The Fraser Estuary
Of all the wildlife viewing areas in the Fraser Estuary, none surpasses
the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Located on
the western fringe of the estuary in Delta, Reifel Island and its
companion, Westham Island, provide wintering grounds for 230 species
of birds. Many of these are nesting residents, such as Canada
geese, ducks and teals, marsh hawks, coots, blackbirds, gulls, and
doves. Some stay year-round, while others head north to their
summer nesting grounds. For example, 20,000 snow geese, one
of the largest birds at Reifel, winter here from October to March
before heading to Wrangel Island (Ostrov Vrangelya), off the coast
of northeastern Siberia. Fall and winter are the best seasons to
visit the Reifel sanctuary, before the bird population begins to
thin out. A simple network of trails leads around the island and
connects with a series of blinds from where you look on in hushed
silence as the birds go about their business. For a peek at the
action from on high, seek out the 3-storey observation tower at
the north end of the island. As you may find the breeze out here
a touch chilly, the sanctuary thoughtfully provides a warm-up cabin
next to the entrance, where a cheery fire blazes in colder months.
Westham Islands are in Delta, about 6 miles (10 km) west of Ladner.
Follow the signs to Ladner from the Hwy 99/Hwy 17 interchange. A
roadside marker on Hwy 17 S indicates the turnoff to the Reifel
Sanctuary on Ladner Trunk Rd (48th Ave). Turn right here. Once you
reach the heart of Ladner, stay on the Ladner Trunk Rd as it crosses
Elliot St (also called 47A Ave) and leads to River Rd W. Follow
along this diked road past floating houses and marinas to a small
wooden bridge that leads to Westham and Reifel Islands. Traffic
etiquette when crossing the one-lane span gives those driving onto
the island the right of way.
geese populations very much on the rebound these days, it's
hard to believe that they were threatened in the 1960s. One of the
places where the honkers began recolonizing the Lower Mainland was
at Serpentine Fen, located at the east end of Mud Bay in Surrey.
(On the geological evolutionary scale, fens lie between swamps and
bogs.) Watch for a tall wooden observation tower that stands out
on the east side as Hwy 99 passes over the Serpentine River. Farther
east you can see yet another of these. Exit Hwy 99 at Crescent Beach
and head north on Hwy 99A (King George Hwy) for a short distance
to 44th Ave. A garden nursery is located at this junction. Turn
left and drive in to the parking lot and picnic area. The towers
aren't hard to find because they are the tallest structures on the
fen. Together, the two observation towers are located at the Serpentine
Wildlife Management Area, where Ducks Unlimited released 260
Canada geese in 1972. A series of trails loops around ponds that
were created with funds from the Sportsmen of Northern California
and the British Columbia government. The refuge provides sheltered
nesting grounds for the fat ducks and geese that winter locally.
A grove of trees protects several picnic tables from the breeze
that often blows in off nearby Mud Bay. The main trail begins here
and leads out to the nearby observation towers.
Park is a refuge for local wildlife such as coyotes, rabbits,
and salmon fry in rapidly developing Surrey. It's easy to find
and easier still to explore. As Hwy 1 leads east of the Port Mann
Bridge, take the 176th St exit south and make the first turn west
on 96th Ave. From here you have a choice of two approaches. Either
turn right at the next major intersection, 168th St, and drive to
a park entrance at the road's north end, or continue west on 96th
Ave to another entrance beside the Tynehead Hatchery. Operated by
the Serpentine Enhancement Society, a volunteer organization, this
is the site of a fish release that occurs each spring as part of
the Salmonid Enhancement Program. Come fall, you can see salmon
migrating to spawning beds in the park. Another section of the park
features a garden that is designed to attract butterflies. Hedgerows
line the borders of the park's more remote corners, excellent locations
to look for some wildlife stalking in the tall grass.
