Sunday, April 22, 2012

Like A Rolling Stone

English Bay beach low tide photo by Junie Quiroga
In Vancouver the only time anyone gives any thought to the tides is usually when they are either playing on the beach or going for a walk along the seawall.  When the tide is in (high tide) there's only a narrow strip of exposed sand at each of the beaches with everything otherwise covered by the ocean.  But when the tide is out (low tide) the muddy bottom and all of the ocean's dirty laundry is left exposed, with a jumble of rocks and boulders dominating most of the shoreline.

Low tide rocks west of 2nd Beach photo by Junie Quiroga
Where all the rocks came from in the first place is a geological mystery of its own, though some have obviously been put there by engineering crews to create mini breakwaters and stave off the erosive effect of the ocean.   It's so rocky that, as you walk along the seawall, you quickly realize how fortunate it was that a beach like English Bay even came into existence.  Though in actual fact that beach needed a little help from city hall to get enough sand to make it what it is today.

More rocks and boulders along the seawall
Added to the mystery of these rocks and their random placement is a certain beauty that goes with their wildness. However, what's fascinating about all these rocks isn't so much how they got here but what the locals have done with them.  One example being a painstakingly cleared path someone made just so they could get to the water.

Pathway to the ocean photo by Junie Quiroga

Steps Beach photo by Junie Quiroga
Another is the alcove that has been created by using the stones and a little mortar to reinforce the hill, install some steps to access the beach, and put in some seating.  Obviously quite a collective effort has gone into this project, because the group also cleared an area of the waterfront and used the rocks to build a breakwater. It has become quite a popular spot for folks to gather and socialize and, in the process, they have created a new beach.

Steps Beach photo by Junie Quiroga
Balancing Sculptures photo by Junie Quiroga

But my favourite use of the stones and imagination is the little balancing sculptures that folks are always putting together.  Whether it's making little Inukshuks or creating whimsical creatures, it seems to breathe life into the stones themselves, and builds a unique existence for them out of the randomness of their particular surroundings.  Life is what you make it, even for a rolling stone.

Balancing stone sculptures

Monday, April 2, 2012

We Are Family

Great Blue Heron photo by Junie Quiroga

Often on mornings when the tide is going out there's another group of early risers waiting for me to go for my swim, and that's the local great blue herons.  Without any benefit of tide tables or alarm clocks they seem to know the days and times of low tide and when to get out there and go fishing.  Patient and quiet, unless you happen to get too close which may result in a squawk at you to mind your distance, they stand knee deep in the water taking full advantage of their long legs to wade around and wait.

Great Blue Heron beach photo by Junie Quiroga

Whether they are a little self conscious of their height (standing up to 5 feet with a wingspan of 6 feet) or it's part of their hunting strategy, they are usually standing with their long neck curled up but poised to spring as soon as something edible happens by.  Their long, sharp, bill makes for an excellent spear and, while fish are their preferred meal, they aren't averse to snagging crabs, frogs, or even mice for that matter.  It's a good diet too because on average these birds live for 17 years.

Great Blue Heron in Lost Lagoon photo by Junie Quiroga

Heron nests in Stanley Park photo by Junie Quiroga
What's really intriguing about the Great Blue Heron is their incredible sociability, with groups of them nesting together in a "heronry" that can get up to 500 nests.  For some reason in the year 2000 a group of them got the idea for a millenium project and started nesting in the trees above the Parks Board office in Stanley Park.  Good recyclers, they use the same nests every year once they've done a little spring cleaning, and the heronry has now grown to over 100 nests, though 2010 was the peak year with 145 nests and 175 fledglings being produced.

Heron's tending their nests photo by Junie Quiroga
There are 5 distinct sub-species of Great Blue Herons throughout North America, with most of them migrating south in winter.  But the ones in the Pacific Northwest stay here year round, realizing that just because it rains a lot it doesn't mean you have to spend all that time and energy, not to mention money, heading to South America with everyone else.  Other than the nasty raccoons who are always trying to get at their eggs, living in Stanley Park seems to suit these birds rather well, and they don't seem to mind all the people either. 
Great Blue Herons living the beach life photo by Junie Quiroga
Having English Bay close by with all the amenities also adds to the pleasure of living here.  Where else can you get a water slide, hot dogs and a cold beer right on your doorstep?  For the Great Blue Herons in Vancouver, life is a beach and, with over 100 nests and at least 2 adults and one fledgling per nest, that adds up to over 300 herons calling this place home.  Quite a family indeed.