From popular malls to more than 800 restaurants, Richmond’s well-developed urban scene isn’t a secret. But in-the-know-locals also love the city’s enticing wild side: dozens of parks and outdoor spaces where you can slow down, take some deep breaths and spot many of British Columbia’s coolest feathered creatures. 

Just weeks before thousands of delegates flock to Metro Vancouver for the 27th International Ornithological Congress—reputedly the world’s oldest and most prestigious gathering of bird scientists—we asked Richmond birder Kate Paton for her insider tips on the city’s bird-spotting scene.

Describing herself as a “very keen amateur naturalist and photographer,” Kate bird-spots in Richmond almost every day. Posting highly evocative videos and photos of the wildlife she finds via her social media feeds, her nature-loving followers enjoy seeing what she discovers around the city.

Tourism Richmond (TR): What’s your favourite birding spot in Richmond?

Kate Paton (KP): Iona Beach Regional Park. It’s right by the water and it’s visited by a lot of migratory birds. From swifts to shorebirds to raptors, you get everything here. And it’s beautiful all year round, including winter. Iona is also where I spotted my one and only American avocet, which I think is the most beautiful bird in the world.

American avocet. | Video: Pacificnorthwestkate

TR: Can you recommend a couple of other great local birding destinations?

KP: Terra Nova Rural Park also has a good variety of birds and it’s great for larger birds like hawks, owls, and northern harriers. I also like the West Dyke Trail where you can spot a lot of wildlife, from coyotes to ducks—including the lovely hooded merganser.

TR: Do you have any tips for someone who is new to bird-spotting?

KP: You don’t need to spend a lot of money on equipment; I personally think cell phones have great camera software but for birding start small, with the best camera you can afford and build up as you learn and gain confidence and skill. The trick is just to head out and take a walk, preferably with someone who is quiet! Slow down and listen and you’ll soon see the wildlife all around you. It’s very important to respect these creatures: don't point your camera directly above and into their nests; don’t disturb them; don’t let your dog chase them; don't feed them—remember that fed wildlife is dead wildlife; and don’t litter—pack in, pack out!

Short-eared owl. | Video: Pacificnorthwestkate

TR: When is the best time to go birding in Richmond?

KP: Early in the day is my favourite time to go out, especially in summer when it’s cooler and the birds are more active—they tend to rest in the middle of the day. Early evening, before sunset, can also be good. As for the best time of year: birding here is great during any season, but my personal favourite time is winter—it’s just so beautiful then.

TR: What are some of the birds to look out for in Richmond?

KP: Starting small, there are golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows; several kinds of swallows (barn, tree and violet-green—as well as purple martins); and also the lovely common yellowthroats, which are one of the first signs of summer for me. There are also red-winged blackbirds and, especially at Iona Beach Regional Park, yellow-headed blackbirds. Then there are the ducks and shorebirds including sandpipers, plovers, and killdeer. Richmond also has a lot of larger birds, including eagles, ospreys, herons and red-tailed hawks. Richmond has a huge variety of birds  - almost too many to mention!

Common yellowthroat. | Video: Pacificnorthwestkate

TR: What other wildlife might you see here?

KP: We’ve got a population of coyotes and I absolutely love them: they’re a sign of a healthy urban environment. If you see a coyote, be respectful, we have taken over their habitat —give it plenty of space to do what it wants—stay well back. They are intelligent creatures who will not intentionally harm people. As for other wildlife in our parks, there can be beavers, muskrats, otters, raccoons, small snakes (often lovely garter snakes) and also turtles such as red-eared sliders and painted turtles.

TR: Do you have any advice for shooting great wildlife images?

KP: I personally prefer video over photography; I think it captures the essence of the animals better and tells you more about them. Equipment-wise, I’d suggest starting with your cellphone camera and moving up from there. Just keep practicing and make sure you’re enjoying yourself: if taking photos or videos become too much of a chore when you’re out in nature, you’re not doing it right!

Yellow-headed blackbird. | Video: Pacificnorthwestkate

TR: What makes birding so rewarding in Richmond?

KP: It’s great to take a break from the city and watch the wildlife here—I’ve never come home without seeing something. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t notice the nature that surrounds us; you really just need to open your eyes and it’s right there. But I also think it’s a good idea to actually schedule some time to get out and explore the city’s natural side. That’s what I do and I slot everything else around it!

You can keep up-to-date with Kate by following her on: YouTube | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Northern harrier. | Video: Pacificnorthwestkate