From Marsh to Slough – Terry Thormin
Yesterday was the first nice day in the valley after about a week of cool, overcast weather. I decided to go to Wildwood Marsh, an area that I had never visited before and finally had good directions to get there. I am always on the lookout for new places for dragonflies as I am hoping to eventually do a website on the dragonflies of Vancouver Island, and I have been told that Wildwood Marsh has lots of dragonflies. But there was another reason for visiting the place; The Comox Valley Naturalist’s Society has devoted part of their website to an online nature guide that covers various locations in the Comox Valley, providing information about the natural history of each site, including bird and plant lists and a photo gallery. So far thirty four locations have been done, but there are many other locations that still need to be covered and Wildwood Marsh is one of them. You can find the nature guide here: http://comoxvalleynaturalist.bc.ca/nature-viewing-guide .
I had taken on the job of putting the photo galleries together for each of the areas as well as helping to gather lists of all the plants and animals for as many areas as possible. Because the only information we had about Wildwood Marsh was based on a birding field trip that the society had held a few years ago, I figured that a trip there would produce a lot more information and a few photographs.
The marsh is surrounded by private land, as seems to be the case with so many wetlands in the valley, but here at least there is one narrow trail into the marsh and a trail going along the edge of the marsh for a short distance that provide public access. The marsh is quite large, and from my vantage point on the shore I could not even see a large portion of it. To explore it properly one would need a canoe or kayak. Although I only saw one species of dragonfly, the California Darner, I am sure that as the season progresses more species will start flying.
By the time I left the area I had enough information to put together a reasonable photo gallery for the area and I had found a Red-eyed Vireo singing its heart out, probably on territory. This is the rarest of the vireos in the valley and one that I had not seen here before. It will probably take a while before there is a write-up for the area, and the photo gallery is in place. For anyone living in the Comox Valley area who wants to visit the marsh here is the link to the Comox Valley Regional District’s map of the area: http://www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/uploadedFiles/Parks/Park_Information/WildwoodInterpretiveForest.pdf .
After I was finished at Wildwood Marsh I decided to continue on up-island to Salmon Point and Woodhus Slough. I had lunch at the Salmon Point Pub (best burgers in the area in my opinion) and then walked the trail down the coast to Woodhus Slough. By now the temperature had warmed up nicely and with the sun shining it was a pleasant day. The trail initially goes through a brushy willow area with a forest habitat behind it on the inland side. Here I could hear Yellow Warblers, Willow Flycatchers and Swainson’s Thrushes singing.
Further along where the trail left the brush behind and went through open fields, I checked an area where I had seen some Hooded Ladies’ Tresses last year, but as I suspected it was too early. This is one of the later orchids to flower in our area, not blooming until July. I then passed a field where the first blooms of Common Woolly Sunflowers were raising their yellow heads. In a couple of weeks this field will be awash with the yellow flowers of this cheery plant.
Just past the sunflower field on the right hand side of the trail was Woodhus Slough. This is not a large slough, but it has the advantage of easy accessibility that most other wetlands do not share. The open water areas are bordered by wet beds of cattails, bullrushes and sedges, with willow bushes behind them on the far shore. I have not spent a lot of time here, so my list of dragonfly species for the area is small, only six species. I am sure that this number will go up as I spend more time here. This time there were only two species flying, Four-spotted Skimmers and California Darners, but it is still early.
I decided to continue along the trail past the slough, and as I did I saw my first butterfly, a small brownish species that I could not identify from a distance. As I approached it, camera at the ready, I realized it was a Purplish Copper. It flew from flower to flower, giving me a merry chase and no photographs, but then it landed on a horizontal blade of grass and allowed me to approach it closely. This time I was successful and got a series of photos.
Feeling good about this, I continued along the trail, entering one of B.C.s rarest habitats, an open douglas-fir forest growing on coastal sand dunes. In places the ground is covered by Reindeer Lichen and mosses, and several rare plants grow here, including the Seaside Rein-orchid. I knew that I would have to wait to see this one though because, like the Ladies’ Tresses, it was too early to be in flower.
Then a short way into the woods I came to a clearing with a brush pile, and there sitting on the brush pile was an Anise Swallowtail. This is one of three species of swallowtail butterflies that are found in the area (Annie has talked about them in her blogs) and one that I had only seen here a couple of times before and never photographed. I quickly got my camera out of my bag and turned it on. The auto-focus was jammed! After what seemed like hours of turning the camera off and on, taking the lens off and putting it back on and turning the air blue, I finally got it to work. Of course the swallowtail was gone. More curses. And then it was back. It flew from perch to perch, giving me some distant shots with terrible backgrounds, but then finally perched on a low plant and patiently waited while I took several photos.
Now I am not as passionate as Annie is about butterfly photography, but considering how few butterflies I see in the valley, any day I can get good photos of two new species is a great day, and to top it all off I had seen a total of four species, the others being Echo Azure (AKA Western Spring Azure) and Cabbage White. That is the most I have seen in one day so far this year, so truly a great day.
But it wasn’t quite over yet. On the way back to the car the breeze carried the scent of some nearby roses my way and I couldn’t let an opportunity pass to “stop and smell the roses”. As I bent down to take a whiff, my eye caught a bit of darker red on a nearby rose. A quick check confirmed that it was a Rose Curculio, a beetle in the weevil superfamily. A few photos later and I was happily on my way home.