Birding Vancouver

Up Close and Personal Well, I’m back now and I have to say that although I didn’t get out as much as I would like, at least I got out a couple of times and I got to see a lot of really cool stuff. On Tuesday, I got to check out a little of Stanley Park, which is a large and pretty nice park at the northern end of the North Peninsula section of Vancouver. It also added several species to my lifelist: bushtit, chestnut-backed chickadee, Northwestern Crow, Western Gull and Spotted Towhee), as well as two new sub-species (“Oregon” Junco and Song Sparrow (ssp. morphna). But my better day out was on Friday when my Flickr friend Greg7 took me out and around the various places all around the Vancouver area. I was looking forward to this all week, and although the weather wasn’t the greatest, we got to see some really cool places – and some really cool birds.

First, Greg took me around Vancouver to see different parts of the city – Vancouver is a great city, although they are in the midst of a construction boom right now. But then we got to the good stuff – the birds. Our first stop was right inside the city, because I made him stop when I saw a raft of seabirds in the harbor. They turned out to be mostly Barrow’s Goldeneye – a new life bird for me. There were a few scaups there, too, and while we were there a bunch of Surf Scoter’s came flying in – several hundreds’ worth.

A Helping Hand Then it was off to the best stop of the day – Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This place was a great park that sits on an island just off the coast of Vancouver proper. Greg had been there in the recent past and told me a bit about it – I was hoping to see some of the western species I don’t usually get to see. Well, I wasn’t disappointed – not only did I get to see new things, but I got to see them close up and personal. First, we passed “Don’s Tree”, where Hearman had seen an eagle’s nest last year, and although there weren’t any eagles on it, we did see a 2nd-year eagle sitting on a telephone down the road (complete with a pair of snow goose wings hanging on the wire below). Then we made it to the sanctuary itself.

The creek leading up to the sanctuary was full of waterfowl but we didn’t slow down to take a closer look. Once we got to the parking lot, we were surrounded by an entire flock (gang?) of mallards looking for some food – and it appeared as though we might be on the menu. Luckily, I fended them off with a wry look and a pair of empty hands. In the midst of the hundred deadly mallards were a few other birds, including a trio of hybrids – a mallard x pintail and two as-yet-undetermined other crossbreeds. It was interesting to see how domesticated those ducks were – they were literally following us around: I swear that some of those ducks followed us around the whole place.

The entrance has a couple of small ponds, a small building for what looked like craft area and a house nearby. We stopped there briefly and were treated to a northern shoveler, a couple of scaup and, of course, more mallards. We then started down the trail, trying to outpace the school group that was also visiting at the same time. For little legs, they sure kept up the pace, nipping at our heals for the first third of our walk. The main trail was very nice – well groomed but still natural and attractive. Feeders were set up at various points along the entire trail, and they seemed to attract quite a number of different birds. Many songbirds were evident, including golden-crowned kinglets, spotted towhees, black-capped chickadees, white-crowned sparrows, red-winged blackbirds and even a sub-species: a “Sooty” Fox Sparrow.

Cranes in the Mist One of the best experiences was with the chickadees – I have been trying to get a chickadee to eat from my hand for years with little success. They get close but they are just short of landing on my outstretched fingers. But when I was walking down the path, I realized how close they were coming – one of them landed on a branch only about a foot from me. So, I figured that I would give it a try – I pulled out some granola bar I had in my bag and put it on my hand … and within seconds, the first chickadee landed on my fingers. And they kept coming, taking turns grabbing pieces of granola bar and berries for their morning meal. In fact, at one point I was able to get two chickadees to land on my hand, although they seemed to be yelling at each other while they were there (must have been a couple).

We also got to see wood ducks close up – they’ve always been a difficult species for me to see, as they tend to fly off about 3 seconds before I know that they are there. This time, however, they simply walked up the path ahead of us until they got to a clear spot to waddle down to the pond. They are just such incredibly beautiful birds.

