For any use of my photos, please contact me at monika.wieland (at) gmail (dot) com

Monday, December 7, 2015

Southern Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island: I look at it *all* the time, just 10 miles across Haro Strait, but it's embarrassing how few times I've been there. In the last few weeks I've had the opportunity to do some exploring over there, and have been reminded how the short ferry ride and border crossing really shouldn't be such a deterrent to visiting! It's a beautiful place, and it's been awesome to visit some of the places I see on the map or from the water on a regular basis.

One of the first places I visited was Mt. Douglas, which we shore-based whale watchers use as a landmark when watching whales from Lime Kiln. After all these years it was fun to finally be on the Mt. Douglas looking back towards San Juan Island, with the bonus of Mt. Baker as a backdrop.

It's a pretty amazing vantage point from up there. You can see from nearly Turn Point at the north end of Haro Strait to well west of Victoria.

One thing that's very apparent over there is that there is a lot more acknowledgment of the native culture than in the United States. There was a big sign on Mt. Douglas talking about how it is also known as PKOLS by the aboriginal Saanich people, and at Somenos Marsh in Duncan all the interpretive signs give both the English and native names:

The birding was pretty good at Somenos Marsh, though everything but the birdhouses were too far away to photograph:

Another really noticeable thing across the strait is the number of Garry oak trees! It's a habitat that local preservation groups are trying to restore in the San Juan Islands, but it's much more prominent on Southern Vancouver Island.

One place we often refer to when we hear about incoming whales (from the Strait of Juan de Fuca) is Clover Point. In September 2012 I had an amazing encounter with transients off Clover Point, but from the water. It was cool to finally visit it from the shore side!

A photo I took of transients passing off the beach at Clover Point in September 2012

Looking the other way: a photo taken from where the whale watchers are standing in the photo above, but looking out to sea
You can see Trial Island from Clover Point:

After a long lull I finally managed to add a few birds to the year list, too: Barrow's goldeneye (171), herring gull (172), and Eurasian wigeon (173), the latter two species at Beacon Hill Park:

Eurasian wigeon
I was surprised to see so many peacocks at Beacon Hill Park!

Peacock feathers: a study

 There was a decent amount of native bird activity there as well, including a lot of Anna's hummingbirds! Anna's hummingbirds actually overwinter locally, feeding on insects and sap throughout the winter when there aren't an abundance of flowering plants. It's pretty amazing to me that they survive our cold temperatures and short days, but apparently it works for them! There are a lot more of them on Vancouver Island than on San Juan; I saw half a dozen at Beacon Hill Park alone - in November!!

It's a very pretty place:

As I headed over to the water side of the park, I caught sight of a few whale-watching boats! They were with a pair of humpback whales - surprise!

Another place I got to visit is East Sooke Park, and that's a place I will definitely have to go back to, as there are many miles of fantastic hiking trails there. More amazing vistas overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca! I can just imagine seeing the Southern Residents pass from here.

Probably my favorite birding location I discovered was the Cowichan Estuary. With salmon still spawning on the Cowichan River, there were lots of bald eagles around.

There were also several dozen trumpeter swans there. Any place you can see two of North America's largest birds is a pretty cool place!

Trumpeter swans flying over Cowichan Estuary

The whole Cowichan Bay area is another beautiful place with scenic views in every direction!

Vancouver Island is full of so many new places to explore, and it's really just a stone's throw away! I definitely plan to visit again soon.