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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:37   #1
dwatsonbirder
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Vancouver & Vancouver Island 2016

Introduction

British Columbia is a diverse state in Western Canada, stretching from the border with the US to the south with Washington State, north and back to the Alaskan border. There are also a surprisingly diverse number of habitats on offer fconsidering the country’s temperate latitude, from the barren mountain slopes of the Rockies, flower filled meadows in the central region to the lush temperate rainforests along the Pacific coast.
The emphasis of our trip was (as always) wildlife, but more specifically targeting mammals. We arranged several trips with tour companies targeting mammals, all of which were successful and highly enjoyable.
Much of the birding was incidental, but I managed to catch up with most of my target birds. In total I saw 105 species of birds, of which 71 were lifers. We saw a total of 15 mammal species including all of our targets.

As others have stated, BC can be a bit on the quiet side for birding, especially during the autumn, when the forests can be silent bar the occasional contact call.
Early September can be a great time to witness not only a lot of mammal activity, but also migration, as birds breeding to the north travel down the Pacific coast to their wintering quarters in the southern hemisphere. There were several surprises whilst we visited but sadly due to an already packed schedule we were unable to witness these; Marbled godwit and Sharp tailed sandpipers in with the wader flocks, multiple Chestnut sided warblers in the greater Vancouver region, and even two species of albatross from a pelagic.

None of these missed birds detracted from what was a great trip, and I hope to convey some of the more memorable moments so that if they are even a fraction as interesting to read about as to have witnessed, I will indeed be satisfied.

On a side note there are four essential pieces of kit for birding in BC: the Sibley guide, a detailed road map, a copy of Cannings “Birding in British Columbia” and also access to the excellent British Columbia birding forums, which are a wealth of knowledge and are masterfully ran so that news is out very quickly.

Day 1 Vancouver

Our first day in British Columbia saw us landing in Vancouver International Airport in bright sunshine. The flight had taken 11 hrs as we had an unannounced stop over in Calgary on the way, which was longer than expected, but we would still have the afternoon free to begin to explore the city.
The first birds off of the plane were observed simultaneously; Turkey vulture and Glaucous winged gull, which was quickly followed by North Western Crow. We would spend a couple of nights in the city before catching the ferry across to the island to explore the North East and South West.
After orientating ourselves a bit we decided to walk along the promenade and into Stanley Park, giving us a much-needed opportunity to stretch our legs, and to allow for some sneaky birding. Along the walk we saw multiple Glaucous winged gulls, and with a bit of effort I located a few California and Ring billed gulls mixed in with them. A few Great blue heron waded in the shallows; whilst further out in the water a Harbour seal joined double crested and Brandt’s cormorant. A little further along the seawall, a sharp call alerted me to a group of sparrows, which contained Fox and Song sparrows – barely an hour since our arrival and I’d already seen 7 new species!
As we entered the park I noted a few American robin skulking under some bushes, and a bit of pishing revealed a fine Swainson’s thrush that was loosely associated with them. The pishing attracted a few more Song sparrow as well as a couple of Rufous sided towee and a few Black capped chickadee.
Up in the trees were more American robin, as well as Bushtit and Downy woodpecker. A Northern flicker showed well on the deck before retreating to the top of a conifer.
Around Lost Lagoon I added Wood duck and singles of Green winged teal, Ring necked duck and Pied billed grebe out on the water, whilst the trees held Anna’s hummingbird and more sparrows (including a couple of smart White crowned sparrow). Whilst watching the sparrows, a group of passerines piled nervously into the top of a nearby tree – I was pleased to find this was a group of 5 Western tanager, and I just managed a single photo before they moved off again. This was the only occasion that I caught up with Western tanager and there was a sense that there were slightly different suites of species on each of the visits to Stanley Park, and the area is basically one massive migrant trap.
Our next stop was the aquarium, which I really recommend – the jellyfish displays are absolutely stunning. There was a slight bonus in the form of our first Racoon of the trip feeding on fruit overhanging the Beluga tank.
From here we headed for Beaver lake, which I had read was generally a hotbed of activity, with the Alder trees pulling in migrants. The first group of birds I saw were 3 thrushes atop a pine, which were a bit too far to make out, so I blasted a couple of shots to check later…
The walk around the lake was pretty quiet, so we cut across one of the tracks back towards the coast. Here I noted a few kinglets feeding, so I began pishing. What a reaction – the bushes exploded! Both Ruby and Golden crowned kinglets immediately buzzed around my head, and were quickly joined but Black capped and Chestnut sided chickadees, then a cracking Black throated grey warbler joined in which in turn attracted even more birds – Bushtit, Brown creeper, Red breasted nuthatch and even a Downy woodpecker. This was much more like it!

We wandered back to the hotel and enjoyed a great seafood dinner, but just before bed I decided to review my photos. I was nearly ill when I noted that one of the thrushes I’d photographed earlier wasn’t an American robin, but a orange breasted bird, with a dark breast band and white undertail coverts – I’d thrown away a Varied thrush, my main target of the trip!

