In British Columbia, Canada, hikers and birders must constantly be aware of their surroundings and know how to respond to an encounter with wild animals. As a frequent hiker, I have seen many wild and potentially dangerous animals up close, but only once have had a face-to-face encounter that left me completely clueless as to what to do. And it happened in a bird sanctuary!
I had just left the visitor's center at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta, BC, just outside of Vancouver. The extremely friendly lady behind the counter had warned me about bird encounters but I thought these creatures didn't look too big and certainly not threatening. They're birds, after all.
Within just a few minutes of wandering along the waterfowl-draped walkways, I came around a bend in the trail and found myself face to face with a Sandhill Crane.
I kind of thought the clerk had been joking when she told me to watch for aggressive cranes on the trail. But now, seeing this amazingly huge and primitive-looking creature in front of me, I wasn't sure what to do!
The bird stared at me, its head raised threateningly and its body in an aggressive upright posture. The crane took a few exaggerated steps towards me.
Not feeling the slightest bit embarrassed at yielding the trail to a bird, I backed away slowly until the bird regained a more relaxed stance. The situation diffused and the tension gone, the crane walked away and into the tall grass. What an unexpected thrill!
It wasn't just this chance encounter that made the Reifel Bird Sanctuary unforgettable - it was the sheer abundance of birdlife, the quiet and reverent mood of the visiting bird watchers, and the cheerfulness of the folks that work there.
I've never been to a place so packed with both humans and birds, as they just usually don't occur in the same place at the same time. Each time I joined a group of folks with binoculars along the trail, they would point out some new treasure to me. At several points on the trail the birdwatchers had found Northern Saw-whet Owls dozing in the comfort and security they found deep inside one of the thick conifers nearby. Another spot hosted a pair of snoozing Great Horned Owls. Even BC eagles!
The sanctuary sprawls over 300 hectares of wetlands, marshes and low dikes in the Fraser River Estuary. Well maintained trails lead birders through ideal viewing locations of ponds sheltered by vegetation and there are many birding blinds where you can survey the land around you without disturbing any birdlife.
Fall migration is from October to December is generally the time that the sanctuary is most packed with birds especially waterfowl. Reifel is located a stones throw from the bustling metropolis of Vancouver and a trip to the area will open up a host of other birding options as well.
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About the Author (M. Wood):
I am a biologist pursuing a PhD examining avian neurobiology and behavior. I have conducted a wide variety of research projects ranging from cognitive and neurobiological laboratory studies to behavioral field experiments. As a writer for YourBirdOasis, a retailer of backyard birding supplies and an essential resource for burgeoning and expert birders alike, I have the exciting opportunity to share my knowledge of and passion for birds with many online communities. Visit the site for a huge selection of copper bird baths, birdhouses, and everything else you'll need to set up your own backyard bird sanctuary!