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Spring has sprung

By Veronica Sommerville,

Whistler Naturalists

Despite the lack of sunshine we are pretty much on schedule with some undeniable signs that spring is upon us. Signs that extend beyond the WSSF, the appearance of muni electric brooms and the remaining mid-low mountain snow retreating quickly up the mountainside.

1. Hummingbirds — Hummingbirds have always represented an element of the exotic to me. Many of our local bird populations have very practical colours of brown, greys and tans, as well as habits that cleverly keep them out of sight. One of the most commonly seen hummingbirds is the Rufous hummingbird. The males are decorated with a gorgeous orange-red throat while the females are mostly green. They are characterized by their incredibly high-pitched squeal as they aggressively defend territories, including their favourite feeder. The only bird with the ability to fly backwards, Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch and are easily attracted to feeders at this time of year.

2. Skunk Cabbage — Known to some as Whistler’s official plant, these brazen yellow heads are quickly unfurling throughout the entire valley. Skunk cabbage has the ability to generate heat that literally melts the snow surrounding it, allowing it an early start. These hoods, or "spathe" encircle a tall, portly spike called a spadix. It is an experience to take in the smell of these wonderful plants, which uses its odor to attract an array of flying pollination vessels, such as flies, gnats and bees. Eating this plant is not for humans, but bears can withstand what we cannot and will eat the skunk cabbage in the spring to aid in cleaning their intestines. Known by its other name, Swamp Lantern, it still doesn’t smell so sweet.

3. Black-Tailed Deer — The drive along Highway 99 north of Whistler can be hair-raising at the best of times, but is downright frightening when healthy populations of black-tailed deer are thrown in the mix. Generally browsers, eating mainly young branches of deciduous and coniferous trees, roadsides become a popular place in the spring as they feed on young, protein-rich grass and herb shoots. Pregnant females anxiously await the undergrowth of the forest to mature to provide ample cover for her to give birth to her fawn. The males have recently lost their antlers which they will begin to re-grow during the summer months in time to impress the ladies. Keep your eyes open when driving the highway, as the deer will prefer this habitat for a few more weeks yet.

Springtime is a great time to be a naturalist with the influx of birds from their winter travels, new growth bringing greener forests, healthy offspring and the rivers rising bringing the seasons first spawners. Renewal.

Join in our upcoming events:

Saturday, April 26, 9:30 a.m. — PITCH-IN DAY! Meet at the Re-Use It centre in Function Junction to lend a hand. Funds raised from garbage pick-up will be used to build and install bat boxes with local schools!

April 30, 6:30-7:30 p.m. — Weekly Nature Walk. Meet Stefan at Nairn Falls parking lot.

May 4, 7 a.m.: Monthly Bird Count. Meet at the bottom of Lorimer Road.

May 7, 6:30-7:30 p.m.: Weekly Nature Walk hosted by Lisa Helmer, Meet at One-Mile Lake parking Lot in Pemberton.

May 10, 7:30 p.m.: Spruce Groove Park. International Astronomy Day. Email stars@nemy.com for more info.

For more information on the Whistler Naturalist Society, please contact Veronica Sommerville at veronicarobin@yahoo.ca .

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