This schoolboy error aside, it had been a great first day and a wonderful introduction to the birds of the Pacific Northwest.
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:38   #2
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Day 2 Vancouver

The second day had been put aside for us to explore the city, so as a result I didn’t expect to spend much time birding. I decided on a pre-breakfast walk from our accommodation down to the waterside complex near the bridge to Granville Island. There was a good deal of low cloud early on, and a quick look out of the window produced several Vaux’s swift that had seemingly been pushed down by the weather. Outside on the street I encountered 4 separate Northern flickers in the neighborhood, including the bizarre sight of one on a concrete streetlamp. At the junction of Thurlow and Beach there are several trees, so I checked this area for any other migrants. A group of Bushtit called along with Black capped chickadee, but there was another call I didn’t recognize. I scanned through the flock and I was met with the glowing yellow of an adult Wilson’s warbler! Rather unexpected in such urban surroundings. I continued to watch the group and picked out a second Wilson’s warbler, followed by another yellowish warbler, this time with faint orange/red markings along its flanks – a Yellow warbler.
A final pre-breakfast treat came in the shape of a showy Anna’s hummingbird, which gave its buzzy, scratchy song into the morning air.
I am fairly sure that a better option would have been to check out Stanley Park given that there appeared to be a few migrants around, but we had other commitments. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the city, where the only notable birds were more White crowned and Song sparrows, Brandt’s cormorant, a single Savannah Sparrow and a brief Cedar waxwing. We enjoyed another excellent (though rather expensive) seafood dinner at the Sandbar restaurant on Granville Island before a relatively early night ready for an early departure to the Island in the morning.
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:38   #3
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Day 3 Travel to Nanaimo & north to Port McNeil

We took a taxi to the ferry terminal for half past six, and with the sun rising we could see that we were in for a bright and sunny day ahead. Waiting for the boat to leave I picked out the first Belted kingfisher of the trip, whilst overhead several Raven were playfully tumbling about in the clear morning air. We had hoped that catching the early morning ferry may reward us with the sight of a cetacean or two, or perhaps the odd seabird, but to be honest it was a very quiet crossing. A group of small waders were seen about halfway out, but much too far away to be identified, a slightly better view was had of four White winged scoter as they flashed past the ferry, but that was pretty much all we saw.
As the ferry docked in Nanaimo, I checked the shoreline where there were numerous gulls loafing (more Glaucous winged/California/Ring billed), whilst below us a group of Black turnstone were feeding on barnacles on the workings of the terminal.
We collected our hire car in order to begin our drive northwards along highway 6 to Port McNeil, which was to be our base for the next few days. A few Black vulture were seen soaring around, whilst further White crowned sparrow were noted around the parking lot.
We began to head north, and planned on making a few stops along the way. Our first stop was north of Parksville, where we pulled off the road to look over the calm waters of the straight. On the tideline were a few Song sparrow, but I also picked out a couple of Buff bellied pipit – surprisingly the only ones of the trip. On the water were numerous Red necked grebe in various stages of moult, as well as Great northern divers (Common loon as they are known over here). Several American wigeon were loitering in the estuary of a steam, whilst a few Bonaparte’s gulls were gracefully hawking just above the water in a very buoyant and tern-like fashion. This stop also produced a few White winged and a few Black scoter, which showed quite well with the aid of the scope.
A bit further along and we stopped for some food at a Burrito stand right on the shore, I couldn’t resist another scan, and I picked out a few ducks resting on a sandbar a little way out. I set up my scope and was rewarded with the sight of several Harlequin, including a male which had just began to moult back into breeding condition and was showing a bit of red in that glorious facial pattern – this was one of my target species, and after the Varied thrush incident I decided to check everything on the spot!
We continued further along the coast, and in an effort to find a bathroom, we turned off the highway and following a road down to a marina. Luckily there was a working bathroom, but better yet, there were a few waders feeding busily along the shore. A quick scan with the scope revealed a group of Western sandpiper, including a few still with the rufous scapulars and caps, whilst a larger wader with them was a fine Greater yellowlegs. The birds flew a little way further along the shore, where a couple of Kildeer were resting amongst some stones.
We drove north for another hour or so, before having one last look across the straight. This proved to be a very good decision for a number of reasons. Firstly, just off shore was a substantial flock of Surf scoter, a true bogey bird of mine, which I had missed a number of times in the UK. There were several males in the group and I spent a good while watching them diving for shellfish and taking in the wonderful coloration of their bills, whilst appreciating the subtle but distinctive head markings of the females. As an added identification bonus, I also picked out a 1st summer male, with the bill shape of the adults but with none of the multicolored patternation. A little further out, a group of Harbour seals were hauled up on a sandbar, whilst a Pelagic cormorant fished alongside more Red necked grebes in the foreground. There was also a wonderful soundtrack provided by the haunting calls of Great northern divers. A way out across the water I noticed a flock of gulls were feeding in a tight cluster over the water, so I set up the scope to investigate further. After a few minutes it became clear the reason for the commotion as the distinctive arch of a Humpback whale rose steadily out of the water! Despite the fact the animal was a good 2km from the shore, I managed a few hazy record shots showing the dorsal fin clearly mounted atop the “hump”. As an added cetacean bonus, Kathi picked out a small group of Harbour porpoise a little closer inshore with the scope. Time was ticking away and we had already been on the road for 4 hours, but had only managed about 170km of nearly a 300km journey, so it was time to hop back in the car and hammer north.
We made one brief stop at Lake XXX for the bathroom before reaching Port McNeil, which was notable for further White crowned sparrows (which transpired to be numerous on the trip) and a new bird in the form of a smart Stellar’s Jay, which showed very well and allowed for a few reasonable photos.

