burrowing Owls will make a comeback!


Jackie Hildering – “Lessons learned from killer whales”

A Mother Hunting T140 in pursuit of a Pacific White-Sided Dolphin. Mammal-eating Killer Whales diverged from other populations ~700,000 years ago. ©Jackie Hildering;
“A Mother Hunting” – T140 in pursuit of a Pacific White-Sided Dolphin.
– Jackie Hildering

Jackie Hildering – “Lessons learned from killer whales”
by Andrew Bryant, 2 Nov 2018.

Jackie Hildering (aka “the Marine Detective“) of the Marine Education and Research Society packed the Senior’s Centre with her dynamic talk about orcas, and how they’ve changed us.

With a mixture of history, science and irony, Jackie delivered a powerful talk indeed.

I was astounded to learn, for example, that the U.S. Navy sent pilots out to attack orcas with depth charges and gunfire in 1955, austensibly to aid the local Icelandic fishermen.  Nor was I aware that both “transient” and “resident” descriptors are misnomers; the terms “inshore mammal-eating” and “inshore chinookaholics” more accurately reflect what these populations actually eat and how they behave.  The “offshore” orcas with their ground-down teeth are a different matter – they eat sharks.

Much of Jackie’s talk was disheartening.  Orcas are in big trouble, and as with so many other ecological problems, it’s not just one thing.  Persistent chemicals, noise pollution, declining food resources, tourism, and other factors.  In short, Orcinus orca is suffering a “perfect storm” of issues.  So while there’s some good news – human attitudes have changed swiftly and dramatically over the course of only a few decades – the question remains:

Have they changed enough?



Heather Harbord & Barbara Sherriff – “Heather and Barbara’s Trip to Tuktoyuktut”

Heather Harbord & Barbara Sherriff – “Heather and Barbara’s Trip to Tuktoyuktut”
by Andrew Bryant, 18 Oct 2018.

Heather unfortunately couldn’t make it – but Barbara stepped up and gave a marvellous account of their epic trip to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. via the Dempster Highway.

What an adventure!  Barbara was funny, informative, and vivid.  I can only imagine what it would be like to encounter a “road closed” sign under such circumstances.  For me, the best parts were the history of the Gold Rush (now I know what paydirt means), the intricacies of the geology (how the gold got there was really neat), and the technology of extraction (I had no concept of just how laborious and time-consuming a process it was).

The weather was not the best, and there were a few disappointments, but it sure looked like a lot of fun.   We laughed to learn why it’s called “Chicken, Alaska” (because they couldn’t spell “ptarmigan”), the drunken buildings of Dawson City taught us about the problems of building on permafrost, and hey, what’s not to like about a place that has pingos?

Fantastic, wonderful stuff.  I wanna go.


the Club – “Highlights of 2017-18”

the Club – “Highlights of 2017-18”
by Andrew Bryant, 20 Sept 2018.

We tried something a bit different for our AGM this year.  Rather than kick off the new Malanat-year by bringing in an outside speaker, we thought we’d take the opportuity to reflect on the year that’s been – and what a year it was!

There were a total of 16 field-trips, not to mention the Young Naturalists,and special events like the Christmas Bird Count, Coastal Waterbird Surveys, Seedy Saturday…and more!

Nancy, Tom, David and yours truly provided the commentary as we travelled, vicariously, over some of the terrain we explored over the past year.  There was rather a lot of it.  What was also impressive were some of the statistics.  Doing all this stuff required a lot of time, effort and attention.

It was a good reminder…it takes work to build a club!


Pat Trask – “Dinosaurs of Vancouver Island”

Pat Trask – “Dinosaurs of Vancouver Island”
by Nancy Pezel, 7 June 2018.

Pat’s interest in marine dinosaurs was sparked when his brother Mike (and 12 year-old daughter Heather) discovered a near complete skeleton of an 80 million year old long-necked plesiosaur.  It’s called Elasmosaurus.

The new specimen made a big splash in scientific circles.  Just as it no doubt did in real life!

Pat was hired by the Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontological Centre some 26 years ago as an interpreter of palaeontology and geology.  He’s now Curator of Natural History there.

During his presentation, Pat described how Vancouver island (including Powell River) was born volcanically underwater about 350-400 million years ago out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean possibly up to 15 degrees below the equator.  Since that time the island has moved northward on the Pacific Plate to crash into North America and create the topography that we see today.  A vast inland sea split North America for thousands of years depositing layers of marine sediments.

