Vancouver Hidden Gem Alert: Discovering Westham Island – Part II

Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters | Flickr

Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters | Flickr

Just 45 minutes south of Vancouver, tiny Westham Island has its own world-class bird sanctuary, farm stands and acres of pumpkin patches, and waterfront bike trails.  Check out Part I of this two-part series for more details.  

While the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island might not exactly be a hidden gem (the parking lot was filled beyond capacity when I visited), it amazes me how few Vancouverites have been there.  The 740-acre, waterfront refuge – intersected with leafy, winding pathways, lagoons and quiet backwaters – provides habitat for some 250 species of birds throughout the year.  Admission is $5 and you can buy a bag of birdseed for $1.

On any given day, you’ll be swarmed by hundreds (often thousands) of ducks, who want your precious seeds.  Over the weekend, I also saw at least a half-dozen great blue herons perched out in the water, red-winged blackbirds, brilliantly coloured wood ducks and tiny finches that have learned to eat out of your hand.

At one point, I followed a gravel path out to a long dike on the edge of the Fraser River Estuary, where a sea of reeds stretches to the Strait of Georgia.  Here I ran into the sanctuary’s celebrity residents: a flock of metre-tall sandhill cranes. The friendly birds – with long spindly legs, shaggy grey feathers and a brilliant patch of red feathers on their heads – can be lured in for a closer look with a bribe of seeds.

After leaving the sanctuary, I drove back along Westham Island Road and crossed back over the rickety wooden bridge that connects the island to the mainland for one last stop.  I took a right turn onto River Road and followed to where it dead-ends at a set of dikes.  The flat, gravel tops make perfect bike paths.

I hopped on my mountain bike and pedalled along the waterfront, with the massive cranes at the Tsawwassen Port visible in the distance.  The pathway – empty except for a handful of walkers – extends out to a point and then curls back inland, tracing the contours of a farm field.

Photo credit: mag3737 | Flickr

Photo credit: mag3737 | Flickr

After about 15 minutes of very leisurely riding, I saw a thick white band along the shore ahead.  As I got closer, I realized I was looking at snow geese – thousands of them.  The stark white birds – which look like bleached-out versions of Canadian geese – migrate every winter from Alaska in enormous flocks and spend a few weeks here.

When I passed by, they took off all at once in a whirlwind of honking and flapping.  In the air, however, they were the picture of elegance – snow-white bodies with black-tipped wings arrayed in long Vs that rose high over the island.

Anyone else a fan of Westham Island? Let us know below. 

For more updates on hidden gems in Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.  

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