Nearby Nature: Vancouver
August 18, 2020
This contribution from John Lee is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.
From the sawtooth crags of Yukon’s Tombstone Territorial Park to the mist-fingered shores of Loch Lomond and the wild woodlands of New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park, I’ve visited some spectacular outdoor attractions over the years. But in recent months, I’ve discovered that far less famous nature spots can be equally rewarding.
Growing up as a city kid in England, parks were for playing soccer and chasing your friends around. But in our current unanticipated period of staying close to home, my partner and I have been slowly exploring all the alfresco areas and green spaces we’ve previously overlooked in our south Vancouver district. It helps that Maggie is an expert birder who knows exactly where to find all our park-dwelling avian neighbours. We’ve seen yellow warblers singing lustily in treetops, feisty hummingbirds swooping like fighter jets and shrieking gulls and crows uniting to chase away nest-raiding bald eagles.
A baby crow. Photo credit: John Lee
Starting our walks in spring also meant watching new life unfurl around us like a fast-paced feathered soap opera. We’ve spotted the empty shells of infant robins, the stuttering first flights of plucky chickadees and a gape-mouthed gaggle of 10 tiny bushtit babies huddled beside watchful (and probably exhausted) parents.
I quickly fell for the bushtits––especially after we found one of their teardrops-shaped nests dangling from a low branch.
A bushtit nest. Photo credit: John Lee
I’d never seen one of these mossy baubles before but I couldn’t believe it was built by such small birds and was just inches from the heads of passing humans. It was hiding in plain sights, like most of the urban nature we’ve been freshly discovering.
Our park visits haven’t just been for the birds. We’ve leaned in close to watch bees at work, each landing for less than a second on lavender or fuchsia blooms yet never visiting the same flower twice. Butterflies have also fluttered past, including some huge yellow and black western tiger swallowtails. When we see one, I stop and whisper as if I’m gazing at a rare artwork in a gallery.
We’ve also been perusing the plant world on our slow-paced nature strolls.
A huge yellow and black western tiger swallowtails. Photo credit: John Lee
From the Pollock-like paintbox of countless poppies to the teetering steeples of gangly foxgloves and the mysterious succulents that spread their alien-like whirls across the soil then burst forth with surprising purple or yellow flowers.
Buying a tree ID book also added an extra layer to our park walks. We previously barely glanced at these lofty locals, but now we search for their distinctive features and read up on their life stories. We’ve loved discovering the rose-like little blossoms on English hawthorns, the gnarly limbs of elderly Garry oaks and the cooling cover provided by massive, broad-leaf chestnuts on hot summer days.
Not surprisingly our walks are far longer than they used to be. And we now see puzzled Vancouverites routinely watching us as we peer closely at dense shrubs and the dark branches of tall trees. It’s exactly the way I used to look at people in parks who seemed to have too much time on their hands. Now I finally know what I was missing.
Cover photo credit: Becky Matsubara
About John Lee
Vancouver-based John Lee has been a full-time travel and feature writer for 20 years. A Lonely Planet guidebook author with 25 titles to his name––including the new Vancouver & Victoria City Guide––his stories have appeared in more than 150 different outlets around the world, including The Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Times, Guardian and BBC Travel. Winner of 15 Canadian and international writing awards, his Twitter account (@johnleewriter) is always active while many of his stories can be viewed online at www.johnleewriter.com.
Thank you to our generous supporters:
This contribution from John Lee is part of Park People’s A Day at the Park series, exploring how city parks shape us. Be sure to check out all of the contributors throughout the summer months.Choose Another Park Story