The Thrill of New Discoveries

Stanley Park Great Blue Heron Rookery

If you live or visit Vancouver, sighting a Pacific Blue Heron is as likely as seeing a seagull or a Canada Goose.  Usually, it is one large statuesque and graceful bird alone on the golf course or at the beach during low tide. New discovery today. The Great Blue Heron Rookery is part of my Stanley Park bike route.  Who knew? They have returned to their address at 2099 Beach Avenue, the trees outside The Parks Board building, and apparently have been doing so for 20 years! 

Looking up during a sunny bike ride was not what led to this discovery.  I have nearly made it through all 111 Places in Vancouver That You Must Not Miss, the book by Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies.  This is number 98 and the perfect time to discover it.  The Vancouver Parks Board has installed a webcam ( Vancouver.ca/herons ) for viewing their arrival in March;  courtship in April; egg laying and incubation in May; chick rearing in June; and fledging in July. 

Without the leaves on the trees, you can see SO many nests, seemingly empty.  Then an eagle comes cruising by.  Instantly the sky is filled with masses of our very closest renditions to prehistoric pterodactyls in flight.  Apparently, we are home to the largest urban blue heron colonies in North America.  One third of the great blue heron population in the world live around the Salish Sea aka the part of the Pacific Ocean by British Columbia and Washington.

After the big commotion, the herons return to the nests, but this time assume a far more visible stance.  Some on branches or on the edges of nests.  Some appear to be visiting between the trees.  They have diversions from the tennis courts, the lawn bowling club, and the people staring up at them.  For me, it is the excitement of a new discovery.  How could I have missed this?  I’m looking forward to checking out the webcam at regular intervals and letting all my Wild About Vancouver outdoor enthusiasts about it.

Another discovery is that Stanley Park Ecology Society has started an Adopt a Nest Program to sustain the Pacific Great Blue Heron colony.  It is $54.00 to adopt one nest for a year.  There are over 100 nests in 25 trees in Stanley Park.  I’m excited about doing this with the students at Livingstone Elementary School to support learning in all curriculum areas and build interest in our Twitcher group.  The kids like the name.  Although our sightings are not usually rare, they are equally as exciting when someone can identify the bird 🙂

The COVID-19 Office

The Human Rights Work Continues

One positive change that could emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic is the change in how  we do our work.  People working at home have been exposed to a whole new reality. To work, it is not necessary to be sitting in front of a computer 24/7.  Flexibility in work schedules is allowing people to schedule their days to attend to physical and mental health, as well as get the work done. 

On the common deck of my condo in Kits, my neighbour has run a power cord from the hall and set up the laptop screen to increase visibility of the screen.  He asks if I’m okay with his choice of music.  He is studying to be a pilot.  Sometimes I find him on the deck working as a personal trainer with one of his clients.  He has taught me that to explore angles on the laptop screen and shade it with a shirt to create a visor in order to increase screen visibility.  When I tilt back my reclining chair back, I can see the screen as well as the ocean and the mountains.

Down at Jericho Beach, I watch as the young women beside me tentatively step into the ocean and quickly decide it is just too chilly today.  The phone rings, and one of the young women shifts gears.  She effectively negotiates her business call and makes the commitment to draw up a proposal and have it to her client tomorrow.  As she chats, her friend takes out her computer and gets some work done.  There are no hurt feelings or resentment for not giving her friend her undivided attention.  The social contract allows and expects these disruptions.

I frequently give my son a hard time for not giving his father and I his undivided attention when he comes for dinner or for a bike ride.  And yet, at the same time I’m incredibly proud at how well he is doing with his business.  Clients around the world are paying the bills, manufacturing product or ready to work collaboratively.  Communication cannot be limited to a 9-5 context if you are being responsive to needs.  The phone rings or the text comes through and my son  seamlessly slides into business mode, negotiates the call and rejoins us.  

My cousin has an office job.  Working at home started when COVID-19 hit Vancouver in Spring.  It has just been extended until January.  She has adjusted to the reality that some days includes far more work that other.  She always meets the expectations of what needs to be done in a day.  For the employer, no work space, office furniture, phones, supplies or daily cleaning are required.   The employer has got to have noted the obvious benefits of reduced costs. 

