I took advantage of the last couple of days of passable weather on the west coast of Vancouver Island to revisit one of my many favourite beaches in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It’s only a short 800 meter walk from the Wickaninnish Centre to South Beach and there is much for the naturalist to see and experience.
Bird song in the Sitka Spruce forest along the South Beach Trail includes the Orange-crowned Warbler, Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow. There is good edge habitat in the flat section of the trail with thickets of Nootka Rose and Thimbleberry providing flowers that attract bees and Rufous Hummingbirds. Further up the hillside, Pacific-slope Flycatchers call and Chestnut-backed Chickadees forage among the high branches of the Sitka Spruce. In the early evening the song of one of my favourite birds, the Swainson’s Thrush begins to spiral upward.
As a photographer and botanical enthusiast, my attention is drawn to the plants. Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana) and Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) are in full bloom but one has to be careful to avoid the new growth of Stinging Nettle when trying to get closer to the flowers. I knew that Stinging Nettle can sting but now I know what it feels like! The delicate pink flowers of Nootka Rose have a delightful fragrance that fills the air on a warm day. Also growing along the trail are the large leaves of Cow Parsnip, another plant that must be approached with care.
The South Beach Trail ascends on a wooden ramp through a tunnel of thick, stunted Sitka Spruce before reaching the top of a rise. In the damp dark section of trail at the top of the hill look for Skunk Cabbage, Lung Liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha), and Small-flowered Bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus). From here, a narrow cedar staircase descends down towards sound of the open ocean crashing against the rocks of South Beach.
South Beach is a curving pebble beach with dramatic rocky outcrops along its sides. For the botanist, these outcrops are the home of a number of very interesting plants. Villous Cinquefoil (Potentilla villosa) seems to grow out of the rock itself and its strongly scented bright yellow flowers contrast sharply against the dark stone. The leaves of this plant are distinctively white-wooly below and thick and leathery in texture, well suited for the exposure of these rocky bluffs.
Growing in similar locations nearby is Coastal Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis). It too has thick, leathery leaves but its flowers are white and seem to be scentless. The individual plants are anchored by thick rootstocks that are connected by runners. Coastal Strawberry is never found far from the sea.
The delicate Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) can also be found in crevices on these rocky outcrops. This member of the Lily family has a tall nodding stalk with numerous small pink bell-shaped flowers. The basal leaves are grass-like and have a strong onion smell.
On one of the larger outcrops enough soil has accumulated to support a thicket of Nootka Rose. However, on the lower exposed seeps great profusions of Yellow Monkey-flower (Mimulus guttatus) make a wonderful display.
These are just a few of the flowers in bloom on the South Beach Trail – there’s much more in bloom to inspire a second (or third) visit. To learn more about the ecology of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve make sure to stop in at the Wickaninnish Centre and talk with a Parks Canada Heritage Interpreter. Guided walks and informative nature programs begin on June 26.