Reifel Sanctuary: Bird Watching Year-Round

Grandpa's Bird Book and Binoculars.

Grandpa’s Bird Book and Binoculars.

Awhile ago I unpacked some of my grandfather’s old treasures and found his birdwatching book and binoculars. My daughter recently expressed a desire to go birding, even asking for binoculars for Christmas. Convinced it’s in my genes, I decided to take the kids out to the city’s best birding spot: the Reifel Sanctuary.

The George C Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located 20 minutes from Tsawwassen (or the town of Ladner) – about an hour away from Vancouver. It is open every single day from 9am to 4pm (yes, including holidays).

Admission is free with an annual membership ($50 per family per year, $500 for life) or $5 for adults and $3 for children (they accept major credit cards).

What you’ll see depends on the time of year. For our winter visit we were looking forward to feeding the Black-Capped Chickadees and tame Mallards as well as scanning the woods for forest birds and owls.

Check the Bird Book First!

Check the Bird Book First!

We arrived just after opening, said hello to the ducks and cranes by the gate and grabbed a bag of $1 bird seed. The ducks followed both kids and were highly interested in the seed.

From there we walked a bit deeper into the woods, past frozen ponds full of ducks and over to the trees where some chickadees ate from my hand. A bit further on and some Red-Winged Blackbirds were game enough to perch on our fingers and eat seeds from our palms.

A few things to know: at Reifel, the birds come first, this is their safe place. That means no dogs (even in the parking lot – we left ours at home), no concession (bring snacks and hot drinks) and no smoking or littering.

The gravel pathways are surprisingly stroller-friendly provided you have pneumatic tires. While in the spring and summer the picnic area would be perfect for homemade snacks, in the winter there there’s a warming hut with a wood-burning stove for enjoying treats.

Another friendly tip is that Westham Island (where the sanctuary is located) can be hard to find. This is an area packed with rural roads and farms – the access to the island itself is a wooden one-lane bridge. All that to say that getting there is part of the adventure! Westham’s family farms offer produce in warmer seasons, although you can snag farm-fresh eggs from an honour stand year-round.

Ducks can ice skate!

Ducks can ice skate!

We plan to return in the spring to catch a sight of the millions of Western Sandpipers that pass through the area as well as eagles, seals, cormorants and other fish-eating wildlife.

And again in the summer when many of the 280 species that call this place home return to nest and have their young. The nearby farms would be a great place to pick up local fare for the perfect picnic to share with the ducks.

Looks like our family birding tradition will continue all year long.

Published: December 31st, 2015

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Morgan was raised on camping by her father and maternal grandparents. A life-long Vancouverite, she is a tourism instructor at BCIT and Royal Roads University and a customer service trainer. Morgan lives in East Vancouver with her family and puts a heavy emphasis on family travel as a way to learn, grow, and reconnect.

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