Tag Archives: Whistler Biodiversity

Exploring Whistler’s Biodiversity: Whistler Nature 101

“When we begin to see how nature works, we are awestruck by the literal beauty of its complexity: a beauty that is more than skin deep.” – Master Naturalist

For the second year the Whistler Museum will be offering our Whistler Nature 101 program.  This three hour training seminar was developed to help elevate the knowledge of Whistler’s natural environment throughout the community.

In short, the goal is to help Whistlerites better understand their home and all of its biodiversity so they can speak knowledgeably about it to other people.

A myriad of amphibians can be found in local wetlands, including the Northwestern salamander. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

 

Without some knowledge about nature, experiencing Whistler is like a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which are turned to the wall.  In this seminar the museum shares valuable knowledge needed to fully experience and appreciate all the “works of art” in our breathtaking valley.

Topics covered in Whistler Nature 101 are wide ranging and include what you need to know about Whistler’s geography, geology, volcanoes and glaciers – and how these physical elements influence the variety of life here.  And Whistler has a ton of biodiversity to cover.

Named for their pungent aroma, skunk cabbage flowers start popping up in damp lowlands soon after the snow recedes, and are a favourite early season snack for the local bears. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

 

Since 2004 the Whistler Biodiversity Project, led by biologist Bob Brett, has added over 3500 species to Whistler’s total list of over 4000 (and growing every year) species.  Biodiversity is the foundation of healthy, functioning ecosystems upon which all life depends.  For anyone who’s curious about the natural world, Whistler is a pretty awesome place to be.

Participants from last year commented: “Whistler is far more interesting (in terms of biodiversity) than I ever imagined,” “There is way more than just a ski hill here” and “Good explanations of biodiversity and geology of Whistler.  Many guests ask about these topics.”

Who said wetlands are ugly? Bog laurel adds a splash of colour along the water’s edge. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

The Whistler Nature 101 seminar is three hours with handouts and other learning materials provided.  Cost is $50 per person, with a special half-price rate for any active nature-based volunteers.

The full outline for the seminar can be found here.  For more information, email Kristina at DiscoverNature@whistlermuseum.org.  To register please call the Whistler Museum 604 932 2019.

The Whistler Museum would like to thank the Community Foundation of Whistler for financial support to develop the seminar.

Kristina is a long-time volunteer with the Whistler Naturalists and is grateful to share information from the knowledgeable naturalists from whom she’s learned over the years during Nature 101.

An Ode to the Beaver

A report on the ecology of the Alta Lake region by naturalists Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart-Cowan from 1935 depicts a Whistler we all are familiar with. They reinforce the picture of a diverse and eco-rich valley with an abundance of species of animals and vegetation alike. Today the Whistler Biodiversity Project has documented over 2500 species in the area, expecting that number to be up to 3000 when new records have been finalized.

Despite the whopping number of species in our fertile little valley, there are a few things that have changed since Racey and McTaggart Cowen collated their data back in the 1930’s.

The two men provided the provincial museum with a detailed overview of the species we have in Whistler. This overview included a description of the state of the Castor Canadensis Pacificus, or Pacific Beaver. It states “The Beaver has been completely trapped out in the district for over twenty years.” It goes on to mention that even though the Beaver has been hunted to nonexistence, proof of their lifestyle still exists in the form of dams left behind.

With the halt of killing beavers for their pelts came the slow re-emergence of a creature whose activities literally shaped the waterways of our country. When water depth or quantities are not suitable, the extraordinary beaver will transform a stream in a forest into a large pond with nothing more then gnawed wood, sticks and mud. Several plant species rely on such water sources for habitat, so beavers can also be credited to many a saved plant.

Beaver

Canada, in the form of a swimming rodent. Photo by Bob Brett.

Beaver lodges and dams can be enormous. The largest on record spans 850 meters, which was found in Northern Alberta in 2007. It is possible that humans got the idea of a “nuclear” family from beavers, whose lodge consists of a pair of parents, their babies and yearlings. Monogamy anyone?

Their lodges can only be accessed from underwater. Beavers are great swimmers; with an extra, transparent eyelid that’s helps them see underwater. They have large webbed feet, which they use as flippers, and a paddle-shaped, rudder-like tail. Their tail is leathery and large, growing up to 38 centimeters. The sound of these large tails slapping the water also acts as an alarm to warn of a predator. On land the tail can prop up a sitting beaver and add extra balance while they are carrying supplies.

Our main industry, tourism, has to give thanks to the beavers as well for assuring that tour companies can operate in hot and dry years. With the improved management of this inspiring species we can assure their continued existence and in turn the continued flourishing of the Whistler valley.

 

Who can resist falling in love with this little guy?

