Friday, September 30, 2011

Spineless of the West Coast Trail

The West Coast Trail on the west coast of Vancouver Island is one of the most remote coastlines you can explore in Southwest BC.   It is a 75 kilometre foot path connecting the towns of Port Renfrew and Bamfield with untouched forest on one side, and nothing but the great Pacific on the the other.  When the tide is out, we traverse around the tide pools, balancing carefully our 40+ pound packs on our backs without slipping on the algae covered rocks.  The absense of heavy industry allows animals to flourish here where you'd be hard-pressed to find within the vicinity of Vancouver.  As Wanderin Weeta points out, invertebrates tend to be the most sensitive to pollution and human activity.  This far away from civilization, I expected to see lots of biodiversity.

It's not often that I see sea urchins, washed up intact, but the pounding surf is quick to toss any weak urchins onto the beach

Amphipod of some sort.  They were larger than the sand hoppers, and didn't seem mobile on land.  This one twitched on the sand, leading me to believe it was tossed out of its native habitat.
About three of our eight days were in the forest.  We took a break by a river one day, and saw this:

My guess (yes, just a guess as I know very little about worms) is that it is a horsehair worm, a parasitic worm that spends most of its life parasitizing an insect like a grasshopper.  It has an amazing ability to take over the mental capacity of its host, causing it to jump into a pool of water at which point the worm erupts from the insects abdomen.  It spends the rest of its adult life in the water, where it can lay up to 27 MILLION eggs.  The eggs hatch, become free swimming, and are ready for any ingestion by any insect drinking from the water.  The life cycle repeats.

Now, back to the non-freaky ocean.

A pool of aggregating anemones

Gooseneck barnicles amongst the mussels and limpets. I've only ever seen these on the west coast of Vancouver Island (ie. never on east side of the island)

A purple shore crab ambivalent to the hikers stomping past him while filtering through the sand

One of the two vendors permitted to sell food to hikers sells fresh crab from his floating restaurant

Not too crabby

One of the largest purple shore crabs I've ever seen.


In grade 5, during a science class segment on marine biology, we were introduced to a bunch of sea creatures (on b&w photocopies) that inhabited the intertidal zone.  The keyhole limpet was the only one that I hadn't seen in the wild up to that point.  Whenever I see it now, I ponder how odd it was that they put such a rare animal on a list of things that school-children should remember.
One doesn't have to hike the entire 75 km of the West Coast Trail to see all of this.   In Port Renfrew is an aptly named, "Botanical Beach" just about 20 minutes from the parking lot, where at low tide, you'll be able to see most of these creatures.

Next post: The Spined of the West Coast Trail

Monday, September 26, 2011

Plants of the West Coast Trail

A leftover non-plant I should've put in the last post:

I've seen these elsewhere, but I've never been able to identify them until now.  They've always reminded me of type of Chinese herb, called "wun yee" in Cantonese, but they're not fungi.  Rather, they are a type of lichen.  The closest image match I could find was Peltigera membranacea.  Note the long tendrill-like rhizomes on the underside that allows these lichens to grow atop a layer of moss, which is a great evolutionary feature to have to outcompete in territory where every inch of rotting wood is covered by moss or other vegetation. I've only seen them in very dense, moist understories on rotting logs.

On to the true plants!  My interest in plants started with berry-bearing plants, as those usually yielded some sort of reward for correctly identification.  Unique-looking photogenic flowers also usually tempt a photograph out of me.  So here they are.

The Salal is one of the more common plants one may encounter on any west coast hike.  The berries are covered with fine hairs, and I've never been tempted to eat them until this trip when I just had a taste.  Not sour...not sweet...just sticky and moist.

Rosy Twisted Stalk
Thought this was hooker's fairybell at first, but I found a better photo online with a closer match to twisted stalk.  The berry apparently has a mild flavour, though I didn't try.

Some ferns do naturally branch, like the maidenhair fern.  Most, do not, so this licorice fern poking up next to the boardwalk immediately caught my attention.

Do you see the face?  Like something out of a Tim Burton movie, I think.

In recent years, I've grown fond of maindenhair ferns because of the distinct shiny black stems and the rounded arrangement of the fronds.  I obviously haven't been observant enough, because there are plenty of other ferns that have black stems, like this:
I can't seem to find other ferns with my web searches that look like this, in this part of the world.  This shall remain a mystery.

Flowers and leaves would place it in the Mint family (Lamiaceae), but I can't find any positive IDs online.

Harry Potter's jellybeans (locally known as False Lily Of The Valley - Maianthemum dilatatum)
The berries are apparently edible, and many parts of the plant were used for medicinal purposes by native peoples.

We saw many destroyed flowers/seeds of skunk cabbage.  Many times, we saw a crunched up seed pod dozens of metres away from the plant, .  Even with a bit of research, I couldn't figure out what animal did this.  Perhaps it was just a pole-carrying hiker.

We let out a collective cheer as we exited the damp forest into this sunny bog

I was excited to see sundews in dense bunches at my feet, most of them flowering in the sunshine of the bog (sorry, no closeups)

At the end of each day, we'd inevitably spill out onto a beach where we'd ultimately set up camp.  This last photo of a petrified dragon (technically a plant) will segue us into the next post descriving my favorite part of the journey, the fauna.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fungi of the West Coast Trail

A month ago, I joined some friends to embark on the ultimate weight loss trip combined with an episode of Survivor.  We did the West Coast Trail.  I took hundreds of photos, and thankfully for you, I will not show them all.  Not all at once, anyways.  So hereby, I present part one of the series, a trip into death and decay, and the life that flourishes as a result. 

Possibly Laetiporus sulphureus
I've never had the patience for fungi identification, but the more interesting forms seemed to deserve a photo, and this one was unique enough that browsing a few hundred photos on Google images turned up this name, so that's the name I'll stick with.

A type of bolete?  Unfortunately, I didn't think of getting a photo of the underside

Gnome Plant
All the photos that I've been able to find of Indian Pipe show its flowers dropping down, and never in full bloom, so I am somewhat doubtful of the ID, though I have found nothing else remotely similar in appearance.  I found these inside a shallow hole of a long-rotten log.  Indian Pipe is actually a plant, and a parasitic one at that, but it's non-photosyntheticness puts it in this category.  **update** Thanks Hugh, this does indeed appear to be a gnome plant.  It's biology seems to be quite related to Indian Pipe, and even rarer.

Bleeding tooth mushroom (foreground)
The spores of the bleeding tooth mushroom settle on rotting carcasses, and continue to extract blood from them long after the rest of the forest has mossed over the body and bones.  At least that's what they want you to think.  In reality, the syrupy red liquid oozes out of the mushroom's pores.  It is not poisonous.  But you're not a vampire, so don't bother.