A fossil bed from the late Cretaceous period that extends from Campbell River to Duncan contains the remains of giant marine reptiles, like the elasmosaur, and other creatures that swam the seas around Vancouver Island.  Even on Texada Island, 80 million year old sea shells that look like they were washed ashore yesterday have been found 300 m above the current tideline.

Pat’s enthusiasm for his subject was contagious and those members going to Courtenay on the field trip the following Saturday were looking forward to making their own dinosaur discoveries!

P.S: You can learn more about the 1988 elasmosaurus discovery here

Rick Harbo – “Tails of the midshipman”

Rick Harbo – “Tails of the midshipman”
by Andrew Bryant, 17 May 2018.

After 36 years with Fisheries and Oceans Canada…well the word “retired” doesn’t seem to describe Rick very well at all!

Author of numerous books including  Shells and Shellfish of the Pacific NorthwestWhales to Whelks and Nudibranchs of the Pacific Northwest, Rick also served as a member of the abalone recovery team, sea otter recovery team and Mollusc subcommittee of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).  He’s now a “citizen scientist” and volunteer Research Associate at the Royal B.C. Museum.

After a delightful introduction concerning early explorers, taxonomists and why you might not want to have a species named after you, Rick focussed upon those really cool fish that biologists know as Plainfin Midshipmen (Porichthys notatus).

A fish that sings?  Really?
A fish that sings so loud that it can scare people?

Yup.  You heard that right.

Donna Moseanko – “Wildwood Queens”

Donna Moseanko – “Wildwood Queens”
by Michael Stewart, 19 Apr 2018.

Donna Moseanko of “Wildwood Queens” gave a fascinating talk on the life of bees and their importance in our ecosystems.

Donna became interested in bees after being mesmerized by a swarm at her bee keeping father’s home. After learning about keeping bees from him and then other beekeepers, she started “Wildwood Queens” here in Powell River.   She’s just completed her Beemasters course at UBC.

Donna described to us the life cycles and functions of the different members of a hive from the babies to the Queen.  She even enacted the emergence of a baby bee from its cell.  The amazing communications of bees was also described.

One of Donna’s main goals is to raise healthy queens.  One of the techniques she uses is instrumental insemination and she described how this is done.

Donna is fervent about the role of bees in our ecosystems and how to nurture bee populations.

George Sirk – “The Raw, the Bleak and the Wonderful…the Vibrant Arctic”

George Sirk – “The Raw, the Bleak and the Wonderful…the Vibrant Arctic”
by Andrew Bryant, 15 Mar 2018.

Life-long naturalist, tropical specialist, guide, politicianbroadcaster and raconteur, George Sirk is one of those rare individuals who’s just really hard to classify.

Getting his start as a BC Parks Branch naturalist on Mitlenatch Island, George’s career has taken him from Papua New Guinea to Costa Rica, and from Baja California to the subject of this talk – his travels through the fantastic Canadian High Arctic (with a quick stop or two in Greenland…George isn’t one to sit still).

Interspersing wonderful images with his delightful sketches, George literally took us along with him as he variously marvelled, gawked, meditated, ate and experienced that part of the world that few will ever get to see.

I rather suspect that none of us would see it quite the same way he does!

Five Stars.

Heather Harbord – “Epic Antarctica”

Heather Harbord – “Epic Antarctica”
by Andrew Bryant, 22 Feb 2018.

A scheduled speaker’s non-appearance threatened doom – until quick-witted Heather Harbord decided to take us all out instead – to Antarctica!

So.  After a short pause, all went swimmingly well.  Penguins, orcas,  ice.  More penguins, more ice, and then, alas…
the dreaded technical glitch…

So we only got to see a portion of her slides.  Heather, of course is a trooper who’s experienced such things before, so she gamely carried on, regaling us with her alternatively funny, poignant, and just just amazing tales.
A quarter of a million pairs of penguins – seriously?


Mark Sloan – “What can stable isotopes tell us about the decline of Marbled Murrelets?”

Mark Sloan – “What can stable isotopes tell us about the decline of Marbled Murrelets?”
by Andrew Bryant, 25 Jan 2018.

Mark Sloan now works as  a “First Nations Relations Advisor” for the BC Government, but once upon a time he spent his days (and nights) capturing Marbled Murrelets at sea – for science!

These delightful robin-sized seabirds are noteworthy for a bunch or reasons.  Most of their population is found in B.C. (although they range from Californa to Alaska), where they’re considered “threatened” or “endangered”.  Most unusually, these seabirds nest in trees – specifically in big, tall trees typically associated with coastal old-growth forests.

