September 14 – Today was our first day together. The group of 7 from the U.K. arrived the previous evening and we transferred to our hotel and got some rest. Bright and early the next morning we had breakfast and then departed our hotel in Richmond, passing through the Massey Tunnel to our destination the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. We had a little time to spare upon arrival for our ferry to Vancouver Island, so we did some birding. The bay was teeming with activity including a number of Great Blue Herons, dozens of Common Loons, Red-necked and Horned grebes, White-winged Scoters and Pelagic Cormorants were tallied. An Osprey on a distant pole was spotted by Rose. A Black Oystercatcher landed on the beach in front of us for scope views. About half a dozen American Pipits called as they flew by us along the north shore of the jetty. Near the terminal an adult Peregrine Falcon was seen on a large radio tower. We got on the ferry and stood on the
upper viewing deck for the duration of the hour and a half ride to Swartz Bay, north of Victoria. Along the way we saw a selection of gulls including Glaucous-winged, California and Mew gulls. Turkey Vultures teetered over the Gulf Islands, and we had a single Bald Ealge, an adult, sitting on a small island in the shade of a light beacon. Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises were seen on the crossing as well. The scenery alone was worth the trip. Once we were back on dry land we drove towards Victoria, pausing along the way to pick up lunch. We then ate our lunch at Swan Lake Nature Center while preschool class had an outdoor session nearby, keeping us entertained with their games. One little girl said she had seen lots of birds on a trail, so we took her advice and headed off to search for birds. We found quite a few with highlights including Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Downy Woodpecker, Song Sparrow, Bewick’s Wren and more. Overhead a Cooper’s Hawk did a display flight, and we had another Cooper’s Hawk perch in a cottonwood tree where we viewed at leisure through the scope. A Merlin was a nice catch as it hurried off across the lake towards a neighborhood. Seen on a couple of occasions was the rather attractive Spotted Towhee, along with a distant ‘Myrtle’ Yellow-rumped Warbler. Anna’s Hummingbirds seemed to be everywhere and we had several excellent views of them as they zipped about. Eastern Gray Squirrel was an addition to the mammal list, though it is a pesky introduced species.
We continued on into downtown Victoria, stopped in at our hotel for a short pit stop, then headed back out into the field for some more birding. After all it was gorgeous sunny day with temperatures reaching about 25 degrees Celsius. We visited Clover Point, a prominent
rocky headland that juts out into the Salish Sea. Through the scope we had good views of Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as up to 4 Harlequin Ducks including a male coming into breeding plumage. Gulls were slathered all across the rocks here and flocks were mostly composed of Glaucous-winged and California gulls with lesser numbers of Mew Gull, Heermann’s Gull and Ring-billed Gull. We enjoyed our evening meal at a quirky diner called John’s Place, where we reminisced about the day as we ticked off the birds on our lists.
September 15 – It was a lovely morning down at Clover Point as we scanned the Salish Sea and the rocks surrounding the point for new and exciting birds. We enjoyed views of several spectacular Harlequin Ducks, including one or two males. Gulls were numerous on the rocks with a few Heermann’s, and Thayer’s gulls again the highlights. Little groups of Rhinoceros Auklets were again noted this morning as were several Common Murres. A group of about 8 Horned Larks flew over the point and nearly landed, as did several little groups of American Pipits. Overhead we scanned through a flock of Barn Swallows and I picked out a Bank Swallow amongst them, which is a locally rare bird.
Our next stop was at the Ogden Point Breakwater and even before we had walked 20 meters down the path we were distracted by birds as a White-crowned Sparrow and a
Golden-crowned Sparrow appeared on the ground beneath some bushes. A fleeting glimpse of a River Otter tantalized us here, and despite our patience it did not reappear. Farther along the breakwater we encountered a group of about half a dozen Black Turnstones picking through the barnacles on the rock wall below us. From the lighthouse at the end of the walk we scanned the sea and found Rhinoceros Auklets and some distant Mute Swans. On our way back, a male Belted Kingfisher entertained us for a while. After this rewarding little walk we indulged in a coffee before venturing off to our next port of call.
We visited Beacon Hill Park next, a lovely place with giant oaks, maples, sequoias, cedars and firs. A Hutton’s Vireo greeted us not long after our arrival, offering up excellent views of this non-migratory species. Farther along we bumped into little groups of mixed feeding flocks with Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Bushtits, Yellow Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco and Golden-crowned Kinglets. On the ponds we found Hooded Merganser and our first American Wigeons of the tour. A male Belted Kingfisher showed nicely as he sat watching the water below.
