Tag Archives: FOCI

Provincial Biologist visits Cortes Island; Second Western Screech Owl discovered

A provincial biologist visited Cortes Island over the weekend. Emily Upham-Mills is an ecosystems biologist with the Ministry of Water, Lands and Natural Resource Stewardship and an important member of the team working with the Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI) on the Western Screech Owl Project

Helen Hall, Executive Director of FOCI, explained, “Emily very kindly came up on the weekend to talk to the community. This project is really important for FOCI. We’re doing really interesting scientific work and that data is going back both provincially and federally. It puts us in the spotlight with this particular species. It’s a project that’s running for three years. We’re in the second year of trying to discover whether there are Western Screech Owls on Cortes Island.” 

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Autumn Barrett-Morgan: Soundscapes

The audio portion of this story starts with a chorus of croaking frog voices, rising up from a wetland. After a few seconds, the distant call of an owl is introduced.

Autumn Barrett-Morgan first learned about soundscapes when she was studying bird identification in college, but it really come alive after she became a Monitoring Technician with the Friends of Cortes Island Society.  

“In the past two or three years, I started  really diving into the soundscape on the Dillon Creek Wetland Restoration Project. I found it really important in birding, because not all birds are visible or make themselves visible and that left me not knowing who I’m listening to. So it got me really inspired to dive into observing the soundscape through studying the bird calls once I got back home.” 

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2023 Broom Bash at Mansons Spit

Close to a dozen volunteers and two Park Rangers participated in the Friends of Cortes Island (FOCI) annual Broom Bash on Saturday, March 18.

They swept the spit at Mansons Lagoon in about 3 hours. 

“We really appreciate all of the help from the volunteers here on Cortes. It’s really amazing that the local community comes out and takes ownership of this place. We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” said Eli Simcoe Metcalfe, of BC Parks.

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Success: The search for Western Screech Owls on Cortes Island

Up until now, there have not been any reports of Western Screech Owls on Cortes Island since 2017. That just changed a few weeks ago in the island’s more remote northern forest. 

Field biologist Sabina Leader Mense reports, “I was sitting in the skiff with my husband Dennis, under an unbelievably brilliant sky of stars. It was the last station of the night, pushing midnight, and in the 16th minute of that 17 minute call playback sequence, I heard something. I remember pivoting around in the boat. The sound was behind me and you do what owls do, you turn around.  I think your ears and the muscles and your ears cup and you’re just straining to hear something. Then I heard the call again. It was very distant, but I recognized it was an owl. I began analyzing the audio disks in my head going, ‘is it a Northern Pygmy Owl? Is it a Northern Saw-Whet Owl?’ As I was doing this, it called the third time and I recognized it was a Western Screech Owl.”  

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George Sirk: Frog Stories 

Cortes Island naturalist George Sirk knows a lot about frogs.  

GS: “A lot of people know me because of my interest in birds, which is really an addiction, isn’t it?  I’m just hopeless when it comes to birds.  I’m just totally into them. They’re so fascinating.  I came from Venezuela when I was 10. My parents immigrated to Vancouver and I couldn’t speak English. I could speak Spanish and I knew a little Estonian and I could understand German because my parents argued in German.”  

“So there I was in Vancouver, a little weird guy 10-years-old, and I met some other weird young people too, what we would call nerds.” 

“They were into frogs. Jim Palmer was one,  Lowell Orchid, that’s another.  Jim just passed away actually in December, but Lowell’s still with us all here. We used to collect frogs  very close to Kits Beach, the Lacarno beach area. It used to be a military base at one time.  So there used to be a lot of empty properties,  fields and it  got very wet in the wintertime. The tree frogs would all go in there and have a great time.” 

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