Bill Brant had hoped to enter the bird blind at the Swan Lake Nature Reserve to observe the ducks.
Instead, Brant, 70, and his three-year-old blue heeler/husky cross companion, Willow, got a nasty visit from a bunch of unfriendly other winged creatures: black hornets.
Brant’s adventure started on a Saturday morning. A retired heavy duty mechanic, welder and pilot, Brant likes to take Willow for walks on the trails at BX Creek Delta Park, behind Rona, sometimes twice a day.
On a recommendation from a friend, Brant ventured to the nature reserve, parking his car – with permission – at BCAA on Anderson Way, and then walking north along the tracks and under the overpass to a trail that would take him to the observation bird blind building.
After a 15-minute jaunt, the pair arrived at the building. Willow went in, then exited quickly.
“She was stung first,” said Brant. “She took one step inside, then she was gone.”
Brant went inside to investigate. That’s when he had to start fending off a number of what he described as black bees, not seeing any yellow markings to determine if they were wasps.
“I think they were behind my head above on the ceiling,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to look. There may have been a nest in the corner of the ceiling. I had to fight my way out of the building.”
Brant said he was stung six times. This is when he discovered he’s highly allergic to bee stings.
“I know as a kid I was stung on the top of my hand and it swelled up to my elbow,” said Brant.
Brant and Willow started to return to their vehicle. Remember, it took them only 15 minutes to arrive at the building. It took an hour to get back.
That’s because Brant stopped and dropped to his knees four times as he had trouble breathing. With Willow faithfully by his side, Brant used relaxation techniques learned in 20 years as a Goju-Ryu karate student to calm himself down.
“I couldn’t see as I was full of this rash and I was starting to lose wind because my throat was swelling up,” said Brant, who admitted he had a cell phone with him, but didn’t call for help as he didn’t want to leave Willow alone.
“I won’t leave my dog.”
Back at their vehicle, the BCAA employee who gave Brant permission to park at the shop noticed Brant struggling and asked if he was all right. After a brief rest, Brant said he was, that he was worse on the trail.
He called his wife and told her to meet him at their BX home, that she may have to take him to the hospital. Mrs. Brant needed only one look at her husband before deciding they were going to Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
As luck would have it, there was an ambulance in the middle of the Brants’ road on another call. Brant tapped on the driver’s window and told the ambulance attendant he’d been stung by bees six times and would she mind taking a look at him.
“The lady jumped out of the truck,” smiled Brant. “She called for another ambulance.”
Brant was taken to VJH, and released after three hours.
He now packs an EpiPen (disposable, pre-filled automatic injection device that administers epinephrine for severe allergic reactions) for his daily walks with Willow.
“I was lucky but there might be people older than me, weaker than me, who go there and get stung and might not be so lucky,” said Brant. “So I wanted to share my story.”
The nature reserve is jointly owned by the Regional District of North Okanagan and Ducks Unlimited through a partnership agreement.
RDNO parks manager Keith Pinkoski said there had been no other complaints received about wasps on the bird blind building before Brant’s encounter, but an inspection of the facility uncovered a large nest under the decking.
The nest was removed and destroyed by wildlife expert Pete Wise, who took a video of the nest and determined the insects to be black hornets.
“We have placed warning signage up to ensure no other park patrons will be placed in a similar position as the gentleman earlier this week,” said Pinkoski. “We do inspect the blind and trails within Swan Lake Nature Reserve regularly and will be carefully monitoring this structure in the future to ensure it is safe for public use.”