Hornby Island Natural History Centre

Students Aid in Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Project

On October 27 2020, 19 students from Hornby Island Community School spent a windy afternoon in Helliwell Provincial Park planting native plants on the bluffs. Along with them were the stewards from the Hornby Island Natural History Centre, school staff, parent volunteers, and science staff from BC Parks and the Ministry of the Environment. These 30 people were taking part in the ongoing restoration project of our island’s rare Garry Oak Ecosystem, one of the last in Canada.

It took the work crew less than two hours to pull 900 weeds and fill the holes with 700 plugs of California Brome, a native grass which is a host plant for endangered species of insects that are important to the health of the ecosystem. One of these species is the beautiful Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly which was extirpated from Hornby in the early 1990’s due to park degradation. Eight-hundred of their larvae were reintroduced in March of 2020 after years of preparation. Native plants provide food and habitat that are essential to the survival of these insects, so after 5 years of weeding and planting the bluff’s meadows, butterflies were again flitting about Helliwell this past May.

Taking part in this project is an integral component of the NHC’s mandate to actively educate the public on the workings of nature. Visitors to the park can do their part to help heal the ecosystem by staying on the marked pathways and keeping dogs leashed to minimize damage to sensitive plants and insects.

Volunteers practiced covid-19 safety protocols while planting.

One of the first Taylor’s Checkerspot butterflies seen in Helliwell Provincial Park in more than 25 years. Photo by J. Heron.

Featured photo of students planting at Helliwell by barb biagi.

Meet Michelle Willard of Mighty Museum

Meet Michelle Willard, Museum Consultant and Specialist!

The Natural History Centre is excited to be working with Michelle Willard of Mighty Museum to envision the future of our Centre and its reopening.

Michelle holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of British Columbia, with a specialty in Museum Studies. She is inspired by the potential of museums as powerful platforms for social change. With 20 years of experience, Michelle has worked at historic sites, municipalities and museums throughout BC. Notably, the Cumberland Museum and Archives, which Michelle played a key role in developing as the Executive Director (and Curator) for nearly six years, received a Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming. In 2020, Michelle received a British Columbia Historic Federation award of merit for work she completed for the Museum. Michelle started Mighty Museum to serve the growing needs for specialized community interpretation and engagement at museums, historic sites and parks. Much of the work Mighty Museum does focuses on assisting in the development of small museums.

With Michelle’s guidance, the essential visioning process offers us the opportunity to reimagine our collections and exhibits in these changing times. The NHC will again become a rich and diverse community resource that reflects and inspires a desire for research, understanding, and action.

We are thrilled to collaborate with Michelle and Mighty Museum to plan for the Natural History Centre’s future.

Planning for the Future

The Natural History Centre is thrilled to acknowledge recent grants that support our Centre’s short and long-term visioning and reopening process, and offer relief during these challenging times. After the fire at the school where we were located in August 2018, followed by the cancellation of our Spring and Summer programming because of Covid-19, the time is right for in-depth planning and reimagining of our exhibits and programming.

Thanks to the Hornby Island Economic Enhancement Corporation (HICEEC) for granting us $2500 towards the planning and research required for reopening the Natural History Centre. The grant will also allow us to create Nature Exploration Backpack Kits that families can rent from us for experiential learning activities with safety protocols in place. An integral part of these kits is to encourage respect and appreciation for the environment, promoting low-impact exploration of the natural world.

Thanks to the Comox Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) and the Hornby Island Community Fund (HICF) for $1200 towards our “Phoenix Planning Project – planning for the future of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre.” This grant will support the first stage of our reopening process, visioning for a new Natural History Centre designed to meet the community’s needs during these changing times.

These grants support a vigorous and practical visioning, planning, and preparation session that our committee will begin in the new year. We are excited to undertake this project with the guidance and expertise of Michelle Willard, a successful museum consultant with 20 years of experience in the Comox Valley. Michelle and colleagues have an organization called Mighty Museum. Mighty Museum is “a consulting group of experienced professionals inspired by the potential of museums as powerful platforms for positive social change.” Together, we will develop a viable, sustainable financial plan to ensure the future of a dynamic new Natural History Centre. This includes reimagining our exhibits and programming, designing displays, and reopening our new space with Covid-19 protocols in place by Spring 2023.

New Totes Available

Natural History totes featuring a lovely crow design by Stevi Kittleson and made locally by Leslee Richards and Shirley Wyndham are now for sale at Fibres and Beulah Creek Nursery. They are $25 each (cash only please).

bag advert updated

Summer 2020 Programs Postponed Due To Covid-19

Dear members and friends of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre,

Every summer, we look forward to connecting with those who visit the Natural History Centre and participate in the Centre’s programs. Unfortunately, this year we won’t be holding our usual summer activities due to concerns about the health and safety of participants and volunteers.

