Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011 WEEK 10: Reifel Bird Sanctuary

I know, I know... More birds! It wasn't intentional and no, you do not need to launch an intervention regarding what probably looks like an obsession. At least, not yet...

This week I found myself on Westham Island which is an awesome place to visit. Located on the outskirts of Ladner in Delta, B.C., Westham Island is accesible by a single lane bridge. If you follow the road to its natural end you will pass by miles and miles of farmland and some farmhouses that have wonderful character. In the summer months there are numerous fruit stands along the way and in the Fall there are pumpkins in many of these fields.

Eventually you'll arrive at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Named after real estate and brewery tycoon George C. Reifel, the land was bought in 1927 when it was isolated from the rest of Westham Island by Ewen, Robertson and Fuller sloughs, natural river channels that dissected the island. Barging in equipment and building materials, by 1929 a large recreational family retreat had been constructed along with numerous dykes and causeways to create waterfowl habitats.

In the 1960's George's son, (also named George) granted a lease to the British Columbia Waterfowl Association and by 1972 the Reifel family transferred the sanctuary and surrounding land to the people of Canada on the condition it be managed in perpetuity for the benefit of waterfowl. It soon became a Ramsar site, designating it as an area of international significance.

Visit the sanctuary between October and April and you'll see thousands of Snow Geese. I got some pictures but none of them turned out as well as I'd hoped. But there were plenty of other things to see.


Duck! Duck! Duck! Duck! Goose! Well, almost.


This amazingly colored fella is a Wood Duck. Normally they're quite shy and keep their distance but this one was having far too much fun hanging out in a bird house filled with tasty bird feed.

Further down the trail we found a small cluster of people armed with iphones, point and shoots and some serious high-end gear (yes, I suffered a little lens envy). All of them were gazing in wide-eyed awe into the branches of a tree where this little bundle of feathered fun was napping.


This is a Northern Saw-Whet owl and he was so small (about 6" in diameter) and well hidden I would never have seen him had it not been for the bird-watching experts present. One would think owls would be high up in a tree but this Saw-Whet (as well as three others we saw during the afternoon) was nestled in the branches just a couple of feet above our heads.

On the northern edge of the Sanctuary there are wetlands as far as the eye can see and dotted along the outer-most trail there are a several bird hides. This one had a terrific atmosphere as the sun rays found their way in through the cracks in the dusty planking.


A short distance from the bird hide we came across this Blue Heron. I wonder if he's a chum of the fine feathered friend who let me take his picture a few weeks ago? I love the reflection in the water and the foreground bullrushes.


Sometimes the camera captures actions and poses we wouldn't ordinarily see.


I love the colors of this Red-winged Blackbird. Quite the fashion statement!

Driving out of the bird sanctuary I glimpsed a large shape perched atop a roadside tree... Needless to say I just had to pull over and snap a few pictures. So regal and wise looking.


Whether you're a photography enthusiast, bird-watcher, nature lover or just enjoy a nice stroll, I highly recommend a visit to Westham Island. Even just driving around there are lots of unique sights to take in and there really isn't anywhere else in the Lower Mainland quite like it.

On a related note, Casa Mia, the luxury Spanish-style villa built by the Reifel family in 1932 and located on Southwest Marine Drive is back up for sale again... Clocking in at a meagre 20,782 square feet it'll only set you back a cool $10.5 million to make it your new home!