Wednesday, November 11, 2009
George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary
Ironic names aside, one of my favourite places in Greater Vancouver is the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Located on Westham Island in Delta, the Reifel Bird Sanctuary is a massive estuary on the Fraser River where you can find a large variety of birds in their natural environment.
I've been coming to the bird sanctuary ever since I was a little girl. My parents and grandparents used to take me here, and now I take my significant other and our friends. It's always super enjoyable and a great way to relax on a weekend. It's a must-see if you're into bird watching or nature in general.
The bird sanctuary's set up with a series of well-maintained gravel paths through the Fraser River estuary ecosystem. There's forest...
...and saltwater marshes
And just to give you a better idea, here's the satellite view of the bird sanctuary. Zoom in or out or just pan around to get a better sense of how it's laid out and where it is in relation to Vancouver, the Fraser River, and the Strait of Georgia:
View Larger Map
Throughout the bird sanctuary there are benches, picnic tables, and bird blinds. There's a lookout tower at the north-east corner of the park which offers a fantastic view. As well, scattered throughout the park are many bird feeders and bird houses.
One of my favourite activities is simply feeding the ducks.
For 50 cents you can buy a bag of birdseed and feed the ducks (and Canada geese and other curious waterfowl) by hand.
Or if you have some unshelled sunflower seeds, you can even feed Chickadees by hand if you stand still, offering the seeds in an open palm.
Right now - autumn - is actually one of the best times to visit. It's now when you'll see an abundance of birds because many of them spend their winters here at the sanctuary. But regardless of the season, one thing is certain - there will always be a lot of ducks.
But we were very fortunate to spot some Sandhill cranes during our last visit. Once in great abundance in Greater Vancouver, they are now very rare and can be sometimes spotted here at the bird sanctuary or in nearby places like Burns Bog. We actually managed to see some of them fly in - the first time I've ever seen cranes in flight. I wish the picture was in focus, but what a sight!
Of course, autumn's always a great time to visit simply because of all its associated sights and smells. The bird sanctuary makes for one of those fantastic autumn environments that you just can't replicate in the city. You have the leaves changing colour...
... the berries fermenting on the branches
... and the cedar waxwings gobbling them up!
If you time your visit around Halloween, you'll be able to witness the snow geese migration. Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of snow geese arrive on Westham Island from the Arctic. They rest and feed in the farmer's fields just outside of the bird sanctuary before making their way south for the winter. It's truly an incredible sight. In fact, it's almost comical!
Getting to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary is relatively straight forward. Simply take Oak Street south out of Vancouver until it turns into Hwy 99, and take the first exit after the George Massey tunnel to Ladner Village.
View Larger Map
Once in Ladner Village, there are signs pointing you toward the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island. You can also click on "View Larger Map" just above to see step-by-step directions (including that wonderful Google Street View functionality). All in all it takes approximately 40 minutes to drive there from downtown Vancouver.
There is no public transit to the bird sanctuary, so having a car is a necessity unless you don't mind taking your bike on the bus from Vancouver to Ladner and then cycling an easy 7km through flat farmland.
Note that the bird sanctuary closes at 4pm (although they'll let you stay until 5pm), so do plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get there.
Official website: http://www.reifelbirdsanctuary.com/
Address: 5191 Robertson Road, Delta BC
Hours of operation: 9am until 4pm, 7 days a week
Admission: $4 adults, $2 children (2-14) & seniors (60+)