Comox Valley Naturalists Society
Knowing Nature . . .
Walking Through Woodhus Slough
November 18, 2005
On a sunny day last week, I went for a walk at Woodhus Slough, one of my favourite places. The sunny day, between days of November rain, seemed as rare and spectacular as the slough itself.
Woodhus Slough pronounced “Wood-huss” Slough, was named after a pioneer family who moved to the area from Cumberland. The Woodhus family built a hotel in 1910, and lived there until the hotel was destroyed by fire in 1951. The Hotel was a popular stop over spot known as “The Half Way House” because it was half way between Courtenay and Campbell River. The hotel site is located about 30 metres from the road on the way into Salmon Point Pub.
Hiking in from Salmon point, we traversed the gravel flats across to the slough. In the summer those flats are a blaze of yellow wooly sunflowers. In the early fall, they are covered in lavender purple Douglas’ knotweed. Pausing by the edge of the slough I recalled a happy day of dragonfly catching with a group of naturalists. That day we found a huge snake coiled in the grass, and a lime-green tree frog sitting on a leaf. Cedar Waxwings dive-bombed the dragonflies, whooshing over our heads.
In November, it was a wintry scene at the slough. Rusty brown clumps of cattails and bulrushes rose out of the still reflective waters. A pair of Mallards dabbled peacefully through the water, and across the slough a pair of Bald Eagles landed atop a Douglas-fir. Beyond the slough was a sweeping view of green farm fields framed by snowy Mt Washington. In a week or so the Trumpeter Swans will be arriving to take up winter residency at the farm. Swan numbers are recorded weekly from November to April.
Woodhus slough and the farm provide very important year round bird habitat. The fields are a winter resting place for Canada Geese, Swans, and thousands of ducks. The slough, also important for ducks, is lined with shrub and willow thickets ideal for many species of land birds including Sparrows, Warblers and Woodpeckers. Raptors such as Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks are often seen flying over the fields and slough. At night, owls call from the mature stands of Spruce and Douglas-fir.
Woodhus Slough and the farm are surveyed annually during the Campbell River Christmas bird count. Over the years several rare birds have been sighted. At present at least 215 species of birds have been recorded from the area.
We continued on the trail, which becomes a sandy path through one of the rarest ecosystems in BC; coastal dunes and Douglas-fir. The vegetaion is more muted in winter, when gray Reindeer lichen contrasts with velvety green moss. In spring and summer there are delicate wildflowers all along the trail: Hooker’s onion, death-camas, yarrow and bare-stem desert parsley. Some plants, such as the seaside rein orchids, are rare, or blue-listed in BC.
At warmer times of the year colourful butterflies can be seen: zebra-striped Swallowtails, mottled painted ladies, and Sara’s Orange Tips. Sand-wasps are common in the summer, burrowing into the hot sand along the trail. In the fall, the wasps are gone, but there are numberous crickets and grasshoppers.
At the south end of the slough, the trail leads into an area of large old growth firs. This is Kuhushan point, which boasts a fine view of the Oyster River Estuary. In the fall, the number of gulls increase as the salmon spawn, and dozens of Bald Eagles are present. Further out, Sea Lions can be seen rolling through the water, or lying on their backs with flippers in the air. The barking and snorting of these creatures can be heard a good distance away.
From Kuhushan Pt the woodland trail continues. In the spring this section of trail flowers with white slender toothwort, trilliums, yellow violets and pink bleeding hearts.
After going through a dark and spindly forest, one finally arrives at the corner of UBC farm field, which is near the boundary of the Oyster River Regional Park. The final section of trail leads to a parking lot near the Fisherman’s Pub and Discovery Foods.
Locals call this entire, amazing trail the “pub to pub” walk. Naturalists, joggers and dog-walkers use the trails extensively. Thousands walk the trails each year, and it is by far the most popular hike in the area.
While glancing through the newspaper a week or so ago I was surprised to find a small notice outlining UBC’s intention of selling the farm and Woodhus Slough property. This large property also includes a sizeable portion of land up Macauley Rd, along the Oyster River.
After reflecting upon my seasons of nature observations at the slough and farm, I know that these properties are rare and precious. Very few intact waterfront properties remain along the east coast Vancouver Island. Waterfront and wetland plant and bird communites are some of the most diverse, and threatened habitats in BC.
Rural areas, as well as our towns, are changing rapidly as increasing numbers of people move to our area. In light of this, I hope that there will be a great deal of interest in preserving the UBC properties for the multifold purposes of farming, wildlife protection and recreation.
Click on a link below to view the CVNS newspaper column.