 

By Shayna Ross-Kelly

Celebrating our swamps

As far as ecosystems go, swamps, bogs, marshes, fens, and other sorts of wetlands don’t get a lot of love. It’s understandable, mostly. Few people would consider a swamp when heading out for an afternoon stroll. When you do end up tromping about in one you generally end up exhausted, covered in mud, and reeking of rot.
Wetlands simply aren’t human-friendly landscapes. This helps explain the word “mire,” which refers to a stressful situation from which it is hard to extricate oneself, but is also another name for a type of swamp.
Who said wetlands are ugly? Bog laurel adds a splash of colour along the water's edge. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Who said wetlands are ugly? Bog laurel adds a splash of colour along the water’s edge. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Despite the bad rap, wetlands are extremely productive and important ecosystems. For one, they act as giant sponges that help soak up excess water in the landscape during the spring melt or after heavy rain. Likewise, wetlands mitigate periods of drought by slowly rationing out all of the water they had absorbed and held. Simply put, wetlands help prevent flood AND drought.
As water slowly flows through, the soils and dense organic matter in swamps act as a massive filtration system, removing silt, toxins, and pollutants from the water before releasing it downstream, clearer and cleaner.
Named for their pungent aroma, skunk cabbage flowers start popping up in damp lowlands soon after the snow recedes, and are a favourite early season snack for the local bears. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Named for their pungent aroma, skunk cabbage flowers start popping up in damp lowlands soon after the snow recedes, and are a favourite early season snack for the local bears. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

What is known as the Whistler Valley is actually more of a long and low mountain pass, a stretch of relatively flat land between the Cheakamus and Green River Canyons. Abundant year-round precipitation supplemented by the slow release of our summer snow melt, flows down from surrounding mountains and is absorbed by the valley’s deep and dense organic soil, characteristic of our coastal rainforest ecosystem, creating perfect conditions for the formation of wetlands.
Although humans may not be so fond of them, wetlands provide crucial habitat for a huge variety of plants, insects, and animals. Some of the most bio-diverse environments in Whistler (or anywhere, for that matter) are wetlands.
A myriad of amphibians can be found in local wetlands, including the Northwestern salamander. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

A myriad of amphibians can be found in local wetlands, including the northwestern salamander. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Whistler has 5 main lakes and countless creeks and streams, but only about a quarter of the swamps and marshes that historically filled the valley still remain. They are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the area because these are usually very level terrain that can be drained and developed to become the (relatively) dry land that we live, work, and play on.

Still, we’re fortunate to have large and healthy marshes around Millar Creek just North of Function Junction, along Fitzsimmons Creek, in the Emerald Forest and around the River of Golden Dreams, and elsewhere.

Beaver love wetlands so much, they make their own! Castor Canadensis used to be prominent throughout the Whistler Valley, and are once again making a comeback.

Beaver love wetlands so much, they make their own! Castor Canadensis used to be prominent throughout Whistler, and are once again making a comeback. Photo by local naturalist Bob Brett.

Next time you’re passing by a Whistler wetland, whether biking the Valley Trail, or tromping about in the bush, take a moment to stand still and observe. Chances are you’ll discover a cacophony of buzzing, splashing, and chirping, evidence of the thriving communities that call these oft-dismissed places home.

If we were able to translate the dragonflies, tadpoles, and herons’ languages, who knows what peat poets and bog bards we would discover. All that’s certain is the verb “mired” wouldn’t be in their vocabulary!

Discover Nature

Whistler Museum announces a new ‘Discover Nature’ program

Get ready to Discover Nature with the Whistler Museum! With help from the Whistler Naturalists and the Whistler Biodiversity Project, the Museum is piloting a public education program this summer.

The program includes a Discover Nature Station at Lost Lake and a Discover Nature activity booklet for kids. The Discover NatureStation will be open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 am – 4 pm, starting July 1st and running until September 3rd. It will operate under a tent just outside the concession by the Lost Lake beach. Highlights include manned touch tables showcasing a wide range of Whistler’s amazing nature as well as demonstrations that people can drop in and interact with throughout the day. The Discover Nature Station will also serve as a starting point for scheduled nature walks and other family activities, encouraging face-to-face engagement with nature.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, nature walks will meet at 10 am at the Discover Nature Station and run for about one hour. Family activities will start each day at 1, 2 & 3 pm and run for about 30 minutes each. There will be a different theme for each week day of operation, such as forests, wetlands and water, so those interested could come back on consecutive days and discover something new. All programming at Lost Lake will be by donation. If you have a large group interested in any of these programs, please contact the Museum in advance so special arrangements can be made.

