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Winter home of the Snow Geese and one of Canada's top birdwatching sites.
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The Fraser River Estuary

The George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary lies right in the heart of the Fraser River estuary, an ecological site of international importance to millions of birds, fish and other wildlife. British Columbia's estuaries are among the richest in the world. The Fraser River forms the largest estuary along the Pacific Coast of North America, is home to over 400 species of vertebrates, thousands of plants and a myriad of small invertbrates.

A Critical Crossroads Along the Pacific Flyway

Migration paths of many migrant birds converge at the Fraser River delta. Its location mid-way along the Pacific Coast makes it an international crossroad of bird migration routes from 20 countries and three continents. Waterfowl and shorebirds from breeding grounds in Siberia, Alaska, Yukon, and other arctic and prairie areas all stop to refuel in the Fraser River estuary on their way to wintering grounds in California, Mexico, Central and South America or the South Pacific. Coastal lowlands and marshes of the estuary provide critical refuelling opportunities for long-distance migrants such as the Lesser Snow Goose, which nests in Wrangel Island (Russia) and sometimes makes non-stop flights of over 2500 km in its southward migration to wintering grounds.Nearly all of the world's population of Western Sandpipers stop to rest and refuel during their massive migrations between Alaska nesting grounds and wintering sites from California to Peru. In addition, more than 35 other shorebird species rely on this estuary throughout the year.

The largest wintering concentrations of waterbirds and raptors in Canada

This is a major wintering areafor many migrants. The climate is mild, and there are plentiful foods ranging from marine fish and invertebrates to grasses, rodents and amphibians. Millions of waterfowl and over 20 species of birds of prey consequently all congregate at the mouth of this river, providing a wonderful wildlife viewing spectacle for the millions of people in the Vancouver area. Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Lesser Snow Geese, Trumpeter Swans, Greater and Lesser Scaup and Surf Scoters all congregate here in winter, along with Double-Crested Cormorants, Western Grebes, many species of gulls and Duniln. Bald Eagles, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and Short-Eared Owls are just some of the winter birds of prey to be seen in the river delta. For some species such as the Barn Owl, the delta represents the only site in Canada with mild enough winters for the species to remain year-round.

The largest salmon-producing river along the Pacific Coast

The Fraser River is the largest producer of salmon on the entire Pacific Coast of North America. Annually, millions of anadromous (migratory) adult salmon migrate upstream to spawn along small streams along its length and up into the connected waterways of the Pitt, Lilloet, Chilliwack, Nechako, Chilkotin, Thompson, Stuart, Adams, and Quesnel Rivers. Millions of young fish hatching in these areas spend their early life cycle in these  upper reaches, and eventually descend to the estuary on their way out to oceanic habitats. Estuarine marshes, mudflats, floodplains, sloughs and river channels are all critical feeding and rearing areas for these and other fish during their transition between river and marine stages of their life cycle. Pacific Herring, Sturgeon, Eulachon, and Smelt are also abundant fisheries locally, as are Dungeness crab, Shrimp and other invertebrates.

 

A Landsat View

On this Landsat image, metropolitan areas such as Vancouver, Victoria and Bellingham. show up mainly as white areas because of the density of buildings and pavement, and specific natural areas show up in contrast. Look for Stanley Park (Vancouver) Burns Bog (Delta) and the farmland of Delta, for examples of "green spaces" in these developed areas.

The Fraser River drains a large part of the Province of British Columbia. As snow melts in the spring throughout the interior and mountain slopes of the province, the volume of water gradually increases in the river where it meets the ocean right by the Sanctuary. By May, the river flows and volume are at their highest (called the "freshet"), and are laden with fine silts carried in suspension.

In this Landsat image, taken at freshet in 2001, the main flow of the river can clearly be seen from space as light coloured waters (light blue) entering the darker waters of the Strait of Georgia (Pacific Ocean).  River sediments meet the currents of the Strait of Georgia and are deposited onto the nearly 30,000 hectares of the estuary's intertidal marshes and mudflats (Sturgeon Banks, Roberts Bank and Boundary Bay).

Wildlife Lands

In addition the the Sanctuary, wildlife management holdings include: Alaksen (federal) National Wildlife Area; and Sturgeon Banks, Boundary Bay and South Arm Marshes (provincial) Wildlife Managements Areas. Examples of parks providing wildlife habitat include: Boundary Bay and Deas Island Regional District Parks and the (municipal) Delta Nature Reserve. Most larger natural areas of habitat have been set aside during the past two decades.

Farm Stewardship

Since the early 1980's, there has been a growing recognition of the value of coastal lowlands, the role of farmland habitats play in wildlife management, and the need to support and nurture the agricultural land base surrounding the estuary marshes. More information of farm & wildlife issues and related stewardship initiatives can be obtained from the Delta Farmland Wildlife Trust.

 

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