Posts Tagged 'Reifel Bird Sanctuary'

Ruff at Reifel

School has kept me busy much of the past couple of months, but this term my schedule is a little lighter than it has been and that means there’s more time for birds! Yesterday morning I headed over to Reifel Bird Sanctuary on a beautifully sunny May day and was rewarded with some good looks at a female Ruff. The bird was foraging in the southernmost mudflat of the West Field area amongst several other species of shorebird; including Stilt Sandpiper and both species of Dowitcher. The pathway here is slightly elevated on a dyke above the West Field offering a good vantage point of shorebirds quite often viewed only at a distance on some expansive mudflat. So instead of struggling to make out characteristic field marks through the heat and wind haze in my scope I could examine the somewhat dishevelled plumage of this bird at leisure; and get some passable phone-scoped shots.

Most Ruff spend the winter months in Sub-Saharan Africa, southern and western Europe, as well as parts of south east Asia (1). When spring comes they migrate to the freshwater marshes and moist grasslands of northern Europe and Asia to breed; and on rare occasions drifting to North America as this bird had done (2). The wintering population of south east Asian is closest to Vancouver and it’s quite likely, though not certain, that the individual at Reifel originated from there.


  1. BirdLife International 2009. Philomachus pugnax. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <>. Downloaded on 27 May 2012.
  2. Hayman, Peter; Marchant, John; Prater, Tony (1986). Shorebirds: an identification guide to the waders of the world. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sharp-tailed and Wood Sandpiper at Reifel

On Saturday (10/16/10) I finally made it out to Reifel Bird Sanctuary in the hopes of tracking down the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper first reported there on October 2nd, I also hoped to see the more recently reported Wood Sandpiper. I’ve come to learn that being a university student and not owning a vehicle makes it exceptionally difficult to chase rarities in Vancouver and so it was quite lucky that I managed to visit the sanctuary on a day when both birds were cooperatively in view.

The two species were observed between 11:30 and 12:15 in and amongst a large flock of Long-billed Dowitchers near the base of the lookout tower. The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was sticking to a reedy section of the pond more easily viewed from the western dyke than from the lookout tower; perhaps the bird had had enough of the steady stream of birders and photographers coming to view him or her and just wanted some privacy. The Wood Sandpiper spent most of the time I was there dozing in the middle of the tightly packed flock of Dowitchers making it a tough bird for me to pick out.

The size differences between Long-billed Dowitcher and Wood Sandpiper initially clued me onto the bird. With so many Dowitchers packed together and the sun angling into my face everything can start to look a little similar but luckily Wood Sandpiper measure in at 8” whereas the Long-billed Dowitcher is 11.5”; this allowed me to spot the bird on my third sweep through the flock. After observing it for a couple of minutes the bird raised its head and stretched out just long enough for me to completely confirm identification. Unfortunately I was so engrossed in the bird that I didn’t check the photos I was digiscoping, if I had I would have noticed that they were all unrecognisable blurry smears so the only shots I have to show you are crops of a picture of the entire shorebird flock. As you can see even these are not enough to qualify as record shots.

Thankfully the photos I took of the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at least show enough to recognise the species. The bird was easily distinguishable from the Dowitchers and spent most of the time during which I observed it busily preening itself or resting.

Another fantastic outing at Reifel complete with two great birds, not to mention the huge numbers of returning Snow Geese in the fields of Westham Island, made for a pretty decent day.


Reifel: August 21st 2010

With my exams finished and the summer semester all wrapped up I was free to head out birding on Saturday. After checking out the tide and finding it to be suitably out ‘till around six pm, it was an easy decision to head to Reifel Bird Sanctuary in an attempt to catch some shorebird activity on the westernmost ponds where the low water level would attract them to feed.

The action kicked off in the parking lot with two Peregrine Falcons arriving from the south. I later caught up with one of them perched atop a tree inside the sanctuary…

Undoubtedly the falcons were here for the shorebirds as well, though I’m sure they weren’t here just to watch them. These birds often sit in a location with a good field of view and wait for an injured or sometimes overtly conspicuous bird to make itself known; most other birds are allowed to continue without contest (1). I did not get to witness either of the falcons attempt a capture but the shorebirds and waterfowl were quite skittish and frequently took flight to change location within the ponds.

Lesser Yellowlegs were the predominant species of shorebird at the tidal ponds. Greater Yellowlegs, Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, and Red-necked Phalarope were also present; all actively engaged in finding food.

The three Stilt Sandpipers spent most of their time foraging with the Dowitchers where their rapid “stitching” feeding motions could be directly compared with the slower “sewing machine” action of the Dowitchers. Both species would often associate in a loose, line abreast formation and proceed forward together. As the line moved ahead each bird would slowly begin to break formation as, I assume, they each attempted to find a larger concentration of prey. After the flock was flushed into flight the birds would resettle, form the line again, and continue.

Another great day of birding at Reifel Bird Sanctuary; the fall shorebird migration seems to be well underway.


