Monday, 23 February 2015

George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Vancouver Canada, Feb 2015

GEORGE C. REIFEL MIGRATORY BIRD SANCTUARY is south of the airport (YVR International) at Vancouver. Unfortunately, there is no public transport that reaches the reserve. Ladner (5 miles) is served by buses from stations along the Canada Line train service and a cab can be used from there.


My dilemma, as ever, was timing. I wanted to be at the sanctuary during the late afternoon in order to see a Great Gray Owl as it warmed up for its evening hunt. Cabs and public transport were not reliable enough to get me back to the hotel for an early evening pick-up for my return flight, so a rental car was the best solution. Even so, I had brought all my luggage and uniform in case I had to make pick-up from the airport.


Not only was I lucky enough to be rostered a flight to Vancouver whilst a Great Gray Owl was being reliably seen, but I also stumbled across a Nature Vancouver bird walk and was kindly invited to join them. Thanks to John, Colin and Angela for their company and local knowledge and also to the chap, whose name I didn’t catch, who spotted the Northern Saw-whet Owls and the Great Horned Owl.
The gates at Reifel open at 09.00. The trees and bushes by the gate were quite productive with Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Golden-crowned Kinglet and a large flock of Pine Siskin as we waited.


If you arrive in the vicinity earlier, it is possible to visit a couple of local spots before heading onto Westham Island. LADNER HARBOR PARK brought Bald Eagles in good numbers, but then so did the parking lot outside Quizno’s Subs where 8 were seen circling overhead.
This Saturday morning, cars were queued along the road from the entrance and the parking lot filled immediately as people came to see the Great Gray Owl; a first for the sanctuary. The bird had been misplaced however and the reserve manager, Kathleen, was trying to relocate it in a restricted part of the reserve.


The large group on the Nature Vancouver walk was led by John and became strung out as we walked the trails of the reserve and bunched up again when Saw-whet Owls and Great Horned Owls were found.


The sanctuary consists of a few ponds and marsh overlooking the estuary where Trumpeter Swans could be seen in the far distance and Northern Harriers much closer in. Wildfowl were well represented with over a dozen species and Great Blue Herons were especially common.


A moment of added excitement almost brought an American Bittern which would have been a lifer for me. Unfortunately all I could make out was a clump of reeds that was denser and darker than the surrounding reeds. Try as I might, I could not turn it into a bittern, even though it appeared to change shape slightly.


Back at the visitor centre, word reached us that the Great Grey Owl had been re-found on the restricted section and that the manager was taking small groups to see it. I was astonished at how tolerant the owls in the reserve had been today. The Saw-whet and Great Horned Owls had been seen very close to a busy path and groups of people were jockeying to get a clear view. The Great Gray was even more accommodating as we passed just 4 meters beneath it and looked back into its startling yellow eyes.


The Sanctuary is situated in the north of Westham Island and forms a large land mass in the delta at the mouth of the estuary. It has well maintained trails which are always close to water. Mostly the water is fresh and observation has been made easy with verandas round the visitor centre, hides, platforms and a tower in the northern section. There is even a warming room for those chilly days. I didn’t get a chance to visit the display ponds, but a brief glimpse in passing made me think that the birds are very approachable there too and it would probably make a good photography area. Many of the birds are used to being fed and seed can be purchased from the gift shop. There are washrooms, but no food.


The gates open at 09.00, though in practice, they are often open a little earlier. Entry closes at 16.00 with visitors already on site given a further hour to clear the gates. There is an entry fee of Can$5 for non-members.
Buses 601 and 620 leave from Bridgeport Canada Line Station. They stop at the transit mall at Ladner (EB Clarence Taylor Cres FS Harvest Drive), 6.5 miles from the reserve gates.  606, 608 and C86 will get you 1.5 miles closer, but cabs will be increasingly difficult to find as you leave the town. Delta Surrey Green Cab operate in the vicinity. 604 943 1111

As if a 3-owl day with 2 lifers amongst them wasn't enough, I tried to top it out with a quick visit to Boundary Bay between 64th and 72nd Streets. A Northern Harrier showed well here, but no owls. But as I drove back to return the car and go to work (and I have to question what I have been doing to deserve such luck), 2 Short-eared Owls were seen chasing each other across a meadow by the freeway. 6 owls from 4 species. Fantastic days!

I must Credit Kathleen, the reserve manager for the Great Gray Owl tick. She graciously allowed access to what is usually a restricted area and she ensured that the bird was not put to undue stress. The Saw-whets and the Great Horned Owls were found by the nature walk advance guard and pointed out to me as we passed. The Short-eared Owls belonged to Lady Ridiculous Blind Luck and she teased me with them as I passed at speed. Thanks to you all.


Boundary Bay
If you cannot reach Reifel Bird Sanctuary, link to the dedicated USA and Canada page where you will find more sugestions for Vancouver.

Birds seen at George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)
300
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
20
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
6
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
5
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
4
American Wigeon (Anas americana)
60
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
200
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
130
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
8
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
1
Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)
1
Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
2
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
4
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
5
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
40
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
4
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
3
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
1
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
12
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
2
American Coot (Fulica americana)
5
Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
7
Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens)
6
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
1
Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)
1
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
2
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
2
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
1
Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus)
3
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
15
Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
1
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
5
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
8
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)
2
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
10
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
4
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)
3
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
4
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
12
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
20
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
6
Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)
200
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
6