also spawn in Surrey's Campbell River in autumn. Visit the Campbell
River fish hatchery in September and October for an intimate insight
into the effort being made to restore declining salmon runs (you
can see salmon being milked for their eggs). The hatchery is on
the east side of 184th St between 16th and Eighth Aves. If it were
summer year-round, Boundary Bay Regional Park in Delta might lose
some of its seasonal appeal to migratory birds. The bay is
one of the most important stops on the Pacific Flyway. Each spring
and fall, more than 250,000 birds pass through the area - between
20,000 and 30,000 brant alone. Together with the sight of the annual
salmon migration in the nearby Fraser River, this north-south passage
is one of the most stimulating natural events in the region. Throughout
the year, the Friends of Boundary Bay run numerous natural-history
interpretive programs in the vicinity of the bay and nearby Burns
A dike trail
follows the perimeter of the bay from Boundary Bay Park east to
Mud Bay. There are many good viewpoints for birding along the way.
Drive to the south end of 64th or 72nd Ave from Ladner Trunk Rd,
and walk up onto the dike from here. This is the Boundary Bay Regional
Trail, all 12 miles (20 km) of which is public park. In winter,
watch for snowy owls - they are often seen sitting motionless
on fenceposts. Or a pair of oval-faced barn owls may fly
overhead. There's always magic at work on the shoreline and in the
skies above Boundary Bay. Just as at Boundary Bay, the birdlife
viewing at Iona Beach Regional Park in Richmond is exceptional,
with its own resident population of rare birds such as the
burrowing owl and the yellowheaded blackbird. In fact,
more rare birds are seen here than anywhere else in the province.
Walk through the sand dunes that characterize much of the island,
keeping your binoculars at the ready. You're bound to spot great
blue herons as they stalk the shore of McDonald Slough or in the
marshy areas of the island. Throughout the year, GVRD Parks offers
special bird-watching programs.
A whale observation
tower at Lighthouse Park in Point Roberts, Washington, rises above
an interpretive display on orcas. There are three black-finned pods
that frequent the park's offshore waters from May to October. Even
if the pods aren't passing at the time of your visit, you can still
learn a lot about the locals from the display.
North Fraser Valley
Tranquillity reigns in Coquitlam's Minnekhada Regional Park,
a haven just beyond the urban sprawl that threatens to engulf much
of the lower south-facing slopes nearby on Mount Burke and Coquitlam
Mountain. Tucked in behind several large knolls on the west side
of Pitt River, Minnekhada Regional Park shares a common border with
the eastern portion of the Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management
Area. Rural charm flows easily from one into the other. Minnekhada
is characterized by two large marsh areas that are bisected by a
dike and surmounted by two distinctive, rugged knolls. Trails ring
the marshes and thread through the surrounding forest. In fall,
this is a moody environment. The forested slopes of nearby Mount
Burke capture clouds that often don't burn off until late in the
day, if at all. Patches of bright red and gold leaves flare against
this pale backdrop. To reach Minnekhada, turn north off Hwy 7 in
Port Coquitlam at Coast Meridian Rd. A GVRD sign near the intersection
with Apel Dr points the way to the park, a 10-minute drive. There
are three entrances to the park. On its south side, Oliver Dr passes
through farmland to a formal gate where it looks as if a sentry
should stand on guard. Minnekhada was once home to British Columbia
Lieutenant-Governor Eric Hamber, who built a Scottish-style hunting
lodge on the hillside above one pond in the 1930s. An information
kiosk is located next to the lodge, as are several picnic tables.
A short distance farther east on Oliver Dr is another approach to
the park on the PoCo Dike Trail beside the Pitt River. The western
entrance to the park is located on Quarry Rd. (Quarry is a continuation
of Victoria Dr, reached via Apel.) This approach quickly brings
you to the midmarsh area of the park. The nearby ponds are a natural
draw with the more than 60 species of birds that pass through
the marsh during spring and fall migrations. Don't forget your binoculars.
