Video Guided Nature Tour
Our Virtual Nature Walk takes place in Lost Lake Park on the Nature Trail that starts at the Lost Lake PassivHaus and follows Blackcomb Creek. Join us to discover more about the species that call Whistler home and how all things in nature, including us, are interconnected.
Each of the videos (and video transcripts) below match up with 10 different numbered stops along the 500m trail. We encourage you to watch the videos while you’re out exploring the trail.
Stop 1: Introduction
Welcome to a nature walk with the Whistler Museum here in Lost Lake Park. If you’d like to visit us, the Whistler Museum is located in the heart of Whistler Village behind the library.
We’d like to start by acknowledging that the Whistler area is withinthe overlapping territories of the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation. For more information about these vibrant and distinct cultures please visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.
Welcome to the temperate rainforest, we’re so glad you are joining us today. We love to share our passion for nature since it’s what connects us all together.
As you will see, the temperate rainforest is home to giant trees, lush plant life and a huge diversity of animals and fungi. Healthy biodiversity supports healthy ecosystems, which produce goods we can’t live without. Things like the air that we breath, the food that we eat and the medicines that heal us.
Temperate rainforests also hold more biomass per area than any other ecosystem on earth. This means they are incredibly valuable in storing carbon that would otherwise fuel global warming. Temperate rainforests are an incredibly important ecosystem in British Columbia and around the world.
Whistler is on the eastern edge of the temperate rainforest so we’re on the transition zone towards a drier continental climate. Our unique geography means that you can find continental as well as coastal species here.
Ecosystems like the temperate rainforest have evolved for millions of years and now house complex communities living in balance with their environment. They are so complex that all things in nature ranging from the largest to the smallest, including us humans, are so closely dependent on each other.
We hope you enjoy this walk where we explore 10 different stops along the way and how everything in nature is connected. The next stop is just a few metres away.
Stop 2a: Woodpecker Holes
Here we are at the first stop on our nature walk. Take a look at this tree and tell me what you notice—look way up. You most likely noticed that there are a lot of holes. Any guesses what might have made them and why?
They were made by Whistler’s largest woodpecker which makes the biggest woodpecker holes—called the Pileated woodpecker. You may have also noticed that many of the holes are rectangular and they almost look like they could have been made by humans, but they’re not.
These rectangular holes are characteristic of the Pileated woodpecker who digs them to find food, like ants or other insects. These feeding excavations are so extensive that they often attract other birds; other woodpeckers, as well as House wrens, may come and feed there.
Pileated woodpeckers also make holes to use for a nest. However, they only use their nest for one year and then abandon them providing homes for other animals like owls, tree-nesting ducks and flying squirrels. You could say that Pileated woodpeckers are like contractors that other animals rely on to build their homes for them.
Stop 2b: Woodpecker Holes
I want to draw your attention to another tree with a lot of holes in it. You will see that these holes are much smaller and closer together. Do you have any guesses what might have made these holes and why?
Several people have guessed that the holes are caused by insects, however they are not. They are made by a Red-breasted sapsucker looking for sap. Sapsuckers eat insects, mostly ants, and spiders however as their name indicates, they rely on sap as their main food source.
Just like people who tap maple trees to make maple syrup, these birds drill their wells in early spring. Like with Pileated woodpeckers, many other animals rely on Sapsucker holes for food. The Rufous hummingbird is closely associated with the Red-breasted Sapsucker. It nests near sap wells and may even follow the woodpecker around during the day, feeding at the wells the sapsucker leaves flowing.
As we move to the next stop, I invite you to notice how many different colours you can observe along the way.
Stop 3: Skunk Cabbage
Do you recognize this large plant with the huge leaves growing from in these wetlands? It’s called skunk cabbage. Can anyone guess why it may smell skunky? Why does any flower have a smell? To attract pollinators!
The pollinators of skunk cabbage are attracted to the smell of rotting flesh. They are either flies that lay their eggs on carrion (dead animals), or carrion beetles looking to eat the fly maggots.
Skunk cabbage is an important food for, can anyone guess? I’ll give you a clue they are big and sleep through the winter months. That’s right, bears!
It’s one of the first foods available in the spring when they wake from hibernation. Eating skunk cabbage helps dislodge the fecal plugs bears develop during hibernation and important source of calories.