We finally arrived at Port McNeil around half past six, where we logged the first Bald eagle of the trip. These proved to be fairly regular around the harbor and often provided excellent photo opportunities (or would do with much better photographic skills than I possess!).
We enjoyed dinner and a few drinks before hitting the sack for an early start in the morning.
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:39   #4
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Day 4 Free day – alert bay

Today we had a free day, and decided that we would head over to the First Nation community of Alert Bay on nearby Cormorant Island. We awoke to a very murky start, and the fog didn’t lift right until lunchtime. Apparently this is the usual weather for this part of the island, with thick fog early morning giving way to sunshine until the fog descends from either the sea or the mountains in the late afternoon. The ferry ride took approximately 40 minutes and was the first opportunity to observe some of the more pelagic species present in the waters offshore. There were many of the now usual species; Great northern and Pacific divers, Red necked grebe, Harlequin along with Surf and White winged scoters. There were other new birds present out here too though: Pigeon, Common and Black guillemot, Marbled murrelet and even Rhinoceros auklet. There were a few birds further out across the waves that were instantly familiar – Sooty shearwater. There were quite a few appearing out of the mist, and I also caught sight of a few with more white on the underside of the wing and what I thought were feet projecting beyond the tip of the tail – likely to be Short tailed shearwater, but I’d need better views to confirm. There were waders out here too, with a flock of 9 Red necked phalarope alongside the ferry at one point.
We pulled into the dock at Alert Bay and I noticed a particularly dark 1st year gull on the roof of a building opposite, the dark bill, paler undertail coverts and distinctive pale comma on the ear coverts confirmed this as my first Western gull of the trip. Some of the Glaucous winged had Western geneology, with very dark juveniles, and adults with darker chevrons in the primaries.
We decided that we would take in as much as we could as this was our first time in a First Nation community, and this is a culture that is of great interest to us both. The totems were impressive (especially as the world’s tallest totem resides on the island) and the museum with its collection of facial masks was fascinating and also moving; westerners had stolen most of the masks when Polelatches were made illegal, and had taken years to be returned to their rightful owners. We spoke at great length to one of the community leaders about the history of the island and the persecution undertaken, which was insightful and deeply poignant. We also met Beau Dick, who unknown to us at the time, is a highly regarded artist and had met the Queen and Canadian premier. He regaled us with a few fascinating anecdotes before hugging us and hopping into a van with his guitar, and onwards to the ferry and appointments.
Whilst on the island we decided to check out the wildlife reserve, which is a flooded forest atop the hill. The fog was still thick, and it had obviously had an influence on migration. There were well over 150 American robin chacking away in the undergrowth, occasionally starting out of the bushes and into the dead trees. This was fairly obviously a localized bit of “fall-out” but it seemed to be entirely consisting of thrushes. We went a bit deeper into the undergrowth and after a bit of thrashing about we managed to dig out two Hermit thrushes as well as a single Swainson’s. Not a bad result for a 30-minute saunter!
We continued to wander about the island, and in the course of doing so I bumped into a fine Hutton’s vireo that was fly-catching as the mist burnt off. A ruckus overhead proved to be some Raven mobbing an Osprey as it soared over the forest and out over the channel. As the sun had now well and truly burnt the mist off, we headed down onto a beach on the north side of the island to look again at the sea. There was the same suite of birds present on this side of the island as we had seen on the ferry, but with the added bonus of a flock of Harlequin that were showing remarkably well. I was taking some pictures whilst Kathi was scanning with the scope, and she called me over. I ran over and peeked through the scope, there some way off in the distance were what appeared to be black upturned ironing boards carving through the water, with several hundred gulls swarming overhead.
We watched these shapes in the heat haze for about 20 minutes, and although we couldn’t be certain, we were fairly sure that due to the shape and movement of what we saw, we deduced that we were watching a pod of Orca feeding. Another slightly more informative sign was that whilst we watched, more and more boats could be seen arriving and loitering around the shapes.
This was a great thing to see from the shore, but as you can guess from the above scenario we weren’t totally happy with the views, whilst also having an underlying sense of unease: would these dark shapes blurred by the sun be the only Orca we would see? Also would the only cetaceans be distant blurry shapes far out across the water?
We headed back to the ferry to get us back for late afternoon. Kathi opted for a coffee and an hour with her book, whilst I took the car and drove to the edge of town to look around the harbor and neighboring bay. Here were numerous gulls, and I took the time to get to grips with some of the finer plumage details of these Northwestern gulls – perhaps I’ll be fortunate enough to stumble upon something vaguely familiar on a West Midlands rubbish dump one day (most likely in my dreams!) – and to look at the individual variation between the Mew gulls (some with bright yellow bills and legs, others much more subdued) and different age classes and moult patterns of Ring billed gulls. It was a very enjoyable hour or so, and I even managed a couple of new birds for the trip in the form of Hooded merganser and a couple of Long billed dowitcher, which were moulting out of summer and into winter plumage.
That was pretty much all for the day, and we had a early start to join up with our first tour in the morning. I went to bed feeling a bit ropey as I had developed a sore throat over the last few days, so I took a fairly healthy swing of Benelyn before bed. Sometime during the night, I woke up coughing, so I again reached for the bottle and was soon drifting back asleep. Little did I realize how much I’d drank until the following morning, when I awoke feeling roughly the same as during an early morning session during my university days… far out man…
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:40   #5
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Day 5

