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Stanley Park Windstorm

Ten years ago today, a massive windstorm devastated Stanley Park. Hurricane-force winds off English Bay levelled 41 hectares of forest, about 10,000 trees in all, some of which were more than 500 years old. It was the most violent windstorm to hit Stanley Park in 40 years.

Although it was overwhelming to see the devastation, the forest was long overdue for a regeneration. The wide open spaces changed the look of parts of the park and increased the diversity of both plant life and animals. Woodpeckers, for example, are now thriving. More than 15,000 trees and shrubs were planted by park staff and volunteers. I was walking near Prospect Point recently and it struck me how tall those young trees are already.

I was out of town on December 15, 2006, but I remember taking a walk through the park on Christmas Day — as much as it was possible to walk through the park since every trail was blocked by fallen trees — with my mouth open wide in shock. The seawall was also extensively damaged and remained closed for some 18 months until the repairs could be finished and the cliff tops above the seawall stabilized.

This photo is of a tree that came down near the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park. It lies near where it fell, trimmed of its foliage, and has been left as a memorial to that storm. It is now a popular photo stop for tourists, who I am sure have no idea why it is lying there.

Georgia Street Tree

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Northern Shoveller

One bonus about summer being over is that it means there are only a few more weeks to go until the return of the winter birds. I haven’t seen any sign of them yet, but they’ll be here soon and are most welcome.

This is a Northern Shoveller, one of the dabbling ducks that like to hang out at Lost Lagoon. I myself haven’t seen them that often, but that might be because I first mistook them for the much more common Mallards. From a distance, their colouring looks quite similar. Upon closer inspection, the beaks are longer than a mallard’s and are a noticeably different colour.

Northern Shoveller

Skiing at Cypress

Cat Track 1

Yesterday was the last day of the ski season on Cypress Mountain ― and what a season it was! I can’t remember when I’ve seen as much snow on the mountain as I did this year. Total snow accumulation of close to ten metres and a base of almost four metres made for some spectacular skiing.

Collins Top

Not all years are alike on our local mountains (thank you, climate change), so I do not take a good ski season for granted. Cypress Mountain was the venue for the 2010 Olympics Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard events, but the conditions that year were close to disastrous. That snow had to be flown in by helicopter to make the mountain competition-worthy got a lot of media attention. And last year the snow conditions were just as bad, if not worse.

Upper Collins

If you are from Vancouver, you’ve probably been skiing since before you could walk, but for those of us who grew up on the flat prairie, hurling oneself down a mountain doesn’t come as naturally. I finally decided I should give skiing a try after I spent a week hiking in the Swiss Alps with an Australian who could not stop talking about how much he loved the sport. But upon my return to Canada, and after my first few feeble attempts at skiing down a mountain, I quickly realized I badly needed expert help and should take some lessons.

And then … I promptly moved to Toronto and spent a decade there, where, yes, skiing takes much more effort than when you live in a city surrounded by mountains. (No, Blue Mountain does not count. When a friend from Collingwood showed me where she learned to ski, I laughed. And laughed and laughed.)

Lower Collins

And so, after moving back west, with the urging of a co-worker who told me she was over the age of 40 when she learned to ski and assured me I could too, I found me some courage and signed up for the Adult Learn to Ski Program at Cypress. The program was a great bargain: five lessons, five full-day lift tickets, and five full-day rentals. Plus one night a week of night skiing for the entire season.

And here’s the thing I was thrilled to discovered: ski lessons are nothing like your grade school phys ed class. You remember those.

Howe Sound

Howe Sound as seen from Lion’s Express Chair

No, ski lessons at Cypress are much different. The instructors are careful, considerate, and skilled. (After all, it’s in the resort’s interest to make sure you have fun ― they want you to come back.) I do think it helped me that I was familiar with the sensation of sliding on slippery surfaces, thanks to all those lunch hours spent on my elementary school’s outdoor ice rink. When the instructor told me to do a “hockey stop,” I knew what he meant and could do it on my first attempt. But more than all that, learning how to ski was just so much fun.

Mount Baker

Mount Baker as seen from Black Mountain

The instructors begin by having you slide down a short incline in front of the ski lodge ― just a few metres to start. You move on to a longer incline, and before you know it, you’re on the bunny hill and learning how to turn.

After my first couple of seasons, I bought some second-hand skis and now, every year come December, I regularly check the ski report. The best are the blue bird days ― a brilliant day of sunshine after an overnight snow fall. Fresh powder is what you want. And then there’s spring skiing, which some years ― like this one ― can be awesome.

I know I’ll never be a great skier. No black diamond runs for me. But with 53 runs ― the longest is 4 kilometres ― and a vertical drop of more than 600 metres, there’s plenty on the Cypress Mountain to keep me challenged.

Vancouver can be a miserable place in the winter because of its rain. But all that rain in the city translates to snow on the North Shore mountains. So every winter, when I moan about how much it’s been raining, I only have to look up at the mountains and know that it’s going to be a great ski season.

Barring an early season Pineapple Express, of course.

