Hornby Island Natural History Centre

Nature Walk: “Walking with Trees”

Exploring the Forests of Hornby with Kihan Yoon-Henderson, Natural History Centre Coordinator.

Friday, August 3rd, 10:30 am – 11:30 am, Helliwell Park.

We will meet at the head of the trail at 10:25 am, right next to the parking lot. This walk is part of the Nature Field Trip Series. Admission is $10.00 per person. Youth 18 and under attend for free. For inquiries or to register, please email hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com, call 250-335-1021 during NHC’s open hours, or come to the Centre.

To view the full summer nature walk schedule, visit Nature Field Trips.

“A Walk in Helliwell Park to See, Hear, and Appreciate Birds”

Both the Summer Nature Walks with Art Martell are now full. 

We will meet at the head of the trail at 7:55 am, right next to the parking lot. The walk will be about 3 km and take about 2 hours. We will listen to and identify bird songs and try to see any birds that might cooperate. Art will provide information on local birds and answer questions. Bring binoculars if you have them. No dogs please. Please note, this walk will be cancelled if it rains. Space is limited to 10 participants.

Art Martell is retired in the Comox Valley and has had a cabin on Hornby Island for over 25 years. He is the Volunteer Caretaker for the K’omoks Important Bird Area and is active in the Comox Valley Birders Group, BC Field Ornithologists, and Bird Studies Canada. Art was also a Regional Coordinator for the BC Breeding Bird Atlas. Before retirement, Art worked as a wildlife research scientist and manager with Canadian Wildlife Service and was the first Canadian National Coordinator for the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.  Art is a keen birder who enjoys birding locally, nationally and internationally.

This walk is part of the Nature Field Trip Series. Admission is $10.00 per person. Youth 18 and under attend for free. Pre-registration is essential as space is limited. For inquiries or to register, email hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com. After Tuesday, July 13th, email hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com, call 250-335-1021, or come to the Centre. This walk is now full.

Click here for the full Summer 2018 Nature Field Trip Series.

Speaker Series: “Exploring Pebbles, Rocks, and the Stories they Tell”

Thursday, July 19th with Eileen Van der Flier-Keller, geologist

In this interactive presentation, Eileen will identify pebbles and rocks and explore the stories they tell.

Dr. Eileen Van der Flier-Keller is a geologist and Teaching Professor in Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver British Columbia.  She is passionate about public awareness of science and empowering teachers to engage their students with Earth science. Eileen has been cited for her work in promoting geoscience outreach and awareness to teachers through EdGEO, for disseminating geoscience knowledge to the public via publications and talks and especially in reaching the hearts and minds of the next generation of Canadian Earth scientists.  Eileen was named the 2009 recipient of the Geological Association of Canada Neale Medal. This honour is awarded to an individual for their outstanding efforts in sharing earth science with Canadians. She was awarded the UVic Faculty of Science Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2015. At SFU Eileen is also Special Advisor to the Dean of Science on Public Education and Outreach.

This presentation is part of the Expert Speaker Series. Admission is $5.00 per person. Youth 18 and under attend for free. The talk begins at 2:00 pm in the Hornby Island Community School Library. Please enter through the Natural History Centre door.

Click here to view the entire Summer 2018 Speaker Series Schedule.

Richard Hebda Speaks on Climate Change and Adaptation

What measures can we take here on Hornby Island to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change? Climate change is here and evidence shows that the Earth is nearing a tipping point. For instance, as Dr. Richard Hedba stated, one of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide exceeded 412 parts per million (ppm) in 2017 and 2018 for first time in 800,000 years and has risen by about 30 percent in last 12 years.