In British Columbia, schools were closed after Spring Break to everyone but principals, vice principals, operating engineers and trades people.  I went into my office first thing in the morning, stood at my desk for hours on end, absorbing all of the new information possible, attending online meetings, planning and problem solving.  I turned my head to pick up the phone and left my office to attend to very specific tasks.  The intense stress exacerbated the muscle strain.  Two things happened to change things up for me.  Nearly all meetings were online so there was less need to dress in my regular work attire.  We were also given direction to leave the school by 3:30 pm to allow the deep cleaning of the school.  This allowed me to ride my bike to school and get some exercise, and some perspective as I rode home along the seawall.  Some phone calls I navigated en-route, and people got use to some huffing and puffing when I reached hills.  Sometimes I just stopped to focus on the situation.  I also stopped to do video-tweets for the students at my school.  It was a refreshing and much needed break.  I was still available for work.

Initially I thought perhaps Millennials were just better at pivoting during this new  reality than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers.  And yet Alex Neve,  Canadian Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, popped up on Facebook with his office set-up in the forest.  It seems to be that people with their own businesses or more job autonomy have been the blade runners in defining these new realities.   Granted some jobs lend themselves to more flexibility.  When schools opened on a voluntary and part time basis in British Columbia in June, educators certainly needed to be onsite more frequently.  However in July when I was facilitating a course for BCPVPA, I transitioned to a work space in my dining room.   Now I have expanded my options.  The side deck or front deck in the shade with the birds, or the common deck with the mountains, ocean and sunshine are working just fine.  This could be the upside of COVID-19 

Twitching 101 & Miracles

A gorgeous day, a set of Outdoor Learning backpacks, some new resources purchased at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, and a couple of primary classes ready to embrace learning outdoors, all conspired to create the conditions for miracles in the Livingstone Garden this week.  We grouped in the library for Twitching 101:

  • Everything in the backpack goes back in the backpack (binoculars, compass, magnifying glass, waterproof notebook, pencil, ruler)
  • If you can’t see through the binoculars, ask a friend for help
  • Take good care of the binoculars and put them back in their special case
  • In Vancouver, the mountains are north – Use this information to check your compass skills
  • The new resources from the Reifel Bird Sanctuary are kept in Backpack #1. Feel free to use them and then return them to the bench in the garden.
  • The birds are most likely to come closer if you are very quiet.
  • There are several sources of food for birds in the garden. See how many you can find.

We converged on the garden.  Nothing close to quiet was even remotely part of our Twitching endeavours.  Yet, our recent Green Thumb Theatre production had brought a new level of cool to “twitching” – the British term for people out in search of rare birds.  In our case, we’re happy with any birds.  Frustrations over binoculars that didn’t work were overcome.  Sea gulls were spotted in front of the mountain view.  All the budding twitchers looked north, some checking the direction with their compasses.  None of the usual “murder of crows” appeared.  The chickadees were scared away from the bird feeders with the commotion.  Then it happened.

“Eagle!”

“Look!”

“The white head one!  It’s an eagle.  It’s an eagle!  Look!”

“A bald eagle.  I’ve seen one before.”

“I’ve never see one but I know they are alive”.

“Look the seagulls are chasing him.”

“He’s circling.  It means something!”

And then the second bald eagle appeared.  More euphoria from the group.  One little girl with saucer eyes, runs up to me with  the laminated Pocket Naturalist Guide shrieking, “But where?  Where?  Where is it?”

I paused to help her find the birds of prey section.  My scanning finger hit the Bald Eagle.  She looked down.  Looked up.  Looked down and looked up again.  And what did those eagles do? They defied logic and flew closer to the noisy kids in the garden.  Perhaps they knew, they were the superstars of our bird watching venture.

“It’s a miracle,” gasped my wide eyed twitcher, still clutching the British Columbia Birds – A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (2017 Waterford Press Inc.).

These are the pinnacle moments every educator strives to experience with their students.  At these times, the joy of the learner is paralleled by that of the educator.  It is miraculous and defines why teachers love to teach.

City Life in a Temperate Rainforest

This blog post is intended for families in the school community to help get students prepared for the rainy season.

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I understand that in the far north, the Inuit people have many words for snow and ice.  Each word indicates an overt or sometimes subtle difference in the snow and ice.  It could reflect the conditions or qualities within the ice and snow.  As a Vancouverite, we see snow as fluffy which translates into not good for snowballs but very pretty.  There is “perfect snowball” weather which translates into good for building snow people, forts and snowballs.  Then there is wet snow which is horrific for driving in and is generally a wet, soggy mess.  There is slippy ice we can see and black ice that forms a slick surface and is hazardous on foot and in the car.  Our vocabulary around ice and snow is pretty basic.

