Making the case for a fifth West Coast season

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By JOHN NEVILLE 

The eight weeks before March 21 are like a prespring, a fifth season. These conditions arise between Victoria, across the Salish Sea to the Lower Mainland and include the Gulf and San Juan islands. Similar conditions exist in the far south-west of England, Ireland and the area around Melbourne, Australia.

On Jan. 24, I decided to check out our yard. The weather forecast for the day was rain, wind and a temperature of 9ºC — good so far. The garden was bright green. The daffodils were up about eight centimetres, snow drops and crocus about six cm, and there were flower buds on some of the rhododendrons and forsythia. (The flowers of the forsythia are sometimes referred to as “little golden bells.”)

The real harbingers of prespring are the stunning light pink, cup-shaped hellebores, (Helleborus X hybridus), with their lustrous evergreen leaves. They thrive in our wet woodland as long as they enjoy a southerly, partly sunny exposure. These plants originate in Mediterranean countries.

There have been some subtle changes in bird activity during the last week. For six days, two male house finch have been in full song. The Canada geese are no longer in flocks but have divided into noisy pairs and are checking out real estate. I’ve heard the gull-like calls of our local mating bald eagles and nest re-construction is underway. The persistent buzzing around our heads, gentle tapping vocal sounds and bright gorget announce the reproductive season for the friendly Anna’s hummingbirds.

A simple measure of prespring, increasing sunshine, temperature and light, is when the seed consumption at our bird feeder drops by about 25 per cent. This is probably due to the softening of the ground and an increased availability of insects, worms and other food sources.

On Jan. 28, returning rough-winged and barn swallows were reported from Lindholm Road Pond, on the Galloping Goose Trail in Metchosin.

On Jan. 31, the temperature climbed to 12ºC. Then, on Feb. 2, the drooping white bells of the snowdrops unfolded! This was followed by another wonder of springtime, on Feb. 11, when the yellow-gold bloom of daffodils trumpeted the changing season.

About one hour before dawn on Feb. 14, the Canada geese were already busy along the shoreline. It was clear and a brisk temperature for walking. As the sky lightened, a spotted towhee gave his territorial trilled song and a robin sang a few bars of his “cheer-up cheerily” song. It was a good way to start Valentine’s Day.

On Feb. 17, a neighbour emailed to describe the new, bright, blood-red feathers on the head of the local red-breasted sapsucker. Plumage is starting to change on the wintering water fowl as well. Someone on bcvibirds reported his first account of the song of a skylark, high above his grassy territory at the airport.

On the 19th, it was a clear evening, with a quarter moon and bright starlight. We went out to do our 20th Nocturnal Owl Survey. At Ruckle Park, close to sea level, there were 30 or more Pacific tree frogs advertising loudly. Four Canada geese and a Barrow’s goldeneye flew along the shoreline. We counted five mule deer, one saw-whet, one western screech and three great horned owls. Two of the latter flew past us only 20 metres away! The male and female were calling back and forth with close attention to each other. It definitely was a beautiful romantic night out.

Two days later there was the bloom of plum blossom on Salt Spring. The same weekend there were reports of flowering crocus and cherry blossom brightening the Victoria landscape. On the 28th of February I heard the musical trill of the dark-eyed junco for the first time. It’s like a tiny bell being rung very rapidly. 

If I have given the impression that the sun is always shining, that’s not really true. It’s often wet and rainy and keeps me indoors.

Does Canada have a fifth season? What do you think?

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