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Vancouver Day Trips: Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Delta, BC’s George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, long known and loved by the North American birding community, deserves a wider audience.

For anyone with a passion for nature and a desire for tranquility, it’s well worth the hour-long drive from downtown Vancouver to this wetland oasis in the heart of the Fraser River estuary.

Sandhill Crane

Reifel is the preferred rest stop for millions of migratory birds that regularly travel up and down the Pacific Coast.

To date, 268 species of bird have visited the sanctuary, from dime-a-dozen Canada geese and Mallard ducks to the rarer Black-Crowned Night Heron and Gyrfalcon.

The 300-hectare (850-acre) site is open year-round and there is always something to marvel at here, especially during the fall migratory period (October to early December) when as many as 80,000 Lesser Snow Geese arrive to overwinter in the sanctuary.

Children in particular love visiting in the colder months when tiny Black-Capped Chickadees will feed right out of any patient hand bearing sunflower seeds.

In the spring–usually around April–the snow geese depart for their Arctic nesting grounds and eagles, ospreys, cormorants and other fish-eating birds feast on the salmon and oolichan that return each year to the mouth of the Fraser River. Spring is also baby season at the sanctuary; the “aw” factor of dozens of fuzzy ducklings and goslings is high come May.

A range of migrant shorebirds visit the marsh in late summer and early fall; it’s a good time to view less common species.

This is an easy place to while away a day. Almost every trail offers spectacular river and mountain views; it’s worth climbing the central lookout for a 360-degree view of the region.

There are bathrooms, benches and plenty of picnic tables on site–but no food services, so pack along water and a picnic lunch if you plan to stay for more than a few hours.

Wear comfortable, water-resistant walking shoes or boots. Even in the warmest months there can be quite a breeze off the river, so bring a windbreaker and extra layers.

And definitely bring a camera: it’s easy to capture professional-quality wildlife shots here.

Getting there:

The sanctuary is located on Westham Island, just west of the community of Ladner in the Municipality of Delta. Don’t even try to get here by public transit; you’ll need to drive or rent a car.

Hours and admission:

The sanctuary is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm; there is access to the trails after 4 pm. Adults are $5; children 2-14 and seniors, $3. A bag of bird seed is $1 at the entrance gate. The site is wheelchair-friendly. No dogs are allowed.

For a map and more detailed visitor information, visit the web site.