Larri Woodrow strides through dense bush in Langley’s Derby Reach park with a walking stick, navigating obstacles like fallen branches and sudden drops in elevation with ease.
“This is a game trail, used by black-tailed deer,” Woodrow explains.
His goal, a large cedar bird box atop a pole, is standing in a pond of waist-deep water, several minutes away from the public trails.
Woodrow, who has come prepared with waders, carefully makes his way to the box and gently taps on the bottom with his stick.
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Sometimes, that will provoke a flurry of feathers and a hasty exit by the occupants, but not today.
Woodrow is looking for intruders, invasive-species starlings, who will try to take up residence in the boxes, which are meant for native wood ducks such as the hooded merganser.
“I check about once a week,” he said.
“Not too often, or we’ll scare them [the native ducks] off.”
When the ducks are laying eggs, his visits become even less frequent, to give the hens a chance to hatch their eggs without being disturbed.
Woodrow, an 81-year-old retired teacher, has been looking after bird boxes in Langley as a volunteer for more than 46 years.
Why does he do it?
“I just get a great deal of satisfaction out of nature,” he responded.
And, he adds, the waterfowl need help.
“There used to be plenty of nests here before we [humans] arrived,” he told the Langley Advance Times.
“The forest was virgin, and there was lots of it.”
In the rotted-out hollows of forest trees was where birds would make a home, but with much of the forest cleared, there are fewer such places.
Woodrow has been coming to the park area since it was private property, the site of a peat moss plant whose owner, Jack Bell, allowed him access.
Woodrow thanked Al Neufeld, deputy director of public spaces of the Township of Langey, for granting permission for the program to continue operating in public spaces in recent years.
Over the years, the number of boxes has risen from less than a dozen to nearly 100, he estimates, some in wetlands outside the Langley area.
Other volunteers are now looking after many of them, he related, including some of his former students, “urban kids” who acquired a love of the outdoors when they got a chance to experience it for themselves.
“They were in my woodworking class, and I took them out [to see],” he recalled.
The cost of making the cedar boxes has been funded over the years by a variety of environmentally-oriented groups, most recently, the Salmon River Enhancement Society.
Society chair Doug McFee called the boxes “extremely important” to the preservation of wild birds, whose population has declined “precipitously” due to deforestation.
Anyone interested in supporting the program can contact Woodrow via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He also suggests contacting groups like Ducks Unlimited and the BC Wildlife Federation.