This was a bit of a disaster, here I was at 6am somewhat inebriated, just an hour and a half before the boat was due to leave. I needed coffee and fresh air, and fast! I managed to wake Kathi up whilst I fumbled with the coffee machine in the dark, and mumbled something about “having too much to drink, but not, you know, beer…” As always, it was Dr K to the rescue as she made me a few cups of very strong and sweet coffee, before escorting me on a brisk walk around the harbor in the half-light. By the time I boarded the boat I was beginning to feel a bit more like I could have been an early hominid, and as we headed out into the fog and I got some sea-spray to my face I sobered up pretty sharpish. This was just as well, as there were loads of birds about this morning, and the day was going to go in a totally unprecedented way.
There seemed to be considerably more alcids present this morning, and the most numerous were Rhinoceros auklet. I was pleased that one of the first birds I saw was a breeding condition and I even managed to grab a couple of shots. There were good numbers of Marbled Murrelet, as well as Common and Pigeon guillemot. Also noticeable was the increase in Sooty shearwater, and there were small groups constantly passing and occasionally flying alongside the boat. Amongst these I was pleased to be able to pull out a couple of Short tailed shearwater – noting the same features as the previous day, but also the more compact bill of the latter. A few Fork tailed storm petrel appeared like apparitions out of the mist, with their soft grey plumage tones merging into the murk as they flew above the waves. Red-necked phalaropes also appeared to have increased, with about 30 birds logged during the day.
We sped towards a cove frequented by a resident pod of Orca, in the hope of catching up with them during their early morning feeding. We pulled parallel with the rugged shoreline and waited. The mist swirled around the boat, and began to turn into a light precipitation. Somewhere in the fog a Great Northern diver wailed melancholically, then just the sound of the waves lapping against the side of the boat. The assembled were silent, but after a minute the unmistakable exhalation of a large cetacean gently broke the silence. Out of the mist a dorsal fin sliced through the glasslike water, followed by a second, then another, and another. In this ethereal setting we watched as a pod of 7 Orca meandered slowly along the coast, passing the boat by some 50 meters before melting once again into the abyss. What a moment this had been, perhaps enhanced by the codeine in my system, but irrespective a haunting and beautiful moment regardless of my level of sobriety.
Shortly after the Orca had moved on, the sun just began to penetrate through the murk, and the radio crackled into life – the only audible word I understood was “Humpback”, and with that, we were off.
The sun had now cleared the fog and what remained was glorious sunshine, and several hundred Sooty shearwater. There were masses of the birds, many floating in huge rafts, whilst others lived up to their name on the wing. As we drew closer to the flock a huge shape rose out of the water, and as the shape curved back into the deep, there was the same dorsal fin on a bump: we had found the Humpback. Over the next 25 minutes we were treated to a wonderful showing by a total of three humpback feeding together – two adults and one calf. The sight of these giants emerging through the middle of a flock of seabirds and the ensuing squabble was like a live feed from a wildlife documentary. Could it possibly get any better?
Once again the radio crackled, and we again sped off, but we didn’t get very far before halting to a stop. Straight off of the bough a mother and calf Orca were making a beeline directly for us. The engine switched off, the whole boat waited with baited breath as the pair continued their course towards us, before they finally pulled alongside. The calf (born this year we were told) began to spyhop and eyeball the boat, whilst the female occasionally provided a supportive nudge. This incredible display seemed to last for hours, but in reality they pair began to move off after 10 minutes or so. We remained in the same spot, and as if out of nowhere a dark shape appeared less than 3 meters from the side, and as the shape cruised alongside the tip of the unmistakable dorsal of a bull Orca cut through the water, before the animal surfaced to blow. The fine mist of excreted seawater drifted out of the animal and moistened our faces. This was truly an unsurpassable moment, breathing the exact same air as one of the most intelligent and powerful predators on the planet, and what is more I’d caught it on video!
The bull stayed around the boat, and was apparently resting at one point, where it just drifted on the surface breathing heavily. It was quite a surprise when we noticed that the female and young calf had reappeared, and for the next 45 minutes, we were treated to a wonderful demonstration of many common behaviour types, with spy-hopping, tail slapping and even a few half-hearted breaches. The rest of the pod caught up with these three, and we even saw the bull chasing a few immatures who got too close to the calf.
We spent the rest of the trip alternating between Orca and Humpback encounters, whilst we also logged Harbour porpoise, Dall’s porpoise and White sided dolphin. It had been a spectacular trip and I must thoroughly recommend the services of Mackays Whale watching trips to any considering making a similar trip to see Orca. Once we were back on dry land, we decided to check out nearby Telegraph Cove to see if we would get lucky with any further whale sightings. We wandered up onto the top of a mill overlooking the sea and spent a good hour or so scanning the water. Although we didn’t see any further cetaceans during our watch, we did log some good views of Stellar’s jay, as well as a great view of a Merlin that perched atop a pine, before speeding overhead.
It would be no understatement to say that it had been one of the best days of lives, and was filled with moments that I will always remember. Although with a shaky start, in the end it was just pure wildlife watching heaven. If that weren’t enough, we’d be getting up again in little over 8hrs to go and look for Grizzly bear in the Great Bear Rainforest National Park.
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:45   #6
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Day 6 Knight Inlet

