Hornby Island Natural History Centre

Interview with Wildlife Photographer, barb biagi

Interview with barb biagi

barb biagi has been a committee member and steward of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre since 2015. She donates her wildlife images to be used as a card fundraiser and often volunteers making and selling the cards for Natural History. In October 2019, we interviewed barb to learn more about her passion for wildlife photography.

When did you become interested in wildlife photography?

barb: It started with Doug Carrick’s eagle cams. I was working outside the co-op and people were talking about the eagle cam and how fabulous it was. I hadn’t had high speed internet before, but I got a new computer and it came with 3 months of free high-speed internet. The first thing I did was go to Doug’s cam and, woohoo, I’d sit and knit and watch the cam. Doug’s cams were the first. Now you can watch osprey nests in Ireland, stork nests in Poland, or a safari, just by the computer. There was a chat and a forum associated with the cam, and there were people from around the world who love the cams: including people in schools and hospitals. I realized there were thousands of people who loved the Eagles and the webcams, but they had no idea what Hornby or the Eagles looked like from the ground. So I started taking pictures to show them. From there I realized there’s all sorts of things: birds, stuff on the water. I fell into it.

I’ve had a camera since I was twenty. At the time it was film, black and white. It was the first thing I bought when I got a job. My Mum was a photographer too. She had a brownie camera, and I probably got it from my her. She photographed the family, documented all our life.

Eagle with young in nest. Photo by barb biagi.

Do you have a favourite species or subject to photograph?

barb: The eagles are at the heart of it, especially that particular eagle nest and what is happening. They might not be the best photos but it’s what I do the most of. I take pictures from the roads and on the beach. I know all the trees that they hang out in. I go by every day on my way home, stopping and taking pictures and videos.

What is your favourite photograph or series that you have ever taken?

barb: The one I get the most feedback from is the hummingbird nest series taken over at Roger and Françka’s place. People love that. One of the images won MARS’ judge’s choice and audience choice. Two photos have been published. I have all my pictures on Flickr. I got a message from a Japanese architect who wrote a book about his theory called tangling. He requested to include a picture I took during the herring spawn: it was Sargassum seaweed, and herring had stuck their roe to the seaweed. I was also contacted by someone from out east making a backyard bird feeder book. He wants to point out bird feeder behavior that people can watch and requested to use my photo of the male purple finch doing a mating dance. The finch has my dog Dookie’s hair in his beak and is dancing. It was the day that I had to let Dookie go. It’s like a thank you, and life goes on. I’ve also had photos in the Comox Valley Record.

Hummingbird in nest. Photo by barb biagi.

What time of year do you most enjoy taking photos on Hornby?

barb: That is a tough one. Probably the herring spawn when there is so much going on. The herring spawn action starts in January and goes until May. Eagles feed off the herring balls, there are sea lions everywhere, and young eagles come back–so it isn’t just the nesting pairs. The orca come through. I forget if we have humpback then. There’s lots of seabirds here.

Can you tell us a bit about your process?

barb: I have eyes open all the time. Always ready. Always looking, with my camera on hand and backup batteries. My camera gets charged each time I upload the photos. My card is empty and ready to go. The pictures go onto the computer into an album and then I format the memory card and start over again. A lot of people store all their photos on their camera, but it’s easy to lose them that way. You should always have everything backed up twice, and even that’s not enough.

Do you have a preferred lens, camera, or equipment?

barb: If people are interested in wildlife, a camera with a longer zoom is good for wildlife. I use the Nikon Coolpix P1000. I always get the latest version.

Have you encountered challenges while photographing / being a photographer?

barb: My last computer had a storage hard drive. I have a working drive where I work on the photos and upload them, and then I move them to the storage drive. I thought they were safe, so I didn’t back them up, but after seven years I lost the drive this summer, with all my photos since 2012! The good ones are uploaded to Flickr, but there’s also personal ones that I didn’t put up there. Now it’s all gone. Drives are only good for three years. The computer shop is trying to recover the photos, but it’s expensive.

And of course, there’s physical challenges when it’s cold and wet, or you’re on a boat and can’t hold the camera steady enough.

Baby seal. Photo by barb biagi.

Do you view the world differently now than before you were a photographer?

barb: When I started out, I liked taking candid photos of people, particularly black and white. I was 20. Then I moved to Hornby and I didn’t know anybody, so taking photos of people went by the wayside. When I started taking photos for the eagle cam, it was a whole new thing. I’d always loved nature, but I was photographing nature and looking for things to photograph to show people. It has changed my life big time, and other people’s lives as it turns out. It has opened their own eyes to nature and photography and realizing we’re not separate from nature and birds. They have families and they have children that they love. They are not any different than us; they are better than us.

