North American Trumpeter Swan Conference is on its way ~ Register now!

The North American Trumpeter Swan Society’s 24th Annual Conference will be held in Duncan November 16th to 18th, 2016



Trumpeter Swans – Barry Hetschko

“This is a very special event for the Cowichan Valley” says Paul Fletcher, President of Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society, who goes on to say “experts in swan research and management from throughout North America will be coming to our community. We are honoured to be able to partner with The Trumpeter Swan Society (TTSS) to bring this important event to the valley and to hold it in the Cowichan Tribe’s beautiful Quw’utsun’ Culture and Conference Centre.”

The trumpeter swan, the largest waterfowl in North America once flourished across much of North America. By 1900 they were nearly extinct. In recent decades, Trumpeters have begun a wonderful recovery due to the partnerships and passion of many people, organizations and agencies, with the expert technical support of the TTSS.

TTSS has been North America’s leader of Trumpeter Swan conservation since 1968. For nearly 50 years, TTSS has played a pivotal role in the resurgence of the trumpeter swan population by providing expert science based technical support in most of the major restoration programs. “TTSS’s vibrant “swan network” of researchers, swan managers, and biologists have gathered and shared the best science based information and research to help bring back the Trumpeter Swan in areas where they have not been seen in more than a century,” said Margaret Smith, Executive Director of The Trumpeter Swan Society.

The result of all these efforts is reflected in the continued recovery of the Trumpeter Swan population to an estimated 46,000 in 2010. “But the trumpeter swan population is not out of the woods yet” says Fletcher. “The swans face several threats including climate change, loss of habitat, new diseases, lead poisoning and loss of winter habitat which brings us to the Cowichan Valley,” Fletcher goes on to say. “The overwintering population of trumpeter swans in the Cowichan valley has been trending upwards over the years and has been as high as 1,000 in recent years which is why we chose Swans and Agriculture. Working together as the theme for this year’s conference.


Trumpeter Swans – Barry Hetscko

This theme holds special significance as concerns expressed by local farmers over crop depredation has grown in lockstep with the overwintering swan population in the Cowichan Valley as swans are moving into farmers’ fields as the food supply is exhausted on their former marsh and wetland feeding grounds. A feature of this year’s conference will be a panel discussion on Wednesday evening on November 16th; the panel will include an impacted farmer, swan researchers and wildlife managers.

In addition, there will be an all day field trip on November 17, and a Gala Banquet on Friday, November 18, with keynote speaker Robert Bateman, one of Canada’s most renowned wildlife artists.


Robert Bateman at Ford Lake – Brigit Freybe Bateman

The TTSS Annual Conference will be of interest to people from all walks of life from those who just marvel at the sheer magnificence of these birds to farmers, students researchers, grad students and educators. We encourage people to register early for this conference: to obtain more information about the conference follow this link. Prices on the TTSS website are in American Dollars. To register through the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society in Canadian Dollars please follow this link and click on the individual events in the calendar:



Paul Fletcher, 250 732-0462, 

To register for WildWings events click here.

Cowichan Tribes History and a Western Bluebird Talk this Week

For all event info and registration click here.


Another full week of festival activities is upon us. Today WildWings event-goers were treated to a wild  plant walk with Medicine Woman Della Rice-Sylvester. A wonderful activity for a stunning fall day!

untitled-7024Wednesday morning we will meet at the Somenos Open Air Classroom for a guided walk with Tim Kulchyski, Land and Fisheries Biologist with Cowichan Tribes, to learn about pre-European contact history of the Somenos Marsh. The walk will last from 10am-11:30am and reports are that the weather will hold for us until tomorrow evening.  Some of the things you can expect to learn about are:

  • the Hul’qumi’num’ names of the birds, plants, shrubs and trees of the marsh
  • what plants and resources were traditionally harvested from the marsh
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the cultural and traditional significance of the marsh
  • Understand the impact of development on traditional lands and the importance of preserving ecosystems such as Somenos Marsh

Registration is $10 for adults, free for children and can be made by calling Elizabeth at 250-884-0749 or visiting:

bluebirds-bhetschko-9407Thursday evening is the night to learn all about the Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project from the Cowichan Valley Naturalists who are taking over the project. Presenters Genevieve Singleton and Ryan Hetschko will be talking about the history of the project, analysis of the past five years, and looking ahead at the future of these endangered birds. This is a FREE EVENT and will be held at the Freshwater Ecocentre on Wharncliffe Rd in Duncan from 7-9pm. No registration required.

