Great Blue Heron at Garden City Park in Richmond, BC.
Photo © by Hugh Griffith.
Pond of Dreams
by Hugh Griffith
Any water feature attracts wildlife - put a birdbath in your yard and see what happens. Birds! Squirrels! Raccoons knocking your birdbath over! So imagine my glee a few years ago when I learned that a large pond was about to be created in an older residential area of central Richmond, in what has since become the Garden City Community Park.
The park is in a rapidly changing part of town, surrounded by some of the densest new development in the city, with hi-rises to the north and tightly-packed condominiums to the south. The park, and especially the butterfly-shaped pond surrounded by forest and trails, is a welcome, necessary focal point for both humans and wildlife.
The water is brown, rather than whatever ideal colour a pond should be, but there's no avoiding that. Much of it comes from the ground, which in this former fringe of the Lulu Island Bog means from peaty soil, resulting in water the colour of breakfast tea. Additional water comes from storm drains, entering from Alberta Road and Garden City Way.
The banks grade gently to the water, and cat-tails and other aquatic plants are taking hold, especially in the smaller, shallower, eastern portion. Eventually, some of the open water in this portion will, through natural succession, convert to marsh. Water entering from the storm system will to some degree be filtered as it passes through, one of the natural and important functions of a wetland.
Recently, a pair of large logs materialized in the middle of the eastern half. Instant habitat! Perched precariously on one log, intently viewing the water, was a Great Blue Heron. It appeared to be hunting. I wondered, For what? After all, slightly more than two years ago this place was a line of overgrown back yards. Fish don't spontaneously appear from a hole in the ground.
Mallards were swimming about, no surprise. At this time of year any ditch larger than a bathtub will have its requisite pair of the commonest of the dabbling species. But, intriguingly, there were also diving ducks - Buffleheads and Hooded Mergansers. These two small ducks dive for small fish and invertebrates. Were they catching fish? Really? They weren't the only ones seeking a healthy protein snack. A man was at the Garden City intake, standing hopefully with a fishing rod. This is just a scrape in the dirt, there is no possible way there are fish in here, I thought of explaining...but he seemed happy. Fish on, friend.
I later learned that in fact there are fish in the pond, large enough for a Bufflehead or Hooded Merganser, and perhaps a heron, but nothing pan-sized. The pond has been discovered by sticklebacks, fish about the length of a standard paper clip. Many of Richmond's ditches contain sticklebacks, who seem to have found their way to this new, expansive habitat via the storm system. The pond must then also be home to significant numbers of aquatic insects and other invertebrates, which make up the bulk of a stickleback's diet.
Turtles have been spotted, no doubt abandoned red-eared sliders, unwanted pets, which inevitably and ill-advisably end up in any permanent urban pond or lake. An ecosystem is developing, and will likely be dynamic, at least for a while - as nature, ever patient and relentless, does its thing, and we, ever impetuous and confounding, do ours.
To the man fishing near the Garden City intake: Good luck. Who knows what you will catch if you stand there long enough. If you dig it, they will come.
Hugh Griffith is a BC biologist and science writer.