Habitat & Species

The waters of the Millard Piercy system flow into Comox Bay and adjacent Baynes Sound; which support rearing salmon, herring and other fish species, as well as a world-renowned shellfish industry. The Comox Bay area is recognized as a globally-significant Important Bird Area.

Although its natural hydrology and ecosystems have been degraded by human use, this small watershed is still biologically diverse; it supports highly valuable and endangered habitats…

  • natural springs and rich wetlands
  • unaltered watercourses and rich riparian forests
  • estuary and shoreline

… and fascinating array of resident and visiting species…


Species

  • Salmonids, including Chum, Pinks and Coho, spawn mainly in the lower watershed

  • Cutthroat Trout are found within the upper reaches of some tributaries of the watershed

  • Pacific and Brook Lampreys, Coast Range and Prickly Sculpins, and Three-Spined Stickleback occupy critical niches in this system

  • Freshwater Mussels occur frequently and a variety of aquatic insects provide food for the many aquatic and terrestrial species in the Watershed

  • Three endangered plant species are known to reside in the estuary:

  • 122 species of birds have been recorded in the Watershed by the Comox Valley Naturalists. They include rare Green Herons, Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Caspian Terns and Hutton’s Vireos

  • Butterfly species including Lorkins Admiral butterfly, Satyr Comma butterfly, Millet’s Tortoise Shell butterfly, and the Blue Fritillaria butterfly, have been identified in the watershed

  • Black-tailed deer, Black bear, Red squirrels, Roosevelt elk, mink, beaver, cougar and wolves may be observed in the Watershed

  • Amphibians are found here: Red-legged frog, Pacific Tree frog, Western toad, Rough-skinned newt, Long-toed Salamander, Northwestern salamander, Western Red-backed Salamander, Wandering Salamander

  • Three reptile species make the watershed their home; they are: Common, Northwestern and Western Garter snakes

 


Millard Nature Park Interpretive Installation

– designed, produced and created by Daryl Dancer-Wade

In 2005, the Millard-Piercy Watershed Stewards, commissioned an interpretive installation for the Millard Nature Park. This project consisted of six, four foot by five foot signs which depicted a unique characteristic of the Millard-Piercy watershed ecosystem. This project was made possible by the generous support of the Strathcona-Sunrise Rotary Club, Evergreen-Unilever Foundation, Areas A, B and C of the Regional District of Comox-Strathcona and the province of British Columbia. The Millard Nature Park where three of the signs are located was purchased from the province, by the City of Courtenay. The remaining three signs can be viewed along the Rotary Walkway located in the Millard Estuary. The Artwork The inspiration for the artwork used in this installation was taken from the natural features found in the Millard Nature Park. To capture these characteristics the images were created using layers of fabric and stitching. The background layer was painted with procion dyes. Several layers were then added using appliqué to produce the imagery.

Then and Now

 

 

 

Thousands of years ago the land was much lower and Millard Creek flowed into the sea just below here. If you look closely at the Old Highway, you can see that it runs along a former beach terrace now well above sea level as the land continued to rebound af- ter the last ice age.

You will notice bits of shell in the black soil that forms the ground around you. These are the remnants of an ancient First Nations settlement that formerly existed here. Extensive archaeological exploration and radio carbon dating has found that this site may have been occupied as early as 8,000 years ago, and is likely to be among the earliest First Nations settlements on Vancouver Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Coho Salmon Life Cycle

Salmon life cycle

 

 

The life cycle of salmon is one of nature’s great stories.

Coho are the small stream specialists of the salmon family. Each year, mature coho salmon enter the Millard and Piercy Creeks between September and December to spawn. Female coho can carry as many as 2,500 eggs and will lay them in gravel nests called “redds”.

When the eggs hatch, the coho are called alevin and they will remain in the gravel sustained by the nutrients in their yolk sac. Once this source of nourishment has been utilized, the coho fry will emerge from the gravel sometime in March and April. They will now begin their young life feeding on terrestrial and aquatic insects.

After remaining in the Millard and Piercy Watershed for about a year, the coho, which are now approximately 10 cm in length, will begin their migration downstream as smolts. The coho smolts begin migrating to the Courtenay Estuary in April continuing until late June.

The smolts will remain in the estuary for a few months feeding on larval fish, crustaceans and insects. As the smolts migrate offshore their diet changes to include squid, fish and small bug-like organisms called euphausids. After two years in the ocean the coho salmon reach adulthood and then they return to their natal streams to begin the cycle over again.

 

 

 

Riparian Zones

 

 

The vegetation that grows next to streams is essential to the health of rivers and streams like Millard and Piercy creeks. This streamside ecosystem is called the riparian zone, and is like the lungs and circulatory system of a watershed.

Plants, like sword ferns and salmon- berry and trees, such as Red Alder and Bigleaf Maple, that grow in the riparian zone help to filter sediment and debris, control erosion and regulate the flow of water during times of flood and drought.

They provide fish with cover and shade, keeping the water cool and well oxygenated to support aquatic life. The riparian zone also acts a buffer between streams and the effects of urbanization, forestry and other kinds of human activity.

The abundance of fish is directly related to the quality of this protective habitat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Trees, Nurse Logs, Snags

 

 

As a forest ecosystem ages the old giant trees begin to die. These dead or dying trees called snags or wildlife trees can remain standing for almost a century before falling to the ground.

Snags or wildlife trees are an integral part of the forest ecosystem as they provide habitat for nesting, roosting, denning and feeding for approximately 90 species of British Columbia’s vertebrates. These include woodpeckers, owls, squirrels, weasels, bears and bats, to name a few.

When a tree or snag falls to the ground it creates an opening in the canopy allowing sunlight to penetrate the forest floor. With increased sunlight seedlings begin to germinate and start to grow. One of the best places to grow is on the decaying remains of a fallen tree. These trees can take several decades to rot away.

It is not uncommon to see a row of young saplings growing on an old tree. There is one such nurse log in the forest that surrounds the Millard Creek. Eventually the roots of the young trees will reach the ground, but only one or two will grow to maturity.

 

 

Stratification in Millard Forest

 

 

 

If you look closely at a forest, you might notice the different layers of vegetation. This layering or stratification is an important component in the structure of a healthy forest.

In mature forests there are several distinct layers beginning on the for- est floor and rising to the tree canopy.

Young forests may not show a clear separation between the layers, but as the forest ages the trees grow to create a tall canopy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Succession in Millard Forest

 

 

In the early 1900’s the area around Millard Creek was logged. This is evident on some of the larger stumps where narrow rect- angles were cut into the stump’s sides. These rectangular holes held the springboards so the loggers could reach high enough to cut the giant Douglas Firs.

Due to the inefficient logging practices of the time, the soil was left relatively undisturbed allowing the remaining plants and saplings to continue growing into the forest community you see here today. This regeneration of vegetation is called succession.

Succession is the constant changing of a plant community in a forest ecosystem over a period of at least three hundred years.

There are two types of succession, the first being primary succession which occurs where no vegetation exists.Secondary succession oc- curs in established areas after a disturbance, be it man-made or natural. This forest is a prime example of secondary succession.

There are five stages of succession where the plant community changes over time.

In the first stage the herbaceous plants appear, during stage two shrubs dominate and young tree seedlings become established. In stage three, deciduous trees such as Red Alder and Big leaf Maple form the canopy of the young forest. Stage four is the mature forest where large evergreen species like Douglas Fir dominate the ecosystem and the large deciduous trees begin to die. Stage five is the climax or old growth forest where some trees reach three hundred years or more years of age before dying.

 

 


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