Sunday, 25 September 2016

Sea Kayaking and observing birds at Point Holmes, Comox,B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
The seas were almost flat calm on this day
      Sea kayaks are great vessels for observing wildlife from seals to whales and they are also ideal for observing shorebirds and ducks since they can get close to shore. We have noted that recently various ducks have returned to the waters off of Comox and Point Holmes offers a perfect launch point for seeing these new arrivals. On Thursday, September 22 under clear skies and warm sunny conditions we kayaked at just about high tide (about 4.5 meters) which we usually don’t do since we find bird and marine life is sometimes better observed at lower tides.  We usually paddle toward Cape Lazo and Kye Bay. However,  most bird sitings seem to occur away from where people and dogs are located so closer you get to the sandy beaches of Kye Bay the fewer birds we typically see. 
The pelagic cormorants seem to like the taller rocks
      On this day we were pleased to see numerous harlequin ducks and also many common mergansers seemed to have just arrived. Also many pelagic cormorants adorned some of the taller rocks. Although we often see pelagic cormorants on our paddling trips, we haven’t seen these quantities here for some time.  As well many gulls occupied many sections of sandy beaches along this route. It is always interesting to see what new arrivals we can see and we look forward to our next kayak trip to Point Holmes. 
A group of harlequin ducks swim past a common merganser on the rock

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Suspension Bridge at Elk Falls is well a look this Fall

by Keith and Heather Nicol  
On Sunday Sept 18 we decided to check out Elk Falls near Campbell River and the suspension 
Heather and Terry walk on the broad trail
bridge that was built there last year. The bridge opened in mid May 2015 and seems to be attracting lots of attention. On this trip we were with an old friend, Terry Brown, who was visiting us from Australia and he was also interested to see this area. The suspension bridge spans Campbell River in Elk Falls Provincial Park and offers stellar views of the river as it plunges 25 meters over a picturesque waterfall. The bridge is accessed by a broad trail that is smooth and wide and is suited to a wide range of hikers. On this day we saw many families with young children on the 1 km trail so it is suited to a wide range of hikers.  
Elk Falls as viewed from the suspension bridge
  There are also several other trails in the area and we walked a 800 meter side trail to get down to the river where it rushes over sloping bedrock. This trail also gives fine views of waterfalls from a different angle.  Be sure to bring your camera and we also suggest bringing a tripod since forest is beautiful with thick moss and vibrant greens but the lack of light makes it hard to handhold your camera. Also with fall colours coming along photographers should be able to get some exceptional shots. For more information on the park see:  
We saw many families on the trail and suspension bridge


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

For unforgettable whale watching check out Discovery Marine Safaris in Campbell River

Johanna, our naturalist helped us identify what we were seeing
by Keith and Heather Nicol   
 With a forecast of clearing skies and light winds on Tuesday, September 6 we joined a whale watching trip with Discovery Marine Safaris based out of Campbell River. We set sail aboard the Tenacious III at 1:30 pm with 23 on board and were accompanied by passengers who had come from all over to see the marine wildlife in this area. There were passengers from Australia, Germany, Norway and Vancouver! Besides us there was just one other couple from Vancouver Island and it struck us that maybe local people don’t know what is on their door step.  Our trip couldn’t have been better!