Vancouver is an amazing place to live and is a popular tourist destination because of the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains and the green.   Basically it is amazing because of the water.  It provides an astounding range of things to do and a diversity of plants and animals in our own backyards.  It is a place that beckons us to “Get Outside”.  The reality is this amazing city exists because we live in a temperate rainforest.  The temperature remains mild throughout most of the year.  We don’t have snow and ice very often so we don’t really see the nuanced differences.  What we know is rain.  Throughout the year, it sprinkles, floats down water, drizzles, mists, showers, rains, rains cats and dogs, pours, and sleets.  I challenge you to add to the list of words and expressions to describe our plentiful precipitation.

The question that always comes up is what to do when it rains.  One option is to just stay inside.  I must admit, I love a rainy day when I can curl up with a good book and a pot of tea.  However this is just not a feasible everyday option.  Life goes on, even on a rainy day.  We have places to go and a body that requires activity to be healthy.  I believe there are three understandings to be ready for the rain.

Number 1:  Wardrobe Matters  If you are warm and dry, you are ready for anything.

The standards include:

A waterproof coat, preferably with a hood.  This allows maximum flexibility to do stuff.

Boots.  There will be puddles.

An umbrella.  I have purchased many and have left them all over the city.   I worked at Lost Property for Metro Transit when I was in university and there were hundreds of umbrellas of every size and colour left on busses.  Guess what the most common colour was abandoned in the Lost Property Department?

 Number 2:  Attitude Matters  Regardless of how miserably you complain, it will rain.

 If you choose to be miserable because it is raining, you are committing yourself to a lot of bad days.  When you frown at the world, it frowns back.  Smile and make a rainy day plan.

 Number 3:  Observe Rainy Day Life  Life in the rain is different.  Not better or worse, just different.

 Just after my daughter’s 6th birthday, we went traveling in Italy.  A torrential downpour hit one evening in Venice.  People ran for cover.  Our family was the only one strolling down the street and delighted with the break from the perpetual heat.  My daughter looked up at me and said “Oh, Mommy.  It smells like home.”

It did.  And it was glorious!

Perspective is everything.  Expect rain.  When it comes, dress appropriately and venture outdoors.  Adapt your activities to accommodate the changes.  Running on wet concrete can be a problem.  Find another option.  Going for a walk under a big umbrella is a good option.  Open your eyes and look for changes.  One of the first songs I learned in kindergarten at Queen Mary Elementary School from Mrs. Hicks was “Robin in the Rain.”  There is a reason there is a song about it.  Look how the plants and animals respond with joy to the rain.  Close your eyes and take a big breath and try to describe it.  Look up and notice how the clouds change.

Expect that almost every day will be an outdoor day.  And smile about it 🙂

Wild About Vancouver

Wild About Vancouver is a celebration of the outdoors being held from April 18-25, 2018.  Activities are planned by individuals, schools, sports organizations and community groups and centres.  All activities planned during the week are free to participants.   The goal for the week is to generate lots of energy, ideas and momentum for participation in outdoor learning, activities and fun that continues well beyond the week long celebration.  There are lots of opportunities to participate.

  1. Get ideas and register on the Wild About Vancouver  website. Tweet out lesson ideas, activities, events and blog links.  Be sure to include @WildAboutVan so we can retweet and generate some excitement!

Hashtags #getoutside #getoutdoors #outdoorlearning #outdoorclassroom #natureschool 

3.  Email blog posts to banack@ubc.ca

4.  Encourage a friend to participate in an outdoor activity.

  • Ideas from University Hill Elementary School for the 2018 Wild About Vancouver
    • scheduled weekly nature school / outdoor learning experiences
    • Hatch butterflies in the classroom
    • Create a butterfly garden for them to live in when they are released
    • Create an Outdoor Classroom
    • Start a leadership group to teach playground games
    • Plant Potatoes.
    • Start Worm Composting
    • Raise salmon fry  and release them into the wild
    • Read Gillian Judson’s new book, A Walking Curriculum with your staff or community group and try out a few of the walks or ALL 60!
    • Host an Earth Day Barbeque

#GetOutside  #HaveFun

For those interested outdoor enthusiasts outside the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia, consider of the continuing the movement in your community!