Art and Mountains and Marshes…Oh My!

The moment we’ve been waiting for is almost here…

WildWings Nature & Arts Festival 2016 kicks off this Thursday evening, Oct. 6th, with the Festival Launch and Art Show Opening. From 6pm to 10pm the public is welcome to come celebrate the natural side of Cowichan as depicted by over 30 Vancouver Island artists. Just Jakes Restaurant in downtown Duncan will be hosting the opening event and the art show until the end of the festival, Nov. 18th. 


Sneak peek of 2016 WildWings Art Show at Just Jakes

The evening will include mood-setting live jazz music, delicious Jakes appies, the newly released WildWings beer and other libations. It will also feature the unveiling of the newly dubbed ‘WildWings Loft’ which will house the permanent WildWings collection, a group of Trumpeter Swan themed paintings commissioned by Lance and Liz of Jakes annually for festival. Each year an Artist of the Somenos is selected to create a feature art piece which is used on the promotional materials for the festival. 

On Saturday, October 8th, we have a special opportunity to get to know a local landmark and popular hiking and mountain biking destination on a new level. The Mt. Tzouhalem Awareness Hike will be led by Ken Elliott, a Cowichan man and native plant nursery owner, who will guide participants up the slopes and along meandering trails. This is a unique chance to soak up some of his wisdom on the Cowichan People’s connection to this special place and learn more about its flora and fauna. Bring water, sensible shoes and a sense of adventure!

Register for Mt. Tzouhalem Awareness Hike here or by phone: 250-884-0749.  $10 adults, kids free. 

On Sunday, October 9th, there is another great opportunity to ward off the turkey coma and get outside with your family on Thanksgiving weekend. Celebrate Somenos Open House Day takes place from 10am – 2pm at the Somenos Boardwalk and Open Air Classroom and 2pm – 3pm at Hecate Park in Cowichan Bay. The presenter list is as follows: 

Kai Rietzel, Executive Director of the Cowichan Land Trust: Kai will help you explore the underwater world of the marsh through aquatic invertebrates AKA water bugs AKA salmon food. Learn about the critters who call wetlands and streams home and what they can tell us about the health of these ecosystems.

Todd Carnahan, Manager of the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre: This roving naturalist with varied interests will be on hand throughout the day to answer all your niggling nature questions. Do you know the difference between a native Hawthorne and a non-native invasive one? If not, ask Todd! 

Derrick Marven, Coordinator of the winter Swan and Goose Count: Birding on the Boardwalk with Derrick is a classic part of WildWings Festival. This local birding legend once compiled a list of over 200 wild birds that have been spotted in the marsh. Bring your binos. (10am-12pm only)


A previous visitor to the marsh

The Raptors Centre: A popular and exciting event that allows a close up glimpse of aerial predators of the marsh ecosystems. Past years we’ve had visits from owls and hawks…Who will show up this year? 

Maria CurtisWeaver of Raven’s Joy Basketry: A Celebrate regular now, the talented Maria will lead a weaving activity with kids using natural material that may be found in the Somenos Marsh.

Paul Fletcher, President of the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society: Got any burning questions about the fascinating history of the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area? Ask the guy who’s been part of the SMW Society since its inception 27 years ago! 

Cowichan Valley Naturalists: Learn how to spot, identify, and count waterbirds on a measured section of Cowichan Bay shoreline. Take part in Bird Studies Canada Coastal Waterbird Survey. Soak in the knowledge of longtime birders and naturalists. This activity is at Hecate Park in Cowichan Bay between 2pm and 3pm only. 

 Kids can pick up their SWAMP STAMP CARD at the welcome table. If they get 3 stamps from different presenters they can enter to win a nifty Native Plant Prize Pack! 