We managed to get to Telegraph Cove just in time, as I had seriously underestimated how long the journey takes (35 minutes FYI) and Kathi had to take over the driving as apparently I was driving “like a 95 year old man” – very rude!
We made it onto the boat, and again set off out to sea and into the mist. This mornings journey would be a lot quieter from a birding perspective, with the only species really of note being a fly over White winged scoter, several Sooty shearwater (numbers were much reduced from yesterday), Rhinoceros auklet and Grey phalarope. I did manage to see two new species this morning, which was rather pleasing though – Cassin’s auklet and a pair of Western grebe. I managed a few shots of both, but I have to confess I had to double check the ID of both as I couldn’t remember the differences between all the auklets and Western & Clark’s grebes.
As we drew closer to Knight Inlet we had an incredible display from a pod of White sided dolphin, which followed the boat for about 10 minutes and allowed for some lovely video and photo opportunities. Sadly my phone skills were not up to task and Kathi obtained the best footage on her mobile!
Ahead of us we saw a large blow, and then the now familiar shape of a humpback rising out of the water. It was an incredibly beautiful experience, with the flat calm water, swirling fog and this leviathan rising from the deep, which lasted for a good 30 minutes. The whale was headed in the same direction as we were, so the captain slowed down and we continued the journey side by side.
Eventually we entered Knight Inlet and disembarked from the main vessel onto a smaller metal framed viewing boat. We had to wait for about 30 minutes for the tide to draw in enough in order to allow us access some way up the river. Scanning across the flooded meadow there was evidence already of Grizzly activity – several areas had been dug up, footprints could be seen in the fresh mud along the shoreline and our guide even pointed out some fresh faeces. There was an air of anticipation as people adjusted setting on their cameras, but I spent the time carefully scanning along the edge of the forest. I noticed a few raven and Northwest crow being agitated by something in the trees, and the cause of their discontent became evident as a Peregrine exploded out of the trees and straight towards us. It twisted as it propelled its way across the flooded meadow, and in doing so put up several ducks – Green and Blue winged teal along with a single shoveler – and nearly snatched a teal until it dived head first into the water, and the falcon had to bank sharply to avoid following it. That was pretty exciting – it was a really cool experience to see the whole of a hunt, and I’d never seen a teal take evasive action like that before. As the peregrine returned to the trees a call went up “bear” and the boat jumped into life.
There on the edge of the tree line was a female Grizzly, slowly walking and occasionally sniffing the air. It may have been some 200 meters away, but what a rush. One of the largest and most powerful predators on the planet was continuing with its business totally unconcerned by the presence of a group of tourists in this stunning setting. We watched the animal for about 5 minutes before it disappeared under a tree, then we headed off up river.
We encountered more evidence of bear activity, and all eyes were fixed along the shore. In the river we could see quite a few clusters of fish and bobbing around in the water some 2km from the estuary was the slightly unexpected sight of two harbor seal. In the trees were several Bald eagle, as well as a few other birds; Yellow rumped warbler, Red breasted sapsucker, Steller’s Jay and Black capped chickadee. An American dipper bobbed on the bank next to us and allowed a few pictures before flying off upstream. It was at this point that one of the guides and I heard some scuffling and then something roaring and making other noises – it was one or more Grizzly. We reached a bend in the river that was impassable, and frustratingly the noise appeared to be coming from just around the corner. We all sat listening, whilst one of the guides carefully crept to the bend. He came back quite quickly and confirmed that it was a Grizzly playing with two cubs – probably quite a spectacle but even if we had been allowed to leave the boat I’m not sure I would. We stayed listening to them for about an hour but they didn’t make it around the bend and we headed back down the river.
We went back to the original area and were treated to a second female with two cubs wandering around the grass. We again obtained good, if a little distant, views and predictably as we drew closer they retired back under the same tree as earlier. We could still just about make them out in the shade, and fairly soon all three were sound asleep. Whilst watching them I was drawn to some movement in the foreground on the waters edge and as I refocused my binoculars the distinctive shape of a crake appeared, and the obvious black marking on the face meant that this was a Sora – another new bird for me and one that I didn’t really expect to see. We left the bears in peace and made our way back to the main vessel and headed back towards Telegraph Cove.
Although not quite the Salmon catching, scrapping and active animals often portrayed in nature programs, it was such a privilege to see wild Grizzlies and the fact their behaviour seemed so natural and unaffected by our presence made it all the more enjoyable. I suspect that a trip to Alaska to see the Kodiak bears will be in the pipeline at some point, but with the high cost of getting there and joining a tour it won’t be any time soon.

This marked the end of our time in the north of the island, and it had delivered all that we had hoped for and more, with pretty much all of our targets already obtained.
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:46   #7
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Day 7 Travel to Ucluelet

We awoke a little later than for the past few days, and the jetlag was finally beginning to wear off – I had been waking up each morning at half 4 for up to an hour. Today was more or less a write off as we had to travel from Port McNeil in the north east down to the south western side of the island to reach our next base of Ucluelet. It was a fairly uneventful though rather long drive as we drove firstly through mountains and past lakes, then along the east coast before cutting west and back through mountains and lakes. We made a few stops along the way and saw much the same species as we had seen over the last few days, and was the first day that I encountered no new species for the trip. One notable stop was made near Lake Kennedy, where we walked along a trail and noticed bark torn off of trees. As we examined this I was slightly shock and surprised to see that at about 7 feet there were some fairly significant claw marks – our first evidence of Black bear! This was pretty cool to see, but we were not to encounter any in the flesh this afternoon.
We received a tip off about a fish hatchery near to Ucluelet where Black bear would often be seen, and after we deposited our belongings into our tent in the Pacific Rim National Park, we made our way to the location. It was now getting rather late in the day but there was still an hour or so of daylight left. We eventually found the turning indicating the fish farm and began the drive along the kilometer or so track until we reached a danger sign affixed to a massive metal gate. The gate was closed, but I was uncertain it was locked, so I cautiously got out of the car and checked it – yes it was locked – and quickly returned to the car. Kathi suggested walking along the track, but it was now drawing towards dusk so we decided that the combination of this and the warning sign meant this would not be a good option. We had heard about people walking down after the gate, but this was rather hazardous and put not only themselves at risk, but also the bears. We turned around and headed back towards town for dinner before driving back in the dark to the campground. By this point the weather had changed from slightly murky to a heavy downpour, and this persisted whilst we fell asleep. Hopefully our first encounter with a bear would not be one entering our tent this evening seeking shelter…
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:48   #8
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Day 8 Ucluelet

