Second Growth Forest Near Comox Lake

A short trail to Comox Lake Bluffs Eco-reserve winds through dark second growth forest. It can be a quiet and eery place, even on a sunny day. However, late in the day the shoulder of the Beaufort Range blocks sunlight. The setting sun illuminates the upper parts of the trees, while the understory is dark and gloomy with little vegetation.

Trail through second growth forest to Comox Lake Bluffs Eco-reserve
The trail to Comox Lake Bluffs Eco-reserve makes its way through dim second growth forest.

The path through the forest is like something out of a twisted fairy tale. Numerous notched stumps along the trail are evidence of past logging by the Comox Logging & Railway Company. In contrast, the trees today are mostly thin and closely spaced. Between 1929 and 1934, the steep areas around the lake were logged down to the shoreline.

Wet Areas and Ephemeral Streams on the way to Comox Lake Bluffs Eco-reserve

Depending on the time of year, the trail through the second growth is often very wet or very dry. In many places, simple bridges of logs and rough hewn planks cross shallow streams that run down to Comox Lake. Water collects in places where there are natural depressions.

Wet area along the trail to Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve.
Water collects in a shallow part of a stream near Comox Lake.

Logs and forest debris choke the ephemeral streams that flow to Comox Lake creating a jumble of decaying wood. Later in the summer these areas dry up. In the spring, the water flows slowly through the quiet forest. Strangely, the forest feels old even though it was logged only 100 years ago.

Ferns and logs on the edge of a shallow pond.
Ferns and logs are jumbled up along the edges of a shallow pond in the forest near Comox Lake.

Wet water-logged soil makes it difficult for trees to stand upright. The trail through the forest follows the edge of a more recent cut block making these second growth trees vulnerable to wind. As a result, blow down trees crisscross the wet areas. Ferns, vanilla leaf, and huckleberry find a place to grow on the small islands of soil between the fallen trees. Upturned root masses make excellent perching places for winter wrens and other birds.

A jumble of fallen trees over a shallow stream.
Fallen second growth trees create a massive pick-up-sticks game over a shallow wet area.

Barred Owl Habitat

Dense second growth forest beside Comox Lake.
Dense second growth forest beside Comox Lake.

While walking back from the bluffs, I noticed robins making a racket. Usually robins mobbing is a sign that there is a raptor or an owl nearby—sure enough, the distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call of a barred owl drifted through the dim forest. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the owl but enjoyed its call while I walked back towards the parking area.

About the Photographs

I find forest photography challenging. It is difficult to sort through the chaos of trees and undergrowth and create order and readability in the composition. Fortunately, gaps formed by trails and openings created by wet areas, ponds and streams can be helpful starting points that guide the viewer into the image. Converting photographs from colour to black and white can help simplify the image as well.

I used a Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF 16mm f/1.4 lens to make these photographs. Because of the low light it was necessary to push the ISO to 800 and shoot with a wide aperture. Image post processing was with Lightroom and the Fujifilm ACROS black and white film simulation. I think that the black and white processing really emphasized the moody nature of this second growth forest.

Trail through second growth forest near Comox Lake.
Trail through second growth forest near Comox Lake.

Getting There

From Courtenay, follow Lake Trail Road until it passes under the Inland Island Highway. Look for your next major left which is Comox Lake Road. Follow Comox Lake Road until it crosses Bevan Road (which takes you to the old townside of Bevan)—keep on straight through this intersection and the road becomes Comox Lake Logging Road. Continue on Comox Lake Logging Road past the Courtenay Fish and Game Club. Drive over the bridge just above the Comox Lake Dam and continue on Comox Logging Road until you find a small gravel pullout on the left hand side (see map below).

Entering the trail at this point you’ll take an old decommissioned road through a logged over section until you reach the edge of the forest. Here you have the option of continuing straight or turning right. Follow the trail to the right through the second growth forest. You’re on the right track if you start to see rudimentary wooden bridges crossing streams (used by mountain bikers). Once the trail hits the gravel access road (visible on the Google Map) continue over it and look for a rough road that climbs up hill.

Parking area