Biking around Richmond, writer Lucas Aykroyd spots eagles and hawks, tours the historic fishing village of Steveston, and enjoys great beer on the BC Ale Trail.
I skid to a halt on my bike when I hit Richmond’s West Dyke Trail at noon. I’ve just spotted a northern harrier hovering over Sturgeon Banks, a long stretch of tidal marshland on the Strait of Georgia.
The huge raptor dives for its prey. Moments later, a cloud of snow geese takes off, calling excitedly, with the Vancouver Island mountains looming in the background. Richmond attracts some 1.4 million migratory birds annually on the Pacific Flyway, and this is a thrilling snapshot.
Before riding down to the historic fishing village of Steveston, I zoom in with my camera and identify a bald eagle scanning the landscape, hunting for its next meal, atop an old wooden radar reflector.
As a fan of the late, great Eddie Van Halen, my mind swoops off to his band’s 1981 classic “Mean Street”: “Turns you from hunted into hunter/Go and hunt somebody down.” Personally, though, I’m just questing toward my first beer of this autumn day on the BC Ale Trail.
The inspiration for my bird-watching bike tour of Richmond, a diverse community of 200,000 south of Vancouver, is the September 2020 launch of the BC Bird Trail. This new resource encourages people to check out different bird habitats in our province and offers field notes to help visitors enjoy the best bird sightings safely and responsibly.
“The Fraser River Delta is Western Canada’s biggest estuary and our most important bird habitat with the highest diversity of species,” says James Casey, an environmental policy and conservation specialist with Birds Canada, in a pre-tour interview. “Both the massive productivity of the estuary–-which means lots of food for birds–and the temperate climate of Metro Vancouver bring birds down from the Arctic Circle to winter here.” (He neglects to mention whether the birds prefer IPAs or sours.)
Let’s circle back to my morning. Choosing wheels over wings, I rent a 24-speed Trek FX 2 city hybrid bike from Spokes in Vancouver’s West End. It’s an easy ride along the Coal Harbour Seawall to the Waterfront Station, where I board the Canada Line for the half-hour Skytrain ride to Richmond’s Lansdowne Station.
While I’ll cover more than 35 kilometres today, making this BC Ale Trail route suitable for intermediate cyclists, Richmond is fortunately as flat as Van Halen’s native Holland.
The Richmond Olympic Oval, the 2010 home of Olympic long-track speed skating, is the first major landmark I pass on the Middle Arm Dyke Trail, travelling west alongside the Fraser River. It’s 11 am and I’m thirsty for bird sightings.
Initially, the best I can do is watch a Harbour Air seaplane landing in the river next to the South Terminal of Vancouver International Airport (YVR). But things soon improve. I spot mallards and American wigeon floating next to the rushes along the banks. I mentally toast myself when I notice a male spotted towhee with distinctive reddish-brown feathers feeding in a crab apple tree.
Reaching the northwest corner of Lulu Island, on which most of Richmond sits, I detour into Terra Nova Rural Park. Golden-crowned sparrows and barn swallows flit past as I enter the community garden. Swiss chard and red beauty peppers grow just steps from a nesting box for owls. In the evergreen trees behind the garden, unseen birds tweet at a rate that would put a well-known politician who shall remain nameless to shame.
As I pedal south on the West Dyke Trail toward Steveston, I keep my eyes peeled for shorebirds and raptors. I also stop to check out interpretive signs about the World War II-era Fort Steveston and the various Sturgeon Banks fish species, which range from salmon and herring to starry flounder and shiner perch.
Quaint Steveston, founded in 1880 as a salmon canning port, has multiple restaurants that are home to such BC Ale Trail species as Parallel 49, Red Truck, and Driftwood. After rounding windy Garry Point Park, where a kite-buggying enthusiast swerves in joyful circles, I pull up at the harbourside Catch Kitchen and plant myself on the second-floor patio.
A pint of Four Winds Pilsner (4.8% ABV)–brewed in neighbouring Delta–pairs perfectly with my fish and chips lunch, featuring beer-battered cod, hand cut sea-salted fries, and coleslaw. I’m feeling warm and happy with my lungs full of fresh air as I gaze out over fishing boats and Coast Guard vessels. A seagull perched nearby is courteous enough to not steal my fries.
I pay a quick visit afterwards to the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, a National Historic Site, which canned a whopping 2.5 million pounds of salmon in 1897. The museum, suffused with the scent of creosote and wood pilings, currently hosts an exhibition on salmon can labels.
“Iconic Canadian images like Mounties were often featured,” a museum guide tells me. I’m amused to find a display of vintage cans depicting birds, such as kestrels, pelicans, and peacocks.
Heading east, I cut through the Britannia Shipyards, where salmon canning operations staffed by Japanese, Chinese, and First Nations workers gave way to ship repairs circa 1917. I walk my bike along the boardwalk and admire the Murakami Residence’s garden with a Japanese scarecrow.
Following the South Arm of the Fraser River, I work up a thirst as I cycle through off-leash dog areas and past Finn Slough, a small, self-regulating waterfront community with rustic houses on stilts, founded by Finnish settlers in the 1890’s.
In an offbeat way, Finn Slough reminds me of watching former Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jyrki Lumme’s daughter Bea playing hockey with the Pacific Steelers against the Chinese women’s national team at the Richmond Olympic Oval in 2016. This area is also a good place to spot snow geese, but they’re keeping a low profile at 3 pm.
I ride north on No. 5 Road and head into the industrial park that houses Fuggles & Warlock, one of Richmond’s most distinctive craft breweries. Comic book art and pixelated graphics adorn the walls.
Relaxing outside in the afternoon sunshine, I enjoy my flight of four beers, including a pilot brew Apricot IPA (6.4% ABV) and the heavy-duty DarXide Russian Imperial Stout (9.9% ABV). Ultimately, the new, super-refreshing Lemon Kolsch (4% ABV) wins my vote, and I leave with a six-pack.
My final destination is Monkey 9, a 2017-founded brewpub next to SilverCity Richmond Cinemas. (Word to the wise: when heading east on Steveston Highway, cross to the north side before traversing the bridge over Highway 99, since the road is tight, and you can walk your bike over the north-side sidewalk.) With eight beers on tap and four guest taps, there’s plenty of choice.
The primate-themed decor gets me thinking as I consume a Monkey 9 Grand Orchard Cherry Sour (8% ABV) and the Silverback Poutine. I was fortunate enough to see mountain gorillas in Uganda in 2019. Baboons are very common in Uganda. Locals there get as excited about seeing baboons as Canadians get about Canada geese. So, does that make Canada geese the baboons of Richmond? (As you can see, it’s been a long day.)
Spokes needs my bike back. Therefore, I fly like an eagle back along Steveston Highway, the Shell Road Trail, and Granville Avenue to reach the Richmond-Brighouse Station on No. 3 Road. Riding the Canada Line downtown circa 6 pm, I reflect on my exhilarating odyssey on Richmond’s dyke trails, the BC Bird Trail, and the BC Ale Trail.
The lyrics of the final song on Van Halen’s 1982 album Diver Down echo through my head: “Happy trails to you till we meet again.”
Looking for more outstanding ornithological options? Visit nearby bird-watching havens like Iona Beach Regional Park, next to YVR, or the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta. Or check out the International Bird Beer Label Association’s Facebook group.
Know before you go
When exploring the BC Ale Trail or BC Bird Trail, make sure to look up important information about the area you’re visiting and check on cancellation policies. Practice safe and respectful travelling as you explore the communities in our wild backyard that are open to visitors and make sure to be a considerate craft beer consumer while you’re out and about.