Although we are disappointed to miss the important offerings of the speakers and nature walk leaders who were tentatively scheduled, we are glad that they have kindly agreed to join us next summer. In the meantime, we will continue to plan for the future in our new home with the help of museum consultants. For information on the new space, check back in the fall.

Our hearts go out to everyone who has been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wishing you all health and safety,

The Natural History Stewards

Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Reintroduction at Helliwell Park

This March, Hornby Island Natural History Centre volunteers assisted wildlife recovery specialists with the release of 400 Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly caterpillars into Helliwell Park. The larvae were released into flagged areas that were abundant with plantain, which they love to feast on. Signs have been placed nearby to alerting passerby to stay off the grassy areas to avoid treading on the caterpillars.

For several years, the Natural History stewards have been assisting the Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Recovery Team by growing native plants in their yards and greenhouses on Hornby Island. Each year, the school students assist the volunteers and recovery team with planting these native plants, as well as weeding in the park. These plants will support the rare butterflies as well as many other insect species, including pollinators such as bees, which are key members of natural ecosystems.

If all goes as planned, you may be lucky to spot the small black, white, and orange checker-winged butterflies flittering around the meadow by mid-May!

Did you know?
  • The Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly was officially listed as an endangered species in 2013.
  • The butterflies are small, with a wingspan of less than 6 centimeters.
  • In the spring, an adult may lay clusters of up to 1200 eggs.
  • Once believed to have disappeared from Canada, in 2005, 15 Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies were observed on Denman Island.
  • The butterflies thrive in Garry oak ecosystems, such as found in Helliwell Park, which are rare.

Photos by Bill Hamilton and Chris Junck


A Message from the Hornby Island Natural History Centre on COVID-19

Dear members and friends of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre,

The Natural History committee sends our well wishes to everyone during these difficult and uncertain times. Amidst the growing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, we are thinking of our community and visitors both locally and internationally.

Although the Natural History Centre has been closed since the fire at our location in the Community School, we have been actively planning upcoming spring and summer 2020 events, as well as laying the ground for the future of the Centre and collection. This planning includes a (virtual) meeting with a museum consultant to aid in our visioning process in April.

Regarding our summer programming, considering the serious health concerns about the spread of coronavirus, we will continue to assess the facts and take appropriate measures.

Physical distancing and social support are essential during this time to care for one another, and to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Harvard’s coronavirus education page is a useful resource for the evolving situation: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center

The Province of BC’s Public Health Services is another helpful resource: https://news.gov.bc.ca/ministries/health

We know how much the Centre means to our friends and community members, near and far. We look forward to sharing in the wonders of Hornby’s natural environment with you in the future.

Wishing you all health, safety, and happiness.

The Natural History Stewards

Tina's garden.jpgTina's garden 2.jpg

Garden photos by Tina Wai.

Natural History and the School Rebuild!

On December 6th, 2019, community members, parents, and children filled the Hornby Island Community Hall for the highly anticipated new school funding announcement. Our MLA, the Minister of Education, and members of SD 71 were present to share the news and answer questions.

The Minister announced that the Hornby Community School was allocated 10.4 million to rebuild the school. The community was thrilled to learn that there would be a full-sized gym in the new school. The construction of the school is to begin in 2020 and the anticipated date of completion is spring 2022.

People were also thrilled to learn that the Natural History Centre will be included “on site” in the rebuild! The exact location has yet to be determined, but we are happy to learn that Natural History will be part of the school once again. After the announcement, the Minister told one of our Stewards that it was wonderful to have a natural history collection in a school and as part of the curriculum.

Both the MLA and the Minister thanked the community for their engagement and made it clear that our needs were heard. We are happy to share this good news with you: it is because of your supportive efforts that the Hornby Island Natural History Centre anticipates having a most suitable location to continue our educational programs!

Warm Seasons Greetings,

The Natural History Stewards Committee

Community Enrichment Grant for “Birds and Books”

Natural History is excited to share that we have received a community enrichment grant for our proposed project: “Birds and Books: Displaying a Hornby Island Natural History Exhibit in the School Library.”

We are looking forward to begin this project which will display some of the taxidermy birds in the current school library. This grant will allow the taxidermied birds to be on display for the community, bringing the natural history collection to life once again.

The display will be brought to life by local artist Emi Honda, who created our beautiful forest bird diorama in the past. Emi will work to arrange the taxidermied birds realistically in the display cases with natural elements such as leaves, rocks, moss, and branches.

A warm thank you to the Hornby Island Community Fund and Comox Valley Community Foundation for granting us 1350.00 for this project! We would also like to thank Florette, the school librarian, for her support and finding a spot in the library to include the displays.

Western Tanager Pair in the Hornby Island Natural History Collection.

Pictured above: Emi designs a previous forest bird diorama with the Natural History Centre. Photo by barb biagi.

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

Location and Hours

2100 B Sollans Rd.
Hornby Island, BC V0R1Z0

The Natural History Centre will reopen July 2023.

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.