Dr. Hebda, former curator of Earth History and Botany at the Royal BC Museum, recently gave an engaging, informative, and useful presentation at the Community Hall on climate change, ecosystems, and the future of Hornby Island. He discussed scientific studies on climate change, including his own research which involves examining plant fossils to understand climate impacts and changes, and offered practical suggestions for adapting to what will become a very different environment than we have today. Several key points about climate change that he made include:

  • Ecosystems and processes are more sensitive than model predictions.
  • We should expect transformative events, such as droughts and disease.
  • Changes will vary from place to place on a small scale.
  • There will be increasing disturbances of all kinds.
  • The responses of individual species are challenging to predict.
  • With climate change, new ecosystems will arise.
  • The atmospheric CO2 concentrations are lagging.

Given the unfortunate reality of rising temperatures, Dr. Hebda offered some practical suggestions that would help Hornby Islanders. While we must do everything to mitigate climate change, undoubtedly adaptation will be necessary. Dr. Hebda discussed four adaptation measures we can take.

First, adaptation includes Conservation and Native Plant Cultivation. We can propagate native plant species by planting them in gardens and parks, restoring them to degraded sites, and encouraging them along roadsides.* It is also important to identify and protect dry sites by planting dry habitat species such as oak, Douglas-fir, and arbutus. Keep in mind that shorelines will change. One species that thrives along shorelines and was only identified in recent years is the shoreline juniper tree.

sea blush

The presence of sea blush indicates a possible future meadow and Garry oak friendly area.

A second adaptation strategy is Assisted Migration of Plants which takes into consideration region, site, and species. This is because plants won’t be able to disperse at the rate of climate change. Beginning with the most sensitive species and sites, they will need help sustaining natural populations as sources and require assisted relocation. Garry oak trees will have continued and increasing importance in our ecosystem and require assisted migration. One indication of a future meadow and Garry oak friendly site is the occurrence of sea blush. So keep your eyes open for this slender stemmed plant with clusters of pink flowers in late spring. However, it is important to also avoid drastic transformations, and be sure to monitor the sites!

The third adaptation is Water Conservation, specifically the conservation of wetlands and planting drought resistant plants.

The fourth adaptation is Carbon Stewardship. Key points here are to restore carbon sinks and removal processes, only remove trees for ecological purposes, and end ecosystems degradation.

The fourth adaptation is Food Security. One experiment Dr. Hebda described on food security and climate change examined the yields of Heritage potatoes across sites. The results were ordered from highest to lowest identified yield: Ozette-Nootka, Russett Burbank, Chieftain, Mrs. Moehrle’s Yellow, Banana, Yukon Gold, Sieglinde, Russian Blue, Kennebec, Corne de MoutonIrish Cobbler, Likely


Food security research shows that the ozette potato is a highly prolific and resilient variety of heritage potato.

Dr. Hebda urged us to consider the following:

Be prepared for surprises and extremes. With climate change comes flood, drought, and pest outbreaks.

Undertake bold experiments and be sure to take action!

Click Here for an article by Anthony Gregson on the talk from the Islands Grapevine.

*The Natural History Centre has an information binder on our native plant species as well as an ethnobotanical native plant demonstration garden – come take a look!

Photo of Richard Hebda at the Hornby Island Community Hall by barb biagi.

BIOCRACY: Hornby Island and Climate Change

By Anthony Gregson
The Islands Grapevine, June 7, 2018

Where climate change is concerned, it’s not news that we’re all in for it. Yet, somewhat shamefacedly, I came away from Dr. Richard Hebda’s lecture on Hornby Island and climate change, last Friday, sponsored by the Natural History Centre, with a rather cheerful anticipation. Garry Oak meadows all up the East Coast of Vancouver Island? Fields of beautiful blue camas? Lemon trees and oranges, maybe even avocados and sugarcane in the garden? The wines will be terrific. Look forward to Chateau St. John or Domaine Prince George. What’s not to like?

