Treasuring the Wetlands

Pond surrounded by yellow grasses

Buttertubs Marsh, a 100-acre wetland in Nanaimo, BC (click to enlarge & see the details)

With so much ill-informed and noisy rhetoric lately about “draining the swamp”, this year’s World Wetlands Day is more important than ever.

Wetlands are among the world’s most productive habitats, every bit as important as tropical rainforests. Thanks to the many vital ecosystem services they provide, they’re as critical for human survival as they are for the myriad species of plants and animals that live in and around them.

Yet over the past century the world has lost almost two thirds of its wetlands, with most of the loss in the last 50 years.

Today is World Wetlands Day. This annual event is observed  on February 2, marking the date in 1971 on which the international Ramsar Convention, a treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, was signed.

World Wetlands Day is aimed at raising awareness of the importance of wetlands and the valuable benefits they bring us. This year’s theme is “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction”: how healthy wetlands – and yes, this includes swamps – can help us cope with extreme weather events. It’s an increasingly important topic as we face the mounting impacts of climate change.

Enough draining already, thanks. Instead, let’s treasure and preserve our remaining wetlands at home and around the world – today and every day of the year.

For more info on wetlands and World Wetlands Day:
The Importance of Wetlands (Ramsar)
Why Canada Matters on World Wetlands Day (Huff Post)
Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction (World Wetlands Day)

Rosehip Alley

Rosehips with a path beside them

Late afternoon at Rosehip Alley (click to enlarge and see the details)

Years ago we made a little path through the dense and chaotic tangle of wild rose bushes on the southern edge of our property, so we could walk among the masses of delicately scented blooms that appear each June.

But I love “Rosehip Alley” in winter as well, especially in the low-angle light of late afternoon.

Perhaps part of its charm lies in the opposites of shape, texture and colour that I find in these thickets in winter. The canes are long, linear, stiff and dangerously thorny (although muted in their hues). By contrast, the hips are plump, round, smooth and inviting to the touch – and intensely red, bringing a welcome passion to what can sometimes feel like a drab winter landscape.

The Pond Creatures

Animal-like shapes in the ice on a pondSome strange and wondrous beings visited our backyard pond in recent days, taking advantage of the unusually cold weather we’d been experiencing.

They disappeared last night, and I doubt I’ll see them again this year.  After a month of sunshine and extreme (for us) low temperatures, we’re finally getting back to our “normal” west coast winter: grey skies, rain and – mercifully – warmer temperatures.

The daily dose of sunshine was nice while it lasted, and I enjoyed meeting the lovely, dancing pond creatures. But I’m a true west coaster, so I’m happy enough to have the familiar sound of rain on the roof once more.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

Secretly Awake and Watching

Closeup of kiwi vine trunks with eye-like knot and peeling bark

Here on the West Coast, the predominant winter colours are green and brown – hues that I find restful and in a way, reassuring. With no foliage or flowers on the deciduous trees and vines, their architecture comes to the fore. Life seems simplified: whittled down to the basics, quiet and less complicated than during the growing season.

In our kiwi patch, there’s no sign left of those luscious yellows of fall – only bare limbs, peeling bark and the deep slumber of winter. Still, I can’t help feeling the vines are secretly awake, watching intently from their corner of the garden for any possible hint of spring.

Light and Shadow Play

Light and shadow over the mountains of Princess Louisa Inlet

Royal Morning (0800 hrs) – click on photos to enlarge

Over the three days we spent in Princess Louisa Inlet last summer, we watched a fascinating play of light and shadow.

This steep-sided, narrow inlet is tucked far into BC’s Coast Mountain Range, so morning light is slow to arrive. When the sun finally makes it over the eastern peaks, it lights the tops of the mountains along the western shore first.

Mountain with sunlight at top, shade over the forest below

Morning Monarchs (0800 hrs)

As the daylight slowly grows, it arcs down to the lower elevation treetops, filling in the rest of the western shore and eventually both sides of the inlet. By mid-afternoon, the process starts to reverse as the sun vanishes behind the giant peaks to the west.

Light and shadow over high elevation mountains, with waterfalls and forest below.

Afternoon Majesty (1600 hours)

To give you a sense of scale, one of the waterfalls in the photo above is James Bruce Falls: at 840 m (2760 ft), the highest measured waterfall in North America and 9th highest in the world, according to Wikipedia. The steepness of this landscape is breathtaking – but down at sea level, it means fewer hours of direct sunlight than you might otherwise expect.

Depending where you moor, you can enjoy morning light or afternoon light. We anchored just west of iconic Chatterbox Falls – the much photographed spot at the head of the Inlet which has been drawing boaters to this regal destination for close to a century.

Sheets of mist from a waterfall in the forest, blasting out over the beach

Chatterbox Reigns (0930 hours)

We’d had heavy rains in the spring, so by the time we got there in late June, Chatterbox was roaring – blasting huge sheets of mist out over the estuary at the head of the Inlet. When the morning sun finally made it over the mountain peaks to the east, the mist was backlit, providing a shimmering light show: perfect for viewing from our cockpit with a late morning coffee in hand.

The Surprise Visitors

On top of the raspberry trellis (click to enlarge)

Owlet on the raspberry trellis (click to enlarge)

When you live on the Gulf Islands, you get used to having summer visitors, usually family members or old friends. But every once in awhile, unexpected characters drop by.

