Vancouver Island ~ Part 2

September 13 – This morning we made our way down to the docks in Tofino and boarded the ‘Steller Sea’ which took us up into Tofino Harbour in search of Black Bears. On the way we were lucky enough to have good looks at adult Bald Eagles as well as a family of River Otters playing in a channel of water. The scenery was splendid this morning as well. It took us just about a half an hour before the first bears were spotted. A female and two cubs were watched as they foraged for Salal berries near the rocky shore. Later we encountered another slightly larger bear, that was most likely a male. We then later saw again the female and cubs as they came right out onto the mudflats in search of food. We were impressed by the power with which the bears had as they turned over large rocks.

Black Bear forages on beach at low tide near Tofino, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.
Black Bear forages on beach at low tide near Tofino, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.

After a hot cup of coffee at Jaime’s Whaling Center we headed over to the Tofino Mudflats where the tide was rising. We scanned the flats finding a nice flock of Semipalmated Plovers and Western Sandpipers, both new for the trip list. After a quick stop at Long Beach where the wind was howling. We attempted to scan from the top of a rock but it was just too windy so we headed into Ucluelet for lunch at the Gray Whale Deli. At Amphitrite Point the wind was blowing a gale and the birds were obviously in hiding, but we enjoyed the giant breakers crashing on the rocks below the scenic lighthouse. In the evergreen forest we located a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees along with some Golden-crowned Kinglets. Before we left town we had a look at the harbour in Ucluelet where we located a group of 32 Black Turnstones taking shelter from the wind behind a jetty.

We decided to try the sewage ponds one more time and were rewarded with sightings of a pair of Least Sandpipers, and a second sighting of the female type Green-winged and Blue-winged teals. We then slowly made our way back to the hotel where Bill spotted a Douglas’s Squirrel in the parking lot.

September 14 – Again the skies were blue and the sun shined all day in the Pacific Rim National Park area. We began with an walk at Chesterman Beach at dawn. There were no shorebirds to be found on the beach though we could see the tiny footprints of shorebirds traced across the sand. Out on the ocean, which seemed decidedly more calm today that it had the previous one, there were birds! A group of California, Glauous-winged and Heermann’s gulls fed together alongside Common Murre, Rhinoceros Auklet, and a couple of Pacific Loons. Surf Scoters were also noted here, and a Black Oystercatcher sat on a distant rocky island. As we turned to walk back towards the van, as breakfast was beckoning, an Osprey appeared and put on a nice show.

Chesterman Beach, Tofino, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth
Chesterman Beach, Tofino, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth

After breakfast we headed for the Rain Forest Trail. We enjoyed a glorious walk through the towering Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock forest here. Gigantic trees, covered in moss and lichens, dominated the landscape. Some of the birds we saw included two species new for our trip list; Hermit Thrush and Red-breasted Sapsucker. Other ‘old friends’ included several Pacific Wrens, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Steller’s Jays and Common Ravens.

A visit to Wickanninish Beach provided some excellent sea-watching this morning. There were hundreds of Surf Scoters offshore along with several White-winged Scoters. Western, Horned and Red-necked grebes bobbed about on the surf as did Common Murres, Red-throated Loons, Pacific Loons, Common Loons and numbers of Heermann’s Gulls. A small group of Harbour Porpoises surfaced several times among the birds. We had lunch in the visitor’s center cafe where we enjoyed an amazing view of the beach and rising tide. A short walk around the parking lot before we left the area produced a great view of a Hutton’s Vireo, as well as more Chestnut-backed Chickadees and a calling Pacific Wren.

Next on our agenda was a return visit to the Long Beach Airport where we walked down an overgrown track and found a nice little group of mixed species. Sparrows were numerous with White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Fox, Song and Savannah in attendance. An Orange-crowned Warbler appeared briefly and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitted above a Hutton’s Vireo, excellent for comparison. Very quickly a Pacific-slope Flycatcher was seen, but it got away before any of the group could get a good look.