Hebda, who is based in the Royal British Columbia Museum, left us in no doubt about the reality of global warning. He pointed out that the world’s temperature, which normally moves in lock step with carbon dioxide levels, is now way out of wack, far below where carbon dioxide levels have soared. There is no doubt that temperature will catch up. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Obviously, we must find a way to live in harmony with Nature. Hebda used a somewhat stronger term, biocracy, which might be taken to mean the regulation of society in the interests of harmony with Nature. He said that, for him, what were Gaian beliefs in the eighties have been replaced by facts. For example, all communities of perennial plants are connected through fungal mycorrhizal relationships. (The Gaia Hypothesis proposes that the biosphere forms a complex system that interacts with inorganic surroundings, such as global temperature, to maintain life.)

Read More

Summer 2018 Events Calendar

We are pleased to announce that the Summer 2018 Natural History Events Calendar is now available! Join us in learning with experts passionate in the areas of marine biology, paleontology, geology, conservation, and ornithology.

The Exhibit’s Summer hours of operation begin Tuesday, July 3rd. 

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Our Thursday Expert Speakers Series is held in the Community School Library (entrance through the Natural History Exhibit door). Admission to each presentation is $5.00 per adult. Free for youth 18 and under.

The Nature Field Trips on Fridays 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. After the Centre opens on July 3rd, you can email hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com, call 250-335-1021, or come to the Centre during open hours to register. $10 per person; free for children 18 and under.

Photo by barb biagi.

Welcome Back Summer Coordinator and Host – Kihan Yoon Henderson!

We are delighted to welcome Kihan Yoon-Henderson back to the Natural History Centre for her third year as the Summer Coordinator! Kihan has strong environmental, cultural, and social awareness combined with a powerful ability to communicate and inspire people. Kihan will begin when the Centre opens full-time in July. See her message below.

“I’m looking forward to seeing both new and familiar faces at the Natural History Centre again this summer, and to be involved in the Hornby community for another season. I am currently completing my undergraduate studies in Human Geography at the University of British Columbia, and am passionate about environmental sustainability, social justice and community based organizing. In addition to this, this past year I was fortunate to go on exchange for a semester to Yonsei University in South Korea, as well as to travel and learn in other regions of Asia. As I have been coming to the Island since I was born, this position and the community involved means a great deal to me. It excites me to have the chance to explore Hornby’s incredible and rich natural history with all of you. See you in July!”

Kihan will also be leading two nature field trips called “Walking with Trees” at Helliwell Park.

Local Climate Change Presentation with Dr. Richard Hebda

A very special speaker will be joining us at the Hornby Island Community Hall on June 1st. Long time BC climate researcher Dr. Richard Hebda will give a presentation called “Climate Change, Ecosystems, and Adaptation for the Future of Hornby Island.

Richard Hebda is the Royal BC Museum’s former Curator of Botany and Earth History. He has a PhD in Botany and has taught in various environmental science departments at Uvic. He studies plant fossils and their distribution over time and place to shed light on the condition, history and evolution of BC’s landscape and climate. He also studies ethnobotany of BC First Nations, restoration of natural systems and processes, ecology and origins of Garry Oak and alpine ecosystems and botany of grasses.

Tickets will be at the gas bar on Wednesday afternoon. Cost for this fundraising event is $15 per adult. Free for 18 and under. Event begins at 7:00 pm. Doors: 6:30 pm. Tickets will also be available at the door.

Hope that you can join us for this exciting opportunity to learn about climate change in our local context.

Read more about Dr. Hebda here.
Richard Hebda Poster
Camas at Grassy Point photo: barb biagi.
Helliwell Park in the snow photo: Kihan Yoon-Henderson.

Spring Birding with Art Martell and Daniel Donnecke

The Natural History Centre recently held our first spring birding event. On April 6th, Art Martell and Daniel Donnecke gave presentations on the island’s local forest and shore bird residents. In “Learning Bird Songs”, Art introduced our ears to the intricate world of bird songs, while Daniel provided a beautiful and engaging slideshow about “Birding on the Shores of Hornby.” The next day, despite dire storm warnings, birding enthusiasts ventured out on early morning walks. The 10 am group lucked out with beautiful sunshine. Altogether, 50 bird species were heard or seen in the air, the sea, the shore, and the woods. We are grateful to Art and Daniel for their expertise and generosity. Many thanks to everyone who attended.

