Like good food or a glass of wine, nature is best savoured slowly. Sitting in one place for a while, or strolling quietly, taking notice of small sounds and movements, is a great way to experience nature. If you go too fast, it is easy to overlook the abundance of interesting plants, birds and other wildlife found in local parks. Blackie Spit at Crescent Beach, South Surrey, is a great place for summer idling.
The summer-blooming flowers and grasses, on the gravel spit and around the lagoons, range in colour from the brilliant yellow of the aptly-named gumweed, to the purple of vetches, and the white flowers of yarrow. These plants are tolerant of the exposed conditions, the hot summer sun and raw winter winds, and the poor nutrient value of the sandy soil. Those nearest the water, such as sea rocket, have rubbery leaves, able to withstand the high salt content.
Slowly scanning the water usually reveals the round head of a harbour seal; they often haul up on sand banks at low tide. Swallows hawk the skies above the park and, looking closely, as many as five or six species can be distinguished. Barn swallows have dark blue backs and long forked tails, tree swallows have brighter blue backs and short tails, and violet-green swallows live up to their name if seen in the right light. Blackie Spit is unusual in the lower mainland for also having a colony of purple martins, nesting in boxes at the mouth of the Nicomekl River. They are significantly larger than the other swallows and have a louder call.
The unobtrusive little savannah sparrow makes its home among the grasses, nesting on the ground and eating seeds, caterpillars and other insects. It has a high-pitched, insect-like song. More high, thin notes signal the arrival of a group of cedar waxwings, flying in to feast on elderberries, while harsh cries overhead are those of Caspian terns, distinguished from gulls by their blood-red bills. All these birds are summer visitors to the bay. Many more species arrive during fall migration and for the winter, including big flocks of waterfowl and shorebirds.
Sand wasps are among the more noticeable insects; they are colourful creatures, with bright yellow legs, green eyes and striped abdomens. They are unlikely to sting and spend most of their time in groups, very close to the sandy ground, digging holes.
Anne Murray is a naturalist and author of two books on local nature: A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past ~ A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, available at most bookstores; see www.natureguidesbc.com.