Here in Powell River, we typically see murrelets in winter plumage, and rarely see them in their far more drab, brown breeding plumage.  Indeed, for decades their breeding habits remained unknown – the first nest was only discovered in 1974 – by a maintenance worker!

Mark’s was definitely a science talk, with hypotheses, statistical tests, graphs and definitions (what is “stable isotope analysisanyway?)
In a nutshell, what Mark’s team was trying to learn was whether breeding success of murrelets could be attributed to “how high on the food chain they were feeding”.  Their full paper is available here, but be forwarned…it’s hefty reading.

What I enjoy most about such talks is that science is indeed very much like a detective story.
Sometimes the data fit one’s hypothesis, the conclusions are straightforward, and all the loose ends get neatly tied up…

…and sometimes, as in this case, they don’t!



Pamela Zevit – “Diversity by Design”

Pamela Zevit – “Diversity by Design”
by Andrew Bryant, 18 Jan 2018.

Pamela Zevit works for the South Coast Conservation Program (SCCP).  Together with her colleage Tamsin Baker, Pamela came to speak to us about one of their latest initiatives – diversity by design.

In a phrase, “diversity by design” refers to habitat restoration – and just like ecosystems, things quickly become complicated.

For example, a species can be listed as endangered under the BC Wildlife Act, or the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).  There are other “threat-levels” (extirpated, vulnerable, threatened) and designations (e.g., our provincial Red and Blue lists).  Add to that the diversity of species, habitat types, land ownership types and “stakeholders” (stewardship groups, environmental and parks department employees, municipal planners, private landowners and even consultants and developers), and it becomes mind-bending.

Pamela expertly guided us through this maze to outline the following Keys to Successful Habitat Restoration Projects (Guiding Principles):

•  Put protection over restoration
•  Take a long-term view
•  Design for diversity
•  Adopt a socio-ecological approach
•  Apply the best available knowledge
•  Set clear objectives
•  Apply adaptive management
•  Document your results

Pamela and Tamsin also provided a well-stocked display table – all of which is available online – and much of it new to me.
I had no idea there was a Snail Key for the South Coast, for example
(that sure would have come in handy last year on Mitlenatch!)
…and there are many more



Duane Sept – “Wildflowers and edible plants of BC”

Duane Sept – “Wildflowers and edible plants of BC”
by Andrew Bryant, 23 Nov 2017.

Duane came up from Sechelt to talk about wildflowers and other plants – some you can eat, and some you definitately should not!

He’s an accomplished photographer, naturalist and author of an impressive number of natural history guides.  These include titles such as Common Wildflowers of BC, Trees of the Northwest, and Tropical Butterflies of the World.

Organized by habitat type – from seashore Phyllospadix to mountaintop Phlox – Duane used his exceptional photographs to take us on a marvellous tour of botanical splendours.

Interspersed among the images were some fascinating tidbits of trivia.  Having walked through a patch or two of Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) in my day, I had no idea that bears love the stuff.  Dear bears… you can keep it!

I was also unaware that one can make decent beer with stinging nettles (Urtica dioica).  Or that First Nations used rhizomes of the common yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) to treat tuberculosis and sexually-transmitted diseases…

Amazing stuff!


Andrew Bryant – “Sidehill gougers & sea monsters: one biologist’s journey”

Andrew Bryant – “Sidehill gougers & sea monsters: one biologist’s journey”
by Heather Harbord, 19 Oct 2017.

Our very own Dr. Andrew Bryant came to tell a story – or more accurately, a whole bunch of stories – about his work with endangered species.

In “Follow the money”, newly-graduated Andrew does just that.  He passed up a low-paying “dream job”, instead becoming a park naturalist, answering damn fool questions from tourists in Algonquin Provincial Park.  Things worked out.  He wound up reintroducing Peregrine Falcons – and having a cliff named after him.

“Loaded for bear” begins with a chance encounter with a grizzly bear, on an otherwise Julie-Andrews-kind-of-day.  This led to a slight change in Andrew’s career-path – and a minor supporting role in creatimg the world’s first protected sanctuary for grizzly bears – in a place called the Khutzeymateen.

Follow the girl” sees Andrew arrive in the south Okanagan.  There he spent time rapelling into abandoned mine shafts in search of hibernating bats.  Twenty-seven years later, he was surprised to learn that somebody had actually read his report – and acted upon it.

Watch out for sea monsters” takes Andrew back to Ontario, where he used tape-playback methods to search for endangered Kirtland’s Warblers.  Not finding any, he did get a good scare while paddling around Manitoulin Island.  The warblers, as it turned out, didn’t need his help anyway.

