Vancouver Island ~ Part 1

September 8 – Met the group of 6 Limosa participants from the U.K. at Vancouver International this evening and by the time we got to our first hotel in Tsawwassen, it was time for bed.

September 9 – Bright eyed and bushy tailed, as they say, we left our hotel and visited Beach Grove Park we explored the trails for birds and wildlife for about an hour and a half this morning. Northwestern Crows, Glaucous-winged Gulls, Northern Flicker and Downy Woodpecker were among the first birds we tallied this morning. The bushes were full of migrant songbirds which mostly included Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s’) Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Song, Lincoln’s and (Sooty) Fox Sparrow. A few rather drab American Goldfinches fed on catkins in the alders above, while Western Tanager, American Robin and Cedar Waxwing all made appearances.  Before heading back to the hotel for breakfast (number two, if you ask some), we saw the black color phase of Eastern Gray Squirrel, our first mammal of the tour.

Before boarding the ferry at Tsawwassen we paused for a few minutes to scope through some birds on the ocean. There were dozens of Great Blue Herons about, and one Great Egret, a rarity locally. There were Surf and White-winged scoters, as well as Horned (Slavonian) Grebe, Western Grebe and a nice Common Loon on the water. Once aboard the ferry we headed for the viewing deck where we remained for the entire 40+ km, hour and a half journey to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. California, Ring-billed and Glaucous-winged gulls showed nicely, offering good comparisons. Double-crested, Brandt’s and Pelagic cormorants were also all tallied. Several large groups of Common Murres were noted, and just single Rhinoceros Auklet zipped past the front of the boat. Over the distant fir clad hills on the Gulf Islands, Cecile spotted several soaring Turkey Vultures, our first for the tour. We had several Harbour Seals during the crossing, and a single Steller’s Sea-Lion as well.

After lunch we visited Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary for some more birding. By this time it was sunny and quite warm and pleasant. Walking the trails at Swan Lake we tracked down Spotted Towhees, Bewick’s Wrens, Song Sparrows and a stunning male Anna’s Hummingbird. An immature Golden-crowned Sparrow showed quite well at the edge of a path, and a female Purple Finch disappeared before everyone could see her. On Swan Lake we counted up to 10 Pied-billed Grebes. There were Mallards and several Green-winged Teal here, and along the shore were Painted Turtles. Marsh Wrens chattered from the reeds but remained mostly hidden. We were entertained by several lovely dragonflies here during lulls in the birding.  One particularly stunning butterfly, a Lorquin’s Admiral put on quite a nice showing.

After a quick stop at a local shop to pick up a step (aka Trevor) for the bus, we drove through the lovely city of Victoria on what had been a fine day. After checking into our hotel near the inner harbour we headed off to John’s Place for a very tasty meal.

September 10 – Today was a spectacular day with lovely sunshine and fairly warm temperatures all around. We began at Clover Point where we watched up to 20 Harlequin Ducks, including a few males with nice colors, as they paddled along the rocky shore. Offshore we scoped Rhinoceros Auklets along with both Common Murres and a few Pigeon Guillemots. Gulls were numerous on the rocks and most were California and Glaucous-winged gulls, but there were a couple of Heermann’s Gulls and at least one Mew Gull as well.  Black Oystercatchers and Black Turnstones were seen quite well, though no Surfbirds could be found.

Black Oystercatcher. Clover Point, Victoria, BC. Sep 2015. Chris Charlesworth.
Black Oystercatcher. Clover Point, Victoria, BC. Sep 2015. Chris Charlesworth.

Three American Pipits foraged in the grass along with Savannah Sparrows and the resident flock of Feral Rock Pigeons was chased momentarily by a rather optimistic Merlin.

We then visited the Ogden Point Breakwater where we walked the jetty along with many local residents as well. A giant cruise ship came right into the harbor as we took a momentary break from birding. Rhinoceros Auklets were again noted here at Ogden Point, as were Black Turnstones, but unfortunately the two Surfbirds in with the flock departed before the group could get onto them.  A lone Steller’s Sea-Lion surfaced twice as it drifted by and at least one Harbor Seal put in an appearance as well.

After a nice cup of coffee we headed for Beacon Hill Park where a stroll through the towering trees offered up some nice sightings including Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a single Steller’s Jay, the latter of which is the official provincial bird of British Columbia. Several Eastern Gray Squirrels paraded about in the park as though they owned the place.

We picked up lunch and took it with us down to Queen’s Park in Oak Bay. Several shorebirds resting on the offshore rocks included Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Black-bellied Plover and Black Oystercatcher. Up to 4 Hooded Mergansers were a nice addition here.