Our first whale sighting was a humpback named KC
 We first headed north between Campbell River and Quadra Island and then part way up Discovery Passage we unexpectedly did a big U turn and headed south. “We have reports of a humpback” our Captain Chris Behrens told us with a grin and off we went. The Tenacious III can travel at up to 25 knots (45 km /hour) so can cover lots of water in a hurry. Soon we could see the humpback known as KC and Johanna Ferrie our naturalist guide told us this whale was born in 2002 and comes back to this general area every summer. “We’ve seen this whale grow up since we see him several times each year” she told us.  After seeing KC go for another spectacular 3rd deep dive Chris said that there were reports of Orcas on the other side of Quadra Island .So we rounded the south end of Quadra with its scenic Cape Mudge Lighthouse and headed to the waters between Quadra and Reid Island.
One Orca swam right under the tour boat
   Here another whale watching vessel had located 4 Orcas which Johanna determined had the clinical names of T002C (the mother) and her offspring T002C1, T002C2 and T002C3. The mother was born in 1989 and her children were born in 2002, 2005 and 2011 respectively. T002C1 was a male which could be determined by the large dorsal fin .The sex of the other children is unknown yet since they had shorter dorsal fins and males don’t grow a larger fin until they are at least 10 years old, Johanna told us. Johanna also mentioned that these whales were sort of an anomaly in that they were marine mammal eating Orcas (as opposed to fish eating Orcas) but that they had a smallish home range and were often found in these waters. “Some transient or marine mammal eating Orcas range over huge distances but for some reason this grouping likes these waters-perhaps because there are lots of seals and sea lions for them to eat” she added.
The Orcas put on quite a show for over 2 hours
      With great excitement watched these whales for over 2 hours and occasionally Chris would reposition the tour boat since the whales were gradually working their way toward the Breton Islands off Quadra Island. The whales displayed some amazing behaviour during our visit, diving under the boat on a couple of occasions,  frequent tail flapping , and to our delight one even breached several times. Both Chris and Johanna told us we were getting a special show. We even saw the whales cruising past small rocky islands that had seals on them that were fortunately for the seals, just out of reach. Then it was off to “The Gorge” on Cortes Island, an interesting bay with a cliff complete with Native Indian petroglyphs. Lastly, we paid a visit to seemingly barren Mitlenatch Island. This rocky island initially seems lifeless from a distance but on closer inspection is teeming with birds and has been designated as a Nature Provincial Park for its sea bird colonies, especially pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots and others.  For one more type of very interesting animal to observe there was a large grouping of noisy stellar sea lions along the southern end of the island. 

There were many good viewing areas on the Tenacious III
     As we headed back to home base Johanna reviewed what we had seen and how lucky we had been with our sightings but pointed out the difficulties facing orcas and other marine life in the Georgia Strait. We can’t say enough good things about the tour and recommend it to anyone wanting a memorable day on the water. Discovery Marine Safaris also does grizzly bear trips and several of the passengers on board had done that trip the previous day and raved about it. We will have to check that trip out as well in the near future. For more information on Discovery Marine Safaris see:  to find out which tours are sailing and their exact times.     
There were lots of  sea lions and bird life on Mitlenatch Island


Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Looking for Lichens in Strathcona Provincial Park

by Keith and Heather Nicol
"Usnea" (Old Man`s Beard) is a common lichen found in the park
     We did a wildflower walk earlier in the summer with the Strathcona Wilderness Institute and really enjoyed that so when we saw that they were offering a lichen identification session on Saturday, August 27 we decided to check it out. These sessions are run out of the Strathcona Wilderness Centre near Raven Lodge at the Mt Washington Ski Area near Courtenay. We were joined by some friends from Campbell River, George and Ellen Wagner and there were others in the group from Parksville and Comox. Margaret Symon was the leader and said at the outset that she was not a lichen expert but had done some research on lichens and was a forester by training so could also point out various trees as we went along. Margaret said that there were many different types of lichens and could be classed into groups such as leaf, crusty, hair, club and several others. 
Trying to identify a lichen
   We had not gone very far down the trail when we came to our first lichens, which most people know as old man’s beard. Margaret mentioned that this was likely “Usnea” and is one of the hair type lichens. She mentioned that First Nations people used different lichens for dyes for clothing and for compresses for cuts. Also birds may use certain lichens for padding nests. We came across lots of different types of lichen but many samples were very dried out from all the warm weather. “Come back in a month and they will look quite different” Margaret told us. “Lichens are also like canaries in the coalmine since they are very sensitive to various types of pollution. They tend to grow in very specific environmental conditions” she added.  These types of guided walks are a perfect way to learn about the sub alpine environment of Strathcona Provincial Park and the Strathcona Wilderness Institute should be congratulated for putting on these informative walks. You can check out more of their offerings at:
We also saw some Reindeer Lichen which eaten by caribou in many parts of the world