In British Columbia, “bird” has always been the word when it comes to family-friendly nature activities. And bird-watching in BC just got even easier, as several tourism organizations have pooled resources to create the BC Bird Trail. It’s a series of self-guided trails throughout southwestern BC designed to encourage passionate birders and nature lovers outside to appreciate what the regions have to offer.
Just launched in September, there are three main sections of the bird trail: the Richmond Delta, the Fraser Valley, and Central Vancouver Island.
Ceri Chong of Richmond Tourism, an avid birder herself, is one of the drivers behind this idea. “We wanted to encourage passionate birders and nature lovers to appreciate what our regions have to offer.”
Having birdwatched in all those areas, I can vouch for the amazing variety of birdlife you’ll see there.
Take, for example, the Richmond-Delta trail. The highlight of any nature lovers’ trip there has to be the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. It boasts more than 850 acres of forest and wetlands, with easy-to-walk trails. Depending on what time of year you visit, you can see waterfowl like snow geese, wood ducks and buffleheads; wading birds like sandhill cranes, herons, and dowitchers; songbirds like cedar waxwings, red-winged blackbirds, and BC’s provincial bird, the Steller’s jay; and raptors like owls, eagles and hawks.
You can also purchase bags of special bird-friendly seed to feed the ducks and geese that frequent the sanctuary’s ponds and paths. Be prepared to be swamped, though! Once the seeds start scattering, the waterfowl web goes into overdrive, and every duck and goose within a kilometre will be swarming, wanting a free handout.
In the Fraser Valley, there are several great stops along the trail. One of them is the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve in Chilliwack. Don’t let that name fool you – you’ll see much more than just herons, there. In fact, when we visited in mid-September, we didn’t see a single heron. However, we did see wood ducks, scaups, grebes and several songbirds, including a spotted towhee. We also spotted a few rabbits.
On Vancouver Island, the trail stretches from just north of Victoria to just south of Courtenay. You can easily spend more than a week in this area and not visit all the birding hotspots. During a recent trip there, we focused on the Somenos Marsh and Englishman River Estuary, and we felt we’d barely scratched the surface. The former is home to the second-largest wintering flock of trumpeter swans on the island; the latter is named for a Caucasian man’s body found by indigenous people near its waterfalls (or so the local legend goes). We were too early in the season to see swans at Somenos, but we did enjoy hummingbirds. At the Englishman estuary, in addition to the kingfishers, flickers and killdeers we saw, we also encountered several deer.
The great thing about birding is the fact that it’s something the entire family can enjoy, whether you’re six or 66. It’s also not restricted by season; you can birdwatch all year long. If you use the BC Bird Trail website as a guide, you can also plan your meals and accommodations, by season, as well as get ideas about other activities – like kayaking in Cowichan Bay, handling birds of prey up-close at Pacific Northwest Raptors, learning about culture at Stó:lō Cultural Tours or taking a break from bird-watching with a Vancouver Whale Watch adventure (where you’ll probably see more birds, as well!)
In the future, the BC Bird Trail may extend into other parts of the province.
“There are plans to expand the program in the future,” says Chong. “Hopefully, there will be other areas of BC coming on board with this project.”
If that happens, BC really will be for the birds. And that’s a good thing.
By John Geary
John Geary is a Vancouver-based freelance travel writer-photographer who wanders the world in search of new bird-watching experiences. When not out looking for birds in far-off places, he participates in the backyard birding citizen science program, Project Feederwatch. Birding is not his only passion – he also loves to paddle, and the two activities are hardly ever mutually exclusive. His stories about birding and paddling have appeared in more than 50 magazines, newspapers, websites, and book anthologies.