Such was the case one evening last summer when we heard an unusual sound outside: a series of drawn-out whistling hisses, slightly ascending in pitch. It was late, but there was just enough light to make out a pair of Barred owls: one on each end of our raspberry trellis, just 15 feet from the back door.

Trying not to spook them, we slipped out the door as quietly as we could. Rather than mess around with a tripod (which I figured they wouldn’t tolerate), I cranked up my camera’s ISO in the hope of getting at least one steady image before they flew off.

Imagine our surprise when a third, significantly larger owl landed atop a nearby ladder, appeared to hold a brief conversation with the pair on the trellis, then took off again. We figured this was likely their mom, instructing the owlets to stay put while she fit in a bit of hunting. (Perhaps we looked like reasonably safe baby-sitters.)

They remained on the trellis, checking us out, swaying back and forth, bobbing their heads and whistle-hissing all the while. Soon it grew too dark for human eyes, so we went back inside, hearing their sibilant calls through our open window for a while longer. I imagine that around the time we went to bed, their mom returned, bringing a tasty breakfast of mouse or songbird for the youngsters, whose day was just beginning as ours was ending.

Running the Gauntlet

Approaching Malibu Rapids with mountains in distance

Entering Malibu: hoping our timing is right (click on photos to enlarge)

The crown jewel of our Marine Parks, Princess Louisa Inlet, is tucked far into BC’s Coast Mountain Range. To get there you have to run a gauntlet of challenges.

First, there’s the lengthy cruise (about five hours in our case) up the long reaches of Jervis Inlet, which I described in an earlier post. Snaking your way up this deep fjord system, you’re surrounded by massive peaks and glaciers. It was stunningly beautiful the day we did it, but I imagine it could be a tedious journey on a wet, windy or cloudy day.

Next, there’s the issue of timing: to get into Princess Louisa you have to transit Malibu Rapids, where the current can run 9 knots with dangerous overfalls. The only safe time is “slack tide”, the short window when the current stops flowing in one direction and starts moving the other way. Daylight slack tides occur at most twice a day (sometimes only once), and if you miss slack, you’ve got a problem – especially since there’s no safe anchorage sites in the deep fjord outside the Inlet.

Malibu’s currents aren’t listed in the Canadian Tide and Current Tables. So the best you can do is follow Canadian Hydrographic Service advice: refer to the tide table for Point Atkinson (about 100 km south), then add 35 minutes to the time of its low tide or 25 to its high, to estimate slack tide at Malibu.

At least one online site uses another (undefined) method, and comes up with very different times than the Point Atkinson calculations. This provokes ongoing debate among boaters at the dock in Egmont, who are trying to determine what time they need to set out on the 32 mile journey, to transit Malibu at slack and get anchored or docked in Princess Louisa before dark. We stuck with the CHS advice, and were glad we did, because…

Third, there’s Malibu itself: even at slack tide with little current, the passage can be stressful. For one thing, there’s a dogleg turn that makes it impossible to see what traffic might be coming in your direction. (It’s wise, before entering, to broadcast a message on the VHF radio to let any approaching boaters know you’re coming their way.)

Looking back at the dogleg pass through Malibu.

Looking back at the dogleg pass through Malibu. Whew – we made it!

And finally, if you’re self-conscious there’s an additional challenge: passing close by the large youth camp on shore, you just know that hundreds of eyes are watching the show and finding cause for hilarity!

A gauntlet, for sure, but one well worth running. Once through Malibu, we took a deep breath and turned our attention to the beauty that lay around and above us – which turned out to be spectacular. More about that in a future post.

Princess Louisa's Welcome

Beckoning us into Princess Louisa…

Watching My Step

Mushrooms unturned

Upended – but not by me! (click on images to enlarge & see the details)

Every time I go for a walk these days, I need to tread carefully – because everywhere I look, there are mushrooms underfoot.

It’s been a wet fall (even by west coast standards), so our mushroom population is booming. On our property, I’m finding all kinds of specimens: large and small, smooth and wrinkled, colourful and dull, odd and ordinary, solitary and tribal. Many, like the ones in these photos, sport a dusting of fir needles, for it’s been windy as well as wet here in the Gulf Islands.

I have no competence in mushroom ID, so I don’t dare harvest any. I just look, admire, and from time to time – the weather and my aging knees permitting – I photograph them. (My garden kneeling pad and flexible-legged tiny tripod are helpful at those times, as is the judicious use of a bit of fill-flash.)

The group below sprang up last week, at the forest’s edge beside our pond – about the same spot where I saw them last year. That time, they stuck around for about two weeks, and I expect their visit will be equally brief this year.

trio of large, wet mushroomsI know, of course, they never really went anywhere when they disappeared last year – they were simply underground, where fungi like this spend most of the year. It’s only in the fall that they become visible to us, emerging to send up the fruiting bodies that we call “mushrooms”.  That stage doesn’t last long – but while it does, it’s a photographer’s delight.


If you’re on Gabriola Island this Sunday, Nov. 20: don’t miss Gabriola Photography Club’s fall show  at the Rollo Centre, noon to 4 pm. See you there!