Hidden Gem Alert! Amazing Wildlife at Reifel Bird Sanctuary

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Every visitor to Vancouver has their must-do list.  Stanley Park is always on there.  Then there’s Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, among other great choices.

Almost no one has the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on their list.  But they should.

A stunning reserve situated on 850 acres of coastal ponds and tidal marshes in nearby Delta, B.C., the Reifel Sanctuary is one of the most important stopovers for birds migrating along the Pacific Coast.  Translation:  Year-round, it’s chock-full of amazing wildlife, from majestic great blue herons to waist-high sandhill cranes, snow geese, owls and just about every kind of duck you could imagine.

I checked out the Reifel Sanctuary for the first time over the weekend.  It’s a bit of a trip from downtown Vancouver – about 45 minutes south by car, passing through Richmond and into the flat farmland of the rural community of Ladner.  You cross a rickety, one-lane wooden bridge onto Westham Island, located in the Fraser River estuary, and finally reach the sanctuary.

I’m not a birdwatching fanatic, and I wasn’t really expecting much.  But the sanctuary turns out to be a true hidden gem – a world-class facility with kilometres of well-groomed walking trails that wind through beautiful backwaters, past forests and fields, and right up to the oceanfront marshes.

And everywhere you look there are birds.  Thousands and thousands of mallard ducks that descend upon visitors hoping for a handout of bird seed (bags are available for $1 at the gate).  Gorgeous red-wing blackbirds that flit from branch to branch and warble as you pass by.  Exotic-looking wood ducks with their royal plumage; clumsy little American coots; widgeons and buffleheads and all sorts of waterfowl you never knew existed (helpful signs posted along the trails help you identify the birds you’ll see).

It’s easy to spend two or three hours wandering the trails, admiring the scenery and spotting birds.  I think the undisputed highlight for many visitors have to be the enormous sandhill cranes.  Measuring up to a metre high, with spindly legs, grey feathers and a bright pink head that culminates in a pointy beak, the sandhill cranes look like they belong in a much more tropical setting – like some distant cousin of the pink flamingo.

The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is open daily from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.  Adult admission is a steal at $5.  It’s great for families, couples, bird lovers, photographers and anyone looking for a peaceful spot to spend a few hours.  For directions and more information, check out their website (Just a note: The website is a little old and really doesn’t do the sanctuary justice).

Any fans of the Reifel Bird Sanctuary out there?  What are some highlights? 

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