To finish off the days birding we popped into Grice Bay where we scanned the rather tranquil waters and saw a female Common Merganser, Common Murre, Horned Grebe and the usual Glaucous-winged Gulls. At dinner we ate while enjoying a lovely view as Bald Eagle and Belted Kingfisher kept us entertained while we updated our bird lists.

September 15 – It wasn’t easy to leave Tofino this morning, but we had to. We made our way down to Ucluelet where we had a nice breakfast at the Barklay Cafe before visiting Amphitrite Point once again. After some good hard searching a Wandering Tattler was finally found and this juvenile bird provided excellent views through the scope. Success! An adult Peregrine Falcon soared over the lighthouse, perhaps eyeing up one of the dozens of American Robins that were migrating through the area. We then made our way back to Wickaninnish Beach for another short look and were rewarded here with over 20 Surfbirds on a rocky islet. Other seabirds noted here included Red-throated and Pacific loons, Surf and White-winged scoters, Pigeon Guillemot, Sooty Shearwater, Heermann’s Gull, and Pelagic and Brandt’s cormorants.

Leaving the west coast of the island behind we made our way back across island, pausing at Port Alberni to pick up lunch. Our next stop was at Qualicum Beach where a nice little gathering of gulls included about 15 Bonaparte’s Gulls!

Bonaparte's Gull at Qualicum Beach, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.
Bonaparte’s Gull at Qualicum Beach, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.

In the bay were many Common Loons. The rain finally caught up with us here after days of fine weather, and it was only a shower so we weren’t too bothered. The mouth of French Creek at Columbia Beach provided us the opportunity to scan through more gulls, but nothing different could be found. At the mouth of the Englishman River we walked along a brushy track and saw many American Robins, some Cedar Waxwings, Purple Finches and Northern Flickers. A Sharp-shinned Hawk briefly came into view as it sailed into a grove of fir trees, spooking out 50 or more American Robins in the process. Two Greater Yellowlegs strutted through the water in the estuary, while Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler and Green-winged Teal were noted as well and were startled when an adult Bald Eagle arrived on the scene. American Pipits called as they flew past and briefly I saw a Merlin streak through the trees, but couldn’t get any other tour members onto it. We drove on into Nanaimo where we spent the night in our hotel next to the harbour.

September 16 – After breakfast we left our hotel in downtown Nanaimo and headed for Buttertubs Marsh. We walked the loop trail around the marsh and saw lots of birds on our walk. There were American Wigeon, Gadwall and some very nicely plumaged Wood Ducks, here along with Pied-billed Grebes, American Coot and Canada Geese. The marsh surrounding the pond had good numbers of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds mixed in. There were little groups of Bushtits about, along with Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Spotted Towhee, Bewick’s Wren and some rather shy Common Yellowthroats. On some treetops across the marsh we had good views of Band-tailed Pigeons, a first for the tour. The highlight here however was the appearance of up to three Virginia Rails, right out in the open next to the path.

At 12:45 PM we boarded the ferry at Duke Point and crossed the Salish Sea to Tsawwassen. We had lunch on the boat, then headed out to look for birds.We didn’t see too many birds other than a some Common Murres, Pelagic Cormorant, Bonaparte’s, Glaucous-winged and California gulls and Surf Scoters. A Harbour Porpoise or two was noted as well. Once on the mainland we made our way to Boundary Bay Regional Park where we encountered massive numbers of waterfowl, mostly American Wigeon, Mallard, Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail. There was a single Northern Pintail here too. Our first Northern Harriers were noted, up to three of them sailing over grassy fields near Boundary Bay. Some Ring-billed Gulls foraged in the mud near the shore here, along with some very nice specimens of Great Blue Herons. Back in the parking lot we had a couple of adult White-crowned Sparrows which made a nice change from the immatures we had been encountering.

