The rushing cascades of rainy Strathcona Provincial Park

Strathcona Park is the biggest park on Vancouver Island and the oldest provincial park in all of British Columbia. The park is in the central island, west of Campbell River and encompasses the Elk River Mountains. At 250,000 hectares, there are lots of opportunities for hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Lady Falls in Strathcona Park

I took a trip there in the fall last year after the busy summer season was over and despite the rain, it was a beautiful trip. The park is home to the alpine centre of the island and a large remnant of preserved old forests of fir and hemlock. Wildlife in the park includes the Vancouver Island marmot, Roosevelt Elk and the Vancouver Island wolf as well as cougars and black bears (though we didn’t see any!).

A stream meandering through the forest

As a mountainous park, Strathcona is home to countless waterfalls and lakes, large and small. We stayed in Gold River as it was a bit cold for camping and it was a nice scenic drive to the park from there. With all the rain, it was not great weather for birding, but it was great for the waterfalls!

The main road through the park hugs the shore of Buttle Lake, the source of the Campbell River. Much of the landscape, including Buttle Lake was carved by glaciers 20,000 years ago with the exception of the mountain peaks. At 120m deep, Buttle Lake is a classic glacially carved lake; longer than it is wide, over-deepened in the middle and lying in a U-shaped valley.

A highlight of the trip was Myra Falls, both upper and lower, which lies on Myra Creek and flows into Buttle Lake. Its a short walk to Lower Myra Falls from the parking area, but its a spectacular view of the fall that will leave you wondering what the upper falls could possibly look like. I can only imagine how nice it would be in the summertime, too. The falls were just roaring when we were there; I imagine beautiful cascades in the summer. (A quick google search will show you the falls at a lower flow.)

Lower Myra Falls at high flow in November

The hike to upper Myra Falls is quite a bit longer. The trailhead is at the end of the road after passing a surprising and conspicuous copper mine (it started operations before the park). The trail takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to the waterfall, and is rewarding once you reach the end even in the rain!

It was an enjoyable trip I’d recommend to anyone coming to Vancouver Island. There are a lot of different things to see and I’d love to go back and explore the Forbidden Plateau in the future, as well as visit Della Falls, the tallest waterfall in Canada.

Finding salmon in Goldstream River’s annual salmon run

Douglas Fir trees at Goldstream Provincial Park

We went to Goldstream Provincial Park last weekend to check out the salmon run and the waterfalls (now that its rained a decent amount around here!). Goldstream Park is particularly noted for its 600 year old Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees, the popular hike up Mount Finlayson and, of course, the annual salmon run in the autumn.

First, we stopped briefly at Niagara Falls on Niagara Creek (though why it is named this I don’t know!) which was looking very nice after all the rain. Its much less impressive in the summertime during our usual drought.

Niagara Falls, Goldstream Provincial (BC) Park
Pacific Wren
a beautiful Belted Kingfisher (female)

Then, we headed off to Goldstream Falls, a much less-visited and quieter area with a longer walk to access the falls. Along the way, I heard and then spotted a Pacific Wren among the brush. As we walked along the rushing creek amid the green trees, a spot of blue moved through the branches and landed on a mossy tree branch. A Belted Kingfisher – she remained still long enough to photograph; a rare occurrence for the birds I like to call hummingbirds of the sea (okay or lake or stream) because they move so fast.

Goldstream Falls

I’d hoped to see some Bald Eagles and other raptors (or even a bear!) at the riverside waiting to feast on salmon, but mostly it was gulls and ravens. At Goldstream Falls, a surprise awaited us. In the pool below the cascade were hundreds of salmon who made it to their destination!

Salmon gathered in the pool at Goldstream Falls

They reached the end of the road. Some of them were trying to leap up the waterfall and continue upstream but to no avail! I wonder if it is discouraging to them to know they are going to become nature’s buffet but I suppose they are unaware…Check out the jumping salmon on video at Goldstream Falls below.

