North Island Explorer: Guide to North Vancouver Island




       May 2006











 A trip up the Memekay River valley.

Wildlife in the Memekay River Valley: A Black Bear, Roosevelt Elk, and a Blue Grouse. 























The Memekay River Valley lies east of the North Island Highway between Campbell River and Sayward. It can only be accessed by logging roads that go straight through the heart of timber country. When you travel on these roads the only other humans you are likely to see are driving logging trucks or operating other mighty machines of the industry. It's this remoteness that makes the region a perfect spot for viewing wildlife.


 When we set out, we were after Memekay ammonites of the Bonanza group that are exposed in a few places along C-branch and the Memekay Main (view of Memekay Valley). These ammonites are wonderfully preserved in hard rock dating back from the Jurassic Period. They are also hard to find as usually only narrow bands are exposed. At one location, we were turned back by active logging signs and, at the other location, we were turned back by snow.  We did manage to find some fossiliferous rock with a single unspectacular ammonite that we left in the rock and some unidentified fossil traces.


So we retreated back towards Sayward and decided to make the day a wildlife photo shoot. And we weren't disappointed. The first animals we decided to photograph were RooseveltElk. We came across a herd of elk on a side road of the C-branch. Somewhat skittish, they let us shoot for a few minutes then headed off into the wood were we couldn't follow. We counted twelve elk, but there were proably more already in the brush out of sight.  I have seen herds with over fifty animals on the back of Mt. Flannigan and I have heard tales of herds with seventy plus animals.


Roosevelt Elk are not the same species of elk encountered in the Rockies. In Canada, they are mostly present on Vancouver Island with a few herds on the mainland. There are also large herds in the Western United States. A 1999 estimate put the Roosevelt Elk population in British Columbia at a stable 3200. With 3000 on the Island and 200 on the mainland, all of which are transplants from Island herds.


Sitting on the side of the road, about 300 meters from the herd we had just photographed was one of the biggest black bears I have ever seen. And considering it should have still been somewhat thin from hibernation, that is saying something.  What's more, this bear had a great big white chevron on its chest, which is very rare for black bears.


We stayed downwind from it and crept into a good position for taking pictures. For a good ten minutes we observed the bear before it took off into the woods has the elk had done. I was surprised  to see this bear eating grass, but it turns out that bears will eat about anything. They really are true omnivores. And when they come out of their dormant winter state, they are hungry.  


Driving a little farther down the road, we saw the statuesque sillouette of a Blue Grouse. Blue Grouse are known around here as hooters because of that deep, unmistakable hooting sound they make. When hiking in the backwoods you often hear that deep 'wump-wump-wump' off in the distance. That's a hooter. When you've heard it a few times, the hooting is easy enough to immitate and you can make the male birds quite angry to the point where they will come and challenge you. It was our hooting that evoked the response seen in the picture above.  By this time it was getting late so we decided to head for home. Between the hooter, the bear and the elk we had a pretty good day photographing wildlife. And I know we'll go back for more when the roads are open because we still haven't found our ammonites yet. (Added: And indeed we did go back and found hundreds of ammonites and clams and other fossils in one fo the richest fossil beds I have seen. But that will be explored in another photographic essay in the future!)


A word of warning: Logging occurs seven days a weeks and you really have to respect the rules of  these roads. The logging trucks come down them at great speed and the roads are often very narrow so when you see a truck, move over, park at the side of the road, and wait for the truck to pass. And travel with your lights on at all times. Also,  access is restricted in areas where there is active logging so keep an eye out for signs. Finally, the farther up the valley you go, the more likely you are to be turned back by snow, at least until late spring.


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