Thursday, September 10, 2009

Another hidden treasure

As you go into Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, at the last right-angled turn before you enter the lane alongside the slough, you come to a gate and a road leading straight ahead. Mostly, the gate is closed and locked.

There's a sign; a bird and a name. Canadian Wildlife Research Centre, as far as I remember. Nothing to hint that it is open to the public. We went in, once, finding the gate open. The road went over a bridge, around a corner to parking lots. A sign here said, "Visitors Report to Office." It was raining hard, and the place looked dark and uninviting; we made a U-turn and drove on out of there.

Some time later, I ran across a web page that mentioned walking trails at Alaksen, which turned out to be this site.
Wildlife conservation is the primary purpose of Environment Canada’s protected areas, but most sites permit public access and some offer visitor facilities, and limited activities and services: Alaksen NWA in British Columbia ... provide special facilities to view wildlife. In these protected areas, there may be exhibits, trails, brochures, and viewing stands to help visitors understand their surroundings. Locally published notices inform people about the activities that are generally permitted in protected areas... (Hinterland Who's Who)
So we had to go back. I found out that they're open weekdays, 9 to 5, whereas most visitors to the Bird Sanctuary go on the weekend; no wonder we'd found them closed.

The old Reifel residence now houses the research centre.

We had time for a quick visit a couple of weeks ago, an hour before closing time. We registered at the office; the woman on duty was friendly and helpful. She loaded me down with info and a map. Somehow, winding down the stairs from the office, and along the hallway, I got turned around, and we headed in the wrong direction, out into the fields, on a path that dead-ended at a fence. Back around the other side of the building, I stuck my head in an open window and asked for directions. Unorthodox, but the man at the desk by the window cheerfully explained how to find the trailhead.

We chose the shortest trail, a circle to the river and back along Ewen Slough. It was quiet; a few sparrows chattered in the bushes and swallows hunted over the water, but otherwise, we heard only the wind (threatening rain) in the trees and our own footsteps. A few sleepy cows watched us from a field belonging to the farm next door.

I liked the sculpturing of this salt block, shaped by cows' tongues.

It's the end of summer; past time for most flowers. Now, the trees and shrubs are all bearing fruit. I sampled several handfuls of blackberries, tart and sweet at the same time. Red elderberries hung over the trail. So did wild cherries, but most were fallen and dried up:

Fallen cherries, caught on a hawthorn branch.

Hawthorn laden with bird goodies.

I think this is some variety of native honeysuckle. A scruffy, tangled, climbing vine.

Evergreen blackberry. My favourite of all the blackberries. (Compare to the Himalayan berry.) But those thorns are really nasty. Look how they curve backwards, like snake fangs.

Trailing blackberry. Our only native blackberry, sweet and flavourful, but hard to find. The long, trailing vines wind in and out underneath other plants.

Red osier dogwood.

A huge mountain ash, (about 1/8 of the tree here) heavy with fruit.

Alder, a bit more discreet.


Staghorn sumac. The red fuzzy spike is not the flower; it's seeds in a furry coating.

And the fruiting body of a shelf fungus. The rest of it is hidden inside the tree.

A mix of weeds and grasses on the banks of the river. Purple loosestrife and a mint, a few spikes of sedge.

We got back to the office after 5. The gate was closed. Not to worry, another staffperson told us; just drive slowly up to it, and it would open for us. And the rainclouds had moved on. So we had time to dawdle around the building and discover the wasps' nests and the baby swallows.

We'll be back.

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