The Discover Nature activity booklet for kids is a self-guided and full of fun activities that teach about the wonders of nature here in Whistler. It was inspired by similar successful programs in National Parks across Canada and the US, and locally by the Bear Smart Kids booklet. The booklet includes 15 activity pages, a completion certificate and is illustrated by local artist Kate Zessel. A special Whistler souvenir will be awarded to those who complete activities in the booklet. The Discover Nature activity booklet for kids will be on sale at the Whistler Museum and Lost Lake as well as other outlets, with proceeds going back to the program. If any businesses are interested in carrying the booklet they are asked to please contact the Museum.

The Discover Nature program is designed to meet the Museum’s mission of interpreting the natural history of mountain life. Emphasis will be on the notion that all organisms (including us) are interconnected. The goal of the program is to promote environmental stewardship, enhance educational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, and endorse Whistler as an awesome place to explore nature.

Photograph by Trish Odorico.

The program would not have been possible without generous funding from the Community Foundation of Whistler and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, as well as support from the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Other key contributors include Bob Brett, Julie Burrows, Emma Tayless, Jane Millen and Sylvia Dolson. The Museum is also thankful to the AWARE Kids Nature Club and the Whistler Library’s Wonder Club for being great inspirations.

The Whistler Museum would love the community to come and help kickoff of the program at Lost Lake on July 1st. Come out for a picnic and appreciate that food is nature too!

Photograph by Michael Allen.

Photograph by Michael Allen.

For any additional information, booking large groups or booklets for resale, contact the Museum at 604-932-2019,DiscoverNature@WhistlerMuseum.org, or drop in. The Museum is located at 4333 Main St. behind the Library.

“There’s been talk of nature programming in Lost Lake Park for years so it’s exciting to be a part of this pilot project. I think anything that makes nature education more accessible will have far-reaching benefits. Like fostering environmental stewardship and expanding cultural tourism opportunities here in Whistler. The program has also been a great reason to reach out to many others and the response has been terrific. For example, the Royal BC Museum is willing to loan us items for our touch tables, Nature Kids BC has been very helpful with our programming for kids and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists has contributed to the kids’ booklet. Closer to home, we’ve been in touch with many local businesses and organizations that have also been really supportive,” says Kristina Swerhun, Coordinator of the Discover Nature program and also with the Whistler Naturalists.

“The Community Foundation of Whistler is excited to support this program. The Environmental Legacy Grants program seeks to support education about our natural environment and promote stewardship. Lost lake park is a fabulous location for the Discover Natureprogram, particularly with the annual Western Toad migration that usually takes place in the middle of the park during the summer. The program will benefit both locals and visitors and will hopefully lead all to a greater respect and understanding of the amazing ecosystems in our community,” says Carol Coffee, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Whistler.

Whistler Is About To Get BioBlitzed

Pull out your microscopes and get ready to examine, because BioBlitz 2015 is coming to Whistler! What is a BioBlitz, you ask? Well, let us tell you.

A BioBlitz is essentially a festival bringing together teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and community members to identify as many species of plants, animals, and other organisms as possible. What makes the event different from any other field study is that it is a race against time! All of these volunteers only have 24 hours to discover as many species as possible within the specified area.

The term was first coined by U.S. National Park Service naturalist Susan Rudy, who assisted with the very first blitz held at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (Washington,D.C.) in 1996. Since this initial event, the blitz has become a world-wide phenomenon, springing up in countries all over the world.

Bioblitz2

BioBlitz aims to discover as many alpine and valley organisms as possible in the Whistler area. Some common animals found in our lakes, rivers, and wetlands are frogs, salamanders, beavers, and Rainbow Trout.

While a BioBlitz is geared toward bringing scientists of various backgrounds together, the event also strives to create an exciting and relaxed environment for the study to take place, as well as introduce the general public to the biodiversity that exists within their home. BioBlitz Festivals provide the opportunity for people to meet real scientists, ask any questions they may have, and learn how to conserve the habitat of the plants and animals that reside in their area.

Bioblitz1

The BioBlitz Nature Festival, held in Alpha Lake Park on June 27th, will give participants the opportunity to touch real insects, various plants, and even a water snake!

BioBlitz was first introduced to Whistler in 2007 by the Whistler Naturalists, with the goal of targeting both alpine and valley ecosystems across the region. This year, the program will be taking place in Alpha Lake Park. The number of areas within the Resort Municipality of Whistler that have been ‘blitzed’ in past years continues to grow, including Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, the Emerald forest, and more. The introduction of this educational race against the clock for locals and visitors of all ages has lead to the discovery of more and more species every single year.

 

Bioblitz3      BioBlitz4

The BioBlitz Nature Festival, which showcases the amphibians, reptiles, spiders, plants, and fungi found in the area using interactive displays, will be taking place in Alpha Lake Park on Saturday June 27th. Participants will have the opportunity to touch a giant water bug or snake, learn about frogs and lichens, and take part in a scavenger hunt. The Festival encourages children of all ages, parents, youth, adults, and seniors to come join in the fun from 12 to 5 pm!