After lunch we followed the coastal scenic route around to the Oak Bay Marina where we saw some nice things including our first Brandt’s Cormorant, a dozen or so Greater Yellowlegs, some Killdeer, Black Oystercatchers and some Black-bellied Plovers.
To finish off the day we visited Esquimalt Lagoon. There were many gulls to sift through here, which paid off with the sighting of a single Caspian Tern. Also new for the list was Brewer’s Blackbird, of which there were quite a few along the shores of the lagoon. Yet another Belted Kingfisher, our third of the day, was seen here and Rose pointed out an Osprey perched on a distant fir. Ross spotted a little group of Killdeer on a rocky island, but shorebirds, other than a good number of Black Oystercatchers, were quite thin on the ground. We headed back to our hotel in downtown Victoria and went out for another delicious meal, and this time we were joined by my younger brother Connor.
September 16 – It was a bit of a relief to get out of the hustle and bustle of Victoria as we made our way north along the Trans Canada Hwy. We stopped in at Goldstream Provincial Park, where it didn’t take us long to find a very confiding American Dipper along the
stream. The thickets along the edge of the stream had Orange-crowned Warbler, Pacific Wren, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and American Robin. We had excellent views of a Red-breasted Sapsucker here as well, which was a real treat.
Our next stop was at Somenos Marsh in Duncan. It was very pleasant here with the sun shining and quite a few birds about. Both ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s’ race Yellow-rumped Warblers were about, along with Common Yellowthroat and Orange-crowned Warbler. Sparrows were numerous with Golden-crowned, Song, Lincoln’s and a ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow noted along the path. A female Northern Harrier glided towards the back of a meadow and flew up and over a line of willows. The sky was
seething with Violet-green Swallows, most likely gorging on an insect hatch. We had fleeting glimpses of American Goldfinch, but excellent views of Bewick’s Wrens.
After a coffee stop in Duncan we continued on, pausing next at Cathedral Grove to take in the giant trees. A light rain was falling as we walked around the paths of Cathedral Grove. We admired the towering Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Red Cedar trees, all covered in moss. Birds seen included a pair of Red-breasted Sapsuckers, a Pacific Wren and a little group of Golden-crowned Kinglets. We continued the drive on to Ucluelet, through some road work, and arrived around 5 PM. We checked into our resort and we enjoyed the lovely view.
September 17 – Rain fell and the wind blew all night long, and as we emerged for some birding before breakfast we were reluctant to leave the dry and comfort of the resort lobby. We ventured out along the Wild Pacific Trail and scanned the Pacific in search of seabirds. We were rewarded with sightings of several Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots, as well as Common Murres and a single Marbled Murrelet. We had breakfast and rain continued to fall, and we left our headed for the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse feeling rather optimistic. The rains let up in the-morning and the rest of the day was very pleasant, with several
sunny breaks later in the day. At Amphitrite Point we again scanned the sea, finding some more interesting birds. At least two Sooty Shearwaters sailed by offshore, and Ross pointed out a Pacific Loon flying past. Gulls were plentiful and amongst the Glaucous-winged and California we gulls we picked out a few interesting species such as an adult Western Gull, some Heermann’s Gulls and an adult Herring Gull. An adult Peregrine Falcon sailed over and at the edge of the parking lot, our first Steller’s Jays appeared.
We walked into the Tofino Sewage Ponds, a bit surprised to find a new electric fence put up around the ponds. Viewing was less than ideal, but we did manage to find two new species; Northern Pintail and a group of about a dozen Wood Ducks. In the vegetation around the ponds there were about 10 Red-winged Blackbirds, including several molting males. Fox Sparrow and Song Sparrow sat out in the open for views as well.
At Wickaninnish Beach we scanned the toiling Pacific Ocean, again finding Surf Scoters, Pelagic Cormorants, Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Loons, Horned Grebe and several other species. On offshore rocks we had over a dozen Black Oystercatchers.
After lunch we visited one more location, the Long Beach Airport. In the thickets just south of the airfield we had a good number of Fox Sparrows, with all individuals seen, of the ‘Sooty’ race. There were about a dozen Cedar Waxwings here, and 4 Northern Flickers, along with migrant flocks of American Robins, and a few White-crowned Sparrows. Yellow Warbler was briefly seen. We had a quick look at the airfield itself, which was rather quiet, then we returned to Ucluelet, and spent the rest of the evening at our resort.