When you visit
Kanaka Creek Regional
Park in Maple Ridge, you may choose to begin from the Bell-Irving
Salmon Hatchery, at the 256th St entrance off Dewdney Trunk
Rd. An open playing field and picnic tables border the main arm
of the creek. The flow of water here is modest compared with that
below Cliff Falls, where the creek's main and north forks merge.
Signs at the hatchery detail the work carried on here to rebuild
fish stocks in the creek. Since the hatchery opened in 1983, about
two million salmon fry - most of them chum, with some coho
- have been released.
lies about 0.6 mile (1 km) downstream from the hatchery. As there
are trails along both sides of Kanaka Creek, make a round trip of
it. You'll find one trailhead directly across 256th St from the
hatchery and the other a short distance north next to privately
owned Kanaka Lodge. Along the way to the falls you'll discover many
inviting approaches to the creek, especially on the north side The
trail that follows the south side of the creek involves steeper
climbing. Both trails lead through the sheltering forest. Woodpeckers
are drawn to this environment, as are a variety of songbirds
that feed on the juicy salmonberries. Small amphibians such as rare
tailed frogs can be spotted along fern-draped banks of the creek.
Marsh Wildlife Management Area occupies both sides of the Pitt
River, adjacent to Minnekhada Regional Park on the west in Coquitlam
and Grant Narrows Regional Park on the east in Pitt Meadows. Trails
into the wildlife reserve begin from both Minnekhada and Grant Narrows
Parks. Observation towers are strategically positioned along the
trails in both. Among the rarer species to be seen are the sandhill
cranes that nest in the east side of the wildlife reserve.
hatcheries at Weaver Creek and Morris Creek near Harrison Bay
are good staging areas for viewing wildlife such as bald eagles
and trumpeter swans in winter, and spawning salmon
in autumn. This is one of the most unique geological zones in the
Lower Mainland. The rounded mountain tops are actually millions
of years older than adjacent ranges of the Cascade and Coast Mountains.
To reach the hatcheries on Weaver and Morris Creeks, turn north
off Hwy 7 at Harrison Bay on the Morris Valley Rd. Follow paved
Morris Valley Rd east to where it divides: one branch leads east
to Weaver Creek while the other leads to Morris Creek. Both hatcheries
are well signed.
If you camp
at Deer Lake in Sasquatch Provincial Park, watch for white-coated
mountain goats on the steep-sided slopes of Slollicum Bluffs
that rise above the lake's north side. Early in the morning is the
best time to see them as they pick their way along the bluffs. During
the hottest times of the year they may even descend to drink from
Deer Lake. And keep your eyes open, too, for the park's namesake.
Skagit Valley Provincial
Park finally got its due in 1996 when it was granted full park
status. The struggle to save critical sections of the park began
in the early 1970s. William 'Curly' Chittenden, a Fraser Valley
logger and one of the chief proponents for conserving the valley,
lived just long enough to receive word of the Skagit's official
protected designation before his death at age 88. A special section
of the valley, Chittenden Meadows, honours his commitment to save
a rare stand of ponderosa pine trees located here. A self-guided
nature walk leads through the meadows. An informative guide is provided
at the kiosk located beside a nifty suspension bridge that takes
visitors across the Skagit River to Chittenden Meadows. You can
learn more about wildlife in the Skagit Valley at the park's entrance.
An interpretive information sign posted there describes in detail
the importance of the Skagit to more than 250 species of animals,
including mammals, reptiles, and birds. The unique topography of
the valley, where the Coast and Interior biogeoclimatic zones converge,
is also explained. One of the more intriguing species of wildlife
to watch for is the rubber boa constrictor. True to its name,
the harmless little boa, the size of a small garter snake, resembles
a coiled piece of inner tube, rounded at both ends.
The Capilano River Fish Hatchery in Capilano
River Regional Park teems with piscicultural activity
year-round. The best part about it is that visitors get to spy on
the fry through glass walls that surround their tanks. It's like
a giant aquarium set in a rock canyon.