What advice would you offer someone interested in wildlife photography and wondering where to start?

barb: The best place to start is their own backyard. Everyone has nature. Open your eyes and see what is there. Even an iPhone has a good camera now.

On behalf of everyone at Natural History, thank you for sharing your wonderful photos of Hornby’s wildlife with us and supporting the programs!

Photo by barb biagi.

If you have wildlife concerns, you can call barb. Her number is on page 4 of the Hornby phonebook under Wildlife Concerns

To see barb’s beautiful images, visit barb’s Flickr Page and YouTube

Interview by Sarat Colling

Students and adults work together to help Helliwell

On a Tuesday afternoon in late October, nine Hornby Island Community School students were seen in Helliwell Provincial Park.

They weren’t cutting classes to hang out in the sunny meadow. They were there to help improve the coastal bluff habitat for creatures such as birds, bees, and butterflies, including the rare Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly.

The session began with a presentation by Bonnie Zand of the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project Team. She told them that the butterflies have vanished from Hornby Island and most of their range.

There are currently only two known populations in Canada. Zand talked about the Garry Oak and coastal bluff ecosystems in the park and the many plants and animals that depend on them. She described the ongoing work to rejuvenate Helliwell’s habitats, partly to prepare the areas to release captive-reared Taylor’s Checkerspot caterpillars from the Greater Vancouver Zoo.

If all goes well, the butterflies will be flitting about Helliwell’s meadow next spring. Look for updates from the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Project Recovery Team before the release.

Under the guidance of senior park ranger Heather Steere, their teacher Daniel Ackerman, and Neil Wilson of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre, the students removed nearly 500 Hairy Cat’s Ear weeds from three sites.

Then they planted 518 seedlings of three types of native grass, Woolly Sunflower and Yarrow that were grown by members of the Natural History Centre. Norma Wilson, Barb Biagi and Sally England from the centre assisted with the planting, along with education assistant Lisa Hamilton and parent volunteer Ondrea Rogers from the school.

“It was a beautiful day in so many ways and everyone enjoyed the experience, as has been the case the previous three years as well,” said Wilson.

“Hopefully, these students will be showing their grandchildren Checkerspots in a thriving ecosystem that they helped to restore.”

By Chris Junck

Autumn Update from the Stewards

This summer, Natural History had three main goals: First, to maintain the collection and a consistent temperature in the storage containers, in which the treasures are currently stored. Second, to host our usual speaker series and nature walk programs. Third, to connect with the community on a regular basis by having a presence at the Farmer’s Market.

The speaker series launched with a presentation by Dorrie Woodward, a Denman Island marine conservationist. Dorrie spoke about the important issue of plankton and microplastics in our local waters. She discussed what is known about them and solutions to reduce and prevent microplastic pollution. It is a serious concern because plankton often mistake microplastics for food, causing them to spread throughout the marine food web.

Our next talk, hosted by Dan Bowen of the Vancouver Island Paleontology Society, was about the fossil story of marine life in our ancient ocean around Hornby Island. It was intriguing to learn many interesting facts about the different sea creatures that used to occupy these waters. One of these was the Diplomoceras (pictured above), an 8-foot-long creature with a paperclip-shaped shell that their heads could retract into. A “flap” would close their heads in to protect against predators.

We were also fortunate to have Kendrick Brown travel from Victoria to speak about wildfires in our local context and beyond. “Changing Wildfire Regimes” offered a fascinating and timely analysis of changing wildfire regimes throughout history. After the presentation, local fire chief Doug Chinnery discussed a few local fire safety measures that people can make around their homes.

Throughout the summer, we also hosted several nature walks: Birding with Art Martell, Fossils with Dan Bowen and Betty Franklin, Intertidal Zone with Steve MacDonald, and Geology with John Cox. Each of these walks was well attended and highly popular.

Natural History volunteers sold wildlife cards and other goods at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. This year we printed many new local wildlife images by barb to feature on our fundraising cards.

barb biagi selling fundraising cards at Hornby Wild.

barb biagi selling fundraising cards at Hornby Wild.

The Market volunteers heard many stories demonstrating that the Natural History Centre is valued and missed by many of us visiting or living on the island. We look forward to finding it a home once again.

One young patron of the Centre spent a year collecting refundable cans, bottles, and cartons and donated the resulting funds to Natural History! His generosity is heartwarming and inspiring. We didn’t catch the name of this young environmentalist. (If you know him, could you please contact us.)