Bears depend on pollinators that like the smell of carrion, the ones that pollinate skunk cabbage, as well as other pollinators that like the smell of flowers, like flies, and bees and butterflies, that pollinate another favourite food for the bears—berries. So, big black bears are totally dependent on teeny tiny insect pollinators for their survival. Pretty amazing isn’t it?
Stop 4: Bear Signs
If you look up along this tree, do you see anything unusual? Can you see the scratches in the bark?
This tree has been marked by bears. Bears of all ages and genders bite, scratch, and rub their scent on trees, usually along travel routes, to mark their territory and communicate with other bears. During the springtime mating season, male bears use the trees more frequently to advertise their presence to nearby females in hope of finding a mate.
Perhaps you’ve seen a bear in whistler? The odds are stacked in your favour, since we have more black bears here than there would be in a truly wild place. That’s because during development we planted plenty of pre-berry and post-berry foods which can support a higher density population of bears. The golf courses, ski trails, and sub-divisions cleared the way for clover, dandelions, and sweet grasses to grow in abundance, which are some of their favourite foods.
The tree with these marks here is an alder, as are most of the other trees around us. That’s because broad-leaf, deciduous trees like these survive better in flood conditions, and we’re actually standing in a floodplain. As you follow the trail up and out of the floodplain, look at how the deciduous trees start to be replaced by evergreen trees instead.
Stop 5: Huge Cedars
Look at these fantastic trees—they are massive. Do you know what these huge trees are? If you guess redcedar you are correct.
These trees here are three hundred years old or more. You can identify it by its stringy bark that looks like it can be pulled off. In fact, birds often use the bark to make nests. Also, another distinguishing feature, if you look at the greenery, instead of having leaves that look like needles the leaves look flat and scaley, almost like the scales on a fish.
You may have heard that cedar wood is rot resistant and this is the reason why we use cedar for things like building roofs. Although the wood is rot resistant after hundreds of years the middle will eventually hollow out which is actually a great thing for the animals of the forest, including bears, that can then use the holes for dens. If you take a look at the base of this tree you will see a perfect example of this.
Trees are the most important component of the temperate rainforest; they produce a climate all their own, which includes temperature, moisture, and protection from wind. This special climate is the reason why you’ll find many organisms that can live in a rainforest and nowhere else. Once the trees are gone, all those organisms that rely on those trees are gone too.
Something to consider is how we are connected to trees as well. An essential things trees provide for us is the air we breathe. Plants and trees also give off organic compounds which help protect them from parasites and disease. In addition, these compounds are also beneficial for human health, by supporting our immune system. So, I encourage you to take a few deep breaths and really appreciate the trees for the oxygen and healing they provide us.
We’re lucky that in Whistler we have a variety of tree species which protects forests from threats like disease, pests and global warming – so if one tree species starts to die off, there are others that can fill their important role. We’ll be pointing out other tree species along the way.
Stop 6: Cedar Stump & Whistler Spruce
Do you see this notch in the side of this stump? Any ideas of why it is there? Notches were made in trees by early loggers. From the 1920s-1960s, logging was an important industry in the area and supported many families. The arrival of the railway to the area in 1914 brought Whistler’s first tourists and first loggers. The area’s “virgin forest of magnificent timber” supported several logging mills.
The notch on this cedar stump tells us that the tree was cut down by hand. This happened in the early days of logging before machinery was available in this relatively remote area. A notch held a springboard that a logger stood on. By getting higher off the ground where the tree wasn’t as wide, tree cutting was done faster. Even still, it might have taken more than one day of hard work to cut down a single tree—very different from today!
The majority of valley bottom trees have been logged in the last 80 years so most of valley bottom trees are no older than 80 years – those big trees we just passed are the biggest and oldest you’ll find in Lost Lake Park. Trees that haven’t been logged are over 300 years old up to 1,200 years. The oldest trees in the valley are the Ancient Cedars and in the Callaghan valley.
Can anybody guess what kind of tree this is? Pick up and feel one of the many seed cones scattered around the base and you’ll note that they are very soft and also very light.
It’s a spruce, the Whistler spruce. Here in Whistler we are very fortunate to be in a transition zone where continental and coastal species overlap. Sometimes they even cross breed. This spruce is a cross between the coastal Sitka spruce and interior Engelmann spruce, and we call it a Whistler spruce.
