A city as large as Victoria rarely offers much potential for wildlife viewing, but Victoria isn't an average city, and even in wildlife it tends to excel. Most of the opportunities are on the water, not surprisingly, with Juan de Fuca and Haro straits home to both resident and transient orca populations as well as visits by humpback and gray whales. Seals, sea lions and otters represent the majority of the marine mammal population, with numerous species of seabirds to round out the list. A surprising aspect of British Columbia is how few seabird nesting sites are locate here. The two major rookeries, Triangle and Solander islands, are located well offshore in the remote northwest extent of Vancouver Island and so are rarely seen. But a third is located just off Victoria in Oak Bay.
The Oak Bay Islands Ecological Reserve is a dispersed collection of islands: Great Chain Island and Chain Islets, Jemmy Jones Island and Alpha Island, as well as the marine environment off Ten Mile Point. Together they protect 211 hectares of marine bird nesting habitat, rare meadow plants and the shallow-water ocean ecology. Chain Islets and Great Chain Island are considered the third-largest colony of double-crested cormorant in B.C., even though that population has been in decline. The reserve is also home to the largest breeding population of glaucous-winged gulls in B.C. Black oystercatcher also nest here and on Jemmy Jones Island and nearby Lewis Reef.
You may not get no more than a glimpse of the islands from the shore at Oak Bay, but rewarding beach strolls are possible from parks such as Uplands Park, Willow Park and Cadboro Bay Park. All three make excellent kayak launches if you wish to explore the nearby islands, but be warned the currents here are strong and can create powerful rips and eddies. It is an area for advanced paddlers only.
Cycling: Marine Drive and the waterfront route through Victoria and Oak Bay gets a nod as one of the nicer options for bicycle travel alongside car traffic. Marine Drive changes names often as the route progresses, plus the road is narrow and busy, but traffic is slow and generally accommodating for cyclists and the stately mansions of Oak Bay and frequent wonderful ocean views make this a highly worthwhile way to see the better side of urban Victoria.
Camping: If you get the chance, either by paddle or water taxi, an incredible wilderness location is Discovery Island Marine Provincial Park, located just off Oak Bay. Here you'll find waterfront trails, inland trails and a lighthouse. Rudlin Bay is the recreational centre of the park with a good beach, picnic tables, a designated camping area on a sloping grassy bank. Numerous reefs and lack of a suitable anchorage keep boaters away. The mooring buoy is for B.C. Parks staff only. A side trail near Commodore Point leads to the rubble and foundations of the pioneer home of Capt. E.G. Beaumont, who donated the southern half of this island for a marine park in 1972. The north end of the island is a First Nation reserve, a Skingeenis village site that long predates Victoria. Sea Bird Point on outer Discovery Island is the border between Haro Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait. Currents are strong here with rips and turbulent water along most of Discovery Island and the other nearby islands.
Trial Islands Ecological Reserve: This reserve was created in 1990 and includes the two main rock islands and associated islets in a turbulent area of Juan de Fuca Strait. The reserve is closed to the public, but it is worth noting the islands are considered a living museum of the plant life in Victoria prior to its development. Twenty-eight rare plants can be found here, with 15 of those considered highly rare. The ecology is actually considered closer to California and Oregon than the northern Pacific coast.