Much appreciation to the speakers and nature walk leaders for sharing their knowledge with us and supporting the Natural History Centre programming. Many thanks to the wonderful volunteers who sat at the Farmer’s Market throughout the summer, promoting these events and speaking with visitors. A special thank you to Verlie Gilligan for volunteering to make cards, as well as to Oakley Rankin for volunteering to assist with technical support at our three summer speaker events.

Finally, a big thanks to all our supporters for helping with the efforts to lobby the Ministry of Education and the Premier to secure a space in the school when it is rebuilt. Thanks to everyone who completed the school survey and asked that Natural History be relocated in the school rebuild. The survey results showed that the Natural History Centre was viewed as a high priority by the respondents (2nd after the Gym) of community services to be included in the new building.

tina at the fall fair

Tina Wai tables at the fall fair for Natural History.

In September 2019, we set up a table Fall Fair. The red tent looked wonderful decorated with grape vines, hops, red rose hips, and other natural material. A draw was held with two very happy recipients for beautiful photo prints generously donated by Phil Ives and Don Peterson.

As part of the new school program theme of Changing Seasons, we worked with the intermediate students on a bulb planting project. This October, we will once again plant native plants with the students at Helliwell Park.

Student Activity: Planting Bulbs

The Hornby School students planted 210 bulbs of various types of narcissus on the bank along Sollans Road and in the plot in front of the school. Each student marked the area they planted with wooden sticks Alissa provided with their names. Then they spontaneously began putting little rocks around their planting sites. After patting the soil down, a design of  various size of circles appeared in the little landscaped plot in front of the school. Hopefully it’ll be a lovely sight next spring. This was Natural History’s first activity together with the students as part of the school’s theme on changing seasons. On October 22nd, we’ll be heading to Helliwell Park to plant native plants with the students.

Nature Walk – Hornby Rocks!

August 13 – John Cox, “Hornby Rocks! Exploring Hornby’s Unique Geology.” Sandpiper Beach. 

This walk is part of the Nature Field Trip Series. Admission is $10.00 per adult. Youth 18 and under attend for free. Pre-registration is essential. Space is limited to 50 participants. To register or inquire, email hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com

We will meet at the entrance to the beach at 10:20 am. Please Note, make sure to bring water and appropriate footwear. The walk occurs on the beach and over rocks and not on a trail. The sun can be very hot and a hat and sun protection measures are recommended. The walk lasts about 1 1/2 hours (with an option to leave earlier after 1 hour).

Speaker Series – “Changing Wildfire Regimes” with Kendrick Brown

Join us Thursday, August 1st for a talk with Kendrick Brown, paleoecologist, on Changing Wildfire Regimes. Dr. Brown will look at changing wildfire regimes in British Columbia and beyond in response to changes in climate, vegetation, and human activity. New Horizons Centre, 2:00 pm. $5 per adult. Free for youth 18 years and younger.

Speaker Series – The Geology and Paleontology of Hornby Island

Join us on July 25th for a talk about the Geology and Paleontology of Hornby Island! Dan Bowen and Betty Franklin of the Vancouver Island Paleontological Society – VIPS will discuss the fossil story of marine life in our ancient ocean. New Horizons Centre, 12:30. $5 per adult. Free for youth 18 years and younger.

VIPS talk

 

Speaker Series – Microplastics in our Local Waters

On July 10th, join us in learning about what is happening with plankton and microplastics in our local waters. Dorrie Woodward, a Denman Island based marine conservationist, will present at Hornby Island’s New Horizons Centre, 2 pm.

Microplastic in our local waters (1)

Summer 2019 Calendar

We are pleased to announce that the Summer 2019 Natural History Events Calendar is now available!

Please note: Although we have speakers and nature walks, the Natural History Centre is closed for summer 2019. You can read about why here.

Our Expert Speakers Series will be held at New Horizons. Admission to each presentation is $5.00 per adult. Free for youth 18 and under.

The Nature Field Trips are an excellent opportunity to discover shoreline and forest ecosystems as well as Hornby’s unique geology.  These field trips are great fun for the whole family and will enhance your visit to our beautiful island. Pre-registration is essential as space is limited.  For inquiries or to register, please email hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com. $10 per person; free for youth 18 and under. The 2 birding walks and July 25 fossil walk are now full.

Helliwell Park Photo: John Brears

Barred Owl Photo: barb biagi

Join Us for Hornby Wild! Nature Weekend

Mark your calendars for the Hornby Wild! Nature Weekend – May 31st & June 1st. This year’s event features birding presentations and walks by Art Martell and Daniel Donnecke, and a collaborative presentation on local nature photography with Don Peterson and Phil Ives.

