I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Northwestern Alligator Lizard near Brandywine Falls

This past August my kids and I spent three nights camping at Alice Lake with my Uncle and cousin.  My Uncle is an enthusiastic hiker, and one of my favourite people to go hiking with, so it should not be a surprise that we took the kids out on hikes of varying length every day.  On our second day we headed to Brandywine Falls, which has several trail options.  The first, and easiest, option is the short trail to the falls.  As you can see they are beautiful, although much more impressive in person, and well worth the 10-20 minute, easy walk it takes to get there.

Brandywine Falls

Brandywine Falls

After we checked out the falls we headed back toward the railway tracks and took another trail that eventually branches off either to the suspension bridge over Callaghan Creek or, I believe, the Cheakamus Bungee Bridge (This is what I get for slacking off on my posts and not writing down exactly what we did).  We opted for the suspension bridge, which was approximately three kilometres away from the trail head near the railway tracks and, although at times it was somewhat challenging for the kids, it was a nice hike with a variety of scenery including rocky ridges with scrubby trees, and at times denser forest. 

We crossed the bridge and found ourselves at a campsite where we had a picnic lunch with a overly friendly squirrel who obviously equated humans with food.  I am not sure the kids made the connection that we could have driven there instead of dragging them on a 3km hike to see the bridge.  They did not say anything and I certainly did not feel the need to point it out.

Callaghan Creek Suspension Bridge
On our way back my son, who was 5 at the time, was complaining because he was getting tired and we were bringing up the rear, which he hates.  The little lizard shown below provided a great distraction and lightened the mood for a bit.  Lucky for me there are only four lizard species in British Columbia and judging from the pictures I found I would guess that we saw a Northwestern Alligator Lizard.  As I have previously mentioned I love it when I see a new plant, or animal and this was no exception.  I must have taken five pictures, getting closer each time as I was sure it would take off any second.  Luckily this one did not mind posing for the photo and I was both surprised and happy that I got this close.

Northwestern Alligator Lizard
In searching for information about lizards in British Columbia (BC) I found a web page called The Reptiles of British Columbia.  They have information on all four species of lizards in BC.  The Northwestern Alligator Lizard is fairly common, and is considered a yellow listed species in BC - same as the Pacific Tree Frog, which I mentioned in my last post.  You will find the Alligator Lizard on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, as well as in Southwestern BC.  You can click here for a map illustrating its range in BC.  I found it curious that the "Northwestern" Alligator Lizard is found in "Southwestern" BC so I went looking for some information about its range outside of BC.  According to wikipedia while the Northwestern subspecies is found in southern BC and most of Washington there are also three other subspecies distributed south along the Pacific Coast to central California.

The Northwestern Alligator Lizard does well in cool, wet climates and can live in a variety of habitats including grasslands, stream banks and ocean beaches.  Their main requirement is a sunny, open area for basking.  After hibernating all winter the lizards mate in spring and the females give birth to 4-6 live young sometime between mid-August and mid-September.  I should also note that the females only mate once every two years (on average) using the time in between to recover their stores of body fat.  A meal for this lizard can include beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders, snails, scorpions or millipedes.

Adult lizards can grow to a maximum length of approximately 20 cm (8 inches), of which a large portion is their tail.  When threatened they have the ability to drop their tail if the standard defense techniques of biting, and releasing a bad odour are unsuccessful.  I found a web page with some up close, and slightly gross, pictures of a recently dropped tail.  I am not sure if the pictures, or the thought of a human possibly causing the detached tail, bothered me more.  Probably naive, but I would prefer to assume that someone happened upon the lizard at just the right time.  Regardless the site has some great information.  Predators of the Northwestern Alligator Lizard include a variety of snakes, birds including shrikes and hawks, and house cats.

Depending upon when you asked my son this day was either "the best day ever", or "the worst day ever".  By the end of the hike you probably would have heard the latter response.  However, the lizard sighting helped skew the results to the former...at least for a little while.

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