Magnolias and Glaucous-Winged Gulls: Spring in Stanley Park
The Beautiful Stanley Park in Vancouver
Stanley Park is a large and beautiful area beside the ocean in Vancouver, British Columbia. It's one of Vancouver's highlights for tourists and residents alike. There are interesting things for a nature lover to see in the park throughout the year. Even in winter a wide variety of waterfowl can be found in the park and even as early as February spring flowers are in bloom. On one enjoyable visit in spring, the beautiful magnolia flowers and the very confident gulls attracted my attention most of all.
I live near Vancouver and always enjoy visiting Stanley Park. It contains a variety of habitats, including landscaped areas with cultivated plants, forest that existed before the park was created, rocky and sandy beaches, and recreational lawns. It also contains tourist attractions, such as the Vancouver Aquarium, totem poles, and restaurants with attractive views.
Many trails wind through and around the park, including a very popular one on top of the seawall. I enjoy walking along the seawall and looking at the scenery, but the primary goal of my visits is to observe and photograph nature.
The Magnolia Plant
Magnolias are loved for their large and showy flowers and their beautiful scents. The flowers are white, pink, red, purple, or yellow, depending on the species and variety. Magnolias grow as trees or shrubs. Some magnolias are evergreen and some are deciduous. The deciduous varieties like the ones in my photos flower in early spring before the leaves appear.
Magnolias are named after Pierre Magnol, a French botanist who lived from 1638 to 1715. They are ancient plants that seem to have changed little over the years. They are thought to be one of the most primitive flowering plants still in existence.
Magnolias have an unusual flower and fruit structure. Since the plants appeared before bees evolved, their flowers have developed features that enable them to be pollinated by beetles.
According to the University of Florida, magnolia flowers don't produce "true nectar", but they do make a fragrant and sugary solution that attracts beetles. They also produce a large quantity of protein-rich pollen. Beetles eat some of this pollen. In addition, they transfer pollen to other magnolia flowers on their bodies. The reproductive structures of the flowers are tough, preventing them from being damaged by the beetles that crawl over them.
Most flowers consist of a whorl (or whorls) of petals with a whorl of leaf-like sepals underneath. The petals and the sepals are the non-reproductive parts of the flower. The reproductive structures (the male stamens and the female carpel or carpels) are located in the centre of the flower.
Magnolia flowers have a slightly different structure. Their petals and sepals look identical to each other and are known as tepals. The tepals resemble petals and are borne in multiple whorls. Many magnolias have wide tepals, but some have star-shaped flowers with narrow tepals.
The reproductive structures of magnolias look unusual compared to those of most flowers. The stamens are arranged in a spiral fashion. The carpels, which are also spirally arranged, are positioned on top of the stamens. Once fertilization has taken place, the carpels develop into a woody, cone-like fruit that contains red seeds.
Magnolia flowers are said to symbolize dignity, strength, and perseverance. In the southern United States, a steel magnolia is a woman who is delicate or beautiful in appearance and has strength and fortitude in her character.
Interesting Facts About Magnolias
- Magnolia grandiflora is the state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana.
- In some parts of Japan, the large leaves of Magnolia obovata are used for wrapping food.
- Magnolia obovata leaves are also used as a dish for food in Japan.
- The bark and flower buds of Magnolia officinalis are used in Chinese traditional medicine.
- Magnolia acuminata is known as the cucumber tree. It grows in the wild as well as in cultivation and has greenish-yellow flowers. It was given its name because the unripe fruit is green and looks something like a cucumber.
- Some magnolia trees have lived for over a hundred years.
- Some species require ten years of growth before they flower.
- Magnolia 'Atlas' has huge flowers that may be as large as fourteen inches across.
Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park
Stanley Park contains two bodies of fresh water: Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon. Lost Lagoon was once part of Coal Harbour. At this time the lagoon contained salt water and intertidal mudflats. In 1916, the construction of the Stanley Park Causeway was finished. This raised road travels through the park and connects to the Lions Gate Bridge, which takes travellers over Burrard Inlet to the city of North Vancouver. The construction of the causeway separated the lagoon from the salt water of Coal Harbour, causing it to become "lost". Run off from the land eventually turned the lagoon into a body of fresh water.
Lost Lagoon is located close to the Stanley Park entrance and is easy to reach from downtown Vancouver. It has visiting and resident birds all year long and is a great place for bird watchers. Trees, shrubs, a trail, and open areas surround the water. Benches have been placed beside the water so that people can sit and enjoy the view or watch the birds. A nature house run by the Stanley Park Ecology Society is located on the shore of the lagoon.
