Lighthouse Park wins again

Lighthouse Park wins again. Last May I remarked on my flora and fauna sightings on a visit to this park, and I was rewarded again today with a few really nice wildlife sightings. No flowers this time – it’s been far too cold recently, and the odd patch of snow still lingers even here in Lighthouse Park. (I think last year’s February sighting of a fawn lily was the exception rather than the rule – I’m sure it’ll be another month before we see those again.)

I walked down to the rocks at Point Atkinson and found a good place to sit and just take in the calm before me. I could see birds out on the water, probably surf scoters, as well as the usual woody debris. A couple of common mergansers paddled off as I approached. But having seen porpoises here before, I started scanning just in case. And – yes – was that a dorsal fin? It was, but it was far away. A kayaker out in the bay had stopped paddling and seemed to be just watching – maybe the porpoises, perhaps just the birds, or seals that I couldn’t see. A few minutes later the kayaker moved on and provided me with a great photo-op as they paddled on by.

Lighthouse Park, 14 Feb 2017

As I was sizing up photos through the lens, I heard a sharp exhale and looked down to see a smooth shape slip under the waves. A moment later the shape resurfaced and I caught a clear view of a Steller’s (?) sea lion, barely 10 metres off shore. I grabbed a photo, and though not the best it was a nice clear sighting:

Lighthouse Park, 14 Feb 2017

I haven’t mentioned the eagles yet. On the drive to the park, I saw and heard a couple, and within moments of stepping out of the car I heard their staccato cries from the treetops. They were very chatty today and I could hear at least four or five calling from different trees. A pair flew out to sea and back a couple of times, and I’ve taken enough eagle photos to know better than to bother with distant shots. However, on one of their returns, they approached on a line almost directly over me, so I sized them up hoping that I’d get a couple of decent shots as they passed.

And then they did this:

Lighthouse Park, 14 Feb 2017

Cool or what? I remember watching a pair of eagles go talon-to-talon in (ironically enough) Porpoise Bay on the Sunshine Coast many years ago.

And so onto what was (for me) the star attraction. Now, it must be said that harbour porpoises are pretty low key performers and it’s perhaps true that my best photo is a little underwhelming: four dorsal fins in close proximity. What I can’t capture is that they were close enough to hear them exhale as they surfaced. And that was magic. Plus I had the rocks to myself at this point.

Lighthouse Park, 14 Feb 2017

It was a great excuse to find a comfy rock and watch the porpoises get closer to the park as they followed the outgoing tide. I’d seen them a couple of times before, but hadn’t stopped long enough to really watch them. I estimated there were at least half-a-dozen individuals in the group I was following, and there may have been a second, smaller group nearby (with another 2-3) but it was hard to tell.

The porpoises continued out towards the strait, and I didn’t see them again after the boat from the Vancouver Police marine unit went by. Time to move on and I turned my attention to the lighthouse itself. I hadn’t actually noticed the old WW2 bunker facing across to Tower Beach at UBC before. I wandered on to the lighthouse lookout where one of the eagles was standing guard on the weather vane. Here I also encountered a huge flock of dark-eyed juncos, and stopped to watch (and listen to) a small group of nuthatches.

Lighthouse Park, 14 Feb 2017

Lighthouse Park, 14 Feb 2017

Finally I took a trail that I’d not taken before: the west beach trail. I’d noticed a lot of photos on Instagram that showed the lighthouse from the west and it makes a really nice photo. Which is how I ended up with this shot:

Lighthouse Park, 14 Feb 2017

Possibly my favourite of the day – those clouds! – though one detail I really like about the photo is the cormorant. Photographically done for the day, and after a brief visit from a river otter, it was time to head back to the car and home.

Salmon season

One of the things I was most excited about when moving to Vancouver was the chance to see the kinds of salmon spawning that I’d previously only seen on nature documentaries. My first salmon run was at Goldstream Provincial Park near Victoria way back in 2004, and even now I can vividly remember my first impressions: the smell. As soon as we got out of the car the stench of rotting fish was overpowering. Still, we persisted and spent an hour or so watching the salmon spawning and the various birds (mostly seagulls) going in for the eggs up and down the creek.

Fast forward a dozen years and we’ve been to Adams River to see the huge sockeye run in 2010, as well as Capilano River closer to home to watch coho and chum salmon make their way back to the hatchery. In fact just a couple of weeks ago I was up at the Capilano hatchery watching the coho run, and local anglers try their luck. One fisherman succeeded in spectacular fashion, landing an enormous coho.

Capilano Canyon, 12 Oct 2016

Capilano Canyon, 12 Oct 2016

Capilano Canyon, 12 Oct 2016

But what caught my eye this year was the news about the chum salmon. These are sometimes known as “dog” salmon, as they’re not regarded very highly when it comes to eating, and so they are food for the dogs. A number of tributaries of the Brunette River – itself a tributary of the Fraser – have seen the largest returns of chum salmon in many years. One of those tributaries is Still Creek, which drains into Burnaby Lake but whose source is near the intersection of Grandview Highway and Renfrew Street in Vancouver. It was big news a few years back when the salmon first returned to this creek. Imagine, an urban stream being a spawning ground for salmon!

And so on Tuesday morning, I spent a couple of hours casing out suitable places to look for salmon. I was lucky on my first check: Guichon Creek right on Canada Way across from BCIT, where I saw one recently-deceased fish and a spawning pair. Unfortunately I spooked the pair and they swam off upstream. I switched my attention to Still Creek where it turned out to be much more difficult than I expected as much of the creek flows through industrial parks and is mostly off-limits to the public. Even then, trying to find street parking was a challenge. Note to self: take your bike next time!

But right where the above Vancouver Sun article said to look near Natal and Cornett Streets, I found a spawning pair just downstream of a culvert. Further downstream there were a few more single fish as well as a couple of dead ones. The peak spawning had definitely passed, but I was happy to find these few hangers-on.

Still Creek, 8 Nov 2016

I must have spent a good half hour walking up and down this stretch of the creek to look for salmon. In the end I moved on to another section of the creek in Burnbay and found a few more, bringing my total for the day to about a dozen. Not bad, I thought.

I took a few video clips as it’s nice to see the movement of the fish and to hear the running water, and merged them into the 44-second video below:

Next up, it’s eagle season!