  1. White, Clayton M., Nancy J. Clum, Tom J. Cade and W. Grainger Hunt. 2002. Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Reifel: May 1st 2010

With my exams finally over and having had a bit of a break, which involved two Chipping Sparrows at Stanley Park, I managed to get out to Reifel Bird Sanctuary. It seems my exams were perfectly timed to coincide with the main push of the spring migration; sufficed to say it was quite difficult trying to study while all of this was going on outside but I’m glad they’re over and done with so that now I can focus on what really matters…birding!

The weather was fairly pleasant, though a touch breezy, and it was not as busy as I had expected it to be; the parking lot was only three quarters full. Frankly, it could have been below zero and hailing and I still would’ve had a good time.

In the pond nearby the entrance a pair of Blue-winged Teals were busy feeding on any invertebrates, seeds, or aquatic plants present there (1). I had some excellent looks at the two but frustratingly as I was about to take some pictures they took flight. This did, however, provide the opportunity to observe the species’ namesake; its blue wing coverts.

Along the easternmost trail I came across a splendid Common Yellowthroat in full song. You can listen to a number of recordings for this species at xeno-canto. Further along both Myrtle and Audubon’s variety of Yellow-rumped Warbler were active in the trees along the path.

Looking west across the marsh and out towards the Georgia Straight there didn’t appear to be much going on besides swallows, mostly tree with a couple of Barn, and Red-winged Blackbirds. I decided to wait it out a bit and after ten minutes or so a Peregrine Falcon surprisingly took flight from a clump of brush. I didn’t notice him land there so I wonder if it wasn’t feeding on something. The falcon caused a bit of a panic with the other birds and it managed to flush out a small flock of Western Sandpiper and an American Bittern. It’s amazing that, with a little bit of patience, a seemingly deserted marsh can hold so many great birds!


  1. Rohwer, Frank C., William P. Johnson and Elizabeth R. Loos. 2002. Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Reifel: April 10th 2010

On Saturday I managed to get out to Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island. It was pretty windy; though, not as windy as at Iona over Easter. Normally Reifel is a bit of a zoo on the weekend, but I think the wind kept all the families with screaming children around the entrance and off of the outer trails as I only encountered fellow birders.

Before I got to the sanctuary, though, I stopped to watch a flock of several hundred Snow Geese feeding in a farmer’s field along Westham Island Road.

These birds feed on grasses, grains, aquatic plants, berries, and the “young leafy stems of various agricultural crops” throughout the Fraser River delta (1). A map showing the sightings of Snow Geese in BC is available on eBird. It’s likely that some of the birds I saw spent the winter in areas to the south of BC as the spring migration started in February (1). By mid to late May most birds will be on the breeding grounds (1). The Snow Geese that winter on the west coast will likely end up on the arctic tundra of Alaska, Yukon, North West Territories, and north east Siberia (1).

The sight and sound of hundreds, if not thousands, of Snow Geese is quite something to behold and surely ranks as one of BC’s most spectacular animal congregations.

At Reifel Sanctuary there was a fair bit of activity along the shoreline of the Fraser River and the Straight of Georgia. Although it was a little distant and the wind was blurring the view somewhat, I was able to see a flock of Dunlin, some Greater Yellowlegs, and, of course, Bald Eagle, Great Blue Heron, ducks, and an accoutrement of mostly unidentifiable gulls.

Standing on one of the islands in the south west pond were two Sandhill Cranes. Here is one of them…

Once I had finished checking out the trails I decided to take a walk along Robertson Road which leads to the parking lot. Although the road was quite busy, there were large numbers of Tree Swallows swooping about and I managed to spot a single Barn Swallow; my first of the year.

Reifel on Saturday was certainly worth the $4 I paid to get in. Perhaps the best $4 one can spend in the entire Lower Mainland?


  1. Mowbray, Thomas B., Fred Cooke and Barbara Ganter. 2000. Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Emperor Goose at Reifel Refuge

I was at Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island today and managed to spot a juvenile Emperor Goose in and among several hundred Snow Geese. The bird was located in a field visible from the easternmost trail. The following coordinates were taken from Google Earth: Lat 49° 6’3.94″N Long 123°10’41.75″W and mark the approximate position of the bird while I was observing it. I spent about half an hour watching this little fellow forage for food at the edge of this particular field.

The Emperor Goose typically breeds in coastal western Alaska and spends the winter in the Aleutian Islands (Petersen et al 1994). According to the IUCN Red List the Emperor Goose is listed as near threatened. Subsistence hunting and oil pollution appear to be the cause for a population decline of 139,000 in 1964 to 42,000 in 1986; however, a 2002 survey estimated the population at 84,500. Climate change is expected to contribute to further population declines (BirdLife International 2008).

My pictures aren’t the greatest as they had to be taken at maximum magnification (60x on my spotting scope) but Paul (revs) has posted some excellent photos of a juvenile seen at the Steveston section of the Richmond Dike on the Birding in BC forums. This may be the same individual I saw today as Steveston is not far from the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I had a spectacular time watching this Emperor Goose and I would definitely say it is one of my best sightings of the year.


Petersen, M. R., J. A. Schmutz and R. F. Rockwell. 1994. Emperor Goose (Chen canagica), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

BirdLife International 2008. Chen canagica. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. <>. Downloaded on 24 October 2009.