When I was a kid, my parents would dress me in my Muddy Buddy overalls and my tiny rainboots and take me out to Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta. Splashing through puddles, we’d wind our way through lazy trails, encountering the sanctuary’s many feathery inhabitants. My sister and I would feed the birds with delight, their little talons tickling the palms of our hands. My dad would lift me onto his shoulders and point out the blue herons that balance in the shallows, their silhouettes cutting colourful figures against the Fraser River in the distance.
Recently, I revisited this place on a perfect day, when the cold and sun emphasized the wintery beauty of the sanctuary. I took my time exploring the sprawling wetlands, stopping at wooden viewing towers and strolling along boardwalks. I became reacquainted with the birds, using the masterful bird-feeding skills of my childhood.
Under an hour’s drive from Vancouver, the sanctuary is situated on its own little island just outside the village of Ladner. Guests require a reservation to visit, and an adult ticket costs $8. Since the sanctuary is operated by the nonprofit British Columbia Waterfowl Society, your money goes toward protecting and conserving BC’s waterfowl and wetland areas. A visit generally takes an hour or two, depending on how slowly you meander the paths. With spring coming soon, the sanctuary will see the return of the migratory birds and the place will be at its fullest, booming with life. Don’t worry too much about the timing, though, because most of the sanctuary’s residents can be seen year-round.
The chickadees, my favourite of the sanctuary birds, are some of these year-long residents, hanging around in even the coldest of weather. Walking down the long dirt paths lined with trees, you’ll hear the sounds of their name-sake chirping: “chick-a-dee-dee-dee!” If you stand still and hold some bird seed in your outstretched hand, they’ll fly down to land on your fingers. Embrace the Disney princess experience.
Many other birds in the park are more than happy to eat from your hand, but be sure to bring bird seed safe for their consumption or buy the bags available at the entrance. Also, be selective about who you feed; the geese and swans get vicious if you get too close. Certain areas of the park are designated “Quiet Zones,” where feeding of the birds is prohibited. In these spots, take a minute to enjoy the tranquil oceanside atmosphere and listen carefully to hear the faint warbling of the birds.
If you have a pair of binoculars, bring them! I found myself standing motionless for minutes at a time, surveilling the wetlands and watching the myriad species go about their day. For bird-watching enthusiasts, an extensive list of the resident birds can be found on the sanctuary’s website, along with their usual hang-outs and their migratory patterns.