Golden Ears Provincial Park is a veritable mecca of outdoor activities; trails zigzag through the trees, waterfalls splash down into crystal-clear rivers, and Alouette Lake provides a cool reprieve for tired feet after a long hike. With so much to do, sometimes it’s tough to stop and take it all in. But if you do, you may be surprised at what, or rather who, you can see. Wildlife in Golden Ears is as abundant as it is intriguing, it just takes keen eye and a little bit of patience to spot it. So next time you’re striding through the woods, take a minute to try and identify these five species, although you may want to give the banana slugs some privacy!
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)
Although warbling vireos blend in fairly well amidst the subalpine rock and the ashy brown Western Hemlock, these mutely coloured cuties are anything but quiet. Their song is fairly easy to identify as they trill loudly and dizzyingly quickly. Pete Dunne, a well-respected birder, likens their song to “a happy drunk making a conversational point at a party.” So, for those of you who think birding is too technical, just start practicing at your local bar. If you do end up hearing the lively up and down song of this petite passerine, send your gaze into the upper canopy, where you will most likely find them foraging through the leaves for insects. To verify your sighting, check for muted grey upper parts, a pale white-yellow underbelly and a faint white stripe across the eye.
Where to find: In the high treetops of deciduous forests, often along stream edges where they commonly breed.
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)
These fast-flying, elegant little birds are a common sight throughout the summer, but don’t be fooled by their delicate nature. The rufous hummingbird is an incredibly scrappy species, defending fiercely against would-be usurpers at their feeding spots, even hummingbirds twice their size! Despite their impressive heroics, however, their populations have been in decline, and without conservation action, they risk becoming threatened or even worse, endangered. So what can you do to help? Plant hummingbird-friendly flowers such as Indian paintbrush and columbine, which can also be found in Golden Ears. A bird feeder outside your window is a great way to observe them, but be forewarned: they might chase all of the other birds away!
Where to find: Meadows, open forest, shrubby areas and sometimes thickets. Look for their small, delicate nests made of lichen, bark and spider’s silk.
Pacific Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)
Despite growing up in the PNW, I’m still excited to wander across, or more so, around, these Gastropod behemoths while hiking! Reaching up to 26 cm in length, banana slugs are the largest slugs in North America and the second largest in the world. Their size is remarkable, but their reproductive process is what really takes the cake. While banana slugs are hermaphroditic (having both male and female sexual organs) they prefer the intimate company of other slugs to self-fertilization *cue Barry White*. The romance starts much like our own: dinner and a movie. Except there’s no movie, and dinner involves consuming the slick and oozy trail of slime left by their prospective lover. It must be some good lovin’- the male literally gnaws off its own penis to disengage post-coitus. If you’re more keen than ever to find these slimey wonders, you’re in luck! They’re quite easily found across the PNW, except when they engage in estivation, where they excrete a protective layer of mucus and become inactive in dry weather.
Where to find: Generally in moist conditions, living their best lives in the decomposing leaf litter of the forest floor and under logs.
Coastal Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei)
Fitting neatly in the palm of your hand, coastal tailed frogs aren’t easily found thanks to their diminutive size at only 2-5 cm long and their well-camouflaging olive to brown, speckled colouration. Pair that with their lack of vocalizations and you’ll have to channel your best Steve Irwin energy to spot this inconspicuous amphibian. Despite their small stature, these tailed frogs are the longest lived on the planet, reaching 15 to 20 years of age. They also boast the longest larval period of any anuran species (2-4 years), and because of that, they require stable, continuously-flowing streams for tadpole development. What’s more, coastal tailed frogs are among only a handful of anurans that undergo internal fertilization, adding yet another item to the list of their unique qualities. Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about that “tail”. The conically shaped appendage is in fact a cloaca used to inseminate the females, but unlike the banana slug, they prefer to keep theirs intact post-hanky panky.
Where to find: Near fast-running, cool water streams and creeks with sufficient understory
Yellow-Pine Chipmunk (Tamias amoenus)
Teeny tiny and exceptionally adorable, the yellow-pine chipmunk is a familiar face in Golden Ears. Often seen scampering across a trail, or skittering over rocks, these high-energy little rodents are always amusing to stop and watch. Typically solitary animals, I distinctly remember the first time I ever saw a trio of them. I was transfixed by their rapid ascent and descent of a small tree, commenting on how they must be “playing” as they tumbled across each other. Yeah, not exactly… What youthful, naive me did not know at the time, is that this was a typical flirtation during the singular day of female estrous. How’s that for learning about the birds and the bees (and the chipmunks)? After about 30 days, the sperm donor kicks it and mama yellow-pine goes it alone with her 4-5 offspring. Two months later, her young hit the road and go off to feed, sleep and preen before they meet their very own “playmates”.
Where to find: Rocky areas, meadows and forested areas with enough ground cover for camouflage and plenty of brushy shrubs like snowberry and antelope grass.