On the first or second Sunday of every month, the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists Society holds an open-to-all-comers walk through the Serpentine Wildlife Area – better known as the Serpentine Fen – in South Surrey.
They started it last fall at the invitation of Ducks Unlimited, the people who administer the wildlife management area near King George Boulevard and 44 Avenue.
It’s an opportunity to educate people about the true purpose of an area most often used by dog owners taking their pets for a stroll.
Dogs are fine both with Ducks Unlimited and the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists Society, so long as they stay leashed.
The problem is, many don’t.
During the most recent Naturalists public walk with a Peace Arch News reporter last Sunday, about half the dogs were running free.
When society members Al Shulze and Liz Walker spoke to some of the pet owners to explain the rules, some seemed honestly surprised, unaware they were breaking the rules.
“We really do need to have better signage,” Walker said.
The fen is a place where migrating birds stop to rest, and it’s not very restful to be pursued by an inquisitive pet, she added.
Now is an especially bad time for dogs to go splashing in the slough, with many birds nesting along the banks.
“That is really disruptive,” Shulze said.
Walker, the president of the 80-member society, is a former environmental specialist with BC Hydro who didn’t become interested in bird-watching until she retired.
Shulze, the secretary of the society, is a retired associate professor of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian studies at the University of Calgary who began birding as a boy growing up in Alberta.
He is particularly good at identifying birds by their calls, instantly picking out a marsh wren from its distinctive rattle during the Sunday walkabout.
“There are three types of wrens” Schulze explained. “This one only appears in marshes.”
Walker brought along a birding scope on a tripod – the better to, among other things, get a close look at a great blue heron that found a perch on the top of a utility pole overlooking the fen.
It’s estimated the 71.3 hectares (176 acres) of habitat in the Serpentine Wildlife Area is home to at least 130 different bird species, including herons, Canada geese and loons, along with less well-known varieties like the lesser scaup, gadwalls and Eurasian wigen, to name a few.
And not just birds find refuge.
“The extensive freshwater marshes, and the small tidal brackish water marsh are important to wildlife populations, including birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects,” the online site www.greatervancouverparks.com observes.
Visitors can get a panoramic view of the area from three covered wooden viewing towers.
There is also covered picnic shelter just off 44 Avenue.
The next Serpentine walk is set for Sunday, June 10.
If you want to take the walk, which starts at 9 a.m. sharp, it’s important to go to the right starting place. Turn off King George at the Art Knapp Nursery and Garden Centre sign and drive down 44 Avenue all the way to the end where there is a public parking lot.
(Do not, as some have done, confuse that with the parking lot next to the two concrete bridges on King George farther north.)
The society also meets on the second Thursday of each month (except July and August) at 7:30 p.m. at the Sunnyside Community Hall 1845 154 St. Membership is $32 for individuals, $44 for families.
On Sunday, May 20, the White Rock and Surrey Naturalists Society will host a public workshop at the Serpentine fen, with songbird expert Viveka Ohman sharing her expertise.
It will be an outdoor session starting at 8:30 a.m. in the green space next to the parking lot on 44 Ave.
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 604-591-7899.
For more information about the society and its other programs, visit them online at www.facebook.com/WRSnaturalists