Monday, 16 September 2013

Island Trek - Part 1

For a few days this month I let myself out of the studio for some much needed R&R. It's been a busy year, one way and another, and despite my diligence the list of projects and tasks to be completed doesn't seem to get any shorter. However, sometimes it's necessary to turn off the lights, shut the studio door and walk away.

Artistic inspiration is not something I normally have much trouble finding, but there are certain paces in the world where it is generously abundant. Vancouver Island is one of them and given it's easily accessible from my own part of the world, it's a place I naturally turn to when I need a break. Even the ferry ride from mainland to island can offer excitement, as it did when a pod of orca whales were spotted just half an hour from our destination.

 
Busy feeding on salmon, the orcas put on an impressive show, even if it was at a bit of a distance from my vantage point on the ferry. As I was clicking away, I had my camera pointed at the right place at the right time: the exact moment when one of the orcas leapt from the water in a behaviour known as breaching:
 

In a lifetime of making the crossing between the mainland and Vancouver Island, I have seen orcas only twice before so this was a special way to start a vacation and I took it as a good omen of things to come.

The next day I visited Strathcona Park and undertook one of my favourite hikes. It traverses Paradise Meadows on a lovely 8km route circular that passes through the beautiful alpine meadows and offers stunning views of Lake Helen Mackenzie and Battleship Lake.


One of the cheeky Grey Jays who mooched nuts from me.
They took turns landing on my hand.

A gorgeous view of Battleship Lake.

A silk painting of Lake Helen Mackenzie based on a previous visit.

But one of my absolute favourite parts of Vancouver Island was still a few hours away. A half-day's journey across the island brought me to Pacific Rim National Park located on a peninsula on Canada's extreme western shore and flanked by the sea-faring towns of Ucluelet and Tofino. An ocean-front cabin on Mackenzie Beach, located part-way between Pacific Rim Park and Tofino, was the place I called home for several blissful days.


The weather was, for the most part, spectacular: clear and warm and very unusual for this coastal rainforest region where fog, mist and rain form the normal weather pattern. There have been some gorgeous moments. This was the view from my cabin:

 
I also observed this golden sunset:
 
 
And on nearby Wikaninnish Beach, glorious crashing waves glistened in the sunshine:

 
Shorebirds were scarcer than I expected, apart from plenty of gulls, both juveniles and adults. 


Happily on one early morning trek around Mackenzie Beach I saw my favourites: a family of Pacific Oystercatchers who posed on some rocks.


Oystercatchers are fascinating to me, with their bright red beaks and eyes, and the weird whistling call they make to one another. They often find their way into my art and given this experience I'm certain they will again soon!

An oystercatcher in coloured pencil.
A silk painting of a pair oystercatchers.

There were other beach-goers that I believe had something to do with the lack of shorebirds: the region appears to have gone to the dogs!



Dogs were absolutely everywhere on Mackenzie Beach where several campgrounds, cabins and hotels accommodate canine companions. Since my last visit, it has basically turned what was a quiet stretch of sand into a beach-front dog park. I also observed many dogs in other beach areas inside Pacific Rim Park, very few of them on leashes despite signs warning about the sensitivity of the shorebird population and the fact that dogs have more than once been attacked by the bears, cougars and wolves who populate the region.

Everyone knows I love dogs, but I was disappointed to see such large numbers of them running freely in this pristine place. As is often the case, not all owners were diligent about picking up after their dogs, nor were they sensitive to the fact that other human beach users may not care for dogs, and most were completely oblivious to the fact that what looks to them like harmless fun when their dog chases shorebirds might mean life or death to birds exhausted from long migratory flights or to young birds still gaining strength, not to mention the disturbance dogs cause to ground-nesters like plovers and oystercatchers. I hope that some energy can be put into educating the dog owners and to restricting off leash activities to specific areas. Everyone should be able to enjoy this wonderful place while respecting other users and the region's wild creatures.

I have more photos and thoughts to share from this Island trek, so stay tuned for Island Trek - Part 2 in the days to come. 

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