Monday, May 10, 2010

Dolphin Day and weekend

About a week ago, there was news of a Grey Whale in False Creek, Vancouver. Some of you may remember that one of my experiences includes swimming with a Beluga Whale in Ingonish, Nova Scotia. I told a little of that story in number two of a post I called My Seven Factoids. (There is one mistake in the story that needs to be edited. It actually happened in 1990, not 1980.)

When I heard about the grey whale in Vancouver, I started getting off my bike when crossing the two bridges on my route to school (Burrard and Lions Gate), and still, I scan the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of it. As far as I know, the whale has left the area, and that is as things should be. In reading every internet story I could find about it, I came across information about 150 or so dolphins swimming in Lions Bay. This past Friday evening, as Bill and I talked about our plan for the weekend, I mentioned, not really thinking it would happen, that perhaps we should take a drive to Lions Bay. Bill, bless his heart, didn't hesitate for a second. At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, we were off. We added a trip to Bowen Island to our itinerary, and to say I was excited would be an understatement. I have been in British Columbia now for more than ten years, but had never seen either place. Add even the remotest possibility of a dolphin sighting, and - well, not much more to be said.

Our first stop was at Lions Bay Marina. The day was promising to be a beautiful one, and the staff was already hard at work. We weren't sure it was okay to be there, but we parked the truck, and walked with Black Jack to the water, where we stood watching the ducks. I've wanted, for a while, to get a good photo of Surf Scoters, but rarely seem to come across them. There turned out to be a large number of them gathered together by the marina. They were a little too far off for a good photo, but I was happy to see them.

(*Just a reminder, in case there are new readers, to click on the picture once to enlarge, click again for a slightly bigger version, and then use the back browser to go back to the post.)

Bill was in great form for so early in the morning,

and was the first to notice this male Merganser.

We watched it for quite a while. It stayed near the water's edge, diving every few second, and then coming up to..

eat its catch and dry off its wings.

One of the marina staff approached, and I thought he might tell us to move on. His words turned out to be the beginning of an adventure I will never forget. "If you look way over there," he said, "that big camera of yours might just catch the dolphins." In truth, my camera was only able to pick up some tiny specks, and all I could think about was whether there was any possibility of getting closer. "How could we get over there?" I asked. "Oh, I dunno," he replied. "My boss took a television crew out yesterday. Do you want me to give him a call and see what he says?" In a very short time, Ken, the boss, had worked out a very reasonable deal, and we were climbing up the steps to this boat. There we sat, while a driver hooked his small tractor (not sure what to call it) to the boat, and lowered us down a ramp and into the water. (You can see a picture of that procedure a bit further on in the post.)

I have walked through the marina in North Vancouver quite often, as it makes a great short cut, on one of my routes to school, but had never really thought much about how things work at such places. This one at Lions Bay is very efficiently run, and I cannot say enough good things about the staff. Here, in the first of a few "guy shots," you see Brian, freed for the hour or so from his normal duties, to take us to the dolphins. Since these dolphins were the first that anyone in the area could remember, he was as enthusiastic as we were.

My first challenge was to overcome the bouncing of the boat on the water. I never really found a way to do that, and these photographs will not be making it into National Geographic Magazine. Nevertheless, they make me very, very happy. At first, much of what we saw came in the form of shadowy forms under the water. In this picture, if you click on it, you can see a little ring of bubbles just a bit to the right and a bit above centre. I'm not sure if that was coming from a blow hole, or from a dolphin's mouth.

Soon, we began to see fins. I'll refrain from going into too much detail about my reaction, except to say that there was laughter, lots of trembling, and more than a few moments of misty eyes.

Bill was doing a lot of smiling too. In the midst of trying everything he could think of to help me capture the moment, he also kept Black Jack safe and happy. Secure in his arms, she showed curiosity but way more calmness than I felt, as she watched these (what must have been) strange new creatures in the water.

Another guy shot. This plane was flying low, with the passengers and pilot, I'm guessing, as enthralled with the dolphins as we were.

More shadowy patterns.

One of the only full breaches I was able to capture.

Brian was very careful to be respectful of the dolphins. They came to us, rather than the other way around. The faster the boat went, the more they followed, playing in the wake.

Often, they were so close, my big lens was only able to get very blurry images.

Sometimes, I just had to put the camera down, and try to absorb the experience.

To watch these beautiful mammals play is unforgettable.

There must have been families, as some of the fins were very tiny. As you can see, they were close to shore, here. What a treat for the people in those houses!

A group of four.

Finally, we turned back. Brian had lots of work to do, as the marina was humming with activity. Here, we are going by a house next door to the marina.

Home again. Here is the ramp.

Ken helps a boat owner down the ramp. That pretty much concluded our experience with Lions Bay Marina. I don't know if Ken would want me to suggest you call him up and ask for a dolphin tour. I don't even know if the dolphins are still there. What I do know is that the marina is really up there on my list of perfect places, and I will never stop being grateful to Ken, Brian and the rest of the staff for helping to make one of my dreams come true. Thank you to each one of them, from the bottom of my heart!

We drove from Lions Bay to Horseshoe Bay, where we boarded a ferry to Bowen Island. This picture is just as the ferry approaches the island.

It was Mother's Day, and although I am not a mother, my thoughts often drifted to my sister, and to the many mothers I know, or have met through blogs. COOPS LIFE, Cristina Higgins, and My Only Photo are all linked at the right side of my page, and Jen, Cristina and Anna write with passion and poignancy on the joys of motherhood. Penelope Puddles wrote a beautiful post directed to non-mothers, and it seemed, everywhere I looked at Bowen Island, maternal images brought her words to mind.