Cat Track 2

Au Revoir, Paris

Five years ago today, I boarded the London-bound Eurostar at Gare du Nord in Paris. It was my last day after spending three months in the city.

Three months is a long time. Even so, I remember that last week as a frantic one because I was running around trying to do everything I wanted to do and see everything I wanted to see before it was time to leave.

One of the privileges of spending a winter in Paris is getting to experience scenes like this one. This particular street corner is opposite Père Lachaise Cemetery in the 20e arrondissement.

Paris Snow

Deer Lake Park in Winter

Deer Lake Park Winter 1

So remember when I told you how Deer Lake Park in Burnaby was an all-season park and I intended to go back and explore it some more? Yeah, I know. I forgot too.

Oops.

Deer Lake Park Winter 2

I’m hanging out in Solo again, which means I have no excuse to not get myself back to this park. And so, one afternoon last week when there was fresh snow on the ground, I went for another walk with the friend who introduced me to Deer Lake Park.

It was stunning. I’m rather partial to my own park (that would be the one they call Stanley), but whenever I get a bit uppity about the park in my backyard, something or someone reminds me of how many fabulous parks there are all over Greater Vancouver.

Have a look at what I saw that afternoon.

Winter Wonderland

Cypress Snowy Trees 1

Last year around this time, I was bemoaning the lack of snow on the North Shore mountains. The ski season proved to be a washout ― one of the worst ever.

Cypress Snowy Trees 2

This year, the snow conditions couldn’t be more different. The North Shore mountains received a record amount of snow in December, and the three local ski resorts are reporting their best holiday season ever. The quality and quantity of snow we’ve received thus far this winter promises to give us one of the best ski seasons ever ― quite the contrast to last year.

The mountain where I play was operating at capacity the entire Christmas break. I witnessed those crowds for myself yesterday when I was up there to go snowshoeing with some friends. I’ve never seen anything like it at Cypress Mountain.

Cypress Snowy Trees 3

But for all the chaos, once we got going, it was like we’d passed through the Wardrobe Door and entered Narnia. It was certainly a winter wonderland. And that is what I love about Cypress: as busy as it gets, once you’re on the ski runs or the snowshoe trails, you have the mountain almost to yourself ― the resort is that big.

And it’s only a 20-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. I, for one, certainly don’t take that kind of wilderness access for granted.

Here are a few of the many photos I took yesterday. I kept stopping my friends so I could take yet another photo, although by the end of our snowshoe trek I did wonder aloud how many photos of snow-laden trees one might need.

Maybe just one more.

Whiskey Jack

Through My Lens: Robson Square Ice Rink

Robson Square Ice Rink

Robson Square Ice Rink was looking mighty festive tonight. I wasn’t the only one who thought so ― check out the line of people on the left side of the photo. They’re all waiting for their turn on the ice.

Through My Lens: Freezing Fog

Freezing Fog

The meteorologists call it freezing fog.

I call it get outside and take some photos.

American Wigeon

American Wigeon

This handsome fellow is an American Wigeon ― another water fowl that is already settled in for the winter at Stanley Park. The male ducks are identified by their white foreheads and the patch of green behind the eyes. I see these dabbling ducks most often in Lost Lagoon, but have also noticed them foraging close to the seawall in both English Bay and Burrard Inlet.

Wood Duck

Woods Ducks 1

A couple of years ago when I wasn’t working much and had time to spare, I helped my brother out by taking his one-year-old daughter for the day every couple of weeks or so. My home isn’t set up for napping toddlers and so, after lunch, we’d go for a long walk in her stroller. We both got some fresh air, and she got a decent nap.

Invariably on those afternoons, I took my niece to Lost Lagoon to see the ducks. That’s when I first noticed the incredible variety of duck species in Stanley Park ― something I had never paid attention to before. At the time, I thought it was due to the spring migration.

Fast forward a couple of years to my Florida holiday, which is when I first began to think there might be something to this birding business. I mean, hey, birding involves three things I absolutely adore: the outdoors, photography, and (oh yeah, baby) lists.

After that Florida trip, I began to pay more attention to the birds in Stanley Park. I discovered that English Bay and Burrard Inlet (aka my backyard) is an IBA (Important Bird Area). I also discovered that the ducks I noticed during the long walks with my niece weren’t in the midst of their spring migration, but actually spend the entire winter in Stanley Park.

In short: the best time to go birding in Vancouver is during the winter months.

And so, another sign that fall is well and truly here is the return of our wintering water fowl to Stanley Park. I saw my first Wood Duck of the season last week when I was ambling around Beaver Lake.

Of all the ducks that spend their winters in Stanley Park, the Wood Duck is the prettiest of them all, thanks to its vibrant colours and markings. Unlike most ducks, Wood Ducks like to hang out near wooded areas, which is why the best place to spot them in the park is along the brushy perimeters of Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon.

Woods Ducks 2

I don’t take my niece to see the ducks at Lost Lagoon anymore; she outgrew her stroller, no longer needs a nap, and now lives in another province. But here’s a pro-tip from a novice birder: if you have the chance to explore Lost Lagoon during the winter, grab it. You’ll have it all to yourself, except for, you know, the other birders.