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Exploring Stanley Park in Vancouver - Plants, Animals and Nature
Nature in Stanley Park
Stanley Park is located in Vancouver, British Columbia. It's one of Canada’s most famous city parks and is a wonderful place to observe nature at any time of year. The park is located on a peninsula projecting into Burrard Inlet and occupies an area of 405 hectares (1000 acres). It has a variety of habitats for walkers to explore: carefully tended grass with cultivated flowers, shrubs and trees, a seawall path which offers great views and access to beaches, and trails through forests filled with hemlock, cedar and fir trees. Many different animals can be found in each of the habitats.
Summer is an ideal time to go for walks in parks, especially for nature lovers. Cultivated and wild flowers are in bloom, birds and other animals are active and busy, the days are long and the weather is often pleasant. Wilderness and country parks are beautiful, but city parks are more convenient to visit for most people and can be great places to take an enjoyable nature walk.
Some city parks are beautiful in winter as well as in summer. Stanley Park is one of these parks. The mild weather in Vancouver means that many animals in the park are active all year long. Evergreen plants are beautiful at any time. Buds and catkins open early in the year when many other places in Canada have snow.
Stanley Park is located on a peninsula that juts out into Burrard Inlet.
Stanley Park is a wonderful place to take photos. I always have a camera with me when I visit the park. Unless otherwise stated, all the photographs in this article were taken by me.
An Overview of the Park
Stanley Park was opened on September 27th, 1888. It was named in honour of Lord Stanley, who was the Governor General of Canada at the time. The park is easily reached from downtown Vancouver by walking, cycling or driving. There is also a bus route to the park.
Stanley Park offers playgrounds, picnic areas, miniature train rides, rides in horse-drawn carriages, a water park and an outdoor swimming pool. It also contains spots that are very popular with photographers, including viewpoints and landmarks such as totem poles, Siwash Rock (a 32 million year old sea stack), a large western red cedar tree with a hollow trunk, and many monuments and sculptures. The Vancouver Aquarium is located in the park and is a major attraction in its own right.
One of Stanley Park's most important functions is to act as a nature preservation area. The park is large enough to contain areas for both nature study and recreation. It's a very enjoyable place to explore.
Exploring the Rose Garden at Stanley Park
The Rose Garden
The Stanley Park Rose Garden contains around 3500 rose plants as well as many other attractive ornamental plants. The rose garden is located next to the Stanley Park Pavilion, a historic building erected in 1911 which is now a restaurant.
Stanley Park also contains a rhododendron garden as well as flower beds distributed throughout the cultivated part of the park. The plants are attractive to look at all year, but a late spring, summer or early fall visit is needed in order to see most of the flowers in bloom.
The Shakespeare Garden is located next to the rose garden. It's an arboretum containing trees mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. Plaques with the relevant quotes are placed on the appropriate tree trunks. Besides being attractive, the arboretum is a nice place to cool down on a hot day.
Seashore Life - Green and Purple Shore Crabs
The Stanley Park seawall travels around the perimeter of Stanley Park. The path on the seawall is 8.8 km (5.5) miles in length and is a very popular walking, cycling and inline skating route. The seawall travels by both rocky and sandy beaches. The sandy beaches are nicer for sunbathing but the rocky beaches have the most wildlife.
If you walk on a rocky beach and lift up a rock in the intertidal zone you will often discover little shore crabs, which quickly scuttle away to hide when they're disturbed. The crabs are just a few centimetres wide – a 5 cm specimen is a giant - and are green, yellow, grey, red, brown or purple in colour.
Shore crabs feed mainly on diatoms (unicellular algae encased within a silica shell), sea lettuce (a type of green seaweed) and other green algae. They may also scavenge animal remains and eat animal eggs.
Rockweed is a very common brown seaweed that coats the rocks on the seashore. The blades of rockweed have inflated bulbs at their tips. The bulbs contain gas, which enable the blades to float or stand erect when the tide comes in. This orientation exposes the blades to more sunlight than they would receive if they were flattened under the water. This is important for the seaweed because it makes its food by photosynthesis. Photosynthesis requires light energy.
Rockweed bulbs have bumps on their surfaces at certain times of year. The bumps contain reproductive structures, which release the male and female cells into the water. After the cells join, the fertilized egg forms an embryo which attaches to a rock and grows into a new seaweed.
Another common sight on the rocky beaches of the park is the acorn barnacles. Barnacles have plates at the top of their shells that open when the animals are immersed in water. The plates act like trap doors, allowing feathery appendages to emerge. The appendages rhythmically sweep tiny creatures into the barnacle for it to eat. If you look for barnacles covered by shallow water you should be able to see this feeding action.