September 18 – It was still dark as we drove from Ucluelet to Tofino this morning. We boarded the Stellar Sea, the boat that took us up into the inlets east of Tofino. We followed Browning Passage to Fortune Inlet where we scanned the beaches from the boat, looking
for Black Bears at low tide. By the end of the trip the total number bears seen was 9 individuals, including a female with cubs. Harbor Porpoises were seen, albeit briefly, as they surfaced for air, and we saw a group of Harbor Seals resting on a rock. Not many birds were seen, though we did spy an adult Bald Eagle atop a distant pole. A Northern Pintail flew past the boat, and we noted quite a few Great Blue Herons on our journey. It was quite lovely in the inlets, with interspersed patches of cloud clinging to the tree-clad mountains.
Back on the land we had a coffee stop before heading to the Tofino Mudflats at the end of Sharp Rd. As soon as we arrived we saw an adult Bald Eagle sail in and land on the beach nearby, and we had a Red-tailed Hawk, the first for the tour. To top things off a Peregrine Falcon flew over at treetop level. Out on the flats there were no shorebirds, unfortunately. Gulls were numerous with Mew, California, Glaucous-winged, Western and Herring gulls tallied. Great Blue Herons and Northwestern Crows dotted the mudflats. In the trees along the wooded path to the little viewing area we had Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Pacific Wren, some of the most common species in this part of the world.
A walk along Chesterman’s Beach was quite nice, and at the end of the walk we scanned the churning sea, spotting Surf and White-winged scoters, Red-necked, Horned and Western grebes, Brandt’s Cormorant and some Heermann’s Gulls.
After lunch we returned to Sharp Rd to find the tide had completely come in and there were very few birds present. We headed for the Tofino Airport where we walked along the edge of the airfield finding a flock of American Pipits, and sparrows including Lincoln’s, Song, and Fox. A flock of about 40 Cackling Geese flew over in the mist and we were alerted to their presence by their high pitched ‘cackling’ calls.
Our last stop of the day was in the harbor at Ucluelet where on the rocks we counted about 10 Black Turnstones. A Steller’s Sea-Lion was the real highlight here, and it was a large male with a steeply domed forehead. Our first Eurasian Collared Doves were ‘ticked off’ the list as we made our way back towards the resort through the streets of Ucluelet.
September 19 – Overnight rains did not dampen our spirits as we drove from Ucluelet towards Tofino. We had breakfast at Jamie’s Rainforest Inn, then made a short stop at the Tofino Mudflats, where the tide was way out. On the mud were the usual gulls including Ring-billed, California, Western and Glaucous-winged. Some distant shorebirds, probably Western Sandpipers, tantalized us a bit. The regular suspects were in the rainforest around here, with Golden-crowned Kinglet and Pacific Wren tallied for the day.
We headed for the dock in Tofino and boarded the Lady Selkirk just after 10 AM, then headed out for a few hours of whale watching. The weather was a bit ominous as we set off,
but things improved quite a bit throughout the morning. Rain spitted down on us for the first 20 or so minutes of the voyage, but that didn’t stop us from tallying a few species; Surf Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, a male Canvasback and a flock of Northern Pintail high overhead in formation. Once we got out towards the west end of Vargas Island we encountered our first of about half a dozen Gray Whales! Another spectacular mammal we saw several of today was the Sea-Otter. As we returned to Tofino, a flock of about 40 Cackling Geese flew high overhead in formation. Back at the dock, a group of Black Turnstones were accompanied by about half a dozen Surfbirds, a new species for the tour.
After lunch we briefly visited the north end of the Tofino Airport again. A Merlin sped past, in hot pursuit of a shorebird. Suddenly, a bunch of shorebirds appeared, including Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher. They were most likely flushed by the passing Merlin. In the shrubby habitat along the edge of the airstrip there were White-crowned Sparrows and a single Common Yellowthroat. Our next stop, at Long Beach, was rather brief. The beach was lovely, but birds were few and far between here. The final birding stop of the day was at Comber’s Beach where we walked a short distance down the trail through the rainforest. There were Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglet, a Steller’s Jay and a distant calling Pileated Woodpecker here. All in all, it was quite an enjoyable day.
September 20 – Just after dawn we made our way to Combers Beach where we walked through the rainforest down to the shore. Along our walk we encountered the usual forest suspects, including Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Steller’s Jay, and we heard,
but couldn’t see, several Varied Thrushes singing in the deep woods. We had scope views of a flock of Red Crossbills feeding on cones up in the canopy of the forest. Once down at the beach I scanned through a flock of gulls finding Glaucous-winged, Mew, California and a couple of adult Herring Gulls. Farther down the beach, we peered through the scope and got another trip bird, this time Sanderlings. There were about 50 scurrying about on the sandy shoreline.
