Wildlife watching in Stanley Park

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Posted May 9, 2013 by Tricia Edgar in Wildlife Viewing
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A Great Blue Heron in Stanley Park watches over the action on a nearby tennis court. The birds have adapted to Vancouver’s urban lifestyle. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist

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Bald eagles are a sight to see throughout British Columbia. In Vancouver, they soar above the activity in Canada’s largest west-coast city. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — April has always meant eagles to me. Although the late fall and early winter bring eagles galore to the Harrison and Squamish areas to sit by the riverside and watch for salmon, April is the season of eagles in the air. So it was fitting that when my daughter and I decided to explore Stanley Park on a lovely day early last month, one of the first sounds we heard was the little whinny of an eagle — a small sound for such a large and beautiful bird. In this lovely park beside Vancouver’s urban core, the city’s natural beauty meets the urban edge, and the results are intriguing for wildlife lovers.

Stanley Park is 1,001 acres of forest that extends into the Burrard Inlet, the water that separates Vancouver from the North Shore mountains. It’s one of Vancouver’s most iconic views: looking up from the park onto the snow-covered peaks, or looking down from the peaks to the harbour and the ocean. Nestled right beside Vancouver’s densely populated West End, the park has beautiful temperate rainforest, urban beaches with mountain views, and a seawall that bridges the two.

If you’re up for a hike, you can walk around the edge of the park. The nine-kilometre (5.6-mile) seawall encloses the park, and it’s a perfect long walk or short bike ride for a warm day. If you’re strolling around the seawall, you’ll spot many of the park’s famous sights, such as Siwash Rock, a lone monument with a Douglas fir on top that stands in the southwest area of the park. And wildlife-watching opportunities abound in this place where the forest meets the ocean.

If you’re out for a walk in the fields early in the morning, you might catch a glimpse of one of Stanley Park’s urban coyotes. Coyotes are quite fond of the rodents that love cities, and they’re a more and more frequent urban sight. Watch quietly from afar. If you come across a coyote unexpectedly, make some noise, look large, and it will likely move away.

Wild Scenes Fill Your Vancouver Vacay

Stanley Park’s eagles are urban sorts, feeding on other birds such as pigeons rather than the fish that other eagles like to eat. Vancouver’s population of bald eagles has increased in recent years. In the spring, these eagles are busy tending their nests, rearing their young. When the eagles leave the nest, they often to move to nearby rivers to feed as the salmon runs begin for the fall.

Stanley Park is also home to a heron colony along Beach Avenue. These Great Blue Herons are prehistoric-looking birds that emit a loud “gronk” when they’re disturbed, but they are also beautiful, standing silent and stealthy on the waterfront as they wait to capture a fish. Herons prefer to nest in areas with little human disturbance, but this heron colony has adapted to the urban life. In the late spring and summer, watch for young herons as they leave the nest and learn how to fish for themselves.

Stanley Park is a fascinating fusion of forest and water environments. During low tide, head to the seashore and you’ll also be able to glimpse many of the creatures that live along Vancouver’s waterfront, such as the purple sea star. Move into the forest, and you’ll hear tiny rufous hummingbirds drinking from salmonberry flowers, and the songs of migratory birds such as the Swainson’s Thrush as they move through the city to the mountains, rivers, and forests beyond.

Tips for Spotting Wildlife in British Columbia

If you do come across wildlife in the park, keep it wild. Never feed or pet a wild animal, even though some of the park’s animals, like raccoons, can seem tame.

The seawall can be busy. There are areas for both walkers and those with wheels. Stay on the correct part of the path, and watch when you cross.

Heading to the park for a bike ride? Make life simple: rent a bike at one of the bike shops close to the entrance of the park.

Check out many of the wonderful attractions inside the park as well. Bring a hamper for a beach-side picnic, or enjoy the fare at one of the restaurants inside the park. Keen to explore wildlife in depth? Visit the local Stanley Park Ecology Society. From famous totem poles to the Vancouver Aquarium, Stanley Park is a great place to spend a west coast day.

Map of Stanley Park

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About the Author

Tricia Edgar
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