We stopped along the way several times and saw a lot of chickadees and a number of other birds as we walked, still trying to get ahead of the childish masses. St the viewing tower, there were several coots, ducks and other waterfowl in the area around the tower, but nothing too noticeable and I think that the kids probably didn’t help matters. Eventually, we separated from them and had a little more peace to look around – and I’m glad we did. There were several great blue herons hiding in the reeds, northern harriers hunting over them and a small group of sandhill cranes flying by in the distance. We hoped to get a chance to see them, hurrying around the bend so that we could get a look. We never knew quite how close we’d get.

The sandhill cranes ended up being on the path along the back end of the sanctuary I could have never imagined that I would get to see sandhill cranes so closely. – strangely, as we were trying to sneak up on them, they had decided that they wanted to a) come up and meet us or b) needed to get by us and didn’t care that we were there. In the end, we were able to walk right up to them, practically getting the chance to shake hands (wings?) with them. I had always wanted to see them and I could have never imagined that I would get to seem them so closely. It was an amazing experience.

Just past the cranes were a number of species of waterfowl, including mallards, some more coots, scaup and wigeons and even a single snow goose that was a whole lot more friendly than I would have expected. Further along, gadwall, northern shovelers, green-winged teal were joined by a bunch of smaller songbirds that we didn’t get a chance to ID, and red-tailed hawks, harriers and eagles flying along the bayshore in the distance (and trying to NOT be shot by the goose hunters). But the surprises were not over yet. On the way out of Reifel, we once again started to pass Don’s tree – but this time it was occupied by a pair of large, beautiful bald eagles, two full-grown adults sitting close to their nest. I got a few nice shots of the male in the tree and even a few of it flying overhead – the first time I had ever been that close to these magnificent raptors.

Boundary Bay and beyond

After we left Reifel, Greg took me to another local spot, Boundary Bay. The viewing there wasn’t as good as at Reifel, but we still got to see a few cool things there, including more harriers, eagles and towhees. After that, we moved on to McDonald Beach and then Iona Beach. The sun was quickly dropping, cutting down our light. But not before we saw a few more cool birds. The ponds at Iona Beach had a ton of waterfowl, including canvasbacks, bufflehead, lesser and greater scaup and a single horned grebe, my first good picture of the species. Then the sun was down and our birding was cut off – but not before I got to see 53 total species, including 11 new species, 5 new sub-species and 3 new additions to my photo lifelist.


  • Northwest Crow *
  • Western Gull *
  • Bushtit *
  • Black-capped Chickadee (Pacific race) #
  • Chestnut-backed Chickadee *
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • American Wigeon
  • Mallard
  • Mallard x Pintail *
  • N. Pintail
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Wood Duck ^
  • Greater Scaup ^
  • Lesser Scaup
  • Bufflehead
  • Canvasback *
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye *
  • N. Shoveler
  • Surf Scoter
  • Canada Goose
  • Snow Goose
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Mute Swan
  • Horned Grebe ^
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • American Coot
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Spotted Towhee *
  • Song Sparrow (ssp. <em>morphna</em>) #
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow *
  • White-crowned Sparrow ^
  • House Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow (“Sooty”) #
  • “Oregon” Junco #
  • House Finch
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Robin
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Sandhill Crane *
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Pelagic Cormorant *
  • Pigeon
  • Red-tailed Hawk (eastern)
  • Red-tailed Hawk (dark morph) #
  • Northern Harrier
  • Bald Eagle ^
  • N. Flicker
  • Starling
  • Common Raven
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • * = new species
    # = new sub-species
    ^ = new addition to photo lifelist

3 Responses to “Birding Vancouver

  • It’s amazing how much you got to see in such a short period of time. You really got some incredible shots … and it sounds like you had a blast, too.

  • ok, ok, …. nope, i can’t say the word bushtit without laughing.

  • I just can’t even look at your list of so many great birds! And the Sandhills . . . I probably will never talk to you again that I am so jealous (only kidding)! Sounds like an amazing experience and it truly makes me want to go on a road trip! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

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