Hornby Island Natural History Centre

Speaker Series – Weather and Climate Change

Mt. Douglas Park, 2014. Photo by Ed Wiebe.

July 23: Ed Wiebe, “The Vancouver Island School-based Weather Station Network and Climate Change”

Join us at the Hornby Island Community School Library for this dynamic and fun presentation, suitable for all ages.

Admission by donation ($5 suggested). Presentation begins at 2:00 pm. (Enter through the Natural History Centre door). 

Ed Wiebe is a Research Associate in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria. He participates in research on climate, climate change, and computer modelling. Ed also manages the Vancouver Island School-Based Weather Station Network. The weather station network has provided around 150 weather stations for schools on Vancouver Island. Along with the weather stations web sites are available to view the data collected on the network in near real time. As part of this project Ed often speaks to children in Grades 4 and 5, and sometimes to adults as well, about weather, climate, and climate change.

This event is part of our Thursday Expert Speakers’ Series.

Nature Walk – “Cedar: Tree of Life”

July 21st – “Cedar: Tree of Life”

Explore the many ways First Peoples use cedar: baskets, clothing, and art.

The Nature Field Trips on Tuesdays are great fun for the whole family and will enhance your visit to our beautiful island.  Pre-registration is essential as space is limited to 6 participants for each walk.  For inquiries or to register, email Willow at hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com, call 250-335-1021, or come to the Centre.  $10 per person. Family rates are available. Hosted by Willow Hunt-Scott.

Nature Walk – “Plants as Food and Medicine”

July 14th  – “Mother Earth’s Gifts: Plants as Food and Medicine”

Walk through the forest and learn more about the plants used by First Peoples.

The Nature Field Trips on Tuesdays are great fun for the whole family and will enhance your visit to our beautiful island.  Pre-registration is essential as space is limited to 6 participants for each walk.  For inquiries or to register, email Willow at hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com, call 250-335-1021, or come to the Centre.  $10 per person. Family rates are available. Hosted by Willow Hunt-Scott.

Nodding Onion in Bloom

The natural history treasure of the month is the nodding onion (allium cernuum). You can see its long grass-like leaves topped by nodding umbels of pink flowers currently in bloom in our ethnobotanical garden.

The herb is used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. When cooking, the strong smell and flavor is removed and bulbs become sweet. The leaves are edible (either raw or cooked) and have a strong onion flavour. They are tasty in salads. Many First Nations people use the onion medicinally. The plant is also a bug repellant: it deters moths and when the juice is rubbed on skin it repels mosquitos and other bugs.

This summer the NHC is adding signage in the garden and a native plant display inside the centre. Visitors can learn about each of the plants in our growing collection (and some that are not). Learn more about the ethnobotanical garden.

Bee on Nodding Onion

A bee on nodding onion at the Natural History Centre’s ethnobotanical garden. Photo by Sarat Colling.


A curious black-tailed fawn

The island’s black-tailed fawns are taking their first steps. This fawn was grazing with her mother after an early-summer rainfall. Full of curiosity, she decided to approach the photographer, stopping just a few feet away.

sarat colling curious fawn1

sarat colling curious fawn

sarat colling_fawn

sarat colling_fawn 3

Photos by Sarat Colling

Learn what to do if you encounter a fawn while their mother is foraging.

Join us in Celebration

The Natural History Centre is starting the summer season with free tours open to the public. Join us from 3:30-4:30pm on June 23rd outside the school. As we celebrate new changes at the centre, we also reflect on the years gone by: 2015 is the tenth year of our public exhibit!


Big Tribune Shoreline Cleanup

On June 17th, we held a shoreline cleanup at Big Tribune Bay Beach with the Hornby School.  Students, parents, school staff, and volunteers combed through the driftwood, seaweed, and bushes for debris. It was a cool lovely morning at the beach after a morning rain shower – perfect for a beach cleanup.

The cleanup crew broke into small groups. Tina Wai commented on her groups’ experience:

“My group collected 3 bags of garbage, including a large chunk of styrofoam, a dozen beer cans, and lots and lots of plastic rope. We learned that cigarette butts are toxic to birds. We had a good discussion at the end about all the plastic rope we found.”

Some photos from the day. (Click on any photo to view the slideshow.)

The experience led everyone to reflect on the way that marine debris harms the environment and wildlife, and how we can work together to prevent beach pollution.