River Hatchery in the Lower
Seymour Conservation Reserve has ponds full of coho and
steelhead fry beside Hurry Creek. You'll have to make your
way almost to the Seymour Dam to see them. By then you'll need a
break. Follow the trail from the hatchery to the river, where you'll
discover a sweet little beach offshore by which the fry school when
first released in spring. Come summer, you can even take a dip with
In 1993, Whytecliff
Marine Park became Canada's first Marine Protected Area. Harvesting
or collecting any marine life beneath the waters of this sanctuary
is prohibited. Upwards of 200 marine animal species, with exotic
names such as the speckled sanddab or the sunflower seastar,
call these waters home.
and the Sea to Sky Highway
In spring and fall, the Squamish Estuary provides a rest
stop for migratory birds. In winter, the moderating influence of
Howe Sound's ocean waters keeps much of the estuary ice-free. Elegant
trumpeter swans spend the winter here, as do regal bald eagles.
Bundle up and take a walk to see them.
Winter is the
best time to walk the dike trail in the Brackendale Eagle Reserve,
located farther north on the Squamish River. Short days and low
light create an austere atmosphere. Eagles gather in the bare branches
of the black cottonwood trees that tower above the Squamish River.
The trees stand some distance away on the far shore, across the
wide, milk-grey waters. Some trees are decorated with a dozen or
more eagles, mute and motionless. As your eyes scan the forest perimeter,
you can make out hundreds of such shapes. Although many of the eagles
will head north in summer, others nest here year-round, as the bundles
of twigs that bulge out near the tops of some of the cottonwoods
attest. Equally at home here are the skittish glaucous gulls.
If it's a lean winter, their carcasses are just as likely to be
on the menu as the salmon carrion left from late fall coho runs
on the Squamish River. In the early morning hours, before the daily
arrival of bird-watchers, eagles frequent the banks on both sides
of the river. Once the admirers appear, the eagles put the river
between themselves and the gawkers.
Over the past
20 years, Brackendale sculptor Thor Froslev has led the fight for
the protection of the Squamish winter eagle habitat. Six of his
large wooden carvings, on which the aristocratic profile of an eagle
is represented, stand at strategic points in the vicinity of the
birds' winter home, including on Hwy 99. In 1996, the BC government
announced the creation of a 1,482-acre (600-ha) sanctuary for the
eagles, which can number more than 3,769 in winter. Froslev
has now turned to monitoring the health of the Squamish River. Without
healthy salmon runs, there would be far fewer eagles drawn to feed
in this relatively small but vital stretch of water. Froslev maintains
his vigilance from his home in the Brackendale Art Gallery, which
he established in 1969. Located on Government Rd several kilometres
north of the dike where most eagle viewing takes place, he has assembled
a coterie of artists to conduct workshops and concerts, with the
eagles and river as the core theme. As well, the Brackendale Gallery
offers daily walking tours, led by naturalists, of the prime eagle-viewing
areas. The gallery also arranges river tours that give visitors
a chance to see eagles in more secluded habitats such as nearby
Sweet and petite, One-Mile Lake in Pemberton has a boardwalk
that runs across its marshy north side. From here, it's possible
to quietly watch birds, particularly during migration season. This
can begin as early as April, when larger birds such as trumpeter
swans make an appearance. For the most part, though, it's mergansers,
mallards, and loons, while in the surrounding forest,
songbirds and hummingbirds work the woods.
late August and early September, spawning salmon, which have
made their way up the Fraser, Harrison, and Lillooet Rivers, begin
the last part of their journey in the Birkenhead River. The
sockeye run is particularly spectacular: the river turns red with
them. The sight is so remarkable that at first you can hardly believe
your eyes. Salmon also run in Gates Creek, which flows into
the south end of Anderson Lake in D'Arcy. The Birkenhead River is
easily spotted from either Hwy 99 as it passes through rural Mount
Currie or numerous places along the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Rd, including
the Owl Creek Forest Service site.