After a surprisingly good nights sleep in the tent, we awoke shortly after dawn, and headed straight down onto the beach at Green Point. The rain had not abated and was still coming down very heavily. The beach was a decent area to catch up with various mammals that scavenge along the tideline in the early morning. Despite the early hour we were not the first people down there, and as a result there was little other than a few gulls and Black oystercatchers on the beach. I attempted to get a photo of the oycs as they appeared confiding, when a rouge dog appeared around the corner and chased the birds from their resting place. I didn’t feel it was my place as a tourist to tell the owner that there were numerous signs stating that between August and November dogs were not allowed on the beach due to migrating shorebirds, so I suspect she was either unable to read else willfully ignorant. Either way it put even more of a dampener on things than the weather, so we headed back and towards Ucluelet for some breakfast.

On the way to Ucluelet I persuaded Kathi to check a couple of sites. The first being the sewage works, the entrance to which I had clocked yesterday whilst driving along the road. We parked the car as instructed in Cannings, and set off along the track towards what would hopefully be wader nirvana. This was one of the top sites on the island to look for waders, and boasted annual Sharp tailed sandpiper, occasional Marbled godwit, and even on one occasion a Ruff – the former two were preferable in my opinion! We walked along the track, to a soundtrack of my repetitive “hello bear” until we reached a fence. I could see the depression on the left, but sadly it had been filled with concrete. Where the pools once stood was also now concreted over, and unsurprisingly there were no birds and certainly no waders to be seen.

We headed back to the car and decided to check once more if we could get down to the hatchery, and as it was fast approaching 9am I was sure it would be open for business. We turned off the main road onto a side road, then back down the 1km dirt road where we yet again encountered our nemesis; not a rabid Black bear, but something far worse; the yellow gate of exclusion. Would we ever make it beyond this barrier!?

Over breakfast we discussed whether or not we wanted to continue camping given the wet forecast, so when we found a room for $90 our minds were made up. As we headed back towards Green Point, the rain turned to a milder precipitation, and there was even a bit of hazy sunshine on occasion, so we pulled into the visitor’s center at XXX beach. I spotted a few local birders so I headed over for a chat whilst Kathi opted for the drier environs of the visitors center. I set up my scope and scanned the area in front. There was a fine summer plumage Great northern diver, a few red-necked grebes, and a mixture of gulls on the rocks. Whilst I chatted to the locals a Hudsonian whimbrel flew south rather briskly, and I noticed two smaller birds diving not too far off shore. I located them in scope and called Slavonian grebe to absolute silence. I tried again with “Horned grebe” and received a much better response… ah colloquialisms.
I headed down into the car park as the rain had pretty much stopped now, and I though this could be a real opportunity to look for any migrants downed by the rain. I quickly picked up the now familiar calls of kinglets and bushtit, and I began to pish. It didn’t take long for the birds to respond, and what a response. In addition to the former species were a single Yellow warbler, and also two new birds; Warbling vireo and Pacific slope flycatcher. I managed to get a couple of visiting British birder onto both (eventually…) and told them to stay on them whilst I let the locals know. I jogged back to the assembled group and several of them were quickly following me to the spot. Sadly they were to be disappointed, as the British couple “had lost them both as soon as I left”, doh. It was proving to be a rather frustrating morning, but luckily I managed a poor record shot showing enough detail to clinch the ID.

We headed back to the campsite, collected our belongings and headed for our new accommodation. The weather had now improved to the point that the rain had stopped, though it was still rather cloudy. We decided that we would return to the lighthouse and walk part of the route of the Pacific trail. A quick check on the BC birding forum revealed that a Northern Mockingbird had been found at Tofino, along with a Baird’s sandpiper, so it was clear the rain had worked some magic.
Upon arrival at the lighthouse there was a rather large gathering of birders present, and after a quick chat it appeared that there was a Pelagic running out of Ucluelet the next day, but sadly only one space remained. We set off along the trail and kept an eye on the coast for anything of interest that may be passing by. The walk was very enjoyable, but really rather bird-lite. The only birds of note were a couple of Pacific wren, and 3 Heermann’s gulls, including two cracking adults. I had read that this was a good area to catch up with Townsend’s warbler, but it was really rather quiet.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the backstreets of town whilst K had some quality time with her book and some coffee. The roof of the fish processing plant was an excellent opportunity to look at the local gulls, and there were several 1st winter Western gulls as well as Western x Glaucous winged present. I took quite a few photos and made a few notes as well with the possibility of writing an identification summary and photo essay at some point.
A bit further along I noticed a flash of colour disappear into some trees, and for about 15 minutes I struggled to get more than a few glimpses of the mystery bird. Eventually it gave itself up and alighted on some lower branches were it was revealed to be a lovely Yellow warbler. In fact there were actually three individuals in these trees, and they chased each other about in the canopy. I was joined by two local birders – Mark Wynja and Guy Monty – and thoroughly enjoyed a long chat with them. They helpfully talked me through some of the finer points of the hybrid gulls, as well as sharing some of their experiences birding in BC.
When I mentioned that we had still yet to see a Black bear, there was disbelief, and Guy helpfully mentioned that conditions tomorrow looked good for an early morning visit to Coombers beach to see predators scavenging on the beach. We picked up a few Black turnstones and a nice 2cy Ring billed gull, and I thanked them for their help and left them to their birding.
By this time the afternoon was wearing on, and I returned to spend some time with Kathi, and we drew up a plan of action for the following morning. As per usual with our “relaxing holidays” we enjoyed a good meal and a few drinks and a slightly later than planned bedtime, ready for a pre-dawn start the following morning.
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:49   #9
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Day 9 Ucluelet