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The lost waterfall, ammonites & an American Dipper

On a search to find the hike to Benson Creek Falls and Ammonite Falls near Nanaimo, my partner and I walked through the forest listening for the sound of flowing water. After a summer of drought, the creek was running pretty low and the falls turned out to be only a mere trickle. We weren’t even sure we found the right waterfall.  Unfortunately, the trail signs at Benson Creek Falls Regional Park are not all that well marked and there is no signed map at the parking lot.

However, we still managed to have a nice walk and found some other surprising things instead. Its not the first time one of our hike hasn’t gone to plan for whatever reason, and for the most part, we tend to look on the bright side. Even if we miss what we came to see, its usually still an enjoyable walk and time spent outside.

Falls run dry with little rain over the summer

Its a pretty steep descent heading down to the stream bed and at one point there are nice ropes to help you down. I could see it being very slippery after a good rain. Once we reached the creek, we soon found a small, dry rock outcrop where  a waterfall might be during the winter. The rocks here are part of the Cretaceous (145 to 65 million years ago) Nanaimo Group – basically a group of sedimentary rocks which were mostly deposited as a marine environment. That’s why there are so many marine fossils in the rock when you get further upstream in the creekbed.

A little bit of waterfall cascading down into a lovely pool

In fact, that’s how Ammonite Falls gets its name – because of the ammonite fossils that can be found in the rock here. Ammonites were essentially ancient ancestors of cephalopods (think octopus or squid) that lived on earth 420 to 65 million years ago, some of them growing up 2m in size! At the end of the Cretaceous period, they went extinct along with the dinosaurs.

While I sat on the rocks enjoying the lovely pool at the waterfall’s bottom and geeking out looking at the fossils, we suddenly spotted an American Dipper at the bottom of the waterfall! My partner frequently sees these little songbirds while out paddling whitewater, for which I am insanely jealous of him, so I was very excited to see the dipper on my walk!

Highlight of the day: an American Dipper skipped up the rocks on the outcrop

The dipper bobbed his head and skipped up the slippery rock wall nimbly and quickly. He reminded me of a chickadee because he almost never sat still for a photo! The comparison is fair, I suppose, since he is a songbird, after all.

We watched him for some time as he made his way up the waterfall, bobbing his head this way and that. I noticed his eye blinking frequently as it would go white and then black and then flash white again and the flashing of white really caught my attention. It turns out, the white is actually the Dipper’s eyelid and not its third eyelid as I (and many others) would assume given their aquatic nature.

But then, wildlife is so full of surprises and interesting new things to learn, it is one of the greatest joys in watching birds and other animals. So while we may not have reached the proper waterfall we set out to see, we still got to see some interesting things. To watch and enjoy the Dipper yourself at home, view my video below.

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Birding highlights of the Canadian Rockies Part 2: Vancouver to the Columbia River Valley

Following my overview of some birds I saw on the Canadian Rockies trip I took in April, part 1 was the birds I saw in and around the parks themselves. Part 2 is what I saw en route from Vancouver to the Columbia River Valley including some birds and other sights. Driving from the chaos and traffic of Vancouver, we took the scenic route through the Coast Mountains via Whistler on the Sea-to-Sky Highway past Stawamus Chief and Mt Garibaldi.

Shannon Falls near Stawamus Chief (below) south of Squamish, BC

Standing out above Howe Sound and the highway, Stawamus Chief is a granite monolith akin to Half Dome in Yosemite. Nearby Mt Garibaldi is a 2,678m high stratovolcano. It is the northernmost volcano of the Cascade magmatic arc which also includes Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker (Mathews and Monger, 2005).

Stawamus Chief
Mt Garibaldi

Coming down from the snowy Coast Mountains and onto the flat dry interior, we arrived at our halfway point – Kamloops, BC. As part of a semi-arid region reaching down to the deserts of Nevada, it is a stark contrast to the green west coast.

