The Fraser delta is among the very best spots in Canada to see wintering birds, rivalled only by a few locations on southern Vancouver Island. This year has not disappointed, with a rare Northern Hawk Owl attracting visitors from as far away as Seattle, and a buttercup-coloured Yellow-breasted Chat brightening the drab winter landscape. A stroll around Alaksen National Wildlife Area, including Reifel Bird Sanctuary, produced fifty species this week. Snow Geese are still present in huge flocks, occasionally raised to flight by a passing Bald Eagle or Northern Harrier. I would guess at 20- 30,000 but those big flocks are hard to estimate. A large flock of Dunlin was being chased around over the distant mouth of the Fraser River by a Peregrine Falcon, that bunched and balled the shorebirds so that they flashed dark then light in their characteristic avoidance flight.
Owls were prominent: Barred Owls in the cedars at Alaksen, Northern Sawhets, Great Horned Owls and Barred Owl at Reifel – all clearly visible and adding to the Hawk Owl they gave birders an easy Four Owl Day. Barn Owls and Short-eared Owls would be easy to find at dusk, for those wanting a Six Owl Day. I wish the photographers would easy up on pushing large cameras into the holly bushes and frightening the sawwhets though. Some people were even using flash. Two of the tiny owls were within visual range of the Great Horneds and Barred Owls, both of which regularly attack and eat the smaller bird. Even all of us just checking these birds out attract attention to their location, so try and do it discreetly. Predators are not stupid; they soon notice if there is a lot of pointing and peering at a particular spot, and all they have to do is wait until night time fly out.
Other birds in the National Wildlife Area include the usual good mix of songbirds – Fox, Song, White-crowned, Golden-crowned and sometimes a few Lincoln’s Sparrows, as well as wintering Marsh and Pacific (a.k.a Winter) Wrens, Spotted Towhees and a flock of lingering Cedar Waxwings. All the ducks are there too, in the full glory of their breeding plumage, and the male Buffleheads and Hooded Mergansers were beginning to display.
A beautiful location to walk on a winter’s day and lots to observe. If you go, note that Alaksen is only open weekdays, but Reifel opens seven days a week.