If you want to roll all your New Year’s resolutions to get fit, healthy, and happy into one super-resolution, look no further than this column. Taking a walk on the wild side is proven to improve mental and physical well-being, and it can be done without going far from home, so your wallet and the planet will not suffer. Nature in the Lower Mainland is highly seasonal, so follow this guide to see some of the most awesome sights of the year. Just please remember to respect nature and give wildlife peace and space to survive.
January: Who would have guessed that a family of wild river otters is hanging out at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park? Get there early in the morning for the best chance to see these lithe and energetic fish-eating animals. A stroll around the park’s seawall should also produce views of great blue herons, goldeneye ducks, and maybe a raccoon or two.
February: Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island in Delta is a great spot for winter birding, and the best place in Canada to see wintering black-crowned night herons. They are often perched in bushes near the slough, on your right after the shop. If you buy a bag of birdseed, you can hand-feed chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches. The sanctuary is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and there is an admission fee; dogs are not permitted. Dress for the weather and take sandwiches and a hot drink to eat in the warming hut. A free guided walk takes place on Sundays at 10 a.m.
March: For a close-up look at waterfowl sporting their brilliant spring breeding plumages before they head north, go to Piper Spit at Burnaby Lake Regional Park. The boardwalk onto the shallow lake is a great place to see and photograph many colourful bird species. For the energetic, a longer woodland trail around the lake provides a chance of seeing woodpeckers and early spring migrants, and maybe even the local bobcat.
April: The spring shorebird migration through the Fraser River delta reaches a peak in the second and third weeks of April, so head down to Brunswick Point dyke trail, at the far end of River Road West, Ladner. For best viewing of the sandpiper flocks, which can reach 60,000 to 70,000 in a day, go an hour or two before high tide and watch as the rising water brings the birds closer to shore. The flocks move in twisting clouds over the salt marshes as they are chased by a hunting peregrine falcon or merlin.
May: Pitt Lake is a lovely place for a spring hike. Surprisingly wild, yet close to urban centres, the Grant Narrows area has cottonwood groves around quiet lagoons where warblers, flycatchers, and wood ducks nest in summer. There are long dyke trails with views of the mountains. Ospreys usually nest on pilings in the lake, and black-tailed deer and black bears may be spotted from the viewing tower.
International Migratory Bird Day is this month, and a number of activities take place, organized by community groups and municipalities. Last year, the black-capped chickadee was voted Vancouver’s favourite bird. Which bird will win this year? Follow the candidates as they vie to win votes on Twitter!
June: If the early summer weather is making you yearn for a trip out of town, consider carpooling up to Manning Provincial Park. Black bears will be coming out to feed on the lush new grass, and cubs could be seen. Colourful wildflowers bloom in the alpine meadows, and chipmunks and ground squirrels abound. B.C. Nature and Hope Mountain Centre organize an annual Bird Blitz at Manning based at the group campsite, with lots of participants willing to share their birding knowledge.
July: Summer brings long days and mild temperatures, ideal for a mountain hike. Head for Whistler to see marmots and pikas among the remnant snow and ice on Whistler Mountain, or go up Seymour, Grouse, or Cypress on the North Shore, to be entertained by grey jays stealing your peanuts, ravens wheeling overhead, and well-camouflaged grouse lurking at the trail side. Even when wildlife are quiet, the smell of the coniferous forest and the breathtaking views are worth the climb.
August: This is the best month to be on the water and a prime time for viewing the southern resident orcas (killer whales) that frequent the Salish Sea. A sighting of these spectacular animals always excites even the most experienced of nature watchers. As well as orcas, ferry passengers, boaters, and island visitors often spot harbour seals hauled out on rocks or swimming in the sea, and harbour and Dall’s porpoises hunting fish offshore.
September: Migrating birds are heading south throughout September, and this is the best time of year to spot rarities. Sometimes songbirds, flycatchers, or shorebirds from Russia and Asia go astray, especially if they are juveniles, and fly east towards the B.C. coast instead of south down the coast of China. When this happens many of us get the “twitcher” bug (the urge to chase up rare birds). Join in the fun by checking websites such as bcbirdalert.blogspot.com for details of what and where birds are being seen.
October: B.C.’s spectacular salmon can be seen in local streams and creeks as they come in to spawn. For a really close-up view, try Weaver Creek Spawning Channel near Harrison Mills, where sockeye, chum, and pink spawn this month. October is also a good time for learning about fungi, as a wide variety of species appear in the woods after the first rainfall of autumn. Check your local naturalist club for fungus forays with experienced leaders, as this is one aspect of nature where mistaken identification can be fatal.
November: The snow geese begin to arrive in October, and by November, tens of thousands can be seen feeding on farm fields and flying over the Fraser delta, particularly around Westham Island and the Richmond foreshore. Waterfowl are also abundant at Boundary Bay this month, and winter high tides bring them close to shore. Watch for eagles, falcons, and northern harriers hunting over the marshes and big flocks of dunlin (a type of sandpiper) flocking over the water.
December: Round out the year by participating in a Christmas Bird Count, when Vancouver, Ladner (Delta), Victoria, and White Rock vie for supremacy in Canada. After that, it is time to relax, sort your photos, and plan your next year’s adventures in nature.
Follow this schedule and you will be assured of a happy, nature-filled year!