Excitement is mounting in the Travel With Kat household as I’m getting ready for my next big adventure – two weeks with my mate Sara from Travel Continuum, driving an RV around British Columbia, starting in the beautiful city of Vancouver. Be sure to follow me on your favourite social media channel be that Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat to keep up to date with our adventures as they happen. And check out the hashtag #ExploreCanada to follow the ongoing journey, for this will just be the start of the Great Canadian Road Trip.
To get us all fired up and raring to go here’s a wonderful article from Vancourite, Johanna Read, about just one of the many reasons why I am so excited to be going back to BC – the wildlife.
When nature swims into the city
As I write this, I hear on the news that a gray whale was spotted just off Stanley Park this morning. He was seen near Vancouver’s Second Beach, a lovely long beach popular with day-time swimmers and sunbathers and with evening dancers and drummers. It’s just a half hour stroll on the Seawall from my flat.
Wild animals in Canada, particularly killer whales in Vancouver, are a bit of a cliché. I remember a popular t-shirt a few years ago. It had a cartoon of an orca plunging out of a manhole cover, highrises towering in the background, and ignored by blasé Vancouverites sipping their enviro-mugs of coffee, traditionally dressed in Lululemon yoga pants and Mountain Equipment Co-op fleece jackets. Funny.
But wild animals do show up in metro Vancouver. It happens infrequently enough that we do get excited, especially when they swim into downtown.
At first glance, Vancouver’s downtown is much like any other: office buildings and condo towers, sidewalks and commuters. But the backdrop on the northwest side is snow-capped mountains. And the fat peninsula of the central business district and downtown residential neighbourhoods is surrounded by water on three sides. Stanley Park sits to the west — an immense urban green space named the best park in the world in 2013 by TripAdvisor (New York’s Central Park came second; we Canadians love it when we trump the U.S.). Downtown Vancouver is beautiful, and despite the sidewalks and skyscrapers, we have a surprising amount of wildlife.
Visitors who swim in
Today was the third time this year whales were noticed in the waters around downtown. A small pod of transient killer whales appeared in June. In March another pod of transients was seen several times all around Stanley Park. They hit all the spots tourists like too — under Lion’s Gate Bridge in the morning (luckily no traffic accidents reported!), into Burrard Inlet past the cruise ship terminal and the Pan Pacific hotel, and by early afternoon they were back in English Bay at towering Siwash Rock, where they presumably headed back out to sea.
Looking toward English Bay from Johanna’s neighbourhood the West End
Last year a pod of about ten Pacific white-sided dolphin came all the way into the False Creek section of English Bay. Had I been in the country, I could have seen them from my balcony.
Sometimes orca can be seen from BC Ferries especially in July and August
I walk on Vancouver’s Seawall as much as I can. This dual-zoned walking and bike path skims the edge of the water all the way from the heart of downtown at the cruise ship terminal, winds around Stanley Park, and does a deep U all the way around False Creek to the southern shore and Spanish Banks. It stretches over 28 kilometers.
Vancouver’s wildlife likes it too. Every time I walk the Seawall, I keep a sharp eye on the water, searching for a puff of spray or the blade of a dorsal fin. I’ve yet to see any cetaceans, but do come across harbour seals fairly frequently. I’ve never been able to snap a decent photo of one though.
Flying friends and foes
Less exciting than whales, dolphins and seals are the most common downtown residents of the animal persuasion, birds. I love seeing the great blue herons — an at-risk species — gazing solemnly out at the horizon near the Seawall (though they are actually focussing on the fish that come too close to their feet and end up as lunch).
I’m less of a fan of the Canadian geese who wander Vancouver’s parklands. As a child, I was chased by one who thought I had bread to feed him. Now I keep my tender ankles at a careful distance. Cormorants, ducks, swans, song birds, grebes, and the Canadian loon (which gave its name to our dollar coin) are all regularly seen.
Even less appealing are the noisy birds. When I return home from travelling, it takes me several weeks to re-accustom my sleep to the cry of the seagulls. They start their “mine, mine” demands ridiculously early on summer mornings.
I will never get used to the murder of crows that chooses a different downtown tree each dawn to shout out the daily news. Luckily they rarely stay on the same street for more than one day. In nesting season, though, crows will swoop the heads of pedestrians when they deem us too close to the tree where their babies are growing. And they’re smart enough to remember the faces of the people they don’t like. Shiver.
Wild animals of the four-legged variety — racoons, skunks and squirrels — are seen on city streets at least a few times a week. Occasionally downtown’s human residents hear coyotes, but they are rarely seen. Black bears make regular backyard appearances on the North Shore, though, and sometimes even a cougar scares residents.
We have a polar bear swim every new year’s day at First Beach on English Bay. But that’s just cold-blooded people, some in funny costumes, not actual polar bears as my Brazilian friend assumed!
Downtown it is dexterous raccoons, bushy-tailed squirrels, and shy skunks who are our regulars. The skunks in my neighbourhood are known to be very polite, quite used to the high pedestrian traffic in the West End, one of the densest neighbourhoods in North America. It is so unusual for one to spray that whenever we smell his distinctive odour, neighbours wonder aloud to each other, “I bet it was that nasty Pomeranian on the corner that scared it”. Despite their reputation for courtesy, I was late for a date once when I chose to let one finish snuffling for grubs rather than venture too near him on a narrow part of the sea wall.
In Vancouver we do get excited about whales and dolphins, though we pretty much ignore the rodents and birds (except when the crows are in swooping mode). But occasionally a wild four-legged friend ends up downtown and Twitter and Instagram show just how excited we can get.
A few weeks ago, #DowntownDeer (yes, he got a hashtag) was photographed all over Vancouver’s downtown peninsula. A teenage deer was seen swimming from the North Shore toward downtown that day; likely #DowntownDeer’s origin story. (Yah, I didn’t know deer could swim either).
After getting his photo taken all over downtown, #DowntownDeer eventually found himself in the more appropriate green space of Stanley Park. He’s still there, but still seeking Instagram fame. Just today @GiadinaBaldes instagrammed a photo of #DowntownDeer hanging out with a fisherman on the Seawall underneath Lion’s Gate Bridge. Perhaps he was contemplating swimming back to the North Shore and finding his parents?
Whether they swim into downtown for a visit or live here permanently, Canada’s wild urban animals may be a cliché. But it’s a cliché we love all the same.
Words and photography by Johanna Read unless otherwise stated
Johanna Read is a freelance travel writer and photographer who’s lived in six Canadian cities on the edge of nature, and visited more of them than she can count. She now spends much of her time travelling abroad but calls Vancouver home. She hopes to repeat her 2014-15 feat of visiting six continents in twelve months, but Canada’s incredible natural environment will always be her first love. Johanna posts links to all her writing and photography on TravelEater.net. Follow Johanna on Twitter and Facebook.
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