Monday, November 20, 2006

Reifel Bird Refuge in Ladner BC

Had another opportunity to visit the the Reifel Wildlife Sanctuary in Ladner, just southwest of Vancouver B.C. I had been here earlier in the year during the late summer when there had been a preponderance of songbirds but few water fowl. This being Autumn was a prime time for viewing as the Flyways are busy with many species migrating south to their wintering grounds.

Especially notable are the Snow Geese that stop over in the Fraser River delta as they feed and recuperate from their long flight. Usually 15,000-20,000 of these large birds will make the migration. As the past five years have been relatively mild many chicks have survived to make the arduous journey; as many as 45,000 to 50,000 are believed to be in transit along the Western Flyway this year.

Ron Patrick and I had been waiting for their arrival, and with a beautiful sunny Sunday tempting us to comeout, we loaded the cameras into the Jeep and headed for the ocean. We wanted to get there early in the day as parking and admittance to the Refuge is limited. Normally this is not a problem, but the star attraction of the Snow Geese had been reported in the local newspapers and on T.V., so we knew we had to get there early to beat the crowds. The lot was full, but we found a spot no problem, broke out the cameras, and then our warm clothing.

It had been down to freezing over night, and it was still only a few degrees above that now, with a cold wind blowing off the ocean. We paid our $4.00 entry fee and picked up a couple of bags of bird seed to tempt the birds into camera range if necessary. There were literally hundreds of Mallard ducks crowding around the pathways in the park, all waiting for a free handout from those little brown paper bags. We walked around the refuge making note of the numerous types of water fowl present, some of which were:
Mallard ducks, American Coots, Great Blue Herons, Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, Wood ducks, Blue Winged Teals (ducks), Lesser Scaup, (ducks), and more Mallard ducks.

As we got closer to the northwest boundary of the Refuge, we could hear, but not yet see, the loud honking of thousands of geese as they foraged on the outer tidal flats. We climbed an observation tower that was approx. 45 feet tall, and it easily lifted us high above the surrounding maze of hedges and marsh lagoons. Off in the distance we could see what appeared to be snow lying on acres of tidal flats, but a low flying Harrier Hawk spooked our "snow" and the honking of geese sounded an alarm as thousands upon thousands of Snow Geese suddenly took to the sky as one giant flock It was quite a sight to behold, and all around us every body stopped to watch the spectacle.

At strategic locations, such as bird blinds and the observation tower, volunteers were there to answer questions. One volunteer told us that there were an estimated 15,000 Snow Geese on site today and we had the opportuinty to see the entire flock in action a while later after a Bald Eagle did a fly-by and every single bird in view took off in the opposite direction. WHAT A SIGHT !!

Ron and I made our way back towards the exit stopping for photos whenever we could. Back at the parking lot I came across a Sandhill Crane begging for handouts from people. This was a surprise as normally these birds are quite aggresive and do not hesitate to attack people.

As the Cranes stand almost 4 feet tall, they are definitely dangerous to humans with their quick jabs with their sharp beaks. However, this one let us get within feet of it, and hence I fired off a few good shots, as did Ron.

It was now after lunch and we were getting hungry, so we left the hordes of folks to the birds, and we wandered down some dyke roads looking for a scenic stop. Well, we found it on Fuller Slough...we had a picturesque view with the mountains north of Vancouver stretching from west to east, unbroken for over 80 miles all the way to Hope, gateway to the Interior of B.C.

To the west was Vancouver Island and it's mountains only 26 miles away across Georgia Straight, to the south was the superport of Roberts Bank, and to the east was the Cascade Mountain range running in a northerly direction to meet the Coast Mountain chain at Hope.
Mt. Baker was prominent in the Cascade Range, and as it is an active volcano, I always look at it and wonder...what if? .............

Back in the Jeep we meandered down a few more roads and wound up at Roberts Bank Terminal. Here we watched in amazement at the giant cranes, called gantries, speedily unloaded a container ship of it's containers, of which there were too many for us too count.

We then decided to more or less call it a day and slowly headed for home in a circuitous route. 45 minutes of driving found us well out to the east of the ocean, we were now out in the farming community of Langley which borders the Fraser River. Having an hour left of daylight, I wanted to find Derby Reach Regional Park. As well as being a riverside campground with excellent bar fishing, it is the site of the original Fort Langley built by the Hudsons Bay company in 1827.

As it turned out the fort site was a couple of miles upstream from the campground. We went up to the historic site, had a quick tour around, but the fading light meant that we didn't have much time, so we made a mental note to come back another sunny Sunday. That was it for the day..Ron had taken a couple of dozen of quality photos with his telephoto lens, while I had used up 60 pictures with my digital camera.

While we were now only a ten minutes from home, as the crow flies, across the river to Maple Ridge, we had to drive around on Hwy #1 over the Port Mann bridge through Coquitlam, and it was almost an hour's drive before we were home.

It was a great day of exploring in our own back yard, and Ron was continually surprised at all the things to see in our own town..a nice change instead of driving 500-600 miles in day as we had done on our summer drives.

Eddie in Maple Ridge

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