Other Intertidal Animals and Seaweeds
Three common birds seen on the beaches of Stanley Park are the glaucous-winged gull, the northwestern crow and the great blue heron. Since 2001, great blue herons have nested in trees outside the Vancouver Park Board's office at the edge of Stanley Park. The birds are often seen fishing in the park.
You may also discover other creatures on the Stanley Park shore, including limpets, mussels, clams, periwinkles, ribbon worms, sea stars (starfish), sea cucumbers and green and red seaweeds, depending on the habitat and on how low the tide is. In the subtidal zone the floats of bull kelp can be seen bobbing on the water surface. From the beach you may see swimming or diving cormorants and ducks.
If you’re interested in seashore life, it’s important to look at a tide table for the day of your visit to see when low tide is occurring and how low it’s going to be. The lower the tide the greater the variety of seashore animals and seaweeds that will be visible.
The Great Blue Herons of Stanley Park
Another Nature Site to Explore at Stanley Park - Beaver Lake
In addition to the cultivated area of the park, the seawall and the beaches, Stanley Park has several other attractions for nature enthusiasts. Most of the park is covered by forest. Squirrels, raccoons, skunks and coyotes may be seen from the forest trails or, in the case of skunks, smelled.
Beaver Lake is a natural body of water located near the centre of the park amidst the trees. It's a popular site for waterfowl, frogs and human visitors. It also contains fish. Bald eagles patrol the sky around the lake. Barred owls, little brown bats and northern flying squirrels visit the lake area at night. In addition, beavers can sometimes be seen in or around the lake, as the name of the lake suggests.
Beaver Lake is gradually being filled with soil, plant debris and water lilies in a natural process. It's estimated that if this process continues the water will have gone within about twenty years. The Vancouver Park Board Is planning a restoration project for the lake, however.
Beaver Lake at Stanley Park
Lost Lagoon is located near the main Stanley Park entrance, on the left side of the road if you are approaching the park from downtown Vancouver. It contains fresh water today but was once fed by ocean water traveling with the tide from Coal Harbour. The lagoon is now separated from the harbour by the causeway that passes through Stanley Park.
Lost Lagoon is a bird sanctuary. It contains swans and waterfowl. Many other types of birds visit the trees and shrubs that border the lagoon and the trail that travels around the lagoon. The Lost Lagoon Nature House has nature displays and information to educate and entertain visitors. The nature house is run by the Stanley Park Ecology Society and is located in the former boathouse at the southeast corner of Lost Lagoon.
Nature Scenes at Stanley ParkClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Visit to the Vancouver Aquarium
The Vancouver Aquarium
The Vancouver Aquarium is the largest public aquarium in Canada. It has a large collection of tropical and temperate fish and invertebrates, including sharks, as well as amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Some mammals at the Vancouver Aquarium are sea otters, sea lions, dolphins and beluga whales.
The stated goals of the aquarium are animal conservation, public education and research. There are daily whale and dolphin shows. Over the years the shows have gradually changed from showing animal tricks to demonstrating much more natural behaviors and educating the viewers as they watch the demonstration. The aquarium offers a wide range of school programs. It also cares for rescued marine animals until they can be released back into the wild.
The Vancouver Aquarium has a gift shop, which people can enter without paying for an aquarium visit. The aquarium also has a café and a snack bar to serve people who are hungry during their visit. The café has a section that can be accessed from outside the aquarium. The aquarium's food is expensive, however, so it might be better to eat elsewhere. In summer the Stanley Park concession stands are open. There are also restaurants in the park.
Aquarium Sea Otters Milo and Tanu Holding Hands
The Joy of Nature Walks
Stanley Park is a wonderful park for nature lovers to visit, but not everyone can visit Vancouver. Perhaps you have parks near where you live that you could explore. Some cities have gardens open to the public as well. Even if you don't have a park or public garden to visit, there may be a trail, forest, field, mountain, pond, river, lake, seashore or museum in your area that would be a great place to take a nature walk. Even walking around a neighbourhood and looking at other people's gardens can be fun.
Nature can be observed at any time of year, but the best time may be in the summer. Even in summer, though, the natural cycle moves on. As the season progresses you will see different plants and animals, or different stages in their lives, in the same area. Nature walks are always interesting!
More Stanley Park ScenesClick thumbnail to view full-size
© 2011 Linda Crampton