Photo by barb biagi.

Hornby Island Spring Birding Event, April 6th and 7th

On Friday, April 6th and Saturday, April 7th, we will be joined by two local experts to celebrate, enjoy, and learn about our shoreline and forest birds, while connecting with other birdwatching enthusiasts. We hope you can join us for this wonderful opportunity.

Hornby Island is a vibrant location for birding. It is an important part of the K’omoks Important Bird Area which supports globally significant numbers of several species of waterbirds. Each year, announcing the arrival of spring, the herring spawn attracts and supports tens of thousands of seabirds annually. The relatively low density of settlement and the large area of protected land on Hornby supports greater densities of forest birds than most other areas of the Comox Valley.

Friday, April 6th 
6:00 pm (doors) – 8:10 pm: Evening Celebration and Presentations
Hornby Island Community Hall
Cost: $15
Learn from two local birding experts, connect with other birding enthusiasts, and enjoy delicious snacks during the intermission.

6:30 pm – 7:15 pm
“Learning Bird Songs”
with Art Martell

Focusing on how to listen and learn the songs of some common forest species (with sound recordings). People may wish to bring their field guide along to refresh their memory of the birds.

Art is retired in the Comox Valley and has had a cabin on Hornby Island for over 25 years. He is the Volunteer Caretaker for the K’omoks Important Bird Area and is active in the Comox Valley Birders Group, BC Field Ornithologists, and Bird Studies Canada. Art was also a Regional Coordinator for the BC Breeding Bird Atlas. Before retirement, Art worked as a wildlife research scientist and manager with Canadian Wildlife Service and was the first Canadian National Coordinator for the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. Art is a keen birder who enjoys birding locally, nationally and internationally.

7:15 pm – 7:25 pm

Light snacks and beverages for sale.

7:25 pm – 8:10 pm
“Birding on the Shores of Hornby Island”
with Daniel Donnecke

A slideshow on our common alcids, cormorants, loons, grebes, seaducks and a few winter shorebirds. 

Daniel has been an avid birdwatcher for over 10 years. He is an active member of Rocky Point Bird Observatory where he volunteers in the field and on the board. Daniel coordinates the South Salt Spring Island / Sidney Christmas Bird Count and conducts regular shorebird surveys on Sidney Island. He is spear heading Rocky Points youngest project: the seawatch, which aims to generate baseline data of seabirds using the Strait of Juan de Fuca via land based observations. Daniel teaches chemistry at Camosun College in Victoria.

Saturday, April 7th
Birding Expedition 

Cost: $10
The Saturday portion of this event is by registration. You can register by email: hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com or in person at the Friday evening event at the Hall. Please register early if you wish to secure a spot as space is limited. After you have registered, we’ll send you the time and location once they are finalized. We plan to go out in the morning when the forest birds are singing. Payment can be made on the Saturday.

This event is a fundraiser for the Hornby Island Natural History Centre.

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Photos by barb biagi.

Plant Propagation Work Party

The Natural History Centre volunteers have been assisting with a native plant plant propagation project at Helliwell Park. In spring 2017, several volunteers each grew a variety of native plant species at their homes for the project. In the fall, joined by twelve older students, and accompanied by biologists Erica McClaren and Bonnie Zand, the group planted several hundred plants and pulled weeds in the allotted zones at the park. A total of 1100 to 1300 plants were planted, including Blue Wildrye (Elymus glaucus), California Brome (Bromus carinatus), and Woolly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum).

In February 2018, the group met at the Room to Grow and once again prepared plugs for another round of planting which will happen this fall!

natural history newsletter 2

Summer Job Opportunity

The Hornby Island Natural History Centre is seeking a Host/Coordinator for eleven weeks from June 18th through September 1st. This position is suited for students in the areas of Environmental Studies, Biology, Education, or related fields, with excellent communication and organizational skills. Applicant must be under thirty years of age and a student returning to studies full-time in fall 2018.