Dress for the weather. Entry by donation.

For other WildWings Nature & Arts Festival event and registration info visit our Upcoming Events Page.

Get Ready for 30 Nature Events over 6 Weeks

Festival Event Listing

October 6 WildWings Festival Launch and Art Show Opening Reception

October 8 Mount Tzouhalem Awareness Hike

October 9 Celebrate Somenos Open House at the Somenos Marsh Open Air Classroom

October 11 Walk in the Woods with a First Nations Medicine Women

October 12 Cowichan Tribes history of Somenos Marsh

October 12 Creating Pollinator Friendly Yards

October 13 Bring Back the Bluebirds Presentation

October 15 Birdhouse Rehabilitation Day in Somenos Marsh

October 15 Backyard Bird Feeding

October 16 Kids Little Big Birding Day

October 17 Cowichan’s best kept birding secret: Chemainus Estuary Walk

October 18 Traditional Pi’kwun (Salmon BBQ) with Jared Williams

October 19 A Walk in the Koksilah Ancient trees

October 19 Winged Migration – Movie Night

October 22 Salish Sea Whales and Wildlife Zodiac Tour

October 23 Cowichan Artisans Who Work with Nature Tour

October 27 Coho Salmon in the Somenos Basin: CWB Speaker Series

October 29 Sip and Spot: Wine Tasting and Bird Spotting Tour

October 30 Hands-on Raptor Experience

November 1 Bird Songs of the Boreal Forest: cradle for billions of songbirds

November 4 The Messenger: Film Screening

November 5 Birding the Bay with the Royal BC Museum

November 6 Basket Weaving with Plants from the Marsh

November 7 Trumpeter Swan Paint Nite

November 9 21st Century Birding

November 13 Coastal Waterbird Count

November 14 Cowichan Wild – Local Wine and Fare

November 16-18 Trumpeter Swan Conference

November 16 Public Forum & Panel Discussion: Waterfowl and Agriculture, Working Together

November 17 Field Trip: Waterfowl and Agriculture, Working Together

November 18 Closing Gala for WildWings Festival & Trumpeter Swan Society Swan Conference

Click here for: Event Calendar and Registration Info

2016 Event Registrations Now Open!


Trumpeter swan photo by Barry Hetschko

Registrations for all WildWings Nature & Arts Festival events are now open. You can read all about the events by clicking on the ‘Upcoming Events’ page link above. There you will find a calendar of events. Click on each event to find out details and registration information. We look forward to celebrating Cowichan nature with you!

WildWings Launch only 3 Weeks Away!

poster-letterWith only 3 weeks to go we are getting very excited about this year’s WildWings Nature and Arts Festival. We are proud to be offering 30 events over 6 weeks this fall. Our events schedule is sure to have something for everyone with a variety arts, cultural and nature events. With a wonderful lineup of presenters and the beautiful backdrop of the Cowichan Valley we can not wait for WildWings to kickoff!

We are also excited to announce that registrations for the 24th Swan Conference are now open! Whether you are a swan expert, swan enthusiast, or nature lover, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to learn about the latest in swan research, conservation, management, and protection. Events run from Nov. 16 – Nov. 18. The Wednesday night panel can be attended by donation.

Click the link to register for the swan conference events of your choice: Register Here

Here’s a list of WildWings events to get you excited too! Registrations start September 21st.


8th annual WildWings Nature and Arts Festival

The 8th annual WildWings Nature and Arts Festival – October 6th to November 18th 2016

Late fall in the Cowichan Valley is a very special time because it marks the return of the Trumpeter Swans and other migratory waterfowl to their overwintering habitat in Somenos Marsh, the Cowichan Estuary and nearby natural areas. This time of year also signals the return of the annual WildWings Nature and Arts Festival.

This year’s festival is an extra special one for WildWings as The (North American) Trumpeter Swan Society (TTSS) is coming to the Cowichan Valley for its Annual General Meeting and Swan Conference. This year’s Swan Conference theme is Swans and Agriculture, Working Together. This event will bring 75 -100 visitors to our amazing valley and will coincide with the closing week of WildWings. Swan experts from all over the world will be presenting their research papers for the visitors and the local public.

