by Emma Jane Vignola
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: November 2018
Winter is here offering unique nature experiences unrivalled by any other time of year. Nothing compares to the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of winter, when plants and animals have buckled down to outlast the cold. It can be tempting to stay home this time of year, but you’ll be missing out on seeing some amazing wildlife and experiencing beautiful places as you’ve never experienced them before. Here are some nature outing ideas to inspire you and your family to get out in nature this winter, and some tips for your winter outings.
Have you ever been seaweed hunting at Island View Beach Regional Park? Winter is the perfect time to give it a go because winter storms wash up all kinds of colourful and unique seaweeds onto the beach. There are three main types of seaweed to look for: green, brown, and red. Seaweeds are not a plant but a type of algae. They are called macroalgae because they are larger than their microscopic counterparts called phytoplankton. There is usually no shortage of new seaweeds to find. Did you know there are over 650 species of seaweed off the North American coast? British Columbia also has the highest diversity of kelp in the world! So next time you’re looking for something to do on a winter day, consider heading out to the beach to see what you can find.
Although the maple and oak leaves have fallen, the forest at Francis/King Regional Park is still a magical place for a walk. The leaves on the ground are now food for another type of organism: fungus. Unlike plants who can make their own food, fungi must get their food from dead organic matter. Fungi are mostly made up of small thread-like structures that produce mushrooms as their “fruit.” Look for mushrooms on the ground, on rotting stumps, on dead leaves, or on branches and trunks. If you look carefully at Douglas-fir cones on the ground, you might even find a Douglas-fir cone fungus that grows nowhere else. Bring a small mirror with you on your mushroom walk so you can observe the underside of mushroom caps. Remember that some mushrooms are very poisonous, so never pick, eat, or touch a mushroom.
Winter is a great time to go birding at Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park because many marine birds and ducks spend the winter here. You might hear the chirping of chestnut-backed chickadees in the forest, or the chatter of kingfishers as they fly over the trail down to the water. In the mudflats you might see dabbling ducks like the mallard or the gadwall. In the saltmarsh you may spot diving ducks like buffleheads and mergansers. Down by the ocean look for diving birds like cormorants and loons. Remember that you don’t need to know every species to have a good outing. Most of the fun is in spotting the birds and observing what they do. Bring binoculars if you have them, and see how many different kinds of birds you can spot.
Now that you have some winter nature outing inspiration, here are some tips to keep you and your family comfortable and warm on your nature outings. The key is to be prepared. Nothing ruins a lovely walk or outdoor experience like being cold. Make sure everyone layers up with warm tops and bottoms and rain or snow gear. Appropriate footwear like gumboots or warm hiking boots are also a must. Gloves, a warm hat, and warm socks are always a good idea, too. Plan to be warmer than you think you’ll need to be and carry an extra sweater or blanket with you just in case. Like any other time of year, it’s good to have snacks or a packed lunch on hand, and maybe a thermos of hot chocolate or apple cider if you really want to wow the crowd. It can also be a good idea to plan shorter outings in winter if you’re concerned about keeping everyone comfortable.
If you want to get your family outside in a Regional Park this winter, check out the CRD’s interpretive program schedule and join a CRD Park Naturalist on an outing in one of our Regional Parks. Visit crd.bc.ca/parks-events.
Emma Jane Vignola is a Park Naturalist with the Capital Regional District.
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