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LETTER: All is not well in the Somenos Marsh

All inhabitants should be able to live happier loves

Now that spring is here, it’s a great time to get out and observe nature. Walking along the Somenos Marsh dyke recently, I have enjoyed seeing various plants coming out in leaf and bloom. There’s Indian plum, red alder and, my favourite, skunk cabbage. There is also plenty of neat birds, too. I accidentally flushed up a Wilson’s snipe on one day and felt blessed to see a northern shrike perched in a tree on another. Woo-hoo!

The swallows have been back at the Marsh for a while now and when they’re not zooming about they can be seen going into the nesting boxes along the foot of the dyke. I find that a pair of binoculars can help one tell the difference between a tree swallow and a violet-green swallow. Of course, house sparrows — an invasive species — may compete with the swallows for these choice nesting sites. That’s unfortunate.

Also, with dropping marsh water levels and warming weather, another common invasive species is back in the Somenos Marsh. This interesting organism, while not a bird, seems no less determined to “stake out” its territory within the marsh and build nests — very large nests. It’s quite a sight to see and fortunately for the casual nature observer, no binoculars are needed to study this relatively new inhabitant of the marsh. Even from a distance you’ll recognize many of the nest materials: nylon tents or even blankets, plastic sheets and pieces of old plywood all stand out. But if you’re lucky to get closer — and don’t worry, most of these marsh dwellers are friendly and leave their nests during the day (likely in search of food), you’ll see plenty of evidence of what this species likes to eat. Food wrappers and containers that say McDonald’s or Tim Hortons at times seem to litter the ground. That’s not all, though; at some of the sites, discarded syringes can be seen in the middle of the nests. Some say that the syringes are a sign that the nest builder has been feeling sick and unhappy enough to inject themselves with a poisonous substance, perhaps in the mistaken belief that the substance is sustenance and thinking it will make them feel better. Obviously, all is not well in the Someos Marsh.

At this point, it’s probably best for the observer to safely leave the nest area and say a prayer for its poor inhabitant. Like other creatures in nature these days, this species is under threat and needs our help. Fortunately, better nesting sites for him/her outside of the Somenos Marsh are in the planning and construction phases. And with better homes that are closer to their food sources than the marsh, these critters should be able to live healthier, happier lives. Then, the skunk cabbage and snipes can eagerly move back into our species’ old marsh nesting sites to multiply and create feathery nests, and the marsh will go back to how it should be (but possibly a little less interesting for the casual observer).

Shaun Pattenden

Cowichan Valley