It certainly brought back memories of the Nevada and Utah desert with prickly pear cactus, sagebrush, Ponderosa Pine and yes, even rattlesnakes (Yep, rattlesnakes in Canada). Along with these geographical changes came some different birds, including the Black-billed Magpie and the yellow-shafted Northern Flicker.

Kamloops, BC sits on the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers in the semi-arid interior
Black-billed magpie, Kamloops, BC
yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, Kamloops, BC

East from Kamloops, we headed toward the Selkirk Mountains and Mt Revelstoke, passing through Glacier National Park and the Monashee Mountains via Roger’s Pass to come out at the Columbia River Valley. This valley is one of the few remaining mountain valleys where natural wetlands remain today and it is incredible. I could have stopped here for a few days to explore its rich wildlife. We passed more osprey nests along the river than I’ve ever seen in one area before!

Our first significant snow of the trip in Glacier National Park. We stopped to have a play for a bit. This is more snow than we’ve seen in all of our Victoria winters combined.

In the valley, we stopped at Reflection Lake just south of Golden, BC for a break and some dinner cooked on the camping stove. It was a lovely site to watch birds, with lots of American Coots, Canada Geese, Mallards, Buffleheads, Song Sparrows, Marsh Wrens and Red-winged Blackbirds. It was a lovely and refreshing stop to watch the birds in the late afternoon as the sun began to fade behind the snow-flecked mountain peaks. That night, we would finally reach the Rocky Mountains proper, in Radium Hot Springs and Kootenay National Park.

American Coot at Reflection Lake
a Song Sparrow at Reflection Lake
Looking west toward the Monashee Mountains at Reflection Lake outside Golden, BC

Next up is the final Birding highlights of the Canadian Rockies Part 3 – heading home from Jasper to the Fraser Valley.


References
Mathews, B. and J. Monger, 2005. Roadside Geology of Southern British Columbia.

Related posts:
Birding Highlights of the Canadian Rockies Part 1: the mountains and valleys

Birding highlights of the Canadian Rockies Part 1: the mountains and valleys

As it is already August and I haven’t yet written anything on the birds I saw on my trip to the Rockies in April, I thought I would do so now in a short, fun post of mostly photos of some birds from the mountains and valleys of the main National Parks we visited (Yoho, Kootenay, Banff and Jasper).

Red-tailed Hawk soars high above the Paint Pots in Kootenay NP, BC

On a lovely hike to Wapta Falls in Yoho NP, a stirring in the bushes on a trail spooked me. Fearing a bear or some other large animal, I turned back to see this lovely Spruce Grouse much to my relief and surprise (and embarrassment that he scared me)! This was a new bird for me and I was quite happy to watch him hang out on the edge of the trail.

Spruce Grouse on the trail to Wapta Falls (below), Yoho NP, BC
Wapta Falls, Yoho NP, BC

The trail to Wapta Falls is a good hike and it was a good alternative to Takakkaw Falls, which was still closed for avalanches back in April.

At Lake Louise, I delighted in watching a Clark’s Nutcracker among the Whitebark Pines and the people. To me, these birds are a symbol of the Rockies and I had high hopes of seeing one on my trip. Luckily, this one did not disappoint!

Clark’s Nutcracker at Lake Louise, Banff NP, AB

At Athabasca Falls in Jasper NP, I saw an American Dipper hopping on the rocks along the river below me. I’d only ever seen one of these before on the Qualicum River on Vancouver Island, but at the time I didn’t know what it was. So, I like to count this as my first official dipper sighting. The dipper hunts underwater in fast-flowing streams and rivers and are North America’s only true aquatic songbird (Cornell).

American Dipper at Athabasca Falls (below), Jasper NP, AB

Athabasca Falls is a must-see stop for any trip to Jasper NP and even in April, there were many tourist buses parked up. Its a short walk from the parking lot to see the main falls and along the limestone potholes below.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper NP, AB

En route to the beautiful Maligne Lake in Jasper NP is Medicine Lake. Medicine Lake is a very interesting geological feature on the Maligne River: there is no channel visible at the surface draining the lake. This is because the water drains out through the ground beneath it through sinkholes and limestone caves until it re-emerges in Maligne Canyon (Parks Canada).

