We have just come back from a walk on the edge of nearby mudflats. We didn’t see many birds I could recognise but we did see plenty of bald eagles. Yes you read that right, we saw plenty of eagles within five miles of the house I am staying in. Now I expect if you live on the west coast of Canada/North USA the sight of an eagle is a daily occurrence because that has been my experience so far. The first full day here I was being driven through the suburban area of Surrey when I saw my first bald eagle circling around up above the road. Once the disbelief had disappeared my first thought was how the hell does that bird survive around here? In my head I associate the bald eagle with the golden eagle we have back home probably because of size. I know golden eagles need large territories, I guess bald eagles don’t. Maybe a better comparison though would be of the sea eagle that has been reintroduced into Scotland over the recent decades. Having looked it up, it seems the two form a species pair meaning they are very closely related so it is definitely a better comparison.
It is wonderful to see a large bird of prey so often. I have never seen a golden eagle, they live in remote areas and have large territories and so are few and far between. Sea eagles I have seen a number of times whilst sailing off the west coast of Scotland but I have been on yacht, probably over a hundred miles away from a city. I don’t walk down the road and see a raptor full stop (though the evidence of sparrowhawk’s prey have been left in the garden). If I get on my bike and cycle out into the countryside then I sometimes see an owl and more often than not, I will see a buzzard. A buzzard has a wing span of around one metre, bald eagles are over two metres. That’s taller than I am.
So what is the different between Scotland and the area around Vancouver (I could say British Columbia but that is vast compared to the area I have seen)? Well to be honest there are probably more similarities than differences. I was struck whilst walking along the tracks today how similar the plants were. The wild flowers would not look out of place on the west coast of Scotland, the grasses and trees all looked familiar. I found some blackberries (yes these are not available until October back home) and we picked a lot of wild cherries which were surprisingly sweet. The lack of birds puzzled me. There was the occasional wader, a bunting of some sort and a crow but by far the greatest number of any single species were the bald eagles, I saw four circling around each other and probably another two further west. Now maybe I didn’t see six distinct eagles but even four is remarkable in my book.
I think the main thing that strikes me about Vancouver is the number of trees around here. Mountains are not covered in trees in Scotland, here they are. Even in Surrey, it feels like the mountains are pretty close, around 25km in a straight line and those mountains look wild. When we were in Deep Cove I asked whether the houses around the lake side would have bears visiting. Appartently the answer is yes, without a doubt. A particular impressive bit of thinking in Vancouver is that creeks have an area of land surrounding them that cannot be built on. This means that there are wildlife corridors throughout the city and that area of the land can be quite substantial. Yes there is logging going on outside the city, but by law, any tree cut down has to be replaced by two saplings to ensure the tree is replaced. I am not convinced this policy is always implemented since there seemed to be areas of cleared land in the north of Vancouver Island that hadn’t been replanted but since I didn’t get out of the car, I couldn’t be sure.
So you have a great deal of forest around here, and hence wildlife has somewhere to live. But it isn’t just the forest that is rich in wildlife, the streams and rivers are too. The Fraser River is still very much alive and healthy, and those with fishing rights still catch large Pacific salmon from there. When we went out on a boat from Port McNeil on Vancouver Island we saw porpoise, otters, sea lions, humpback whales and orcas all very much in coastal waters. There were also plenty of bald eagles.
I think there is an abundance of food here which allows the eagles to thrive whether it is in the urban forests or along the coast. I think there is also a respect for the wildlife here that is missing in Scotland on the whole. There could be two reasons for this. The first is practical. I have not seen any livestock farms here only agricultural farms which means the eagles are no threat to the farmers and their young animals. Secondly the First Nation peoples have a connection to the land and the animals. Each tribe has its own creation stories which will usually revolve around animals. The Kwakwaka’wakw chieftain we met during our whale searching said that his tribe believed that their ancestors were killer whales that beached themselves and transformed into the first tribes people; so the Orcas were their kin and hence revered and treated with great respect. The laws of Canada now recognise the debt modern day Canada has to the First Nations and so respects the beliefs, customs and territories of all the tribes. All of Canada benefits from the reverence the First Nation tribes hold over Nature.
Yet it strikes me as an uneasy alliance at times. Cars are a case in point. Like the USA, the standard car is big here and it seems that most people drive trucks or SUVs. On Vancouver Island, it seemed the truck ruled. Having a quick look at a Ford F-150 truck which seems a standard truck here, the engine sizes start at 2.7L followed by a 3.5L and topped off by a 5.0L V8 engine. A Ford Edge representing SUVs comes only with a 2.0L engine. These are big engines which of course go into big cars. Cars in the UK are being sold with smaller more efficient engines. Last year my car came with a 1.2L engine, this year a 1.1L is available.
Needless to say petrol or gasoline is cheap here. A litre of lead free petrol in Canada can be found for C$1.20 or £0.75 which in the UK would cost around £1.20. Driving styles are by design much more stop/start here because of very limited use of roundabouts over stop- and light-controlled junctions. More fuel is therefore consumed with this style of driving. Travel in the Greater Vancouver Area is pretty much reliant on cars. Public transport is limited to radial light-train lines to the very centre of Vancouver followed up with buses operating going further out into the suburbs and like a lot of cities Vancouver suffers from a limited bus service probably because not many people use them. To be fair new tram lines are being planned to extend the network together with upgrading various bridges but I wonder where the new infrastructure will be able to keep up with the ever expanding population. I guess planning for earth quakes is difficult too.
The other feature that jarred with me again in a conservation vein was the use of plastic. This was highlighted when were we stayed in a motel in Port McNeil. Breakfast was included in the cost of the room and was called “continental” in nature. The breakfast itself was fine. It was self-service so you could eat as much as you liked and there was reasonable variety too. However, so much plastic was used and discarded. The waffle batter was in single portion plastic cups with plastic lids. Individual muffins, bagels and paired slices of bread were wrapped in plastic. Butter, margarine and jam were in little plastic pots. Okay the oranges and apples were not wrapped and the cereal was in large containers but I found the rate the bin near the waffle machines filled up with plastic rather sad. I doubted the bag was going to be taken back to the mainland for sorting and recycling but neither could I believe it would go for landfill in such a remote place.
The local supermarket seemed to use plastic bags like they were going out of fashion and it took us a while to work out we needed to speak up to use our own bags and pack our own food. It seems reasonable to be asked if you want any bags particularly you are going to get charged for them. Any food left over from a meal out? No problem, let me box that up for you. This is a great way to avoid excess food waste the only problem was that the food tended to get put into a polystyrene container. Sigh. Yes I can see it works well as a material for containers, but what happens to the polystyrene once I am home?
I love the wildlife and nature here and I love that people want to spend time out of doors enjoying it but some things just jar with me. I guess one gets used to it, like I have got used to driving an automatic car in the bustling traffic on the right hand side of the road, but I hope that progress continues to be made. I do have one suggestion though, how about making use of solar PV panels? I can’t recall seeing one here.