If you shake hands with a spruce, it’s the only conifer in Whistler that feels really spikey. Another feature is that the needles are square so you can take one and roll it between your fingers.
Stop 7: Silver Fir & Fungi
Do you see the little bubbles on the bark of some of the trees around you? These bubbles are filled with sap, which has an amazing smell. If you see some oozing out, give it a sniff, and see for yourself!
All conifer trees have sap which they use as a defence against insects that are trying to get to the sweet, sugary part of the tree. If they try to get in, the sap coming out is so sticky that it traps them and keeps the tree safe.
The sap bubbles on this tree is one of the features that can help you identify it as a silver fir. Another way you can identify this tree is by its needles, which are arranged flatly on the branch with a row on top directed toward the tip. Also, if you look very closely at the end of the needles, you should be able to see a notch, that some people say looks like a little bum.
What’s amazing about a forest like this is that at least half of all the life in it actually lives below the ground. One of the most important organisms that lives under there is fungi. Think of it this way, you could remove all the birds and still have a forest but if you remove all the fungi, the forest will die.
Fungi are neither plant nor animal, they belong to a category of life that is all their own. You might be picturing a mushroom in your head right now, or you might be looking at one on the forest floor, if the timing is right. But mushrooms are actually only the fruiting body of the fungi, just like an apple is the fruiting body of an apple tree.
There are three different lifestyles when it comes to fungi. About half of them are decomposers, they live on decaying matter. Most of the mushrooms that you eat, the ones you can buy in a store, are decomposers, and are usually grown on a rotting medium. You might see some of these decomposers growing on the sides of a fallen or standing dead or dying tree, such as bracket fungi or conks. Without these essential organisms, dead vegetation in the forest would pile so high that the living trees would be submerged.
The other half of fungi are living in symbiosis with plants and interlacing with their roots. We call them mycorrhizal. Fungi can spread over several square kilometres. If you picked up just one teaspoon of soil, it might contain several kilometres of string-like hyphae that form what’s nicknamed the “internet of the forest” – or wood wide web.
Throughout the forest, trees are all connected below the ground by both their roots and by fungi. Since fungi can’t produce their own food, they tap into the roots of the trees and other plants around them, and there’s a signalling that goes on and they say “hey, we can help each other out”. In exchange, the plants and trees get to use the fungal network for better access to nutrients and water.
The fungi are so small that then they can crawl into little soil spaces where tree roots can’t grow. It also costs a lot less carbon to support the fungi than it would for the tree to build its own vast root system. The fungus shuttle carbon between themselves, fungus to fungus, but fungi can also connect trees together.
Big old trees are hubs for this massive network that pretty much connects all the trees in the forest. Scientists have demonstrated that the underground network can shuttle carbon-based food from a big tree to surrounding trees, and that the ones that benefit the most are the youngest, most vulnerable trees.
In an old forest where there’s not a lot of light, young plants don’t have the ability to fix their own carbon very well. They rely on the help and support from the older trees around them. It’s really special how the forest works together like a community, or even like a family.
The third lifestyle, and only a small fraction of fungi, are parasites. That is, they kill a living host. One example of a parasitic fungi is the white pine blister rust that kills our five-needle pines and looks like a bright orange powder on the tree. As you continue to walk along the trail, keep an eye on the trees and forest floor to see if you can spot any mushrooms.
Stop 8: Western Hemlock
As we mentioned earlier, we have several tree species in our diverse forest—this is an example of a western hemlock. Hemlock is the most common tree in our area and has the smallest cones of all the trees with needles.
There is a story we like to tell about how hemlock got its cones from Mother Nature:
A long time ago when Mother Nature was handing out cones to all the trees, she asked all the trees to line up in order to receive their cones. Hemlock thought it was quite an important tree and wanted the biggest cones, so it budded into the front of the line. Mother Nature saw this and sternly ordered Hemlock to the back of the line. Hemlock ended up getting the smallest of the cones and to this day it hangs its head in shame and sadness for trying to bud in line. If you look up at the top, you’ll notice that the top of the tree is bent over.
As you move along to our next stop, take a look to see if you can find any possible animal homes.
Stop 9: Douglas-fir & Ice Age
Can anyone identify this tree right here? How about picking up some of the seed cones around the base. Why don’t I tell a story and that might give some clues.
