Vignette: Lighthouse Park, 1 May 2022

Another weekend had come to an end, and without having ventured out on a hike, we both needed a dose of nature to top up our senses before plunging into the busyness of a working week. Lighthouse Park almost always fits the bill for a place that feels a little wild – wild enough to leave the bustle of the city behind, to lose ourselves in the quiet of the old-growth forest, and to absorb the tranquility of the sea. At least, on a day like today when the wind wasn’t blowing.

Flora
The subtext to visiting the park again only a few weeks after our last visit was to check on the progress of the wildflowers. This spring has been a cold one, and while I hoped to see more flowers, I was not particularly surprised to find that the starflower were only just pushing up their leaves. Columbia lilies had grown some in the past few weeks but were still only green stems decorated with collars of half-a-dozen thin leaves, and only a few buds were beginning to form. I searched a spot among the starflower and salal where I had seen coralroot in previous years and was pleased to find a small deep pink shoot, just beginning to unfurl. Only later when viewing the photograph I took did I notice the presence of at least two more pale pink stems pushing up through the moss. While most of the fawn lilies were finished and on their way to forming seed pods, there were still a few late-bloomers looking majestic, for once not nodding in the breeze on this wonderfully still evening. A splash of deep yellow caught my eye at the base of a small cliff: a patch of tiny, chickweed monkey-flower, the first time I’d noticed it in the park! Their flowers are tiny, barely the size of a fingernail.

Further along our path, we found trailing blackberry just emerging, while out on the bluffs the Saskatoon berry was flowering profusely, the bright white petals standing out so clearly against the surrounding green. Out on the rocks at the West Beach, the death camas was nearing full bloom, with pyramids of creamy yellow flowers atop green stems. Were there fewer than in previous years? I hoped not. Seeing the buds of one patch, I was struck by the similarity with those of common camas. It shouldn’t have been a surprise – the clue is in the name, after all – but it was definitely a moment when I went from knowing something in principle to understanding it in reality.

Fauna
Maybe it was the light – calm and overcast – but it seemed that the colours of the birds were more vivid than usual. The soft vermillion crest of the ruby-crowned kinglet – more aptly named a firecrest in Europe – glowed intensely as the bird bobbed on the ground only a couple of metres from us; the black and white striping on the head of a white-crowned sparrow looked as though it had been painted so precisely using the most brilliant white and the deepest black; a spotted towhee whose ruddy flanks were richly coloured stood perched on a branch calling out a trilling “shreee-ee-ee’ to its neighbours. Unsurprisingly, the flying jewels of rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds flashed their intense greens, oranges, and pinks as they flitted among the remaining salmonberry blooms, the thrum of their wings loud in our ears as we stood enraptured.

My reflexes are simply not quick enough to capture the fleeting moments that created these brilliant impressions with a camera, but I don’t regret that as they are seared into my memory, and I hope that by writing these words the memories will endure. I did venture to capture a loon that swam close to shore, and took advantage of a relaxing seal floating next to the rocks.

As we walked through the forest, a nearby – and unseen – squirrel fired “pew; pew; pew” warning shots of disapproval in our direction.

But perhaps the greatest sighting of the evening was the glimpse of the small black dorsal fins of harbour porpoises. It takes patience to spot them, and sometimes that patience is enforced, as Maria sat on the rocks looking out to sea while I hopped around in search of a photograph of the lighthouse with the dramatic clouds above. In so doing I had missed them surfacing close to shore, and although disappointed I hadn’t seen them I was delighted that Maria had, especially at such close quarters, and especially for a first sighting. We sat together for a while, hoping to see them again and were rewarded with over a dozen distant views of the porpoises surfacing, often in pairs, as they swam back and forth off the corner of the park. A couple of passing boats threatened to disrupt the peace and disperse the porpoises, but to our surprise we noticed at least three groups surfacing in the wake of the boats’ passing. We caught sight of a line of three vortices where they’d surfaced again not 50 metres off shore, their bow-waves evident on the surface of the water as they swam away from us. My attempts to photograph them were not a success, but neither were they a total failure and I’m content with the fact that I came home with a record of a couple of these moments.

Having witnessed the sunrise as we greeted the start of the Celtic summer, it was quiet satisfaction that we wiled away the final moments of the day in such serenity.

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