The evening talks will be at the Hall. Tickets go on sale at the gas bar mid-May.

The morning birding walks are by registration only (space is limited). To sign up for one of the Nature Walks, please email hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com

Refreshments will be available for sale at the evening talks, including all organic vegan-friendly baked goods.

A Labour of Love – Natural History Collection Gets Careful Decontamination and Cleaning

After months of preparation a dedicated team met for three days to clean the Natural History collection that had sustained soot damage from the school fire.

In the week leading up to the much-anticipated cleaning event, the group spent a few hours each day prepping. This process involved moving the collection from the containers into the area of the school that had not sustained fire damage and was now smoke damage free, where it would be cleaned. Upon Alan Fletcher’s suggestion, a small area was tented in the old Music Room, the spot closest to the storage container by the window. Heat and lights were set up inside the cleaning area. Ruth provided snacks for the group.

Then the big day arrived. Over time, eighteen people worked carefully and systematically, making their way through the birds, mammals, fossils, bones, photos, files, and more. The taxidermied specimens required the most attention: a careful procedure with special vacuums, brushes, and sponges was followed. To the surprise of all, and thanks to the diligent cleaning efforts, the collection was shining in only three days.

As each specimen was placed back in their temporary (and decontaminated) container home, we marveled that they looked “better than ever,” with eyes sparkling, feathers and fur fluffed. As well as being beautiful and educational, they serve as a reminder to protect and preserve the living natural world and its inhabitants. It felt good to have them back to a pristine condition.

Thanks to everyone on the team!

  • Conservators from the Royal BC Museum in Victoria: Kasey Lee (Senior Conservator) and Lauren Buttle (Paper Conservator).
  • Community Volunteers: Susan Cain, Rachelle Chinnery, Diane Proc, Elaine Savoie, Mary Savoie, and Wayne Wai.
  • Restorers and Cleaners from Service Masters Restorers, Vancouver Island: Gwen, Heather, and Valerie (paid for by insurance).
  • The Natural History Stewards: Barb Biagi, Ruth Goldsmith, Bill Hamilton, Susan Hoppenfeld, Tina Wai, Neil Wilson, and Norma Wilson.
  • Judith Lawrence for providing accommodation for the Conservators.

We’d also like to thank all those who volunteered to help, but never had a chance because the job finished sooner than anticipated.

As one volunteer described, it was truly a labour of love.

In the video below, Neil Wilson of the Natural History Centre explains part of the cleaning process while cleaning the kingfisher.

Natural History Landscapes

Last summer it was exciting to see the chocolate lilies blooming and spreading profusely along with the blue camas in the Ethnobotanical garden adjacent the school. The alpine strawberries with their small white flowers were taking over the paths, as were seedlings of the bright orange columbines, and yellow tiger lilies. They were thriving happily under red flowering current, while the  shrubs were reaching massive sizes.

Despite valiant efforts to protect and save it, Natural History’s Ethnobotanical garden was in a sorry state after the school fire and now is no longer. On Friday, February 1st, 2019, the stewards liberated the surviving plants from their narrow confines and fences, returning them to the forest. Our sadness at the loss of our Ethnobotanical garden was transformed however by seeing the splendor of the big plants in the forest setting. I found it satisfying to be able to finally do something, to salvage the plants, give them a chance, and help restore an area that had been damaged to put in the new power lines for the school on Sollans Rd. This move would not have happened without Alan Fletcher of AFC Construction offering his help, suggesting the new site, and with skillful maneuvering of his machinery, digging up the huge Nootka rose, the enormous mahonia, and 14 other plants. Alan Fletcher and Al Cannon, the site supervisor, have been unfailingly helpful to Natural History. We really appreciate their ongoing support and assistance. The rest of the team, that got so much work done in three amazing hours with their shovels that morning, were Norma Wilson, Neil Wilson, Bill Hamilton, Elaine Savoie, Ruth Goldsmith, and Tina Wai. At the end, Ruth came up with the brilliant idea to help the school children plant daffodil bulbs along the bank next fall. Hopefully, they too may experience the feeling that we had of doing something to beautify the land around their school.

– Tina Wai

Update from the Stewards

Hi everyone!

As of January 2019, supporters have generously donated a total of $15,000 towards restoring and reestablishing the Natural History Collection. Thanks so much for all of your caring and generosity! We are closing the GoFundMe site but will continue informing our community of supporters through this website.

