As the capital of British Columbia, the city of Victoria offers a great many interesting options in the way of dining, entertainment, recreation, culture, history and other travel experiences.
However, it’s also teeming with opportunities to enjoy nature and natural history – and right in the city, too. There are some great parks, nature sanctuaries – and even some indoor venues where nature lovers can sate their hunger for all things wooded and winged, furry and finned. And some of the experiences are pretty hands-on!
Several city parks offer great bird-watching opportunities. A trip to Beacon Hill Park is highlighted by a view of the heron rookery located in the park. During a spring visit there, before the young birds fledged, I watched them squawking in their nests while their parents flew back and forth to supply them with food. They are fairly high up, so a good pair of binoculars helps you enjoy the sight; ditto, a camera with a longer lens can help you capture the moment in photos better than those taken with a smartphone camera.
Cattle Point in Uplands Park, located on the city’s Oak Bay suburb, provided plenty of bird-watching opportunities, as well. During a couple of visits there, I watched a pair of killdeers on their nest on the rocky ground not far from where the ocean waves lapped against the earth; black oyster-catchers fishing for their food; and a heron wading through slots in the rocky shoreline, searching for some tasty tidbits as the tide began to rise, bringing in some foods, taking other foods away.
The city’s gem for seeing wildlife, though - especially for bird-watchers - is Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary, located not far from the University of Victoria. I enjoyed a leisurely walk around the lake’s perimeter trail, encountering songbirds, waterfowl, turtles, frogs, and dragonflies during my morning excursion. The sanctuary also features a nature house, where you can stimulate your senses with their interpretive displays, discover nature up-close, and even visit a live bee “house.” Then, if time allows, you can browse the natural history reading room.
There are several must-see indoor locations for nature-lovers visiting the city, and without a doubt, the Royal B.C. Museum’s natural history department is included in that list. I spent an afternoon wandering through it, enjoying its life-like nature dioramas of different BC landscapes, immersing myself in some of the interactive exhibits, learning about nature and the natural history of Canada’s western-most province. I could easily have spent an entire day absorbed in its hallways and exhibits.
And while on the topic of interactive experiences…
The Victoria Bug Zoo is a great place for kids and adults alike. It literally is a “hands-on” museum where children (and big kids, too!) are encouraged to “handle” some of the live bugs on display – under the guidance of one of the tour leaders, of course. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a big green bug that looks like a leaf crawling all over your hand. I’m not really a “bug” person – and there are a couple of those insects at the zoo that I don’t want on me anywhere, despite the guide’s assurance it’s safe. Hey, handling one bug is enough for one day for me, thanks!
At the other end of size scale from tiny bugs sits the giant aquatic wildlife: whales. I enjoyed a brilliant afternoon of whale-watching with Eagle Wing Tours, one of several local tour companies that offer whale-watching excursions. The weather gods smiled on us, giving us a bright sunny day with blue skies; so did the nature gods. It did not take long after sailing out of Victoria’s harbour before we spotted whales.
First, there were the orcas we encountered, a large pod of them, swimming not far off from our boat as we cruised along through the Salish Sea in Victoria’s coastal waters. Orcas are always cool to see, but for me, the highlight of the trip involved seeing humpback whales and their huge tail flukes rise out of the water just before one of their dives. It’s one of those spectacles of nature I never tire of, no matter how many times I watch it.
Sun, wind, whales, and the sea – it’s a great way to enjoy nature on any visit to Victoria.
IF YOU GO:
There are several ways to get to Victoria…
BY SEA: BC Ferries (www.bcferries.com ) runs several trips a day from Tsawwassen, as does the V2V Luxury Cruise line, (www.v2vvacations.com) with its fast service between downtown Vancouver and Victoria.
BY AIR: Air Canada, WestJet, Harbour Air, Pacific Coastal, and Alaska Airlines all fly to the B.C. capital.
Whale watching: www.eaglewingtours.com/
Royal BC Museum: https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/
Swan Lake: http://www.swanlake.bc.ca/
Victoria Parks: https://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/residents/parks/
Victoria Bug Zoo: www.victoriabugzoo.ca/
PHOTOS by John Geary.
1. Heron in nest
3. Marsh wren
5. Humpback whale tail fluke
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