| Site Guide to Cheam Lake Wetlands Regional Park
by Gord Gadsden
Cheam Lake Wetlands Regional Park is a real jewel for local birders. Its varied habitat ranges from lake, marsh and forest. Many bird species are attracted here and with the close proximity to Chilliwack, well maintained trails and the park's dedication to nature makes the park popular for birding. The 184 species recorded using this park to the spring of 2007 also helps matters from a birder's perspective.
Spring and fall migration as well as the summer months are the most active times at the park. Spring marks the beginning of the northward travel of migrating bird species and the beginning of nesting season where migrating birds come to join the ones who spent the winter in the park. Wood Ducks , who's numbers have been increasing in the park recently, are visible beginning in April as they nest in nest boxes provided for them. Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Yellowthroats are in full nesting swing by early May. Warbler, flycatcher and vireo species are also starting to appear in high numbers by this time, some of whom will remain in the park to nest.
Summer is when breeding is in full swing. Yellow Warbler, Western Wood-Pewee, Tree Swallow, Bullock's Oriole, Black-headed Grosbeak and Cedar Waxwing are some of the common species of 64 species that have been documented breeding in the park. Eastern Kingbirds who are very noisy and often easy to find, nest here in the highest numbers found locally. Ospreys nest on the south shore of the lake near the top of a large snag that sits on the top of the hill overlooking the lake. I hope that finding the nest will be easier than reading the sentance that describes where it's hidden! Green Herons are observed most often during the late summer and early fall. Summer is also when many rarities have been recorded here. Least Flycatcher and Grey Catbird have bred here for several seasons. Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler , and American Redstart are rarities observed during this period which hint to birders to be watchful for others.
Fall migration, which begins in early to mid August, is also the most active times in the park for mall birds. Large mixed flocks of small birds produce a wide array of different spcies which can include eight species of warbler . Warbling and Red-eyed Vireo , often large numbers of Western Tanager , and flycatchers accompany the wablers . Ash-throated Flycatcher, Chipping Sparrow , and Northern Waterthrush are uncommon to rare species recorded during this time. This is also a good time to see shorebirds in the park. Solitary Sandpipers have been seen in the park for the last 6 years during August. Watch for them in small numbers on logs and in shallow water. Greater Yellowlegs, western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope are also among the shorebird species recorded but are surprisingly less common than the Solitary Sandpiper.
Fall is also when waterfowl numbers begin to increase. Leading the way is the Green-winged Teal who are in large numbers in early fall . The numbers of waterfowl steadily grows from about mid-August through to early winter. Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teal are most common in late August. September is when the diving ducks begin to arrive with Ring-necked Duck usually arriving first. It is not uncommon to count close to 100 Ring-necked ducks on the lake in late October. These numbers will often remain until late March. October is when you're most likely to spot a Redhead or Ruddy Duck as well. Canada Goose numbers begin to rise dramatically in mid-September as migrants join the locals. Cackling, Greater White-fronted and often Snow Geese are yearly occurances during this period. Grebe species peak in fall as well. Horned and Red-necked Grebes show up in September through October. Huge numbers of Pied-billed Grebes , often close to 30, are counted each fall at their peak.
While raptors are seen all year at the park, fall is the best time to observe American Kestrels and Merlins as they hunt dragonflies from the snags over the lake.
During the winter the park is fairly quiet save for activity on the lake. Trumpeter Swans and a few Tundra Swans show up in early November and use the lake for feeding and to roost during the night. Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked Ducks and Canada Geese are most numerous but Hooded Mergansers and Buffleheads are also common. As the park is in the shadow of the mountains, it is a cold place during the winter and often has ice on the lake which drives most of the waterfowl elsewhere during colder periods.
Trails, access and other information
There are three trails at the park. One leads along the lake out to a raised viewpoint which offers excellent views of the lake and surrounds. This is where most of the park's waterfowl can be observed the best. The Loop Trail goes through several habitats and is the most popular for this reason. The beaver pond at the first walkway is the best place to watch for Solitary Sandpipers during August. Small birds can be seen in the willows and cottonwood forests and the areas with cedar trees is where to watch for Barred Owls. Following the creek that flows out of Cheam Lake is the Creek Trail which also offers excellent habitats. Watch for American Dippers in the creek during the fall. As the park has very sensitive habitats, everyone must remain on the trail at all times. A small picnic area with covered shelter, water tap, toilets, a bird checklist and park brochure round out the park's facilities.
The park is open at about 8 am and closes around dusk. Early morning is often the best for birding during the summer and early fall, especially during hot days. Car thieves are about as common at the park as Turkey Vultures are (sadly, a fairly accurate comparison in many senses) so leave valuables at home and lock your vehicle. Black bears have been seen in the park, but are not common. More common are black-tailed deer and for early morning or late evening visitors, a strong chance to see an American Beaver.
Cheam Lake Wetlands Regional Park is located on the north side of Highway #1, approximately 15 kilometers east of Chilliwack. To get there, take exit 135 off Highway #1 and continue north on Highway #9. At Yale Road, turn right and follow the signs.
For more information, visit the park's website .