Click here to download the job posting: Summer Student Employment 2018

Closed Due to Maintenance

The Natural History Centre is closed due to maintenance. We will re-open in the spring.

Plant Propagation at Helliwell

The Natural History Centre has been assisting with a plant propagation project at Helliwell Park. Last spring, the stewards each grew a variety of native plant species at their homes for the project. Finally, the time came to plant them in the allotted zones at the park! It was a fine warm day on October 26 to be in the park with the twelve older students, accompanied by biologists Erica McClaren and Bonnie Zand, and Norma and Neil Wilson of the NHC. The group planted several hundred plants as well pulling plenty of weeds in the planting zones. Erica talked to the students about the science behind the project. It was a great learning experience for everybody. A total of 1100 to 1300 plants were planted, such as Blue Wildrye (Elymus glaucus) plugs, California Brome (Bromus carinatus) plugs, Woolly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) plugs.

Halloween Animal Art: Owls and Bats

In the spirit of Halloween, the younger students visited the Natural History Centre for a bat and owl activity. It was a great opportunity to let the kids really observe while learning interesting facts about these fascinating creatures. The students discussed the various attributes and shapes they saw. Then they drew with focus and concentration. We were impressed by the level of detail and the quality of their drawings.

Helliwell Park Bird Walk with Art Martell

About eighty people gathered to catch a glimpse of some of the forest and shoreline birds at Helliwell Park. We sought, listened, and enjoyed their presence under the guidance of Art Martell. Art is an ornithologist and keen birder locally, nationally, and internationally, who has a cabin on Hornby Island.

Our group had several sightings, beginning with a pileated woodpecker by the parking lot. We also spotted and heard a warbler, turkey vultures, oystercatchers chasing off turkey vultures, harlequin ducks, and chestnut back chickadees – a year-round resident and the only chickadee found on Hornby and Vancouver Island. The group also enjoyed seeing a group of seals lying on the rocks near the oystercatchers.

It was a hazy morning due to smoke in the air from wildfires and along with a long dry spell, the birds were quieter than usual. Art informed us that they were conserving their energy. Birds have very delicate respiratory systems and their lungs work differently than those of mammals. They have two small lungs within which are air sacs that keep the lungs constantly inflated. Whatever they breathe is circulated through their bodies.

Although it wasn’t a peak time for bird sightings, Art was able to share a plethora of knowledge with us. He knows a lot about our feathered friends as the volunteer Caretaker for the K’omoks Important Bird Area and active member of the Comox Valley Birders Group (which has a yearly bird count since 1919 in the Comox Valley), BC Field Ornithologists, and Bird Studies Canada. He was also the Regional Coordinator for the BC Breeding Bird Atlas and prior to retirement, worked as a wildlife research scientist and manager with Canadian Wildlife Service. Art was also the first Canadian National Coordinator for the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

One of the topics he discussed was new to many of the attendees: birding ethics and the problem of smartphone bird call apps. Today, many people are using bird call apps on their smartphones to attract birds. While this may be okay with minimal usage by one person in a large forest, the problem begins when you have an area, such as a park, with many people moving through each day using the apps. Hearing the calls repeatedly, the birds are tricked into believing that there is a competitor in the area. They then expend energy to make their presence known to the “other bird”. Usually, the person playing the call is unaware of the problem and is just enjoying the excitement getting a response back from the bird. However, this response, especially when in a public environment, is provoked by stress. Birds need their energy for finding food, building nests, feeding their babies, and so on. While it is wonderful to become more familiar with the natural world, we also have to be careful not to endanger it in the process.

Another interesting topic covered was the changes in bird migration due to climate change. There has been an increase in particular species in certain areas. For instance, fifty years ago we would not see house wrens here, but with a natural migration northward, they have become more common.

