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


Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Chained Islands on Quadra Island offer up fine sea kayaking

 by Keith and Heather Nicol
    On Thursday, August 25 we headed for Granite Bay which is located in the northwest corner of Quadra Island.  Granite Bay leads into larger Kanish Bay and the one of the attractions here is a series of islands called the Chained Islands. We put in at the Granite Bay Park boat launch (bring $5 for the launch fee) and the marine forecast was for strong NW winds developing in the afternoon but we hoped our mid morning start would mean that we would have lighter winds to start. Be sure to look up the tide situation before you head out and use Owen Bay for tidal information for this area. We had been told by Christine Gornall who had paddled in this area to avoid paddling here at low tides since landing locations were minimal and that even getting off the boat launch might be an issue. Tides on this day looked good with a high tide around 10:20 am of 2.9 meters and a low tide at 3:50 pm of about 2.3 meters. Christine also encouraged us to check out Orchard Cove where we would find a large shell midden from earlier First Nations occupation. 
Paddling past one of the Chained Islands

Heather examining some of the shells from the embankment
      We paddled into a light-moderate NW headwind but were sheltered from the wind by the Chained Islands. We paddled around some of the islands and found a crude protected landing spot at 10 U 0332247E 5569121N for a short break. The scenic granite islands have prominent rocky shorelines capped with trees and we appreciated that there was little boat activity and enjoyed the wilderness look of the area. The downside is a lack of landing options but we did find a good protected beach on another island at 10 U 0331584E 5569317N. We paddled past Bodega Pt and out into Discovery Passage before turning around to look for a place to have lunch. We could see a promising beach along the shore of Kanish Bay and decided to have lunch there (10 U 0332426E 5566370N). The wind stayed reasonably light so after lunch we decided to head for Orchard Bay (10 U 0334548E 5570127N) which Christine had suggested we see.  After paddling for about 2.5 km we arrived at Orchard Bay where we could see a light shell band rimming the beach. Just before landing we saw a family of 6 river otters playing in the salt water and they scampered on to the shore and into the trees as we approached. The landing area was again was abit crude but we did find a narrow area of sand to slide our kayaks up on amidst the cobbles and boulders. A higher tide would have certainly made a beach landing easier.  We explored the shelled filled embankment and noted that the upper terrace would make a good campsite.  And then it was back to down Granite Bay to our launch spot. Overall we really enjoyed this area despite the lack of landing options (you can always find something). On our next trip to this area we might paddle down Small Inlet (3 km long) which looked interesting. Overall our distance was about 13.5 km.
The Chained Islands offer very scenic sea kayaking

Sea kayaking from Village Bay Lake to Main Lake on Quadra Island

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Heather paddling into our lunch spot
    On Wednesday, August 24 we decided to head to Quadra Island to do some more exploring via sea kayak. We had been sea kayaking only once before on the island and that trip was in May 2015 when we paddled in Heriot Bay and the Breton Islands ( .  We drove north from Courtenay and caught the 9:30 am ferry and we stopped at the visitor information centre in Quathiaski Cove where we picked up a great map of the island (ask for the Backroads map). From there we headed for a series of lakes just north of Village Bay. There are 2 boat launches on either side of the bridge and there were several people off loading kayaks and canoes so we thought this must be a popular spot (10 U 0343659E 5560454N). 

Paddling through the reeds between 2 of the lakes

   The first lake we paddled down was Village Bay Lake and it had a number of cottages along the shore but as we moved north the cottages thinned out and we paddled a narrow passage full of reeds into another lake before following another narrow passage into Main Lake. We found few places to pull in along the shore but we did find a nice place for lunch on a bedrock and cobble beach (10 U 0343209E 5563839N).After lunch Heather decided to go for a swim off the bedrock shore line while I paddled out into Main Lake and found a fine campground with a good beach at 10 U 0343125E 5564047N and then paddled around 3 islands in the lake before heading back to our lunch spot. Main Lake is the largest of the lakes and is about 3 km long in an east – west direction.  From there we returned to our launch spot. We were gone for about 3 hours including about 30 minutes for lunch and our distance was about 11.5 km.  These lakes would be a good bet if you are on Quadra and high winds are a problem for ocean paddling and another bonus is that they are good for a dip on a hot day.However try to swim where there is bedrock since the most of the lakes have a muddy-soft bottom. 
Paddling on Main Lake around one of the islands.


Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Comox Lake is a perfect place for a sea kayaking-swimming excursion

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Heather swimming at our lunch spot
    With a forecast high of 32C in Comox (the warmest day of the summer so far) we decided to do a kayak – swim excursion on Friday, August 19 and we thought that nearby Comox Lake would be an ideal place to explore. A previous days` swim in the Puntledge River suggested that the water was warming up nicely so we thought that Comox Lake would also likely be perfect place to combine a dip and kayak trip. Our 2 previous sea kayak trips to Comox Lake had involved launching at Cumberland Lake Park  but for this trip we opted to try a launch on the other side of the lake. We knew that the northern shore of the lake had many more beaches than the steep walled south side and this was a priority if we wanted to swim. We drove up a combination of Lake Trail Road and Comox Logging Road to the bridge which crosses the Puntledge River just above the dam. We parked at 10 U 0348645E 5500980N which is just past the bridge on your left. Here we found a reasonable trail for wheeling our kayaks to the lake. There are a few roots along the way and it is quite steep as the trail drops toward the lake but the 100 meter trail is quite manageable. 
Comox Lake has fine views of the Comox Glacier

    Once we were set up we dove in for our first swim of the day and swam in a protected bay just off the main lake for a few minutes. Then soaking wet we paddled west along the shore encountering many beaches with small groups of people at many of them. The terrain changed dramatically after a km or so and dry grassy bluffs spotted with arbutus trees came into view. These bluffs were perfect launch point for people doing some cliff jumping into the lake and we were struck by how clear the water was.  Throughout this section we had a good view of the Comox Glacier in the distance. We found a very small beach amongst the bluffs where we had lunch and a swim  (coordinates 10 U 0346651E 5500216N). We paddled for another 30 minutes to another beach where the cliffs were ending and had a final dip in the water before heading back to our launch point. There was still much of the Comox Lake ahead of us but given the very warm temperatures and lack of a
breeze we decided that return and save the remainder of the lake for a cooler day. Overall we paddled about 8 km in total and had a final swim at our exit point. Comox Lake has amazingly clear water and a spectacular setting and shouldn`t be overlooked as s kayak destination. And pack your bathing suit for if you have a warm day.
Heather with the dry grassy bluffs behind

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Sea kayaking with Bonaparte Gulls at Point Holmes near Comox, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
    On Thursday, August 18 we decided to head to Point Holmes which one of our favorite launch points in Comox Valley. We like this spot since it offers a boat launch so tides are not that much of an issue and an on shore bathroom which was built last summer. It also seems to be a good place for a variety of bird and marine life. We usually paddle toward Cape Lazo and around toward Kye Bay depending on wind and weather. Once you head around the headland you are no longer protected from NW winds but if winds are light this is not a problem. On this day we were treated to a large number of Bonaparte Gulls which must be returning from breeding in the boreal forest or taiga. We were not familiar with these gulls in Newfoundland and saw our first ones earlier in the spring in their breeding plumage. They are a small graceful gull and almost look tern like at first glance. 

There was a large flock of Bonaparte Gulls at the launch point
Gull diving for food
   On this day a large flock of Bonaparte Gulls were along the sandy beach near the launch site and just off shore.   Some were displaying an interesting feeding behaviour where they flew off the water to a height of just 30-60 cm and then dove head first in the shallow water.  We spent 20 minutes watching them do their short take off and diving routine before heading toward Cape Lazo. The tide was just 1.0 meter so there were many exposed rocks and shoals.  Many of the rocks had seals draped over them and we set our sites for an offshore collection of rocks that had some gently sloping bedrock amidst the rocks. This proved to be a perfect place to haul out and have lunch.  Our lunch spot even had its own blue heron foraging for food and we saw many sea stars in the tidal pools. But the tide was rising and after 30 minutes our flattish lunch spot was in danger of being flooded so packed up and worked out way back to Pt Holmes.  Sea kayaking in this area is good at any tide but we seem to see the most wildlife at low tide.

Seals were draped on many rocks