A long time ago, there was a great forest fire burning through the forest. A family of little mice ran as fast as they could away from the hot fire, but he knew he could not outrun the fast-moving inferno. They ran from tree to tree asking them if they could save these mice. Nobody could help him until finally he came to a great old Douglas-fir tree, with its thick furrowed bark. “Help, help, Douglas-fir! Can you help us escape this fire?” And Douglas-fir replied, “Yes, I think that my thick bark will protect us all from the heat of this fire. I may be able to survive so why don’t you call climb to the top of my branches and climb under the scales of my seed cones for extra protection.” So they did, all the little mice climbed to the top of the tree, and climbed into the cones as they were told. And other mice took note and did the same thing. And sure enough, they all survived the forest fire. Which is why today, within these seed cones, you still see tiny mice feet and tails.
What we consider to be little mice feet are called bracts and only in the Douglas-fir cones are they so distinguishable. The bark of the Douglas-fir can be up to 30 cm thick! Despite its name, Douglas-fir is not a true fir and lacks the features of a true fir like the silver fir. The hyphen between “Douglas” and “fir” denotes this.
Can anyone guess what might have made the scratches we see on the rock surface? During the last ice age when continental glacial ice was thickest, about 14,000 years ago, how thick do you think it was at this spot? Any guesses? It covered Whistler but the top of Blackcomb still poked out. It would have reached the summit of Whistler Mountain (2,182 m) but stayed below Horstman Hut (2,284 m) on Blackcomb Mountain (2,440 m) and below the peak of Black Tusk (2,319 m).
How does a glacier form? In areas where winter snowpack exceeds summer meltback, a snowfield may accumulate and compact to ice until it becomes large enough to flow under the force of gravity. Like a slow-moving river of ice. At that point, by definition, the snowfield becomes a newborn glacier.
As it moves the glacier erodes its bed, excavating a steep-sided depression called a cirque.
Much of the scenery we now enjoy in Sea-to-Sky country was shaped in both large and small ways by glacial erosion. Broad U-shaped valleys of the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers; the series of ridges that define the skyline. Almost any natural outcropping of rock along the corridor bears the scars of glacial scouring. The alpine basins we ski in, the cirques or bowl-shaped depressions, the lakes—a special gift from the ice age.
During the long period we had glaciers here, a southerly-flowing glacier gouged out a complex landscape containing numerous large and small depressions. Four of these filled with water to become Alpha, Nita, Alta, and Green Lake.
Lost Lake has a different story. When the main glacier in Whistler valley began to fall apart, a large chunk of ice was left behind and partly buried by outwash gravel and silt from meltwater streams. When the ice-chunk melted it left a circular depression on the land. This filled with water and became a “kettle” now known as Lost Lake
Stop 10: Blackcomb Creek
The stream on your right that you’ve been following alongside is called Blackcomb Creek. It carries water from Blackcomb Mountain, including the Blackcomb and Horstman Glaciers. These glaciers are small remnants of the continental glacier that you just learned about at the last stop.
All living things need water, so creeks like this are what helps keep this area so lush and green. In the summer, the water in the creek comes from melting snow and glacier ice. You can actually tell a lot about the state of the Blackcomb and Horstman Glaciers because of the fact that the water runs clear.
Glaciers typically grow in the winter and melt in the summer. In order for a glacier to grow, an area needs to accumulate enough snow until it first compacts to ice under its own weight and then becomes large enough to flow under the force of gravity, like a slow-moving river of ice. As it grows, the weight of the glacier grinds up the underlying rock into a super fine material called “rock flour”. In the summer when it heats up and the glacier melts, the water carries the light rock flour with it, so it ends up looking cloudy.
So, the fact that the water is clear in the summer, indicates that the glaciers did not grow over winter, since they didn’t grind up that rock flour, which tells us that they are retreating. If you want to compare this creek to one being fed by growing glaciers, be sure to stop on the blue bridge outside the PassivHaus, where the tour started, and look upstream at the difference in water colour where Blackcomb creek meets the Fitzsimmons.
Thank you so much for joining us on the nature walk today, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. If you’d like to explore more, stop by to see us at the Whistler Museum which is located in the heart of Whistler Village behind the library.
Have fun exploring Whistler’s trails and natural spaces, hope to see you again soon.
THIS PROGRAM WAS GENEROUSLY SUPPORTED BY: