Friday, September 23, 2011

Reifel not the only place to go for milk and quackers

Anyone following this blog - or (even more noticeably) my Facebook and Twitter posts the last few weeks has probably detected the fact that I've been spending a great deal of time shooting pictures and videos of birds at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Reifel is about a 45-minute drive from my house in Vancouver, just over the Knight Street Bridge, down Highway 99 to 17, then over onto Westham Island.

Driving past the farmers' fields to get to the sanctuary means we often drive past grazing cows - in other words, we get "milk" with our "quackers" (i.e., the many ducks that inhabit Reifel.)

However, there is a place even closer to where I live that is also a pretty darn good spot for bird-watching: Burnaby Lake Regional Park. Located in central Burnaby, it is easily accessed from anywhere in the Lower Mainland, with plenty of free parking and transit stops at the east and west ends of the park.

Looking west along Still Creek,
from the bridge that leads to Cottonwood Trail.

While it may not boast the presence of sandhill cranes like Reifel can, Burnaby Lake certainly has its share of mallards, wood ducks, geese and herons - as well as kingfishers and if you're lucky enough to see one, the occasional osprey. It also boasts beavers, and although I've seen the lodges, I have yet to see one of the flat-tailed little tree-munchers - but then I've only been to the park twice.

The park is pretty large, containing tennis facilities, a sports complex, a pool and a rowing pavilion in addition to the natural area around the lake. That includes a nature house and a series of trails, the main one consisting of an  11-km main trail circling the lake.

You can paddle on the lake as well, in a canoe or kayak, which is often one of the best ways to get close to wildlife - as well as the best way to see much of the lake. While the trail does provide a nice walk, for much of the walk, you can't actually see the lake itself.

Traversing it by canoe or kayak eliminates that problem. There is a public canoe launch at the sports complex, although - to my knowledge - there is no place there for the public to rent boats.

I first visited the park back in July of 1988 during a quick visit to a friend who lived in Vancouver at the time (I was living in Alberta, then). We only spent about an hour in the park.

Bath time for ducks!

It would be 23 years before I'd return again - this time for an entire day.

The day's highlight took place at Piper Spit, a bit of land that juts out into the lake from the north shore, about two-thirds of the way down the trail from the sports complex parking lot and trail head in the west end. A boardwalk allows further access out to view the lake.

Map of Burnaby Lake trails.
But you don't have to out there to see plenty of birds. Sitting on one of the benches on the land just before the start of the boardwalk, you'll see plenty of ducks and geese cruising up and down Eagle Creek, which empties into the lake. And of course, the real entertaining part comes when they take a bath.

While eating lunch on the bench, I also spied a northern flicker, sitting in a tree off in the distance, a fairly common bird in the area during the fall. Later on, from the end of the boardwalk, I watched a heron fish for his lunch.

Not far away from the spit is a raised viewing tower, two stories tall and wheelchair friendly, that provides you with a more expansive view.

Of course, I always contend the best view is the view from the water - and I'm already planning next year's paddle trip on the lake ...

(If you want to see more pictures from the lake, check out my Facebook photo album at

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