Thursday, September 29, 2011

No time for a long paddle? Try Deer Lake in Burnaby

You don't have to be a rocket scientist - or even a brain surgeon! - to figure out that I love to paddle. (Just look at the name of this blog.)

But I can't always get away for a three- or four-day trip; sometimes it's tough even to get away for a day, even out to a place as close as Pinecone Burke Provincial Park (where there's great canoeing) or to Bowen Island (for kayaking).

Off we go, into the wild blue -- er,
the urban wild blue yonder.
But about 15 minutes away from where I live lies Deer Lake Park. It's a small lake, not even as big as Burnaby Lake Regional Park, but it has one advantage over BLRP: you can rent canoes and kayaks at Deer Lake; you can't do that at Burnaby Lake (although there is a boat launch there, if you bring your own canoe or kayak).

The boat rental facility is seasonal, mind you. After Labour Day weekend, you really need to phone them the day you plan to go to see if they're open, especially on weekdays. Of course, if you have your own canoe or kayak, you don't have to worry about that.

Deer Lake is not challenging, it's not demanding, it doesn't even take very long to paddle around the entire perimeter of the lake. But if you're looking for a nice quiet paddle, a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, and you don't have much time, you really can't beat it.

There are plenty of ducks and geese there to keep you company on the lake, and they don't seem to be too shy of paddlers, probably since they see them there all the time. If you get close enough to the shore, and have a pair of binoculars, you'll probably be able to spot some songbirds, as well - maybe even a wild squirrel! And overhead, if you're lucky, maybe a raptor will wing its way past you.

One of the striking things I found about paddling there is the way I was within a few metres of wild waterfowl, quiet woods and still water - but if I turned my head and looked in another direction, I could see high-rise buildings off in the distance.

Map of Deer Lake Park,
source: City of Burnaby Parks Dept.
They're far enough away that they don't disturb the ambiance of the lake. It really is quite quiet there, at least during the week, and especially when school is in session. I can imagine it might be a bit busier during the summer months, unless you get on the lake early or late - which you can do, as long as you have your own watercraft.

I'm surprised it took me eight years of living in Vancouver before I actually visited the spot this September.

While that may be my first visit, it certainly will not be the last time I dip a paddle into the waters of Deer Lake.

(If you want to see more pictures taken while paddling at Deer Lake, check out my Facebook photo album, Deer Lake Paddle.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reifel not the only place to go for milk and quackers

Anyone following this blog - or (even more noticeably) my Facebook and Twitter posts the last few weeks has probably detected the fact that I've been spending a great deal of time shooting pictures and videos of birds at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Reifel is about a 45-minute drive from my house in Vancouver, just over the Knight Street Bridge, down Highway 99 to 17, then over onto Westham Island.

Driving past the farmers' fields to get to the sanctuary means we often drive past grazing cows - in other words, we get "milk" with our "quackers" (i.e., the many ducks that inhabit Reifel.)

However, there is a place even closer to where I live that is also a pretty darn good spot for bird-watching: Burnaby Lake Regional Park. Located in central Burnaby, it is easily accessed from anywhere in the Lower Mainland, with plenty of free parking and transit stops at the east and west ends of the park.

Looking west along Still Creek,
from the bridge that leads to Cottonwood Trail.

While it may not boast the presence of sandhill cranes like Reifel can, Burnaby Lake certainly has its share of mallards, wood ducks, geese and herons - as well as kingfishers and if you're lucky enough to see one, the occasional osprey. It also boasts beavers, and although I've seen the lodges, I have yet to see one of the flat-tailed little tree-munchers - but then I've only been to the park twice.

The park is pretty large, containing tennis facilities, a sports complex, a pool and a rowing pavilion in addition to the natural area around the lake. That includes a nature house and a series of trails, the main one consisting of an  11-km main trail circling the lake.

You can paddle on the lake as well, in a canoe or kayak, which is often one of the best ways to get close to wildlife - as well as the best way to see much of the lake. While the trail does provide a nice walk, for much of the walk, you can't actually see the lake itself.

Traversing it by canoe or kayak eliminates that problem. There is a public canoe launch at the sports complex, although - to my knowledge - there is no place there for the public to rent boats.

I first visited the park back in July of 1988 during a quick visit to a friend who lived in Vancouver at the time (I was living in Alberta, then). We only spent about an hour in the park.

Bath time for ducks!

It would be 23 years before I'd return again - this time for an entire day.

The day's highlight took place at Piper Spit, a bit of land that juts out into the lake from the north shore, about two-thirds of the way down the trail from the sports complex parking lot and trail head in the west end. A boardwalk allows further access out to view the lake.

Map of Burnaby Lake trails.
But you don't have to out there to see plenty of birds. Sitting on one of the benches on the land just before the start of the boardwalk, you'll see plenty of ducks and geese cruising up and down Eagle Creek, which empties into the lake. And of course, the real entertaining part comes when they take a bath.

While eating lunch on the bench, I also spied a northern flicker, sitting in a tree off in the distance, a fairly common bird in the area during the fall. Later on, from the end of the boardwalk, I watched a heron fish for his lunch.

Not far away from the spit is a raised viewing tower, two stories tall and wheelchair friendly, that provides you with a more expansive view.

Of course, I always contend the best view is the view from the water - and I'm already planning next year's paddle trip on the lake ...

(If you want to see more pictures from the lake, check out my Facebook photo album at