Here and there we also got to learn about sidehill gougers, zoom back and forth across the country, and see some truly one-of-a-kind photographs.

He really needs to settle down and write that book!


Frank Ritcey – “What’s the connection? How to stay safe while figuring it out”

Frank Ritcey – “What’s the connection? How to stay safe while figuring it out”
by Andrew Bryant, 12 Oct 2017.

Frank Ritcey grew up in the wilds of Wells Grey Provincial Park, and now divides his time between serving as Provincial Coordinator for WildSafe BC, host for CBC-Radio, and hunting wild creatures with camera.

He returned to Powell River to share more of his wonderful images and stories.  This time his emphasis was on seeking connections in nature, and trust us – he’s found more than a few!

– Did you know that one can predict the likelihood of future bear encounters by looking at soapberries in June?
– Or that bullfrogs and bighorn sheep have much in common?
– Or that the number of chukar partridge is related to the number of cows?

After discussing wildlife encounters, electric fencing, amd the marvellous WARP (Wildlife Alert Reporting Program) Frank ended the evening with a selection of highly amusing videos, a few of which can be seen below.

Thank you Francine Ulmer & Wildsafe BC District of Powell River, for helping set up this unscheduled talk on such short notice!


Fun with trail-cams #1:
cougar close – up

Fun with trail-cams #2:
cougars and fawn

Fun with trail-cams #3:
don’t believe everything you see on the internet!


Alison Bird – “Earthquakes of Coastal BC”

Alison Bird – “Earthquakes of Coastal BC”
by Andrew Bryant, 14 Sept 2017.

Alison Bird works as Earthquake Seismologist for Natural Resources Canada, and is based in Saanich.  Our club, in partnership with the Powell River Regional Emergency Program (PRREP), invited her to come talk to us about her area of expertise – earthquakes – and she graciously obliged.

Beginning with the amazing story of how researchers were able to date, to the day, a massive earthquake that hit waaaay back in 1700, Alison took us through the basics.  What are fault-lines, subduction zones, and plate tectonics?   How big is big?  An excellent one-page primer can be found here.

Using images from around the world, Alison stressed that while the forces unleased in an earthquake truly baffle the imagination, the damage suffered largely depends on more mundane things.  Location is important (obviously) but soil types, vertical topography, and ocean basin topography are all of great importance – as are building codes, enforcement, retrofitting, and keeping an emergency kit.

Will the “big one” happen?  Most assuredly.  Can we predict when it happen?  No.  Can we mininize risks, through attention to detail?  Yes.

A talk not to be missed.

The Cascadia Mega-Tsunami (given time-zones, this occurred at around 9:00 PM local time, 26 January 1700)

Tom Koleszar – “Hidden treasure in the attic: our local alpine”

Tom Koleszar – “Hidden treasure in the attic: our local alpine”
by Andrew Bryant, 22 June 2017.

Intrepid hiker, geologist, and Club President Tom Kolesar took us on a vicarious exploration of the high alpine in our own backyard – and what a fine view it was!  Using images spanning years and multiple adventures, Tom shared his experiences on many of our local mountains.

He structured his talk in terms of layers, discussing each of the
• Tree Layer
• Shrub Layer
• Herb Layer
• Moss Layer
• Water Layer
• Rock Layer
• Wildlife Layer
as the inter-related ecosystem components that they are.

I was personally impressed with his geologist’s view of things.  Where I see an awesome mountain ridge, Tom sees a geological intrusion that “doesn’t fit”.  Where I see an extraordinary mountain waterfall, he sees “inexorable forces”.  Where I see a beautiful meadow of wildflowers, he sees “resiliance”.  And where I see an enormous glacier, he sees “time” and “pressure”.

A talk not to be missed.  Nor is our upcoming helicopter field-trip in August!

Don Hare – “Invasive Plants”

Don Hare – “Invasive Plants”
by Andrew Bryant, 12 May 2017.

The mission of the Invasive Species Council of BC is to provide information, and resources, to combat the many threats posed by exotic plants and animals.  Don Hare is their Executive Director, and travelled to Powell River to speak mostly about invasive plants specific to our area.

Many are aware of species such as Scotch Broom or English Ivy.  These are now firmly established, to the extent that any possibility of successful eradication is long past.  Others, like the Giant Hogweed, are increasingly in the news when someone is injured.

But the problem is much more widespread than many people realize.  As the Vancouver Sun reported, invasive species pose a threat in every corner of the province, and the threats are real – and very costly.