While the WildWings Festival does highlight the Trumpeter Swans’ annual return to Somenos and the Cowichan Valley, it also celebrates nature, the arts and culture through public presentations and activities.

Confirmed festival activities include:

  • October 6, WildWings Nature & Arts Festival Launch and Art Show opening at Just Jakes restaurant
  • October 9, Celebrate Somenos Family Fun Day at the Open Air Classroom
  • November 16-18, Trumpeter Swan Conference
  • November 18, WildWings Festival and Swan Conference closing gala fundraiser event at the Quw’utsun’ Conference Centre. The keynote speaker will be Robert Bateman

Public presentations being planned include:

  • Birding at local wineries
  • Artisans who work with Nature tour
  • Basket weaving workshop using invasive species
  • Koksilah Big Trees hike
  • Picnic on Mt Tzouhalen with a local plant and history guide
  • Kids Little Big Birding Day contest and potluck
  • Salish Sea Whales and wildlife ocean tour with Ocean Ecoventures
  • Hands on experience at Pacific Raptors
  • Birdcall presentation by John Neville, a renowned bird song and call recording artist
  • An presentation the Western Bluebird project
  • Backyard bird feeder workshop with Derrick Marven
  • Birds, bees & butterfly friendly gardening with Ted Leischner
  • Medicine plant walk at Bright Angel Park
  • Cowichan nation cultural talk and salmon bbq with Jarod Williams
  • Cowichan Tribes, a lesson in history with Tim Kulchyski, grandson of Simon Charlie
  • And more…..

Stay tuned for more details. Booking starts September 21, 2016


WildWings began in 2009 as the Return of the Swans Festival, changed to the Cowichan Swans Festival in 2011 and finally morphed into WildWings in 2012.

The Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society (SMWS) coordinates the informal WildWings partnership with volunteer help from the Cowichan Valley Arts Council, Cowichan Valley Naturalists, Cowichan Docents and the Cowichan Land Trust.

This year’s festival is funded by SMWS’s fundraising efforts over the past year. The Swan Conference is being funded by North Cowichan, CVRD and the BC Nature Foundation. Special thanks to Lance & Liz Steward who, through their business, Just Jakes, provide space for the festival launch and funds for the Artist of the Somenos artwork purchase.

For more information about the festival please contact the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society Program Coordinator, Elizabeth Bailey, at or 250-884-0749.

WildWings Facebook Art Auction – 2015


As part of WildWings Festival 2015 the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society is holding a Facebook Art Auction. Two artworks, one by world renowned Robert Bateman, the other by popular local photographer Barry Hetschko are currently on the auction block. They are both on display upstairs at Just Jakes Restaurant in downtown Duncan. Both are beautifully framed by Excellent FrameWorks – EJ Hughes Gallery.

Bids on each start at $200. All the money raised from the auction of these two pieces will be used to help us build the new viewing tower at the Somenos Marsh Open Air Classroom. The tower will be tall enough to provide a 360 degree view of the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area and large enough to accommodate a class of school children. It is the final piece planned to complete the educational infrastructure at the Open Air Classroom.

We have $14,0bateman-bank-of-swans00 in the bank already. Please help us reach our final goal!!!!

Bidding is by email ( or Facebook message. Bids will be posted and published on this page as each new bid comes in. The bidding ends November 15th when the WildWings art show comes down.

To participate in the auction please follow this link to visit the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Socitey’s Facebook Page.

Celebrate Somenos Family Fun Day – October 3rd, 2015


Celebrate Somenos is a family friendly open-house style event held each year on the Somenos Marsh boardwalk and at other locations around the Valley. It is the perfect time to visit the marsh for the first time or the hundredth time because we stock it full of all local experts who are itching to share their knowledge about the special ecosystems that make this place precious. See below for events schedule and talk and tours descriptions. It looks like we’ll be in for a beautiful day so come out and join the fun!

