Friday, 1 December 2017

Checking out the early season skiing at Sovereign Lake Nordic ski area



by Keith and Heather Nicol   
Heather leaving the day lodge
We like to get in some early season cross country skiing at Sovereign Lake Cross ski area which is known for its early consistent snow. Sovereign Lake is located just 30 minutes from Vernon, B.C. in the sunny B.C. Interior. This year the season started even earlier than normal and conditions are superb. We skied at Sovereign Lake on Wednesday, November 29 and arrived to sunny skies and temperatures of -4C. They had several cm of new snow and we were told that over 30 km of trails had been groomed for classic and skating that day.  Sovereign Lake is a large ski club but despite its large membership we find the lodge friendly and welcoming. And it certainly attracts people from across the country at this time of year. We met friends from Halifax and Calgary in the lodge while we had our lunch. What a coincidence! Sovereign is a full service club with rentals, lessons, and a small cafeteria and offers many programmes for kids and adults. And when you combine the length of the trail system at Sovereign with adjacent Silver Star Mountain you have the largest trail network in Canada at an impressive 105 km. Sovereign also offers snowshoeing but when we were there these trails needed abit more snow to open. For more information on Sovereign Lake Nordic see: https://www.sovereignlake.com/

Keith skiing into the stadium with the day lodge in the background

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Orcas off Pt Holmes near Comox !



By Keith and Heather Nicol
Orcas between Pt Holmes and Denman Island
     On Friday, November 17 we were out checking out the new bird arrivals and stopped at Pt Holmes on Lazo Road near the Comox airport.  In the near shore waters we saw some harlequin ducks as well as buffleheads and some loons when some other bird watchers noticed some spray in the water to the south west of us. We could easily see between 7-8 orcas steaming west and they proceeded to swim right past us. They were some distance off shore but the perfectly flat calm conditions made them easy to see. At times they did some interesting tailing slapping activity and partially leaped out the water. It is not known why orcas tail slap but suggestions are that it may be a playful activity or may be used in hunting. The pod then headed into the main part of Georgia Strait and appeared to be heading north.  We have not seen orcas from shore from this location so this was a real highlight. 

Orca tail slapping
A pair of Mergansers swim past a swan
       Next we headed down to the Puntledge River in Courtenay to see what bird and seal activity we could see there. The tide was about 4 meters and we headed to Lewis Park and walked along the walkway next to the tennis courts. We were lucky to see many trumpeter swans which were swimming along the far shore. They have begun to arrive over the past couple of  weeks but we could get a fine close up view of them in the river. There were also many pairs of mergansers and some golden eye ducks in the vicinity. Several seals popped their heads up now and then taking advantage of the last of the salmon runs for this year.You never know what you might see so bring your binoculars and camera when you head out!

Trumpeter Swans

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Exploring the Ruth Masters Greenway park with the Comox Valley Naturalists



By Keith and Heather Nicol
We saw a colourful Amanita mushroom
    On Sunday, October  29th the Comox Naturalists were having a walk in the Ruth Masters Greenway and it was a spot on Courtenay that we had never visited so we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to check this place out. Ruth Masters Greenway is located off Powerhouse Road and covers 18 acres of forest habitat and one section butts up against the Puntledge River. So with all of our tubing trips down the Puntledge River this past summer we actually had driven past the entrance to the park on many occasions. The fall colours were amazing and this is one reason to explore this park before fall progresses much further. The leaders of the walk were Loys and Alison Maingon and they interpreted a variety of mushrooms and other aspects of the natural flora and fauna.
The fall colours were spectacular
Inky Cap mushrooms were found in a couple of places
 We saw several species of mushroom although Alison said there would be alot more if the fall weather had been wetter. ``It has been so dry that many mushroom species are just not out in abundance`` she told us. The Greenway extends into the a section of Bear James Park which runs along the Puntledge River and we saw many chum and coho salmon in one of the shallow side channels. Beside the fine autumn colours and the spawning salmon, other highlights included seeing a colourful Amanita mushroom (sometimes known as the Fly Amanita since it was used as an insecticide for flies) and several Inky Cap mushrooms. Evidently these can become poisonous if consumed with alcohol hence another name for them is `Tippler`s Bane`. For more information on the Comox Valley Nauralists see:  http://comoxvalleynaturalist.bc.ca/  .  For more information on Ruth Masters Greenway view: http://www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/EN/main/community/parks-trails/comox-valley-parks/masters-greenway.html.   


Salmon could be seen in the side channels





Saturday, 28 October 2017

Playing a round at Comox Golf Course is an ideal way to spend an afternoon



By Keith and Heather Nicol
   With the great fall weather continuing we decided to play golf at one of the few places in the Comox Valley that we hadn’t had a chance to experience-Comox Golf Club. With the temperatures on Friday, October 27 hitting the mid teens we arrived at the centrally located Comox Golf Course parking lot and found the last parking place available. “This is not looking that promising” I mentioned to my wife Heather since we couldn’t book a tee time. “Let me head in to the Pro shop and find out how busy they are”. Fortunately Tom Lambourne, the friendly  pro shop assistant said” No problem , we can get you out in 15 minutes”.  
Heather hitting on the colourful 2nd hole
      Comox Golf Course is one of the oldest courses in the valley and was established in 1928. It is also 9 holes and relatively short at 2680 yards so is a fun course for a variety of ages and stages. We liked the open layout and could see why this course is so popular.  It was in good condition when we played and Tom Lambourne told us that even in the heat of the summer the course is green and shady due to the tall trees.  Although there is some water hazards and a few sand traps, they didn’t come into play much on our round and we could imagine that this course would appeal to youth, women and others want a forgiving round of golf.
The greens were in fine shape
       Some holes even have some nice fall colours at the present time and we really enjoyed the dogleg 2nd hole for its colourful stand of big leaf maples. The greens were large and surprisingly fast. The course has a putting green, club house and proshop as well as a driving range. General Manager, Sandy Kurceba, told us after our round that it has been surprisingly busy since the beginning of October. The course is now on winter rates which means you can play 9 holes for just $20 or 18 holes for $28 which is a great bargain. This will hold from now until March 31, 2018. Another deal worth looking at is punch card that gives you 13 games for $250 plus GST. It would make a great Christmas stocking stuffer for golfers on your list. For more information see: http://www.comoxgolfclub.ca/ 
Besides nice fall colours you get views of the Beaufort Mtns on some holes

Friday, 27 October 2017

Checking out the fall colours along the Union Bay Coastal Trail



By Keith and Heather Nicol
       On our quest to check out the fall colours in the Comox Valley we wanted to revisit the Union Bay coastal trail which we discovered earlier in the summer. On Thursday, October 26 we headed south of Courtenay to Union Bay along highway 19A. To access the trail there is small parking lot on the ocean side of the road just north of the community of Union Bay.  For those handy with a GPS the coordinates for the parking lot are: 49 35.250 N and 124 53.210 W. There are prominent signs indicating private property so enter at your own risk. There is more information about the history of the site in our original post (http://keithnicol.blogspot.ca/2017/07/exploring-union-bay-coastal-trail.html).
Heather walking past some of the large cottonwood trees
     We were not disappointed with the colours provided by tall cottonwood trees and we really like the open landscape that has resulted from the former coal washing site. There are numerous trails but we followed the main one that heads along the shore and then back along “Washer” or Hart Creek. Allow about 45 – 60 minutes to do the mostly level 2.4 km walk depending on how long you linger along the way. Don’t get too close to edge of the “cliffs” which are actively eroding and respect the signs that are posted. 
Heather photographing Tree Island with Denman Island on the right