Medicine Lake, Jasper NP, AB

Many of the trees surrounding Medicine Lake are blackened, crispy ghosts of a forest that once stood along this strange lake until a wildfire claimed it last summer. Among the charred remains of the forest, there is life. We spied a Bald Eagle nest in a tree just off the very left edge of my photo above. In the photo of the nest, you can see all the dead trees in the background.

Fire-scarred landscape at Medicine Lake, Jasper NP, AB
Bald Eagle nest shows life among death at Medicine Lake, Jasper NP, AB among wildfire damage from July  2015

Our second try hiking the Valley of Five Lakes in Jasper NP after turning around for a grizzly bear was quite a success. Its a beautiful walk past lovely little kettle lakes, and as we’d started later than we planned due to our grizzly sighting we stopped for lunch on the way.

Barrow’s Goldeneye (male, breeding plumage) on the Valley of Five Lakes Trail, Jasper NP, AB

As we sat beside the crystal clear waters of the first lake, a Pileated Woodpecker hopped down between the rocks to my side. He looked a bit curious about us, but he got on with his drinking and had a little bit of a bath and graced me with these photos before he flew away to a nearby tree. I just love these guys and seeing one up this close was such a treat!

Pileated Woodpecker at the Valley of Five Lakes trail, Jasper NP, AB

Stay tuned for Birding highlights of the Canadian Rockies: part 2 which will include some birds from the BC interior and other regions west of the mountains.

 

An alpine adventure to snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes

My blog has been a bit quiet lately as I have been away on an internet-free trip to the Canadian Rockies for the last two weeks. There’s not much I find more refreshing than a trip away to the outdoors without internet. To enjoy some peace and quiet and adventure in the mountains.

We saw glacial U-shaped valleys, glaciers, rushing rivers and waterfalls, quiet braiding rivers and wetlands, ice and snow, lakes frozen over with ice and lakes green with glacial silt.

A lake just outside Golden, BC which lies along the Columbia River in the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench just to the west of the Rocky Mountains.The Rocky Mountain Trench is the longest linear valley in the world.

Where have I been? My partner and I visited the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site including Yoho, Kootenay, Banff and Jasper National Parks. The parks all share borders along the British Columbia-Alberta provincial boundary along the backbone of the Canadian Rockies.

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Canada’s four national parks of the Rocky Mountains along the BC/Alberta border. (Map: Parks Canada)

We’d been planning on this trip for some time and when the chance came for us to go, we decided to make it happen. After we took my dream trip across the American Southwest a few years ago and experienced Yosemite at the height of mid-summer popularity (riding packed buses full of people is NOT my idea of a wilderness experience), we figured late April was a prime time to go as it is still considered the off season. (This means two things we love: no crowds and lower prices.)

The trade-off is cooler and more unpredictable weather. For two people who hate temperatures above about 25C, that is just fine with us. However, we wound up striking it lucky. Spring came early this year in the Rockies and it was unseasonably warm all April with most ski-fields closing early.

Emerald Lake, Yoho NP, BC still partially iced over in the early spring.

Given my new birding hobby, I was quite excited to see new birds we don’t have on the island. After seeing elk and pikas our first time in the American Rockies, I also knew we could expect to see other amazing wildlife, too.

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Pika (left), elk (right) in Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado, US.

Early spring is an excellent time to view wildlife in the mountains and we had some exciting sightings which I will share with you soon.

Until then, enjoy a preview of some of the beautiful alpine scenery we witnessed.

The Kootenay River coloured grey-green with glacial sediment rushes downhill near Marble Canyon, Kootenay NP, BC.
A waterfall in Johnston Canyon, Banff NP, Alberta.
Part of the 325 square km Columbia Icefield along the Icefields Highway, Jasper NP, Alberta.
A beautifully crystal clear lake in the Valley of Five Lakes, Jasper NP, Alberta.