Chapter 11

I’m having a whale of a time.

Tofino 1931

Cowan and the Raceys

Cowan and the Raceys

Image Cowan_PH_357 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
Nest of Black Oystercatcher

Nest of Black Oystercatcher

Haematopus bachmani, Clayoquot Sound, 1931. Photograph by Cowan.
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In a follow-up trip [to Cleland Island] 10 days later in calmer weather, he writes about the courtship of the Pigeon Guillemots, which “showed signs of sexual excitement pursuing one another with their wings upraised over the backs, tails spread out parallel to the ground, all the time emitting their particular hissing squeal”30 and the black oystercatchers, which he particularly liked:

The male stretches himself to his full height and bends the head sharply downward so that the bill almost touches the lower neck, which is straight upright. In this position the bird bows up and down chattering loudly all the while.” 31

A large nesting population of oystercatchers was also documented.

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)

The Black Oystercatcher nests singly or in loose colonies on suitable islands. Cleland Island, with an area of 7.7 ha, supported 57 breeding pairs in 1971. Nests, usually well camouflaged, were situated on bare, exposed rock, shell, gravel and sand beaches, among driftlogs, on areas of short grass on rocky headlands…32

In a rare moment of pause during that trip, Cowan wrote to Joyce Racey about his time on Bare Island. “We had a whale of a time!"33 The letter is the only surviving early correspondence from Cowan to Joyce. It was not your typical love letter, but rather an intimate communication filled with companionable exuberances of sightings of birds, their courtship antics and his disappointments. He breaks the news to Joyce that he had failed his chemistry exam and will have to sit some supplementals. “The whole trouble is that there are only 24 hours in a day and unfortunately one must sleep occasionally.”34


30 Cowan, “Notes Tofino, Alberni, Chezacut 1931,” May 22, 1931, Cowan_FN_010.

31 Cowan, “Notes Tofino, Alberni, Chezacut 1931,” May 22, 1931, Cowan_FN_010.

32 Campbell et al., Birds of BC, vol. 2, 124–129.

33 Ian McTaggart Cowan to Joyce Racey, May 13, 1931, Cowan_PN_095.

34 Cowan to Joyce Racey, May 13, 1931, Cowan_PN_095.

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