September 17 – After a little overnight rain we were optimistic today would hold some good birding possibilities and it certainly did. We began birding at Boundary Bay at the foot of 96th Ave where there were loads of shorebirds to sift through on the rising tide. Most numerous were Black-bellied Plovers, which numbered easily into the thousands. Also numerous today were both Western Sandpipers and Sanderlings, with smaller numbers of winter plumage Red Knots, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper and rarest of all, a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit! I spotted the godwit as it flew in among a flock of a hundred or so Black-bellied Plovers and watched the birds until they landed. I was very excited about the godwit, though my companions were not quite as pleased since they see this species often back in the U.K. Other good finds included a juvenile American Golden-Plover and a juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper.

Adult California Gull, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.
Adult California Gull, BC. Sept 2015. Chris Charlesworth.

American Pipits were very numerous on the mudflats, and I heard a single Lapland Longspur call as it flew overhead. Birding the bushes along edge of the road produced Downy Woodpecker, White-crowned, Lincoln’s and Golden-crowned sparrows and our first House Finches. Raptors put on a nice show this morning at Boundary Bay as well with several Northern Harriers seen exceptionally well as they hunted. Peregrine Falcons patrolled the mudflats as well, and Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle were also noted.

After a coffee we made our way to Richmond and explored the McDonald Beach area. We found a flock of about 10 ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warblers here, which was the highlight. At the Iona South Jetty we walked out to the first warming hut with hopes of seeing Horned Lark and Lapland Longspur, both of which we couldn’t find. We did, however, get our first Common Terns of the trip.

To finish off the day we explored the sewage ponds at Iona where highlights included 4 juvenile Pectoral Sandpipers, as well as several Lesser Yellowlegs and our one and only Western Meadowlark of the tour. It had been a very productive day indeed!

September 18 – The final day of our tour in British Columbia began with a drive through the city of Vancouver to Queen Elizabeth Park. This lovely park, covered in towering trees and lovely flower gardens, is a fantastic place for migrant birds. We walked the trails this cool overcast morning and found some interesting birds including Wilson’s Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Varied Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, and a locally rare Red-naped Sapsucker, though the latter didn’t hang about for the group to get a good look at. The highlight for us however, was the sighting of a pair of Barred Owls in some large cedar trees. The owls were continuously being harassed by Northwestern Crows, and moved several times trying to find a more peaceful roost. Before we left the park we took in the great view of downtown Vancouver from the highest point in the park.

After a coffee stop we picked up lunch and made our way to the famous George C. Reifel Refuge in Ladner. Upon arrival a pair of Sandhill Cranes flew over the parking lot before we were all out of the vehicle. Luckily we found another pair of the cranes soon thereafter and all enjoyed these elegant birds through the scope. A group of 15 were also noted in a farm field near Reifel as well. Waterfowl were plentiful on the ponds at Reifel and we had up close and personal looks at Wood Ducks, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal and Hooded Merganser. A few shorebirds were also about on the ponds including Greater and Lesser yellowlegs and a large, rather noisy group of Long-billed Dowitchers. Raptors included several Northern Harriers, Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk and our only Cooper’s Hawk of the tour, an immature. In the reeds there seemed to be Marsh Wrens chattering everywhere, and it took a while, but eventually we had good looks at these elusive little birds. Along the pathways of Reifel there were loads of sparrows today including White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Song and Fox sparrows, as well as many Spotted Towhees. Little flocks of Black-capped Chickadees followed us around hoping for some bird seed. Several chickadees landed on our hands in anticipation of food, though they were mostly disappointed. Just as we were about to leave, one of the employees at Reifel pointed out a roosting adult Black-crowned Night-Heron in the trees, our final addition to the tour list. We drove through the afternoon traffic and through the Massey Tunnel one more time on the way back to the airport where i bid the group farewell and wished them a pleasant return journey to the U.K. Our bird list for the tour had tallied just over 130 species, a very respectable total.

Chris Charlesworth


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