Birds and Berries on Westham Island, BC
It has only been a few weeks since my last Delta post, that time on Centennial Beach. Family celebrations brought me back to the mainland again over the BC Day long weekend and on one of the days, we all went out to Westham Island. I hadn’t been there since I was kid. Back in the early 1990’s, a bike ride out to Westham Island was one of my favourite weekend adventures, usually with the plan to fish somewhere, but mostly just to explore. Visiting Westham Island by bike is still a great way to see it because just like the rest of the Fraser Delta, it is extremely flat.
From Ladner, the easiest way to get to Westham Island is following along River Road to the west; it is about four kilometres. There are signs that show you where to turn to get over the dike and onto the historic Westham Island Bridge that crosses the Canoe Pass of the Fraser River. This is a pretty amazing truss swing bridge. Originally built in 1911, it is partially a wooden truss and partially steel. It is also only one lane despite its length, so make sure you see if anyone is coming across before you start your trip.
Once you are on the Island, if you are in your car there is really only one way to go. Apparently if you are on your bike there is a dike trail that takes you along another route along the western edge of the island. Both end at the main destination at the far end of the island. The George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I will get back to the in-between bit of the trip afterwards.
The George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Or the Reifel Bird Sanctuary as we called it) takes up about 700 acres at the north end of Westham Island. This space and the next door Alaksen National Wildlife Area were gifted to the public by the Reifel family in the 1960’s. The Alaksen is managed by the federal government while the bird sanctuary is overseen by a trust. Both areas are a magnet for migratory birds and are extremely popular with bird watchers. That said, even if you are not an avid birder, the bird sanctuary is worth the visit. There are many kilometres of trails and most of them are along narrow earthen dikes with sloughs and ponds on either side. The edges of the paths are often tight with trees and hedgerow, giving the whole place a truly unique look. As you walk around you will see a lot of birds of course and there are also a few bird blinds and a large observation tower that you can climb and see all the way out across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. There is a small admission price, but it is well worth the cost for the tranquillity the place provides. At the entrance there is an information centre and gift shop, so if you know a birder and need to get them something special make sure you check it out.
In between the bird sanctuary and the bridge are about five kilometres of the most beautiful farmland you are likely to see. The fields are all full of corn, blueberries or pumpkins. You will even see some of the original farmhouses from the later 1800’s when most of the island was turned over to farms. On our way back from our walk we stopped in at Emma Lea Farms which has been in operation since 1885. Since it is berry season we had blueberry and strawberry milkshakes, which with the fresh fruit was absolutely amazing. Being the long weekend the place was packed with people buying berries and eating ice cream but it still felt relaxed and gave you a great perspective of the lush farm with the skyscrapers of Vancouver and Burnaby in the distant background.
If you are looking for a place to go and feel the rush of the city fall away while also getting some exercise, I would highly recommend a visit to Westham Island! If I missed something great there, please let me know in the comments.