Wetlands update from the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve

First light on the Garry oaks. (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

First light on the Garry oaks. (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

November 27, 2015 | by Ren Ferguson | 0 Comments

The morning was a beauty, with mist rising from Quamichan Lake illuminated in the rich sunrise. I was in for a treat. As I walked through the fields past huge Garry oak trees, I saw a fine black-tailed deer buck with shiny antlers and muscles bulked up for the rut. He was following a doe and they looked lovely in the light, with the steam of their breath hanging in the air.

Ancient oak (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

Ancient oak (Photo by Ren Ferguson)



As I came to the wetlands, I found them almost unrecognizable since my last visit in December 2014. The amount of new plant growth was stunning! Within a minute I heard the grunt calls of Virgina rails coming from one of the wetlands that were built in the fall of 2014. I got up on a mound and stood still, hoping for a look at this elusive bird.

There it was! The rail popped out of the edge of the vegetation and was walking slowly through a muddy opening. I got my bins (binoculars) on it and the colour saturation in the yellow-orange sunlight had a stunning effect on the exquisite plumage of this secretive wetland denizen. Wow!

Early morning on the preserve. (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

Early morning on the preserve. (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

Unfortunately I didn’t have long, as it suddenly bolted and ducked back into the cattails and grass. I waited awhile, hoping to see it again but instead two marsh wrens appeared in a bush nearby and scolded me. I finally decided to move to another dirt mound closer to where I last saw the rail.

I clambered up on the mound and immediately flushed a Wilson’s snipe, followed immediately by the rail. It flew across the water to the other side of the pool and dove into the tangle. Wow, I thought, that is three wetland-related bird species all in a matter of 15 minutes. Very exciting indeed!

I kicked myself for not bringing my camera, although a decent shot of the rail would have been unlikely. I was happy to get such a great view.

Beautiful wetland — built in the fall of 2012. (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

Beautiful wetland — built in the fall of 2012. (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

I scanned the wetlands again, when a gnawing sound close by drew my attention. I saw the tip of a reed canary grass moving in the same rhythm as the sound. Suddenly the grass dropped straight down about three inches. The gnawing started again and once again the grass dropped. Some critter was cutting it into lengths.

Dew and seed head art (Photo by Ren Ferguson)

Dew and seed head art (Photo by Ren Ferguson)



I imagined it to be a townsend’s vole but I couldn’t see for the thick grass. After the third or fourth cut, it pulled the remaining length of stalk down by six inches. I had never witnessed this before. I wished I could have seen what creature was at the lower end of that stalk of grass!

A big thank you to all the staff and volunteers for creating a new home for them.

As the saying goes, “Build it and they will come.”

Wetland and stream restoration has been happening on the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve since 2012 with a host of funders and contractors, and more is being planned for the future. The small wetlands referred to in this blog were designed by Tom Biebighauser and Robin Annschild and built by Robin Annschild and Greg Smith of CLS Tractor Service on behalf of the BC Wildlife Federation and with funding from the Government of Canada's National Wetland Conservation Fund.

About the Author

Ren Ferguson Ren (formerly Karen) Ferguson is an avian survey specialist, nature soundscape recordist and naturalist living on Salt Spring Island, BC.

Read more about Ren Ferguson.

More by this author »