There is a growing movement of back-to-nature lifestyles as seen in gardening, fishing and hunting. The former Farquharson Farm, now known as the Ducks Unlimited Farm, is an outstanding example of this movement that is ahead of its time.
The farm is a case where responsible outdoor people (as in Ducks Unlimited) have banded together to purchase the farm and continue to maintain it as a local food-producing place that shares the produce of the farm with migrating ducks, geese, swans and other wildlife.
When you cross the 17th St. Bridge and follow the road along the edge of the fields you get the impression that there is a great feast in progress – and you are right.
First there is the huge concentration of Trumpeter Swans, then as you travel toward Superstore you realize there are also large numbers of Canada Geese and flocks of ducks feasting in the open fields.
The picture with this article symbolizes the Christmas spirit of sharing in a symbolic way. Let your imagination open up a little bit and think of it as a charity Christmas dinner where the children are invited along with the adults. In the photograph are four adult swans on the left and the family group of two adults and three cygnets of this year on the right.
I had no way of making a count of the swans in the field, but I would guess at somewhere in excess of 2,000. Large patches of the field are covered in the snow-white down of swans instead of snow.
It was not so long ago that the future of these magnificent birds was a matter of great concern to conservation-minded groups throughout Canada and the United States. The good news is that they have recovered in growing numbers and are no longer listed as being threatened.
It must be noted that when you invite one of the largest birds on the continent to spend their winter in your fields it comes at a price. In this regard, Comox Valley farmers also contribute big time to the banquet of these beautiful guests.
Trumpeter Swans stay with us from October to sometime in March when they travel north to their nesting grounds in northern Canada and Alaska. Their cycle of seasonal migration is quite similar to the snowbird migration of retired Canadians who travel south to avoid the harsh winters of the north. In the case of the swans in our Valley, it is their winter destination.
The second group of birds in the Ducks Unlimited fields are predominantly Canada Geese and from a period when their numbers were very low we are now faced with a different situation. They are well on the way to eating themselves out of house and home, and in the process destroying ecological habitat areas that are vital to the survival of other species.
Part of the problem is that the geese no longer migrate – they have simply decided to live here 12 months of the year and they are being extremely successful in adapting to new environmental challenges.
Their numbers are increasing beyond the ability of the habitat to support them. They have not endeared themselves to farmers trying to protect their crops or city planners trying to establish clean, manure-free parks.
They are now believed to be creating a threat to the survival of small salmon in estuaries where they eat and destroy the fragile plants that provide protection and food sources for the small fish and other creatures.
This brings us back to the idea of eating locally produced food whenever possible. Unfortunately for Canada Geese they are a much-desired source of roast wild goose, goose sausage and goose stews, to name a few choice wildlife treats.
In keeping with the trend of eating locally, we are able to harvest surplus numbers of these large birds under controlled hunting situations. There is no way we can do this in the DU fields, but the geese do leave the fields, offering stuffed wild goose for local food.
Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.