Observing Birds at Lost Lagoon
On the trip where I took most of the photos in this article, I was lucky to get to Lost Lagoon when someone was feeding the birds. This meant that there were lots of glaucous-winged gulls and hybrid gulls to see and that they were all quite close by. I was very happy to notice that the person was throwing grain and peanuts for the birds to eat and not bread.
It's often recommended that birds in parks are never fed, since feeding them can lead to problems such as over confidence in the birds when they are near humans and fouling of the environment. Feeding the birds does give people a lot of enjoyment, though.
The Glaucous-Winged Gull
Glaucous-winged gulls are the most common type of gull in Stanley Park. Their scientific name is Larus glaucescens. Other gulls can be seen in the park too, however, and so can many hybrids. The readiness of the birds in the Pacific Northwest region of North America to interbreed can create identification problems.
Another problem is that in the non-breeding season the heads and necks of adult glaucous-winged gulls are flecked with brown patches instead of being pure white. This can make identification difficult. In addition, the juveniles of each species have variable appearances depending on their age and look different from the adults. It's no wonder that many people avoid identification problems by calling any gull that they see a "sea gull".
Identification tips for a glaucous-winged gull include the following:
- An adult gull has a yellow bill with a red spot near the tip of the bottom mandible.
- The head, chest, and belly of a breeding bird are white.
- A breeding bird has a pink ring around each eye.
- The back and the wings are medium grey in colour.
- The bird's legs are pink.
The glaucous-winged gull and the western gull are quite similar birds and often interbreed. The glaucous-winged gull has medium grey wing tips that match the colour of its back while the western gull has black wing tips. Some birds have wing tips that are too dark for a glaucous-winged gull and too light for a western gull and are likely hybrids.
Part of a complex of closely related forms, (the glaucous-winged gull) interbreeds freely with Western Gull at the southern end of its range, and often with Herring Gull and Glaucous Gull in Alaska.— The Audubon Society
Diet of a Glaucous-Winged Gull
The glaucous-winged gull lives on the coast of the Pacific Northwest area of North America. It can be seen from Alaska to Washington, usually near the ocean but sometimes inland. The bird has a very omnivorous diet. It feeds on fish, intertidal animals such as sea stars, crabs, mussels, limpets and barnacles, eggs, baby birds, small mammals, some plant matter, carrion, and food left in garbage. It often drops hard-shelled animals on rocks while flying in order to break them open. The gull forages both on land and in the ocean.
The video below shows glaucous-winged gulls and a hybrid feeding on spawning salmon in Alaska.
The glaucous-winged gull requires at least four years to develop its adult plumage and reach reproductive maturity. The nest is built on the ground on rocky islands or cliffs. The gull usually nests in colonies. Pairs may sometimes nest on the roofs of buildings, however, especially when a roof is flat. The male and female both build the nest. They may mate with each other in multiple breeding seasons.
The female generally lays two to three eggs. The eggs are yellow-green in colour and have brown or grey streaks or blotches. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs and feed the youngsters. The babies are covered in down and may take their first step out of the nest when they are only two days old. They don't move far from the nest until they are more mature, however. The youngsters fledge at around six weeks of age and leave the colony about two weeks later.
Visiting Stanley Park
Stanley Park is located very near to downtown Vancouver. In fact, it's feasible for a person with normal mobility to walk from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park by travelling along any road that heads west. The mountains that can be seen from the downtown area represent north.
One of my favourite routes to the park starts at Canada Place. This is the name for both a road and a tourist/visitor area. Canada Place is located by Burrard Inlet and contains a pier with a promenade and cruise ship berths, a marina, a float plane terminus, the Vancouver Convention Centre, and luxury hotels. A picturesque walking and cycling trail starts at Canada Place and travels to Stanley Park beside the inlet. There are many great scenes for photographers along this route. If someone feels very energetic, a wall along this trail combined with a walk around Stanley Park makes a lovely day trip.
Buses and taxis travel from downtown Vancouver to Stanley Park. The bus system is run by an organization called TransLink. The organization also operates SkyTrain, an LRT (Light Rapid Transit) system that operates in Vancouver and adjoining cities. One SkyTrain line runs between the Vancouver International Airport and downtown Vancouver. The TransLink website contains useful information for visitors, including a trip planner. It's not hard to explore Vancouver by public transit and the rewards are very worthwhile. There's a lot to see in the city, including the beautiful Stanley Park.
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© 2015 Linda Crampton