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Summer 2015 Events Calendar

We are pleased to announce that the Summer 2015 Natural History Events Calendar is now available! From nature walks that focus on traditional plant knowledge to discussion on groundwater management, and from presentations on forest inhabitants to fun weather station demonstrations, there is something for people of all ages and environmental interests. See the details below.

Natural History Poster

Our Thursday Expert Speakers Series is held in the Community School Library (entrance through the Natural History Exhibit door). Admission to all these presentations are by donation ($5 suggested). Read the 2015 speaker biographies and summaries here.

The Nature Field Trips on Tuesdays 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 to 6 participants for each walk.  For inquiries or to register, email Willow at hornby.naturalhistory@gmail.com, call 250-335-1021, or come to the Centre.  $10 per person. Family rates are available.

Woodworking Tools: The Hand Maul

A First Nations hand maul currently in the shell midden display at the Exhibit.

A First Nations hand maul currently in the midden display at the Exhibit.

As we prepare to create a new display of First Nations history on the island this summer, our treasure of the month for June is a tool traditionally used by the first peoples: the hand maul.  The maul is considered part of the triad of the woodworking industry on the Northwest Coast, along with the adze and wooden wedge. In BC, the hand maul was used for hammering and pounding tasks to make dugout canoes, totem poles, wooden plank houses, and more.

hand maulsMauls are hammerlike tools made of hard, ground stone that is not prone to cracking or chipping. This maul would have had several uses: to pound wedges into a cedar log to split off planks, to pound and soften cedar bark, and to carve with chisels. A hammerstone would be used to shape the maul, and a stone abrader would smooth the surface.

Hand mauls were typically made 700-800 years ago until colonization. As well as hand mauls, there are hafted mauls which are hafted onto a wooden shaft, and swung with both arms like a sledgehammer.

Planting Seeds of Knowledge

In Spring 2015, the Natural History Centre worked to develop our Ethnobotanical Native Plant Demonstration Garden. The garden was carefully tended to by Norma and Neil Wilson, making it easier to maintain and more clearly defined and inviting to visitors.

Gardeners and gatherers have long sought out plants for medicinal use and sustenance.  Many spend their entire lives locating and learning about plants and their uses. For millennia, the Coastal First Nations who have inhabited this region developed knowledge and understanding of the local plants, and which ones could help them survive.

This little garden demonstrates a vital link between common native plants and how they contribute toward sustaining life for creatures on the planet. Further, the garden fulfills the Natural History Centre mandate “to inspire people of all ages to develop a deeper personal relationship with the natural world”. Because planting the garden is not just about seeds in the ground: it is about ideas taking root.

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The Hayward Heron

Wayne Ngan Painting

A painting of the Great Blue Heron by Wayne Ngan in the Natural History Exhibit.

Our featured Treasure of the Month for May is a Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias):   A grey-blue bird with black plume on his head who stands tall near the herring life-cycle display. On Hornby Island, these birds are found in every season. They are most often spotted along the shoreline, where their long legs, neck, and bill allow them to wade and spear fish. They also hunt amphibians, small water mammals, and insects in the shadows of dawn and dusk.

Great Blue Herons live in large colonies. They build large stick platforms in trees and raise 3-7 young. Their call is a harsh croak and they give a loud “grak” when alarmed.

The bird at the Exhibit was found by the late Mark Hayward. He found the heron floating in Fords Cove after a storm. This heron is a male in full breeding plumage.

Hayward Heron

The Hayward Heron was found after a storm at Ford Cove.


New Songbird in the Exhibit

Western Tanager at the Natural History Centre. Photo by Barb Biagi

A new Western tanager at the Natural History Centre. Photo by Barb Biagi.

The Exhibit now has a pair of Western tanagers! We recently obtained a female tanager who now sits with a male tanager in the exhibit. She is a timely addition as this spring and summer we are working to enhance our songbird display. The new display will tell a story about the birds in their habitat, and raise awareness about their lives and plight. Sadly, leading scientists have reported that songbirds are disappearing quickly from North America.

The beautiful flame-like Western Tanagers like to make their home among evergreens, often staying out of sight. During the summer, the woodlands is filled with their burry song and low, chuckling call.

Western Tanager Pair

A pair of Western tanagers. Photo by Barb Biagi.


We Love Our Volunteers!