We returned to Ucluelet, had breakfast at the Gray Whale cafe and returned to our hotel to pick up our luggage. The drive to Port Alberni was enjoyable with sunny skies allowing us views of the distant jagged mountain peaks. We stopped at Kennedy Lake for a photo-op, and within seconds, several other cars had screeched to a halt to see what we were looking at. We picked up lunch in Port Alberni and took it with us to Rathtrevor Beach, a lovely spot on the east side of Vancouver Island. As we ate our lunch, Red-breasted Nuthatches flitted in the fir trees above us. A short walk through the pines produced Spotted Towhee, Anna’s Hummingbird, Northern Flicker and Golden-crowned Sparrow.
Our final stop of the day, at the Englishman River Estuary, was quite good. Along the trail to the estuary we had a few migrants including both ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s’ races of Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Cedar Waxwings and Purple Finches. Skulking in the underbrush was a Pacific Wren and a Bewick’s Wren. At the estuary waterfowl included Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, Common Merganser and American Wigeon. A few Killdeer wandered about on the mud, as did a single Western Sandpiper. We walked out to the beach and had a look out onto the water where Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin Duck and Surf Scoter were all see, as well as our first Bonaparte’s Gulls of the tour. On the way back to the van, we had good looks at a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a nice sighting, but the bird of the day was yet to come. Just as we were about to get in the van I heard a Pileated Woodpecker calling in the distance. Within seconds a male Pileated Woodpecker flew in and landed on the trunk of a fir tree for us to admire! Soon thereafter Rose pointed out a second Pileated Woodpecker, this one a female. Feeling very content we headed into Nanaimo, checked into our hotel on the harbor and had a nice meal before retiring for a well deserved night’s rest.
September 21 – After breakfast we left our hotel and made our way to Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo. This, our last stop on the island, was perhaps the most productive stop we have
met yet on the entire tour. Over 40 species of birds were noted here on our walk, that took us around the perimeter of the marsh itself. On the water were Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Wood Duck and a male Ring-necked Duck. Up to 7 Pied-billed Grebes were counted here today as well. We enjoyed front row seats as a female Merlin attempted to catch a ‘Red-shafted’ Northern Flicker. The outcome was not in her favor. At one point a large female Cooper’s Hawk sailed over, quickly pursued by the Merlin. Turkey Vultures were fairly numerous in the skies above the marsh. New for the list, and present in large numbers were Band-tailed Pigeons. The marsh habitat produced several rather secretive species including Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren and Common Yellowthroat. Bushes and shrubs along the path were alive with birds with the likes of Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Downy Woodpecker, ‘Audubon’s’ and ‘Myrtle’ race Yellow-rumped Warblers, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Bewick’s Wrens and Anna’s Hummingbirds. We completed our walk around the marsh and headed to Duke Point to catch the 12:45 PM sailing to Tsawwassen.
Once on the ferry to Tsawwassen we had lunch and then headed up to the observation deck. Birds on this crossing were few and far between but we did see California and Glaucous-winged gulls, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants, Surf Scoter and best of all an adult light morph Parasitic Jaeger, the latter of which was riding along on a floating log near Tsawwassen. As we disembarked from the ferry I pointed out a group of Black Oystercatchers along the beach.
Our final birding location of the day, after a short stop at our hotel in Richmond, was the Iona Sewage Ponds. As we approached we tallied a list of waterfowl, with Northern Shoveler being new for the trip list. Also present were Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Shorebirds were about in dribs and drabs, including about 20 Pectoral Sandpipers, 15 or so Western Sandpipers, 2 Least Sandpipers, several Killdeer and 30 or more Long-billed Dowitchers. Bushes surrounding the ponds were full of sparrows with Song, Lincoln’s, Golden-crowned and Savannah encountered. We had dinner in a pub at the local ice rink tonight, a good Canadian experience for the 7 participants from various parts of England and Scotland.