Lillooet Headwaters is now a protected area, which must come
as a relief to the wildlife that have been pushed farther and farther
north as logging destroyed lower stretches of critical shelter.
Without the forest, animals that come down from higher elevation
cannot survive the coldest days of winter. Moose, deer, bear,
wolf, and others leave their prints on the silty sandbars that
stand revealed at low water levels, and slip mutely through the
fir, cedar, and pine forest. Although the occasional bear might
leave a paw print outside the door of your tent as a calling card,
most wildlife prefer to remain well out of sight. Don't let that
stop you from looking for signs of their presence in the landscape.
California and Steller sea lions and harbour seals
gather during winter months at mouth of Chapman Creek south of Sechelt.
Walk out onto Mission Point for the best views. The best approach
to the point is from the beach at Davis Bay.
around Sargeant Bay Provincial Park is an important stopover for
waterfowl such as harlequin ducks, Canada geese, and trumpeter
swans, as is the upland area for a host of migratory songbirds.
Local volunteers have undertaken an ambitious project to restore
wildlife habitat around the bay. To reach the park, follow Redroofs
Rd west of Hwy 101, about 3.6 miles (6 km) north of Sechelt. You'll
have to watch carefully for the road sign as it is not prominent.
Follow Redroofs to Sargeant Bay Park Rd a short distance to the
undeveloped shingle and sand beach, and begin stalking from here.
Some of the
oldest yellow cedar and western hemlock in western Canada grow in
the Caren Range. Home to the marbled murrelet, a drab, starling-size
seabird whose numbers are in as precipitous a decline as the old-growth
western hemlock on which it depends, these mountains form the backbone
of the Sechelt Peninsula. Although most murrelets nest in cliffs
and rock walls, the marbled murrelet, having evolved beside the
majestic, ramrod-straight, temperate old-growth forest, lay their
eggs on the hemlocks' broad, moss-draped limbs.
A bittersweet victory was gained here when the last of the great
Caren forest was recently protected as Caren Provincial Park, but
not before some of the oldest trees in Canada - in excess of 2,000
years old - were cut, then left to waste! You'll have to drive a
long way through open hillsides before you reach the shade of the
park, but the tranquillity you'll experience there will be a grand
reward. Look for a paved road that begins 8 miles
(13 km) north of Sechelt on the east side of Hwy 101, marked by
a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre sign. Drive a farther 8 miles (13
km) up what soon turns into the Caren Mainline Forest Road. Parts
of this road are deteriorating, and those with a four-wheel-drive
vehicle will have the easier go of it. At the three-way fork in
the road, take whichever direction seems best suited to your vehicle.
Each leads to the forest, still some distance above.
Come fall, many of the streams that feed into Malaspina Strait teem
with spawning salmon. Depending on the year and the spawning cycle,
Lang Creek Hatchery and Spawning Channels, about 13.5
miles (22 km) north of Saltery Bay, will be thick with returning
salmon. The best viewing is right next to the well-marked pullout
on Hwy 101. As sure as salmon return to spawn in late summer, so
too do raptors and bears follow. Although black bears in the Powell
River region tend to frequent the backwoods logging roads, osprey
and eagles, otters, and pine marten have no fear
of approaching the coastline around Sliammon Creek in search of
carrion. Occasionally, even a black bear will put in an appearance.
One particularly good viewing spot of both predator and prey is
near the Sliammon fish hatchery, about 3 miles (5 km) north of the
Powell River bridge. Sliammon is the site of a native village that
has been in continuous habitation for the past two millennia. To
reach the hatchery, follow Klahanie Road, which begins beside a
Native handicrafts store of the same name on the south side of Hwy
101. Watch for an enormous eagle's nest in one of the trees as you
near the strait.