The Richmond Delta Bird Trail is situated at the mouth of the Fraser River, making this region one of the best birding areas in the world. While Richmond Delta is home to plenty of year-round birds, the main attraction for many birders is the fact that it sits on the busy Pacific Flyway, a migration route that goes between Alaska and South America. Every year, the Richmond Delta Trail is inundated with thousands of migratory birds who rely on this area for refuelling and resting during their long migratory journeys.
Birding Outside the Big City
With lots of farm and marshland, beautiful parks, coastal trails, and breathtaking beaches, the bounty of the Richmond Delta area is not only for the birds to enjoy. Birders will find this area is hard to beat when it comes to birding.
Just a short 15 km drive from downtown Vancouver (or a hop on the Skytrain), the Richmond Delta Trail is a perfect mix of nature and urban; You can be on a rural trail surrounded by birds and be only ten minutes from amazing food, services, and shopping. For example, Iona Island, with over 280 different bird species recorded, is right beside YVR, a major international airport.
Where to See the Birds
While birds are plentiful all around the Richmond Delta area, some spots are truly world-class birding destinations.
Iona Beach Regional Park
With over 280 species recorded at a prime spot along the Pacific Flyway, Iona Island is almost as busy as the Vancouver International Airport it sits beside. There is over 20km of shoreline viewing, including a 4km (each way) jetty that is a popular spot for walkers and joggers, as well as birders. See shorebirds and seabirds from the waterfront edges, waterfowl and herons in the ponds and marshlands, raptors like Ospreys and Bald Eagles on patrol all around, and all kinds of swallows, songbirds, and more throughout the trails.
West Dyke Trail
This 6km, bike-friendly trail stretches north-south from Terra Nova Rural Park to Garry Point Park. Steveston is a small community at the southern end that is perfect for a meal and sightseeing before and/or after your birding excursion. At the other end, Terra Nova Rural Park has extensive trails full of birds, including hawks and owls, plus plenty of wildflowers and a great playground for the kids. The West Dyke Trail itself sits along the Strait of Georgia, offering views of the North Shore and Coastal Mountains. Shorebirds can be seen along the entire waterside route and estuary.
One of the busiest places along the Pacific Flyway and a great spot to see thousands of shorebirds like Western Sandpipers, Dunlins, and Black-bellied Plovers, as well as waterfowl like Northern Pintails, grebes, and Green-winged Teals. Catch Great Blue Herons lurking in the reeds and see Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers patrolling the fields along the Boundary Bay Dyke. Sandy beaches and tidal flats make this area popular during the summer, but birding is great year-round.
George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Westham Island
A spot dedicated to resident birds as well as those stopping along the Pacific Flyway, George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is located on the northern end of Westham Island. The whole island is a haven for birding, but the sanctuary offers some more intimate bird experiences. Buy a bag of bird food at the entry and befriend countless ducks, chickadees, and more inside. Explore a network of trails that go through forested areas, marshes, and ponds, all teeming with birds year-round. Climb the observation tower for a bird’s eye view of the surroundings.
See tens of thousands of Snow Geese as they make migration stops around the sanctuary and the rest of Westham Island in October-December and March-April. Get great views of the resident elegant Sandhill Cranes, and maybe get lucky and see them with their young, as they breed in the sanctuary. Once you’re done exploring the sanctuary, be sure to stop by the gift shop to check out all the bird-related goodies.
Note: Please check ahead on the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary website to prepare for your visit. As of March 2nd, the sanctuary has re-opened for limited visitor use on a reservation-only system.
Those are just a few of the major birding spots popular on the Richmond Delta Bird Trail. With many more parks and shoreline trails to explore, once you arrive you’ll begin to notice that there are birds everywhere in the area. You’ll even see Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles in the trees or on fence posts as you drive past farmlands. Plan your trip now by using our self-guided itinerary focused on the Richmond Delta region.
As a general reminder when exploring any public spaces that are also popular birding habitats, please help to protect habitats like these and the wildlife they support. Stay out of wildlife reserves and management areas; keep to the trails and leash dogs. For more information about how to bird responsibly, check out our previous Field Notes post.
Please be aware that travel restrictions are currently in effect all over BC. Until further notice based on direction from the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), all non-essential travel to and within BC should be avoided. Explore only your local trails and birding locations. Be mindful of the protocols put in place by local businesses.
For more information about the latest provincial health orders, visit https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/info/restrictions