*New this year – kids can be entered to win a pair of Bushnell binoculars and a bird book if they take part in three presentations and collect three unique stamps. Pick up your Swamp Stamp Card at the welcome table on Saturday.


CELEBRATE SOMENOS EVENTS SCHEDULE Somenos Boardwalk and Open Air Classroom Somenos Garry Oak Protected Area Cowichan Bay Estuary Nature Centre
10:00 am 







Wildlife photography with Barry Hetschko (10am-2pm) Cattail weaving activity with Maria Curtis (10am-2pm)  Somenos Marsh Conservation Area with Paul Fletcher (10am-2pm)
10:30 am Birds of prey with the Pacific Raptors Center (10:30am-11:30pm)  Western toads with Shari Willmott(10:30-12pm) Garry oak ecosystem tour with Tracy Fleming and Mena Williams (10:30am-12:00pm) 
11:00 am Salmon in the Somenos with Dave Preikshot (11am-1pm)
11:30 am
12:00 pm Birding in the bay with the Cowichan Valley Naturalists (12pm-2pm)
12:30 pm
1:00 pm Birding on the boardwalk with Derrick Marven (1pm-2pm) 
1:30 pm 
2:00 pm End of Celebrate Somenos


Tour and Talk Descriptions

Wildlife Photography with Barry Hetschko: Learn about the principles, techniques and equipment you can use to get great nature shots from well-known local nature photographer Barry Hetschko. B.Y.O.Camera for pointers. 

Cattail weaving activity with Maria CurtisMaria Curtis, longtime weaver, will be leading a kid’s activity in which participants can create a small mat or bracelet. Also learn about upcoming basket weaving workshops. 

Somenos Marsh Conservation Area with Paul Fletcher: Join Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society co-founder to learn about the last 25 years of exciting marsh history including recent changes in land ownership and the ongoing conservation zoning process.

Birds of Prey with the Pacific Raptors Center: Join the Pacific Raptor Centre crew for an exciting talk about marsh predators! They will be bringing a bird of prey with them so this is a great chance to get up close with one of these stunning birds and get all your birds of prey questions answered.

Western toads with Shari Willmott (10:30-12pm): Join this local amphibian enthusiast to learn about local frogs, salamanders and toads!! Information about the exciting Cowichan Valley toad tracking project will also be available. 

Salmon in the Somenos with Dave Preikshot: This local fisheries biologist will fill you in on all the details of Somenos as critical salmon habitat. He will also speak to the citizen-science water quality monitoring project which is ongoing in Somenos.

Garry Oak Tour with Cowichan Tribes Elder Mena Williams and Plant Ecologist Tracy Fleming: Learn about one of Canada’s most endangered ecosystems right here in Cowichan. The guides will give you a walking tour of the Somenos Garry Oak Protected Area sure to intrigue and inspire guests of all ages. 

Birding on the Boardwalk: Join long-time Cowichan Valley birder Derrick Marven for the popular Birding on the Boardwalk event. Derrick will be stationed on the Somenos boardwalk to talk birds with all who join him. B.Y.O.Binoculars if possible.

Birding in the Bay: Join the Cowichan Valley Naturalists for Birding in the Bay from the viewing tower platform near the Cowichan Bay Estuary Nature Centre (also open to visitors). Spotting scope and binoculars will be available for birdwatchers.


How to get there:

Somenos Boardwalk:  From Duncan head North on the TCH. About 1km past Beverly corners pull off to the right at the Somenos Boardwalk and Open Air Classroom. ***Please note that parking will be very limited so do your best to bike, walk or carpool

Somenos Garry Oak Protected Area: Head East on Trunk Rd from the TCH. Turn left on Lakes Rd. Turn left at Trillium Tce. Turn left on York. Rd and drive to the cul-de-sac at the end. This is the meeting spot for the Garry Oak Protected Area tour.


Cowichan Bay Estuary Nature Centre: From Duncan head south on the TCH. Turn left on Cowichan Bay Rd. Turn right and stay on Cowichan Bay Rd. Follow this into Cowichan Bay Village, the nature centre will be on the left.