Fortunately,  Helliwell Park provides an important habitat that we can retain for forest birds. Here are some photos from the morning. As you can see, it was a large and enthusiastic crowd!


Summer 2017 Photos

Speaker Series

Nature Walks


Thank you to the speakers and nature walk leaders for sharing their knowledge with us: Sandy McLachlan, Jane Watson, John Nemy, Art Martell, John Cox, and Kihan Yoon-Henderson. And thanks to everyone who came out and participated in the nature talks and activities!

Lessons Learned from Killer Whales: A Talk with Jackie Hildering


Join us for this must-see, inspirational presentation on Lessons Learned from Killer Whales.

Presenter Jackie Hildering is an acclaimed educator who will trace back the human social evolution with Killer Whales, discussing how these whales are powerful indicators of human value systems. It will be all about the capacity for positive change and common solutions to socio-environmental problems. And yes, she will discuss the dilemma of naming them “Killer Whales” vs. “Orca”. Many of you will remember her highly engaging and motivating presentation on Humpback Whales last year.

All proceeds will go to the work of the Hornby Island Natural History Centre (https://hornbynaturalhistory.com) and the Marine Education and Research Society (http://www.mersociety.org) of which Jackie is a co-founder.

As an educator, avid diver and underwater photographer, Jackie is also known as “The Marine Detective” with recent on-camera experience including being featured on Animal Planet’s “Wild Obsession” series and in the BBC productions “New threat to Canada’s Pacific humpback whales?” and “Ingenious Animals”. She is based in Port McNeill, NE Vancouver Island.

Wednesday, October 4th at the Hornby Island Community Hall
Doors open 6:30 PM.  Program begins 7:00 PM.
Admission $15.  Free for ages 18 and under.
Tickets for sale at the Gas Bar.

For more information contact hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com

Photo ©Jackie Hildering; “A Mother Hunting” T140 mammal-hunting Killer Whale chasing Pacific White-Sided Dolphins.

Unusual Hornby Resident! A Yellow-headed Pileated Woodpecker

This rare yellow-headed Pileated Woodpecker lives by the Shire on Hornby Island. They are so unusual that local bird expert, Art Martell, says it’s the first he has seen. According to Art, it is likely a genetic mutation that will probably not proliferate due to natural selection. The bird is an immature female pictured here with a mature female. Note the punkish hairdo-like crown.

Speaker Series: “Sea otters – A very natural history”

Thursday, August 17th with Jane Watson, marine biologist

Sea otters, prized for their thick fur, were hunted to extinction in British Columbia in a commercial fur trade that started in the late 1700s and lasted until sea otters were protected in 1911. Otters were reintroduced to BC from 1969 to 1972 when 89 Alaskan sea otters were released off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island in a series of three translocations. Since their “repatriation”, the Canadian sea otter population has grown and spread; today there are over 5000 sea otters along the outer coast of BC and north end of Vancouver Island. The return of sea otters, which has resulted in dramatic changes to coastal ecosystems, has not been without controversy. Sea otters depend on a thick fur and a prodigious appetite to stay warm in their chilly ocean environment and it is these two features – their luxurious fur coats and enormous appetites – that have made sea otters both loved and hated. In this talk, we will explore the biology and ecology of this important and charismatic species– in what is truly a very natural history.

Jane Watson grew up on the BC coast, and knew from a very early age that she wanted to be marine biologist. She completed her B.Sc. at the University of British Columbia in 1981 and her Ph.D. at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1993. She recently retired from teaching biology at Vancouver Island University but remains active in research. She has spent more than 30 summers studying sea otters and kelp on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

This presentation is the final talk of the Summer 2017 Thursday Expert Speaker Series Schedule. Admission is $5.00 per person. Ages 16 and under attend free. The talk begins at 2:00 pm in the Community School Library (entrance through the Natural History Exhibit door).

Pictured above: Sea otter. Photo by Erin Rechsteiner