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  Category   Wildlife Viewing on Vancouver Island: Greater Victoria, BC
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The Swan Lake/Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary is located beside the Galloping Goose Trail in Saanich. Its broad marshland is a welcome refuge for wildlife in the midst of Hwy 17 and neighbouring streets. A 2.5 km viewing trail loops through the marshland and lake, assisted in places by floating boardwalks. Spend some time quietly observing from one of the bird blinds in the sanctuary.

Ring-necked pheasant

Statuesque great blue herons stalk the marshland year-round, while their more diminutive relative, the much rarer green heron, is in residence during summer months. Waterfowl abound - widgeons, grebes, teals - while ring-necked pheasants forage in the nearby fields, caterwauling like Siamese cats. On sunny days you may also spot rows of turtles sunning themselves where they have hauled up on logs. These hardy creatures have been released here by owners whose pets have outgrown their living quarters or who have grown weary of feeding chores.

Interpretive displays and talks are given at the nature house on a regular basis. Trail maps and bird identification guides are also available here. The nature sanctuary is located on Rainbow Rd off McKenzie Avenue and is well marked.


Mute Swans on Esquimalt Lagoon

Albert Head Lagoon Park in Metchosin is one of three parks along a short stretch of Metchosin Road that offer intimate glimpses of wildlife in a coastal setting. This is a designated wildlife sanctuary that attracts a variety of birds journeying along the Pacific Flyway, including larger birds such as swans, herons, and turkey vultures. Stretch out on the cobble beach as you train your binoculars on the coastline. This is an exposed headland, so dress accordingly.

Witty's Lagoon Regional Park is a natural resting place for migrating birds such as osprey before they attempt the 21 km crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Peninsula. Other birds, such as the belted kingfisher; orange-crowned warbler, and dark-eyed junco overwinter in the shelter of the lagoon. In spring, the open meadows above the lagoon contain a brilliant array of wildflowers including camas lilies, saxifrage, and nodding onions. Displays of natural history can be found at the park's information centre on Metchosin Rd, about 20 km west of Victoria. There are several entrances to the park, including Tower Point. Turn south off Metchosin Rd on Duke Rd, then west on Olympic View Dr to reach the trailhead. A short trail leads to a small beach at Tower Point where the ocean has hollowed tide pools in the granite outcropping. A rich variety of marine life shelter in the pools and stand revealed at low tide. Bring your rubber boots. You'll also be rewarded with good views from here of aptly named Haystock Islands, where long, thick strands of grass grow in the shape of old stooks.

Farther out in the strait are the Race Rocks, Canada's most southerly point on the west coast. Hurricane Ridge predominates on the distant southern horizon. At low tide you can wade across from the point to the long stretch of beach that fronts the lagoon; otherwise, approach the beach from the Sitting Woman Falls entrance on the road just south of Tower Point. A short walk past the falls brings you to an intertidal backwater, where the waters of Metchosin Creek mingle with the Pacific, and then to the beach cluttered with driftwood, excellent for building shelters from the cold wind while you bird-watch. The quiet backwater lagoon surrounded by Garry oak and arbutus is popular with seals, too. To reach the park, take the Old Island Hwy (Hwy 1A) to Sooke Road. Follow Sooke Road to Metchosin Road and turn south. Follow along until you see the well-signed entrances to the park.

A short distance west of Witty's Lagoon in Metchosin on William Head Road (an extension of Metchosin Road) is Devonian Regional Park, a small parcel of farmland that now acts as a wildlife sanctuary, tucked into the gently rolling landscape. This part of the world was opened for farming in the 1860s to provide fresh produce for the burgeoning population of gold miners and attendant settlers in the nearby Victoria region. As such, the natural ambience here is pastoral. Despite the absence of marshland, many of the migratory birds seen at Witty's Lagoon Regional Park also use this part as a staging area, including sandpipers, turnstones, and surfbirds, all of whom work the cobble beach for all it's worth.

The annual salmon spawning run in Goldstream Provincial Park begins in October and lasts through December. Successive schools of chum, coho, and chinook salmon return from the sea to lay their roe in their ancestral spawning grounds, and then die. The transformation in their body colouring and shape, as well as their fervour and determination, make this event both vivid and poignant. At this time of year the Freeman King Visitors Centre hums with activity, as busloads of students and visitors arrive to learn more about the life cycle of this creature that has been vitally important to people of the coast since ancient tribes first arrived on these shores. Naturalists and volunteers conduct informative lecture tours along the river, which is a short walk from the centre.

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