Don spent much of his talk about an issue I hadn’t given much thought to – the problem of invasive plants arriving through local gardens…
Either through contaminated packages of seeds, purchase of unidentified “ground covers”, or just lack of information, numerous species have escaped our gardens – and become a threat to the wild ecosystems that we all cherish.

Food for thought indeed.

Jessica Baynton – “Island Raptors: the science and art of falconry”

Jessica Baynton – “Island Raptors: the science and art of falconry”
by Andrew Bryant, 20 April 2017.

Jessica Baynton has one of those weird and wonderful jobs that us mere mortals can only marvel at.  As a biologist employed by The Raptors, she spends her days flying various birds-of-prey.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Using gloves, twine, whistles, radios, and traditional skills from the age-old practice of falconry, Jessica works to keep birds away from aircraft…by flying her birds.

She’s mostly involved with Vancouver International Airport (YVR), although her particular skills have also taken her (and birds) to remote industrial locations across Canada.  It matters.  Because birds and aeroplanes sometimes don’t play nice – ask Captain Sullenberger.

Jessica spoke about the long history of falconry, and how that particular hunting technique/sport/hobby/status symbol has changed over time. What hasn’t changed, as Jessica explained, is that falconry relies on sensitivity, non-verbal communication, and trust.

Falconry works, and has become an increasingly useful tool in the arsenal of wildlife management.  Thus, people who keep track of such things report that “bird strikes plummet at Vancouver Airport” – and passengers are safer as a result.

Jessica’s talk was, of course, a preamble to meeting Tuari, an 8 year-old Harris’ hawk.  It’s not her hawk, of course…except it is…kind of…
…and together they certainly commanded our attention!

Richard Dewey – “Tides, currents, and sailing the coastal waters of BC”

Richard Dewey – “Tides, currents, and sailing the coastal waters of BC”
by Andrew Bryant, 18 March 2017.

Dr. Richard Dewey is Associate Director and head of research at Ocean Networks Canada, based at the University of Victoria.   He’s conducted oceanographic research throughout the Pacific from Japan to California, and along the B.C., Alaskan, and Arctic coasts.

Long-time sailer and resident of the Pacific Northwest, he’s particularly interested in  coastal flows, mixing, turbulence, waves, and tides.  Tying these themes together was the subject of his talk.

Richard spoke about the Venus and Neptune projects, which are pioneering efforts to monitor chemical, physical and biological traits of the ocean floor.  Plugging in another extension cord turns out to be a bit more complicated – when you’re working (remotely) in pitch dark, and at environmental pressures equivalent to ~600 Earth atmospheres.

Richard rounded out his talk with useful tips about tide-tables, apps for your smart-phone, proper whale-watching etiquette, and a multitude of things you should remember before heading out onto the deep blue – the most important of which is – you really should!

Terry Brown & Jude Abrams – “Whopping whales and wee fish”

Terry Brown & Jude Abrams – “Whopping whales and wee fish”
by Andrew Bryant, 19
January 2017.

Humpbacks breaching in Jervis Inlet. Click on the to see the video!
Humpbacks breaching in Jervis Inlet. Click on the image to see the video!
(4 minutes)

Noted amphibiographers Terry Brown and Jude Abrams travelled all the way from Okeover Inlet to speak about some creatures we hold dear, those whopping big humpback whales – and the herring, anchovies and krill that whales (and many others) depend upon.

Using videos, sound clips and stories, Terry and Jude wove a marvelous tale about the history, ecology, and recent resurgence of humpbacks in local waters.

We learned much about their recent population recovery, and about the threats these giants still face.

"Kelp Creature", a humpback that suffered a boat collision - T. Brown
Here’s Kelp Creature, an unfortunate humpback that suffered from a boat collision.
Click on the image to watch the close encounter!
(32 seconds)

The harpoon-laden boats may be gone from Blubber Bay and Whaletown, but hazards remain. Collisions with boats, sound pollution, oil spills, and harvesting of krill, anchovies and herring all pose threats to the success of humpbacks in local waters.

What is needed, said Terry and Jude, is a new – and closer – relationship – between these gentle behemoths of the deep, and ourselves. We agree!

Pacific white-sided dolphins, Powell River, 2013 - A. BryantClick on the imaqe to watch Terry's great footage from 3 January 2017 - how many were there?
Pacific white-sided dolphins, Powell River, 17 May 2013 – A. Bryant
Click on the imaqe to watch Terry’s great footage from 3 January 2017
How many can you count?
(38 seconds)