Beyond Ladner, following River Road to the west, we always turn off on the bridge to Westham Island, and the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This week, we sailed on past.
The road goes on about 3 km. and comes to a dead end, near the tip of Brunswick Point. Beyond this, the dike separates fertile farm land from a cattail and reed swamp and then the tide flats of Roberts Bank.
A sign informs us that this is protected land, bird nesting and feeding grounds; we are asked to refrain from disturbing them.
To our west, the remains of an old cannery, now reduced to rotting pilings, provided perches for a pair of cormorants.
We approached cautiously and quietly, but while we were still some distance away, they flew off. A party of buffleheads, cavorting near shore, turned tail and headed for the middle of the river. Unusual behaviour, for them; usually they ignore us.
Behind us, I heard voices. A couple of people, accompanied by a large dog, unleashed. That might have unsettled the birds if they had been nesting in the reeds, but off-shore? I didn't understand.
Further on, where the land curves south, assorted sandpipers and ducks fed in the shallow water. We kept our distance. The couple and dog went on ahead. Even after they rounded the point, I could mark their progress by the flight of birds on their sea-ward side.
What was making the birds so skittish? I remembered a blog post I had seen a week ago: Dog Walking Harms Wild Birds. A recent study of bird behaviour in the vicinity of dogs, even leashed dogs, showed that
"We found in field studies that dog-walking in bushland causes a 35 percent reduction in bird diversity -- the number of species -- and a 41 percent reduction in abundance -- the number of individual birds in an area," observed Banks. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that ground-nesting birds were most affected by dog-walking since these birds were usually absent altogether from areas where dogs were walked. They also found that habituation t othe presence of dogs played no role in decreasing the birds' flight.But was that it? The dog walking down the dike?
There may have been another cause. I came across a few clues:
The leftovers of a feast. I found three separate piles among the grasses by the dike. Fox kill? Dog? Coyote? It wouldn't be an eagle, nor an owl; they carry their prey back home.
But there were other signs of danger, as well.
I don't know guns. Laurie says this would be a shotgun. I saw two others, a green casing and a silvery-grey one.
Now we understood. On the beaches, a human on foot is relatively harmless, from a bird's point of view, so they let us approach to a few metres away. Out here on this "protected" but unwatched land, a human, even at a distance, is dangerous; he may have a gun. Or a dog and a gun.
We are angry. Outraged, rather. This should not be happening!
And I feel helpless.