Walk through Jericho Park and you might spot barn swallows, warbling vireos, Swainson’s thrushes and chickadees. Much of the lush vegetation that houses resident and migratory birds, along with other wildlife, has been touched by the hands of Jericho Stewardship Group (JSG) volunteers who work diligently to protect native species from invasives.
“The site of Jericho Park is a very disturbed one,” notes Susan Fisher, president of the JSG which organizes volunteer groups to help maintain the natural beauty of the green space. “When it was made into a park, there was nothing pristine about it.”
A changed landscape
The historical roots of Jericho Park begin with the local Indigenous population who fished, hunted and harvested fruit in the area. After being logged in the 1860s, it became a popular picnic ground for locals and later a golf course.
The federal government established a flying boat station at Jericho in 1920. During World War II, the area that is now Jericho Park became the army’s Pacific Command Headquarters. It wasn’t until 1973 that the land was sold back to the City of Vancouver and, after a good deal of public outcry, the entire area was saved as parkland.
A pitch-and-putt golf course and miniature railway were both considered for the nearly 47-hectares-in-area park north-east of NW Marine Drive between the seaside and Wallace Street. In the end, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation (Park Board) nixed those ideas, opting instead for a relatively natural green space that features paths and a duck pond with a small arched bridge.
“There was widespread support in the community to keep the park a more or less wild and natural area,” says Fisher, who has been a West Point Grey resident for 35 years. “Jericho today has great value as an island of habitat in the city.”
The shoreline near Jericho Park is a designated important bird area (IBA), and “the uplands part of the park through the marshes and forest to 4th Avenue is quite excellent bird habitat.”
Fisher adds that eBird Canada has dubbed the entire Jericho area a birding hot spot: their website lists over 230 different bird species sighted by local birders between 1970 and 2020.
Rediscovering a neighbourhood through volunteering
Fisher has been part of JSG for around five years, and became the group’s president after around a year or so of volunteering.
“Working with Jericho Stewardship Group has taught me a lot about the park, the plants, the invasive species, and I began to pay more attention to the birds and other things like the little frogs and butterflies,” she says.
“It has been a great experience for me. As a member of the group, you’re out there working hard and doing something useful, trying to make your small contribution.”
Around 30 volunteers take part in the monthly JSG work parties (typically held on the second Sunday of the month).
“A lot of invasives, such as holly, laurel, ivy, blackberry, Scotch broom, morning glory and Japanese knotweed, can really take over a forest or wetland,” notes Fisher. “We remove these in the summer and into late winter, and plant native plants in the early spring and fall.”
The Park Board supplies the native plants, such as salmonberry, red flowering currant, Oregon grape, mock orange, Western red cedar, Douglas fir and big leaf maple.
Work parties were suspended during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Vancouver, but restarted in July 2020 with added safety measures and physical distancing.
“The work parties bring together a great group of people, and there’s a great sense of collective effort to protect something that we all care about,” says Fisher. “It’s tremendously satisfying.”
Volunteers also maintain bird nest boxes, and check to see if broods were successful or not. Students from Queen Mary Elementary School are often brought along to learn about the local birds during nest box cleanings.
Monitoring local bird population health
Members of JSG – along with other local birders, zoologists and ornithologists – are redoing a bird survey conducted in 2006/2007 to see how the bird populations have changed. The current survey started in June 2020 and will take place monthly until around summer 2021 to capture a full year of activity. The results will be published in a summary report, parts of which will be posted on the JSG website, says Fisher.
“The survey will hopefully give us a clearer picture of whether populations in Jericho are declining, which I suspect they are because there are so many forces currently that are causing bird populations to decline throughout North America.”
“We will also have a sense of which areas of the park are the most productive: areas birds use for breeding, nesting and feeding, so that we know to protect those areas.”
For example, the survey could identify where warblers are finding specific types of food and whether swallows have access to enough bugs to survive and raise their broods, Fisher notes.
“The people who are conducting the survey are very good birders, so they know by song what bird it is even if they cannot fully see the bird high up in the trees.”
How to get involved
For more information about the Jericho Stewardship Group, volunteer work parties and native plants, visit http://jerichostewardship.ca.