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Photo by John Benson
General News · 26th October 2014
George Sirk
Read at the Whaletown Commons Celebration, Oct 25 by David Shipway on my behalf...

Red-eyed Vireos Live Here.

Other than poaching cedar shake blocks back in the mid 70’s off MacMillan & Bloedel (M&B) lands now known as the Whaletown Commons, I had little to do with this property. Every few years I did do a ‘Breeding Bird Survey’ of Cortes. These occurred in the first week of June, which maximizes the number of breeding birds one can find. I would start, with a driver, at the far end of the island 1/2 hour before sunrise. There’s fifty stops over 25 miles. The M&B lands were very close to stop 40 on the count. I would be there for 3 minutes and record all the birds present, then drive off another 1/2 mile to stop 41 and so on. Well, the M&B lands were the only stop where I got the Red-eyed Vireo. I think it likes the maples near the road. It was the only place on Cortes I have recorded this bird. It’s not considered an endangered bird - it barely raises an eyebrow to most people, other than it’s odd name. The species liked it there in Whaletown.

Now we shift to the 1996-1997 period. Our daughter, Charlotte, was born, I needed a job, and with Pierre deTrey’s help became Regional Director for Cortes. This was when M&B decided they were going to high grade the best best timber off this property. They started by sending a blasting crew to knock down a cliff for road building material. You could call it your 100 metre diet for gravel…why have it shipped in when you could just blow the island up right now, right there! Well they chose Christmas week of ‘96 to set of such an explosion that it certainly heralded the birth of Christ and made a few people choke on their turkey!

M&B proceeded to roar throughout the property and remove trees in these newly invented ‘lens cuts’. Well’ David Shipway and I set up a meeting with Rob Tysdal, Chief forester for M&B to discuss the mess there were making in there. Rob humoured us by meeting on location. We walked in from Jocelyn Road past the patches (lenses!) of wiped-out forest to the edge of the creek. It was at a bend where there was a 40 foot drop down the bank to the water below. We pointed out that they had cut trees right up to the bank edge. This was a salmon stream. He corrected us by saying that the salmon did not come this far up and it was at this point not designated a “salmon stream”. So there. I piped up and said “Well, there’s frogs in there!” You had to have been there to see the look in his face - no one had ever mentioned ‘frogs’ to him, certainly not that they were important in any way. I told him that Red-legged frogs were indeed important. He took it on advisement. We then pointed out that they shouldn’t be cutting so close to the bank because the salmon weren’t that far away. It seemed that he took that into consideration as well.

Now you have to picture the two forces standing there in the dripping forest, one the M&B personnel wearing logger’s pants and jacket, cork boots with plenty of spikes in them, a fluorescent vest and an industry grade hardhat - all with the official company logo emblazoned everywhere, and of course a nice sharp ax and measuring tape. David and I in our hippie's best; wool pants, black gum boots, flannel shirt and the latest toques we had been given at Christmas to top our mop of hair. We all had our lunches with us, M&B with their aluminum lunch kits and nicely wax-paper wrapped white-bread sandwiches and us with hearty tooth-busting whole wheat with chunks of smoked salmon and crunchy King apples.

Then I told them about the Red-eyed Vireos that were nesting there. Always save the best kick for last. That stopped them in their tracks. I said they were insectivorous and were actually beneficial to their great forest plans as they kept the nasty insects that were eating their precious trees at bay! I proceeded to tell them that they should not log during nesting season because they’d be knocking down nests with babies in them…. The silence of the forest engulfed us all. No one had ever asked them not to log during nesting season. They would consider that too. And to this day whenever you see or hear logging during the April to June period, think about all the little birds that are careening over as they cut the trees. But to be fair to Rod, I think credit must go to also him for perhaps leaving a few more trees behind and keeping his crew away from the creek. As for the Red-eyed Vireos, I’ve yet to see one - I’ve only heard them…something like a speedy Robin, not slurring like a Black-headed Grosbeak or rolling it’s rrr’s like a Western tanager but a sweet indecent warble that goes on and and on and on….

George Sirk Oct 2014