September 22 – What a glorious, sunny day it was today, from the start to finish. We began at Beach Grove Park in Tsawwassen, where in the morning sunshine we had a nice assortment of resident and migrant passerines. Black-capped Chickadees were new for our trip list here, as were four White-throated Sparrows, locally an uncommon to rare species. Anna’s Hummingbirds shot past at rocket speed, with one male perching briefly for us to admire his colors. Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Purple Finches, Spotted Towhees, Fox Sparrows, ‘Myrtle’ and ‘Audubon’s’ Yellow-rumps, Bewick’s Wren were all stashed away in the bushes making a racket. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers were nice to see here, and a pair of Cooper’s Hawks flew over as well.
Our next stop was at Boundary Bay, where we waited for the high tide at 96th St. The birds, masses of them, waterfowl, shorebirds, and gulls, were a fair distance away at first, but soon the tide had pushed many of them within range of allowing identification. Most abundant shorebird today was the Black-bellied Plover, of which we saw 1000 or so of. Also quite common were Western Sandpipers and Sanderling. Present in smaller numbers were Short-billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover and a couple of juv. American
Golden Plovers. Masses of ducks were in the bay, but most were too far to identify, though Northern Pintail and American Wigeon were seen. A few raptors noted here included a Cooper’s Hawk, and a Peregrine Falcon, as well as a Northern Harrier spotted in the grass by tour participant Ross. A puddle in a nearby farm yard attracted a great flock of American Pipits, with my estimates being of over 150 birds. The sky was full of Barn Swallows, and Ross picked out a Violet-green Swallow amongst them. Hedges along the path were alive with birds; Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Savannah, Song, Lincoln’s, Golden-crowned and White-crowned sparrows, House Finches and a male Ring-necked Pheasant were found. It, all in all, was a great visit to Boundary Bay.
After lunch we made a brief stop at our hotel before carrying on to Queen Elizabeth Park. The lovely sunny weather and a marauding Peregrine Falcon, could have something to do with why there were so few birds about in the park today. We drank in excellent views of an Orange-crowned Warbler foraging low in a hedge and a little group of Bushtits also moved through the trees. Overhead, Gill pointed out a Peregrine Falcon carrying prey, which was most likely a pigeon. I spotted a Band-tailed Pigeon sitting high in a fir tree and we had good scope views.
Our final stop of the day was another excellent stop, as we returned to the Iona Sewage Ponds. When we arrived we found Mike Tabak there and he told us there had been a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper seen earlier at this location. Excitedly we rushed along to the pond and it didn’t take us long to find the juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a species that breeds
in Russia and is a rare, but regular, stray to the BC coast in the fall. Other shorebirds found included Pectoral and Western sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitcher and Killdeer. Two Thayer’s Gulls were nice to see as they lifted off the ponds and flew away, showing off their wing patterns. Bushes along the edge of the ponds had the usual suspects; Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, White-crowned, Savannah, Lincoln’s and Song sparrows and several Red-winged Blackbirds. It was a fantastic final day of birding, and we celebrated with a nice dinner at a local establishment.
September 23 – Our final morning in British Columbia was a rainy and wet one, unfortunately, but that did not stop us from exploring the exquisite Reifel Refuge in Ladner for a few hours. We walked the various trails, exploring ponds, marshes, forests and fields, finding quite a number of good bird species. We paused first at the Canadian Wildlife Service Offices to look for owls, but we only found some pellets and Barn Owl feathers. At least one Brown Creeper was seen here however. At Reifel we made a quick visit to the gift shop before embarking on stroll around the refuge. Waterfowl were plentiful, and the highlight were several stunning breeding plumage Wood Ducks. Peregrine Falcons made several passes at the waterfowl, with one of the falcons actually colliding with a duck mid air, amidst a puff of feathers. The duck escaped relatively unscathed. Other raptors noted at Reifel today included Cooper’s Hawk, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harriers. Out over the large marsh at the west end of the refuge we had a couple of American Bitterns fly past, a nice surprise. Our first good looks at American Goldfinch were obtained here as well, and the first southbound flocks of Snow Geese were seen flying in through the mist from the north. Shorebirds on the ponds included Long-billed Dowitchers and some Greater Yellowlegs, and a couple of us were lucky enough to catch a Wilson’s Snipe as it flew overhead. Perhaps the highlight for us today though was a roosting Great Horned Owl, looking a bit wet and miserable, but nonetheless impressive. Virginia Rails called from the marshes in several spots, and Gill was lucky enough to see one run across a muddy channel. Soras called too, but remained unseen. All in all, it was a fantastic visit to Reifel. We made our way to Richmond where we had a late lunch and then I took the group to the airport, wishing them a safe and enjoyable journey back to the U.K.
Chris Charlesworth, Limosa Holidays