Also, keep your eye out for an article in the February First Edition entitled “Thoughts on the genesis of the natural history collection born in and of the Hornby Island Community School” by the founder of the Natural History Centre, Joy Jeffries.

Much appreciation for your continued support as we move forward!

The Natural History Stewards

Christmas Fair

This year’s holiday fair was a great success. The diligent work of the natural history stewards and volunteers paid off – our table raised over $1,500 after expenses! We are fundraising for the care, cleaning, and restoration of the Natural History exhibition that was damaged in the school fire this past August. We appreciate the donations made for the restoration. Thanks so much to everyone for your support!

A special thanks to Stevi Kittleson for her fantastic tote bag, card, and advertising designs, as well as printing the cards; Rowan Helliwell for tote bag printing; Mette Wullum for rumball guidance; Verlie Gilligan for making barb biagi’s gorgeous photos into cards; and Quality Foods for donating groceries for the rum balls.

Warm wishes for the holiday season!

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Christmas Fair this Weekend!

The Hornby Island Christmas Fair is coming up this weekend and we are looking forward to share our fundraising items with everyone! This year, we are featuring some old favourites – rum balls and wildlife photo cards – along with some new delights – locally designed tote bags and art cards.

Many thanks to Stevi Kittleson for her fantastic tote bag, card, and advertising designs, as well as printing the cards; Rowan Helliwell for tote bag printing assistance; Mette Wullum for rumball guidance; and Verlie Gilligan for making barb’s gorgeous photos into cards!

Warm wishes for the holiday season!

price list for 2018 x--mas

tote bagsstevi photo cardsbarb photo cardsbarb photo cards2

Posters by Stevi Kittleson. 

Vote for the Vancouver Island Elasmosaur!

Exciting news from the Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre! Their elasmosaur, which was discovered in Courtenay, has been shortlisted in a competition to become an official provincial symbol.

Click to Here Vote. The voting period will close November 23, 2018.

 

Thank you to the Quilters

We love our new banner! This summer the quilting group created this beautiful banner for the Natural History Centre. Our heartfelt appreciation to everyone who put it together including Eleanora Laffin, Una Keziere, Gayle Loban, and Christine Tamburri.

Exhibit Restoration Fundraising Campaign

Since the recent fire at the school, many people from on and off-island have expressed their concern about the Natural History Collection. Many thanks to our community for your kind offers of support and caring.

Initially, the Natural History room appeared visually intact. Unfortunately, upon closer examination, we discovered that the entire collection suffered smoke and soot damage.

UPDATE:

As of January 2019, supporters have generously donated a total of $15,000 towards restoring and reestablishing the Natural History Collection. Thanks so much for all of your caring and generosity! We are closing the GoFundMe site but will continue informing our community of supporters through this website.

Also, keep your eye out for an article in the February First Edition entitled “Thoughts on the genesis of the natural history collection born in and of the Hornby Island Community School” by the founder of the Natural History Centre, Joy Jeffries.

Much appreciation for your continued support as we move forward!

The Natural History Stewards

This Northwestern crow is part of the Hornby Island Natural History collection that requires restoration after suffering smoke and soot damage during a fire.

Summer 2018 Photos

Check out this cool footage from Dr. Archer’s presentation of a young glass sponge reef taken just east of Hornby Island!

Thank you to the speakers and nature walk leaders for sharing their knowledge and supporting the Natural History Centre: Stephanie Archer, Dan Bowen, John Cox, Betty Franklin, Art Martell, Jessica Shultz, Adam Taylor, Eileen Van der Flier-Keller, and Kihan Yoon-Henderson. And thanks to everyone who came out and participated in the nature talks and activities!

Update from Natural History on Recent School Fire

As many of you have heard, there was a fire at the Hornby Island Community School early Sunday morning. The fire department and janitor were called by the school’s automatic alarm system at 3 am. Firefighters from Hornby and Denman worked through the night to put out the fire. A third of the building was burnt and the rest was damaged by smoke and water.

There was no water damage to the collection. The collection has smoke and soot damage and we are beginning a restoration and maintenance project. We will do everything we can to maintain and continue making it available to the public in the future.

We are very grateful to the Hornby Fire Department and Denman Fire Department who worked for hours to contain and put out the fire. Thank you to the community for your support and the offers of help. Our thoughts are with the staff and students of the school who are deeply affected by this tragedy. We will keep people posted on the details once we know our next steps.

Hornby Island Natural History Centre Committee

UPDATE: The collection is now being held in storage after professional cleaning.

Links: CBC, Times Colonist, School Renewal Fund