Our final stop of the day was at Esquimalt Lagoon. Highlights here included several ‘countable’ Mute Swans and a lone summering adult Trumpeter Swan!

Trumpeter Swan at Esquimalt Lagoon, Victoria, BC. Sep 2015. Chris Charlesworth.
Trumpeter Swan at Esquimalt Lagoon, Victoria, BC. Sep 2015. Chris Charlesworth.

Red-winged and Brewer’s blackbirds were additions to the trip list here, both offering up excellent views. Up to 6 juvenile Sanderlings scurried about on the beach, along with one or two Savannah Sparrows. Offshore more Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots were noted, while over a distant hillside a Turkey Vulture whirled in the thermals. We returned to our hotel in the late afternoon and returned to John’s Place in the evening for dinner.

September 11 – It was about as perfect a day as one could imagine for a drive on Vancouver Island with completely sunny skies and balmy temperatures. We left Victoria and made our way up the Trans-Canada Hwy to Nanaimo, stopping along the way at Somenos Marsh in Duncan. Along the trails we found several migrants including Audubon’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Robins, Anna’s Hummingbird and a good number of very obliging Chestnut-backed Chickadees. A group of Bushtits flitted through the willows and Cedar Waxwings and Spotted Towhee made brief appearances.

After a short ‘pit-stop’ in Nanaimo we began driving west across the island towards the Pacific Rim area. On the way we stopped for a hike at Cathedral Grove where we viewed some of the largest trees in the world, the largest of which, a Douglas Fir, stood nearly 80 meters high and was over 800 years old! Birds were not numerous here, though we did have great views of Pacific Wrens as they scurried about like little mice through the moss and lichen covered forest floor. A rather brief sighting of a Douglas’s Squirrel was also made but the little devil disappeared under the ferns before we could all see.

After lunch in Port Alberni we carried on, along the narrow and winding Hwy 4, past fantastic scenery, to the coast. We hiked in to the Pacific Rim Sewage Pond, which was rather quiet, though one female type Blue-winged Teal and a female type Green-winged Teal fed side by side. We had an excellent view of a Hutton’s Vireo here, as it flitted about in the conifers. Along the road to the Long Beach Airport we encountered a nice little flock of migrant birds including White-crowned Sparrow, Yellow, Audubon’s, and a single Wilson’s warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Cedar Waxwing. Steller’s Jays seemed to be popping out everywhere and several were feeding on insects along the edge of the road. We arrived at our hotel on Mackenzie Beach and took in the breathtaking scenery before and after dinner.

September 12 -The morning began with a walk along MacKenzie Beach where the birds were a little slow to awaken, though we enjoyed the serene and peaceful morning nonetheless. As we started out, we spied Venus through the scope, and saw that it was in a nice crescent shape. Out on the ocean were Common Murres and a few Red-necked Grebes, while Black Oystercatcher, Heermann’s Gull and Glaucous-winged Gulls sat on the rocks. Pacific Wren sang its heart out, while a Hermit Thrush called a few times then promptly went quiet. A pair of Belted Kingfishers put on a nice show this morning, offering up perhaps the best view of the tour thus far.

We headed into the town of Tofino and had a nice breakfast at a local cafe before making our way over to the dock to board the Leviathan 2 for a couple of hours of whale watching. We left Tofino Inlet and made our way south along the coast towards Long Beach. On the way we were kept busy watching Brandt’s and Pelagic cormorants, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, Surf Scoter and a couple of Pacific Loons. Best bird of the day for me was an adult Arctic Tern that sailed right past the boat. Eventually we located a feeding Gray Whale and watched this mammoth creature for about an hour as it surfaced and dived repeatedly. On the rocks there was a big group of Steller’s Sea-Lions catching the morning sun, along with a few Harbour Seals.

Gray Whale off Long Beach, Tofino, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.
Gray Whale off Long Beach, Tofino, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.

The boat trip back to the dock was a bit bumpier than the ride out had been, but we were none worse for ware once we got back onto solid ground. After lunch we visited Chesterman’s Beach where the beach was rather busy with people enjoying the unusually warm late summer weather. In the trees along the edge of the beach we had good views of Golden-crowned Kinglets as they foraged and Bill caught a glimpse of a Pacific Wren. At the Tofino Mudflats, but the tide was too high for shorebirds so we had to settle for watching Ospreys and a single Peregrine Falcon playing in the wind which was very nice. Out on the calm water a female Greater Scaup floated along. After this it was time to head back to the Tin Wis Hotel and enjoy a little R & R before dinner.

Chris Charlesworth

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