The day began a little better than yesterday, with only a fine precipitation as we made our way down the trail in the half-light and onto Coomber’s beach. I have to admit I was more than a little apprehensive at the notion that the animals we were seeking out this morning were three of the potentially most dangerous we may encounter; Black bear, Cougar and Wolf. I tried to cough regularly as we crept along the boardwalk down to the edge of the forest, but I needn’t have worried. Although we were the first people to make it down here for dawn on a low tide, we were also the only notable life forms present! The tip off received yesterday sadly didn’t pay off, but in a small way I was a bit relieved. We spent about 30 minutes scanning the beach for any mammals, but none materialized. I was rewarded with decent views of Black Oystercatcher and Savannah Sparrow, as well as a migrating Osprey, which was harassed by gulls as it flew along the beach. We headed back to the car park and as we reached the car, I heard a simple yet haunting call: Varied thrush. I scanned the tops of the trees, and finally, there it was in all its orange and black glory; a singing male Varied thrush. I took the bird in using the scope, before I crept across the car park to the tree and managed to secure a few photos, albeit of a fairly low quality.


From here we decided to once again try our luck at the salmon hatchery (third time lucky?) in the hope that we may catch up with Black bear. As we made our way down the lane towards the now familiar yellow gate, we were pleased to see that on this occasion it was wide open.
We proceeded down to the hatchery, where there were already several cars parked, and on the far side of the hatchery, a tightly clustered group looking over the edge across the creek.
We headed straight over and were immediately rewarded with a fine Black bear sat nonchalantly on a large rock, a mere 20 feet away. The animal seemed relaxed and completely indifferent to the presence of the gathered people, so we spent a while watching it and taking photos.
A little further up the creek a second bear appeared out of the forest and began foraging in the water. It would walk around turning over large rocks, and at one point entered the water and was visibly searching the bottom of a pool for any morsels.

Although this behaviour seemed amusing and playful to many of the people watching, I suspected that this was more a desperate attempt to search for food, particularly as the pelvic bones could be seen just below the fur, and this was an animal to be respected. We spoke with an employee of the hatchery who said that the first run of the season had happened, but the main run was yet to take place and as a result most of the bears had yet to put on the majority of their winter reserves. We were also told about an unfortunate event, where a tourist walked outside of the gated area eating a sandwich, and scratched by a hungry bear. This had the inevitable but unfortunate outcome in that that particular bear had to be destroyed, and the tourist even threatened to sue the hatchery.

We returned to Ucluelet to prepare for our final organized tour. The weather had slightly deteriorated, and a mild breeze made the water choppier than we had previously experienced. The hoped for trip out to sea looking for whales wasn’t to be undertaken today, and instead we would visit the Broken Island group and look for wildlife in this area.

Heading out from the harbor and south along the coast, it wasn’t long before we had our first notable sighting, and typically it was something that we had looked for extensively and only just seen – a Black bear! Here was a young male foraging along the tideline on a deserted beach. It was great to see a bear in a truly wild setting, although the bears at the hatchery are wild, viewing them from an electrified platform does detract slightly from the experience.

We left the bear and headed back to the channel, where I picked out a pale phase Arctic skua harassing some gulls. In this general area we encountered a female Humpback known as “Pinky”, which was great, but after such good views out of Port McNeil we were a little underwhelmed by relatively poor views in choppy water. We followed Pinky around for a little while, but in the choppy seas it appears that Pinky didn’t want to be obliging today. As we sped around the archipelago I managed to catch sight of the odd bird here and there, mostly gulls (including several fine Heermann’s) and a few Alcids too, but this trip was to be all about the mammals. We neared a tiny rock of an isle and were very surprised to see a buck White tailed deer in this isolated spot – our guide postulated that it had likely fled here escaping wolves, but as I notice a group of people camping on a nearby wooded island, I suspect this was a less fanciful alternative.

Up next was a fantastic colony of Steller’s sea lions – what an experience. These really are massive animals and the big males are very impressive. The second thing to hit you after their size is the smell – a bit like old fish unsurprisingly. They were also very vocal, and we enjoyed watching them clumsily hop about on the rocks, before undertaking a dramatic transformation into buoyant graceful creatures frolicking in the surf.