Hornby Natural History depends on the generous contributions of community volunteers. Many people have donated their time, energy, and unique talents and resources, and all are appreciated. Natural History extends a warm thank you to the following recent volunteers:

  • Oakley Rankin who provided technical support and software installations. Oakley has found us computers and computer parts, and helped equip Natural History computers with software.
  • Michael Hills who helped us with the fumigation process at the Centre. Michael lent us supplies and shared his expertise with us.
  • Roger Jenzer who donated wood for edging to the ethnobotanical garden.
  • Jordan and Emi who shared their expertise and ideas to help reorganize the exhibit. They designed a new floor plan for the collection creating better traffic flow through the space. Jordan is setting up new lighting of the cases and Emi hefted big fossils and rearranged displays.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact us. Volunteers can take part in all areas of the Natural History Centre. Ask about available volunteer positions or let us know if you have something in mind!

Tiny Owl, Big Character

Saw Whet Owl at the Natural History Centre. Photo by Barb Biagi.

A Northern Saw-whet Owl at the Natural History Centre. Photo by Barb Biagi.

The Northern Saw-whet owl at the Natural History Centre was found by Sophie Courteau in the winter of 1995/96. He is a tiny owl with plenty of attitude: Saw-whet’s measure about 20 cm long with a short tail, large head, bright yellow eyes, dark bill, and reddish plumage with a white streaked front. These owls live in forests and wooded swamps. Although a highly common owl, Saw-whets are highly nocturnal and seldom seen. They hunt at night and eat small rodents, birds, and insects.

Saw-whet Owls make their homes in old woodpecker cavities (large chiseled-out holes) in trees. Their high-pitched call may sound like too-too-too. (To some this sounds like a truck backing up.) It can be heard in evergreen mountain forests from January through May. On migration they make a different note. When alarmed they make a raspy noise like a saw being sharpened.

Listen to the different vocalizations of the Northern Saw-whet Owl.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is our Natural History Treasure of the Month for April 2015.

Student Salmon Release

On March 10th, volunteers from the Natural History Centre joined students, parents, and staff who set out on foot from the Hornby Island Community School to Beulah Creek for an annual salmon release. At the creek, the group transported chum fry from a Department of Fisheries and Oceans holding tank into the stream. Students carefully carried chum fry to the stream in bags and let them swim free. After the event, students visited the Natural History Centre to watch a presentation on the herring life cycle and participate in educational salmon life cycle activities. They compared the herring life cycle to that of the salmon. After spring break, students will return once again to the creek, this time to release their own salmon who are currently in the Hornby School Library. See the gallery below for pictures from the eventful day.


The Mighty Mosasaur

site of mosasur discovery

Students and Stewards on a fossil walk at the site of the Mosasaur discovery.

Each month this blog will be featuring a natural “treasure of the month”. The featured object for March is a mosasaur fossil that was found on Hornby Island. The mosasaur–an extinct marine mammal whose distant relatives are snakes and monitor lizards such as the Komodo Dragon–was discovered by Betty Franklin in 2004 while on a fossil walk with the Vancouver Island Paleontological Society. Prior to the find, Betty had been fossil hunting on Hornby for fifteen years.

Bones of vertebrates such as mosasaurs are a rare find on Hornby Island. During the last 20 million years of the Cretaceous Period, mosasaurs were the dominant marine predators. Their elongated body was streamlined for swimming. Their broad tails supplied the locomotive power as they patrolled the water off of North America’s coast looking for fish, ammonite, and other mosasaurs to dine on.

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Celebrating 10 Years of Natural History!

A photo taken in the early days of the exhibit.

This year Hornby Island Natural History celebrates ten years of sharing our natural treasures. Our collection began with a horned owl and a glaucous-winged gull in the 1980s. With the arrival of the beaver in the early 90s, the exhibit began to grow to the forty plus taxidermy specimens and other natural history artifacts and fossils. The dream to share the collection with the general public became a reality in 2005 when these specimens–who had been either displayed in the school library or stored in boxes–moved into a room of their own.

Today, the Natural History Centre is a place for people of all ages to learn about the natural world in a fun and educational environment. Visitors can view the natural history displays, participate in hands-on activities, attend presentations and nature walks during the summer, and tour the ethnobotanical garden.

Over the years, many people have supported the exhibit and programs. It is due to the generosity and participation of Hornby students and their families, school staff, members of the community, and island guests that we continue to develop and grow. Thank you!