Review of A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay by Anne Murray, with photographs by David Blevins. 2006. Nature Guides BC, Delta. 214 pp.
In a shallow marine bay, where does the water end and the land begin? I don’t know, and neither, apparently, does Anne Murray, and hooray for that. In A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay, Murray wanders far inland from the title feature, to marsh, slough, forest, and grassland — throughout the watersheds that feed Boundary Bay, to produce a natural history manual that beautifully describes the remaining natural areas of a densely populated and heavily farmed region.
Inherent in writing a book about the natural history of a place is the problem of knowing where to stop — what to include, and what to leave out. Murray has done admirably, first describing the area in terms of its diversity of habitats, how these habitats have been changed by human activities, and how wildlife is coping with the changes. In subsequent sections, she lays layers of meaning overtop. The section, “Seasons, Sights & Sounds,” takes the reader on a tour through the various habitats over the course of the year. Here the author’s fondness for her subject is shown most clearly in her writing, which is very accessible, even to those lacking expertise in natural history.
Then certain topics are treated in some detail — in particular the importance of the area to migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, life in the intertidal zone, and the spawning cycles of salmon. There is a section on nocturnal nature, including a subsection on astronomy, a bit of a surprise, but relevant perhaps because Boundary Bay is one of few places in the Lower Mainland where the sky is not overwhelmed by light pollution.
Wildlife profiles fill a full third of book, starting large (bears) and working down the body mass continuum to arthropods, providing general information about the animals of the region. Murray has an interpreter’s knack for connecting the ecological dots, explaining not only what species one should expect to see at a given place and time, but why they should be there. In spring, rufous hummingbirds appear in sheltered parts of forests, where nectar-bearing salmonberry have begun to flower; in early fall, peregrine falcons can be observed at the shore, pursuing their migrating shorebird prey; in winter, trumpeter swans are in the fields of the delta, gleaning the leftover potato tubers.
A section on plant profiles is relatively short, and again gives general information on plant groups and common species. Several of the more invasive introduced species are mentioned, with some discussion of their role in local ecology, but readers are directed elsewhere for further information about the impacts of non-native plants. There is no specific section on plants of the bay and foreshore, although dune plants, saltwater marsh plants, eel grass and marine algae are discussed in the sections about these habitats, often in larger ecological contexts, including what lives among them and their roles in ecosystem productivity.
Throughout, and what makes this book a very handsome addition to one’s library, is the photography of David Blevins, who has an inventive eye for grand vistas, tiny subjects, and everything in between. Were you to move away from this part of the world you would want the collection of images in this book to remind you of your favourite former stomping grounds and natural moments.
Newcomers to the region, or residents with an awakening interest in nature will find the section entitled, “Nature Destinations,” very useful. It describes accessible natural areas, and mentions relevant wildlife highlights.
Finally, there is an online component of the book, at http://www.natureguidesbc.com/ which includes links to a bibliography, natural history organizations, and species lists. Some of the lists are preliminary, but an advantage of online information is that it can be updated as taxonomies change and data are added. In this sense, the book is still a work in progress, which is entirely appropriate. It is a detailed account of a slice of time in an area that continues to evolve. It is an invitation to other naturalists to go, see, record, to continue monitoring this wonderful place, not just a bay, not by a long shot.