As the boat began to churn and heave in the waves, a few of the assembled tourists followed suit, and we beat a retreat from the ocean side of the island for a few minutes. After all had settled down, we headed straight out to sea to a very remote cluster of rocks surrounding a kelp forest some kilometers out to sea.
Here the boat was certainly in full motion, but at the very least I didn’t care; just a few meters away was an animal I have always wanted to appreciate in the wild – a Sea otter. There was a female with two quite well grown kits, their calls clearly audible above the roar of the waves. We watched as they span in the kelp to secure themselves against the surges, and the female even groomed one of the young. A second mature individual appeared off the bough – incredibly it was clutching a shell and hammering it against a stone placed on its chest! This was yet another magical moment that we had been treated to in this wonderful country, and I managed to secure a few reasonable images.

Soon enough it was time to return to the port (much to the relief of at least one of the tourists) and with the light fading and having enduring more than a good soaking I was ready to call it a day. We relaxed again with another fabulous seafood chowder followed by a few games of pool and beers and reflected upon the successes of our time in Ucluelet. In the now established tradition, tomorrow was again an early start followed by a long journey all the way back to Vancouver.
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 13:50   #10
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More to follow when I have written it, also a few photos once I've begun to process some of the 2000 we took!
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Old Saturday 1st October 2016, 22:47   #11
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A good read - I'm looking forward to the rest.
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Old Monday 3rd October 2016, 22:40   #12
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Cheers Pete.
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Old Sunday 16th October 2016, 12:32   #13
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Thanks for the very nicely detailed posting, Daniel. Vancouver Island has been on our travel list for some time. You have done a good job of selling the place. May have to move it up the list a bit now!

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Old Monday 17th October 2016, 12:55   #14
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Sounds like an excellent trip

Really nice report, sounds like our sort of trip, yet another place to accomodate in our plans.
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Old Friday 21st October 2016, 19:30   #15
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Day 11 Morning in Stanley park

Thanks Steve, David and Sarah. Steve - I cannot recommend it highly enough, stunningly beautiful scenery, wonderful friendly warm people, world class seafood, spectacular wildlife and multiple micro breweries - what's not to like!

The final day had arrived already. It came as a shock to us both, but we had had such a great trip it seemed so well spaced and in a way longer than the 10 full days we had been here.

We had the best part of a day to spare in the city before our evening flight home, and we decided that we would spend it in Stanley Park again. This was ideal for me, and more importantly, Kathi was perfectly happy to wander about in the glorious autumnal sunshine, enjoying the colours and clean air.
We had a fairly leisurely breakfast, and were well on our way along the seawall to the park by half 8 in the morning. There were still a number of common birds that I hadn’t caught up with yet, and these were my main targets of the day. Kathi was onboard helping me to see a few, and staked out a few bushes and even got involved with a bit of pishing. White crowned, Song and Fox sparrows were again in abundance, but there were a few other birds here too… Spotted towhee came in to investigate, followed by House wren and kinglets, then something else – a plain looking warbler. It looked almost a bit like a Chiffchaff, and after getting better views it was clearly an Orange crowned warbler. Just around the bend several sparrows were feeding on the deck – I checked through these carefully until I found one with a lot of black on the face, and then, as it raised its head a flash of yellow – Golden crowned sparrow – one of my targets. Whilst watching these feeding, I noticed another sparrow at the back which was much more obvious – Dark eyed junco of the Pacific race, and another new bird for me.

We continued along the trail and around the western side of the Lost Lagoon. The alders here were full of birds, the first that I picked out through my bins were a few Pine siskin, which I had assumed were the majority feeding in the tree until I noticed a few flashes of yellow and quite a number of passerines actively flicking about in the crown. These were warblers – Yellow, Yellow rumped and Black throated grey to be precise. I went through the flock as many times as I could but I didn’t pick anything else out, but with up to 30 warblers in a single tree who is to say that there wasn’t something even better up there? It was a joy to be watching these migrants feeding up, and I forgot about trying to add to my list, and just appreciated these waifs as they fed in the sun.

Out on the lake there was the usual mix of Cormorants and gulls, but also several other birds; a flock of 7 American wigeon, 2 Pied billed grebe and another new bird – American coot. This last bird was a welcome, if slightly underwhelming addition to the trip list.

We headed onwards to the Rose garden in order to look for the reported White throated sparrows albeit without success. There were more White crowned and many more Junco present though – I wondered if perhaps more had moved into the area in the last few days?

We stopped for coffee at the café in the park and a very inquisitive Racoon, busily feeding on berries in an adjacent bush, joined us. These are such characterful creatures, and we enjoyed watching it daintily pluck berries from the foliage before rather less gracefully stuffing them into its mouth!

After our rest stop we headed over to Beaver lake where there had been a glut of interesting birds reported, but sadly it was once again rather busy with tourists and quiet for birds. There were more Golden crested kinglet, Brown creeper and Red breasted nuthatch here, but not much else besides.
We continued to wander back through the park, and saw much the same as we had done earlier in the day, and before too long it was time to depart for our afternoon flight back to the UK.

It had been a truly wonderful trip, and we had achieved our main mammalian targets with a great degree of success. I think we were both in agreement that the experience with Orca was the highlight of what had been an excellent introduction to the Pacific Northwest.
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Old Friday 21st October 2016, 19:37   #16
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A few images

Apologies for the delay, very busy making the most of an east coast autumn the last 3 weeks!
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Old Friday 21st October 2016, 19:46   #17
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A few more...

A few more pictures...
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Old Friday 21st October 2016, 19:49   #18
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Last few

Last few from a wonderful trip
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