Fall Nature Highlights

There are many benefits to getting out in nature, and one of them is its positive effect on our mental health. Nature can provide us a place to relax, learn, be mindful, get exercise or socialize. It can help us feel grounded, present or playful.

This fall embrace the changes in weather and experience the many health benefits of nature exploration by looking out for these nature highlights in regional parks.

If you’d like to see raptors, fall is the time to do it. Raptors are predatory birds who have talons, keen eyesight and a hooked beak for tearing meat. Some examples are falcons, hawks and eagles. Usually solitary, these birds gather in large groups to fly high on currents of warm air, getting ready for fall migration. This is called “kettling.” You can often see this amazing behaviour from the Aylard Farm parking lot at East Sooke Regional Park in mid-September to early-October. For the best hawk-watching, hike to Beechey Head in the same park. Seeing these birds soar is sure to boost your mood and give you a sense of wonder.

- Advertisement -

While the raptors are leaving for warmer climates, other birds will be arriving. A fun species to keep an eye on in fall is North America’s smallest diving duck, the Bufflehead. These amazing birds nest in empty woodpecker holes near ponds in the Canadian interior, parts of Alaska and the western United States. Some of them come back here every year to spend the winter on Vancouver Island. Over the past 23 years they almost always arrive on October 15, so that day has been designated “All Bufflehead’s Day.” To spot them, look for crow-sized ducks who dive underwater for up to 12 seconds to feed. Males have a black back and head, with a large white patch behind the eyes. Females are brown with a white cheek patch behind the eyes. While exploring for water birds, breathe in that salty air and listen for the calming sounds of ocean waves.

Another awe-inspiring fall phenomenon are the annual salmon runs. Pacific Salmon return to the streams they were born in to spawn. This brings nutrients from the ocean into the forest because animals like gulls, eagles and black bears feast on the returning salmon but leave their leftovers behind. The salmon carcasses break down and nourish the soil and trees in the forest. To see spawning salmon this fall, check out the lower portions of the Sooke River at Sooke Potholes Regional Park or nearby Charters River. Use your senses to focus on the present moment (but watch out for fishy smells) to maximize those mental health benefits.

Fall is also mushroom season, and a great time to go exploring for these fascinating “fruits.” Like molds and yeasts, mushrooms are a type of fungus. But mushrooms are just the fruit of the fungus. Most of the fungus lives underground as threads called “mycelium.” With over 1,600 different kinds of mushrooms in BC (and possibly thousands more that have yet to be identified), there’s plenty of variety to admire. Although some mushrooms are edible, many are not, and some can be toxic. Use extreme caution and do not pick or eat a mushroom you find in regional parks. Instead of collecting, try counting how many different kinds you can see. Mushroom seeking can be a playful group activity or a quiet, introspective time to be with your thoughts, depending on what you need.

Mushrooms aren’t the only ones “waking up” in the fall. On rocks, tree trunks and branches, look for the many kinds of lichen and mosses we have in the region. Don’t be fooled, lichens aren’t plants! They are basically a fungus and an algae living together. Mosses on the other hand, are plants that do not have roots. Instead, their leaves are often only one cell-layer thick so each cell can absorb water and nutrients from contact with the air. Focusing on little details in nature like lichens and mosses can help you appreciate nature’s beauty and quiet your mind. It can be very soothing to know we are surrounded by so much life.

If you’re interested in getting out and experiencing nature this fall, go prepared with warm layers, rain gear, snacks and water. That way, you can experience both the physical and mental health benefits of nature connection in comfort, no matter the weather. For other great places to explore, check out one of 33 regional parks in the CRD region.

Emma Jane Vignola
Emma Jane Vignola
Emma Jane Vignola is a Park Naturalist with the Capital Regional District.