To stray away from Bowen for a moment, here is a family shot of an eagle nest near Jericho. If you look really closely, you can see two chicks in the nest.

The heronry at Stanley Park is very, very active right now. The rhythmic and persistent "chick-chuck-chick" catches my ear the moment I round the corner from the Parks Board office. It is very difficult to see the chicks, but i think, that is a smallish beak at the right of this picture. I am not able to give you much of an update about Sue and Stanley's nest, but haven't forgotten about them. As soon as there is news, I will pass it on.

As for Lawrence and Olivia, there have been changes, with a large piece of the nest falling off, and questions about their activity. I have watched them keenly, and will do a post to update their status soon. Here, Olivia waits for Lawrence to arrive. This was taken on Sunday, and at that time, I was beginning to wonder if Lawrence had strayed elsewhere.

Finally, yesterday, I saw both of them together for the first time in several days. Speaking of motherhood, they were working hard, and I hope that is a good sign for the future.

The eagle pair near Moodyville Park was active on Sunday as well. Here, one of them is pestered by a crow. I could not detect chicks in the nest, but will update you on their status as soon as I can.

Have to rush the rest of this post, as work calls rather pressingly. Here, Bill holds Black Jack while I move a short distance down the trail, so we can practice recall training.

She definitely enjoys the exercise!

Bill spotted this garter snake. My very first one ever!

Beautiful colours.

Bowen Island was a shimmering green, everywhere we walked,

and, we walked a lot! Here, stairs for the salmon.

Lilly pads at Killarney Lake.

We thought we would never reach that lake,

but it finally turned up at the end of a wonderful trail.

Thank you, Bill! You bring so much joy to my life!

I conclude with a very short video of Black Jack. She was convinced the lake's shimmering water had to be alive, and did her best to communicate with the water creatures. I have yet to figure out how to focus for videos, but hope you enjoy her little moment of stardom.


  1. Thank you Carol for this wonderful account of the Dolphins. Here we are thinking we would have to go to Hawaii to swim with them and they are right on our doorstep.

  2. What a wonderful weekend you've had.
    I remember Bowen Island as being very special and artsy. The Dolphins, Wow!
    Great photos of all. I have always loved the garter snakes, they bring back fond memories of growing up in N.V and on Van Island. The video of my little buddy B J shows the excitement and enthusiasm that's her.
    It's sure nice to see all the activity at the Ospreys homestead.

  3. I saw the dolphins on TV and thought how lucky people would be to see them first hand - I'm so very glad you had that opportunity, and shared it with us through your photography and writing. I can feel your excitement and awe.
    What a great weekend you had!

  4. The few times I have seen whales and dolphins in the wild are etched in my memory. I loved your post and am delighted that you had the experience! Looks like it was a perfect day, too.

  5. Your camera continues to amaze. Clicking on that eagle's nest picture is a "you are there moment".

    One theory about the arrival of the dolphins is that the closure of the Squamish pulp mill allowed prey food to thrive in Howe Sound. This also attracted the recent Grey whale.

  6. What a thrilling day!!!
    A guide in Costa Rica told us that if you see dolphins breaching (ie on the surface) that there are many more underneath. They are very social and travel in huge groups. As I recall there were 10 below for each one on the surface!
    Bowen Island is such a pretty place! Thanks for the pictures of your perfect day! Phyllis

  7. The dolphins leaping out of the waves somehow made me feel like I was seeing that awesome sight in person. I’ll never forget when I saw multiple whales from a BC Ferry. Someone shouted “whales” and we all ran to one side of the boat … which seemed to almost tip over! Everyone was grinning from ear to ear from the sheer joy of seeing these gorgeous creatures in the wild. Thanks for sharing your spectacular adventure! I also checked out Black Jack’s film debut. What a star! He even has a speaking (or should I say barking) role. :)

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    A couple of corrections: I loaded the pictures for this post on Monday morning, and the date of posting shows from the time the first picture was added. But, the commentary was written Tuesday, so I was speaking from that perspective. All of the action, except for the eagle and heron nest shots, took place on Saturday, and Mother's Day, of course, was Sunday. Guess I was thinking in terms of Mother's Day weekend.

    MarianneBill, I don't know how long they will stay, but hope you get to see them. I love sharing our osprey adventures.

    Dianne, you are the original nature lover:) And, Happy Mother's Day! I so love to watch you with your grandkids!

    Jean, luck definitely played quite a role in the experience. They move around so quickly, and there's a lot of water territory to cover:) The first day the whale was in Vancouver, we left the hockey game and drove to False Creek, only to find out later, it had been right in our neighbourhood, at Jericho. My thoughts were with you on Mother's Day - your stories of your mother, your daughter, and of Karen's dear, lost Luger all played through my mind. You are a nurturer in the very most complete sense of the word.

    Carole, thanks, and same here!

    Fred the Dog, hope that theory is correct. If so, it softens some of the "doom and gloom" environmental reports.

    Phyllis.. Wow! What a thought! Ten for every one we saw on the surface. By the way, a late but heartfelt "Happy Mother's Day" to you and Glenys - two of several wonderful mothers I admire!

    Penelope, I'm so happy that the pictures brought back your special memory. I've taken the ferry quite a few times, and once had a fleeting glimpse of dolphins, but never saw a whale during those crossings. Hope you, another of those mothers I admire from a distance, enjoyed your special day. Your writing gets to the heart of what it is to be a child.

    May 12, 2010 6:18 AM