Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reifel Bird Sanctuary

The Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is situated on Western Island, just west of Ladner in Delta, B.C., a rural remnant of the once vast Fraser Estuary marshes, the sanctuary is comprised of 850 acres of managed habitat and estuarine marsh, preserving it as an area of crucial importance to the countless thousands of migratory birds which twice annually travel the path along North America's Pacific Flyway.

Black-crowned Night Heron
Without a car the sanctuary is quite difficult to get to from Downtown Vancouver and so after train, bus and taxi, and again meeting up with Rob Catchpole, we duly arrived around 9.30am. The first thing that strikes you as you approach the reserve are the thousands of Lesser Snow Geese that famously winter here, and which are now gathering before moving off to their northern breeding ground! Then it becomes even more astounding when before we actually reach the sanctuary entrance we've already recorded 6 Immature Bald Eagle, Bewick's Wren, Trumpeter Swan and Killdeer.

Once you enter the sanctuary it becomes clear to you that this is no ordinary reserve. Our attention is immediately drawn to a couple of figures visible within the trees, we soon realise that we have two Black-crowned Night Heron, a terrific start. Rob tells me that when he last visited in the late 80's and from what he remembered this species was here then. Using his prior knowledge we decided that from here our best bet was to continue by taking the route which leads to the sea path.

We continued on, passing through one of the many lagoons and marsh areas, recording Red-winged Blackbird, now arriving in good numbers, and looking stunning in the bright sunshine, Pintail, Gadwall and Shoveler, reminding me of home, plus various numbers of Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, American Wigeon, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup and Hooded Merganser.

Marsh Wren
Just prior to arriving at the sea path our first Tree Swallows were recorded, probably amongst the first arrivals, today's strong breeze from the south and glorious sunshine is great for migration. As I look out across the bay, surveying the many grounded logs which litter this area, I'm amazed at what greets me! I stopped counting when I got beyond 30 immature and adult Bald Eagle. Each log appeared to have one of these iconic birds perched on it, a truly astonishing and memorable sight.

As we progressed north along the sea path our first Marsh Wrens, more spring arrivals, were seen and heard singing, a very gratey song, not too dissimilar to our own Sedge warbler. A Short -eared Owl shot up at one stage being pestered by several Red-winged Blackbird and as we rounded a bend, the call of Sora from within the reeds. Unfortunately, despite a long stop and search, we never quite managed to connect.

More Tree Swallows were seen on or around the many nesting boxes, specifically designed for these birds, these boxes are placed within the reed bed and raised above by long poles. Before moving back to the interior of the reserve a number of Northern Harrier, plus a lingering Rough-legged Hawk, probably one of the few remaining as most have already moved further north.

Norther Saw-whet Owl
The remainder of our visit was spent in search of reported Northern Hawk Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owls. During this time our bird count of the day increased with of note: Golden-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Wood Duck, Greater White-fronted Geese, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Great Blue heron and House Finch.

Despite our search we bombed on the Northern Hawk Owl, which we were told hadn't actually been seen for several days, but the best of the day for me was a lone Northern Saw-whet Owl found roosting deep within a Holly Tree. Seven or eight inches of sheer delight, this gorgeous little, mainly nocturnal Owl, is a regular here at Reifel and despite the other superb species encountered today was my absolute winner!

**I've dedicated this post to Paul Norman chairman of the Brandon Marsh Volunteers back home, who kindly informed me of the first Sand Martins arriving at Brandon Marsh this morning. Many thanks Paul but can we PLEASE remember the time difference!!! A 2am text is somewhat beyond the cause :)