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Canada May 2024 trip - Part one Vancouver Island and surrounding area. (1 Viewer)


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May 2024 Canada Trip - Part 1 Vancouver Island.

This report covers the first part of our spring Canada trip to Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The second part of the trip will be in Ontario on Lake Erie to hopefully coincide with peak warbler migration.

1st May

We took a flight from Manchester to Toronto, arriving around lunch time, local time. After checking into a hotel at the airport, we took a train into Toronto city centre, in an attempt to flight the jet lag. Despite not being a prime birding spot, I did note the following birds around the city centre and harbour front on Lake Ontario: Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, American Robin, House Sparrow, Lincolns Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow.

2nd May

After flying to Vancouver from Toronto, we collected a hire car and headed to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to catch a prebooked ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. With an hour to kill before catching the ferry, a birding opportunity presented itself within the ferry terminal grounds and the following birds were seen: Surf Scoter 200+, Greater Scaup, Slavonian Grebe, Black Oystercatcher, Pigeon Guillemot, Glaucous-winged Gull, Brandts Cormorant, Pelegic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, American Crow, Violet-green Swallow and White-crowned Sparrow.

On departing the ferry, we headed to our base for the next two days which was an Airbnb property near Westport Park Lake, just inland from Nanaimo city.

3rd May

The plan was to explore several different sites today, as I really wanted to track down Varied Thrush, Townsend Warbler, Oranage-crowned Warbler, Black-throated Grey Warbler and especially MacGillivray’s Warbler.

Westport Park Lake

ebird site: Bird List - Nanaimo--Westwood Lake, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada - eBird Hotspot

Due to the 8 hour time difference, I was up early and took the short walk to Westport Park Lake at first light. The lake is surrounded by mature pine forest and walking trails. Previous research via ebird, revealed that the site is reliable for some of my target species. Despite the enthusiasm it soon became apparent that birding would be challenging. The Merlin sound app was picking up some of the targets birds I wanted to see; however the makeup of the pine forests, containing both tall trees and dense undergrowth made locating singing birds difficult!

The lake has a circular walking trail of 5.5KM and with some patience I did tick off the following birds: Canada Goose, Mallard, Barrows Goldeneye, Annas Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Northern Flicker, Hammonds Flycatcher, Cassins Vireo (heard), Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Violet Green Swallow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pacific Wren, Common Starling, Hermit Thrush (heard), American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orange-crowned Warbler (commonest warbler), Yellow-rumpled Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler.

The warblers in general were difficult to connect with, as they spend much of their time high in the tree canopy.

Lantzville Copley Ridge Trail

ebird site: Bird List - Lantzville--Copley Ridge Trail, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada - eBird Hotspot

Research of ebird sites around Nanaimo suggested that this was a good site for MacGillivrays Warbler, with confirmed sightings during the last few days. After breakfast we headed here and started to explore the walking trails through the old growth forest. Despite extensive searching, we were unable to locate any MacGillivrays Warblers. Some of the birds species encountered earlier at Westport Park Lake were seen and Pacific Slope Flycatcher, Ring-necked Duck, Turkey Vulture and Purple Finch were added to the trip list.

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park.

ebird site: Bird List - Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada - eBird Hotspot

After lunch we headed here, which is a large forest park bordering the Pacific coast. We explored the various woodland walking trails and shoreline, adding the following birds to the trip list: Slavonian Grebe, Pacific Diver, Brown Creeper and Chipping Sparrow. On one of the wooded trails I became aware of an unfamiliar bird singing, which turned out to be the bird of the day, being a very confiding male Black-throated Grey Warbler!

Overall this was a very productive first days birding; however I was becoming worried that both MacGillivray’s Warbler and Varied Thrush, weren’t going to be so straightforward to find.

In the evening we enjoyed an excellent meal in Nanaimo centre and as a base to explore from, Nanaimo is an excellent choice, with many prime ebird spots within easy driving distance.

4th May

Westport Park Lake and drive to Port Refrew

We needed to vacate the AirBnB property by mid morning, so I again visited Westport Park Lake first thing. New birds were added to the trip list by way of Blue-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Warbling Vireo. The west end of the lake includes a shallow bay area, which also includes free standing dead pine trees. On one of the trees was a drumming Pileated Woodpecker, the sound of which was deafening, echoing across the whole lake and valley! As I approached the far west end of the lake, there is a separate path, which leads to an elevated area between two forest tracts and containing low scrub. I decided to take this route and as I reached the scrub area, a male MacGillivray’s Warbler suddenly popped up into view and going into full song! Just a few meters away another singing male popped up and I spent the next 20 minutes marvelling at this prime target species. I then followed this elevated track parallel with the lake and the whole area was ‘MacGillivray’s Warbler city’, with at least 7 singing males encountered along the route, all of which were very showy! So much for this being a difficult species to find!

Other birds encountered along this route included a male Brewers Blackbird, Bushtit and a very showy male Townsend’s Warbler. As I descended the elevated track and returned to the main forest track, I suddenly became aware of on an unmistakable singing and mobile Varied Thrush. Despite my best efforts, I just couldnt connect with the bird and after 30 minutes, I reluctantly gave up, as I needed to help my wife vacate the house.

Next we made the long drive west to Port Renfrew, which was to be our second base on Vancouver Island. Much of the drive was on poor logging roads, through commercially managed forests and as a result the birds seemed to be thin on the ground with the exception of Hammonds Flycatchers. As we approached Port Renfrew, the weather was poor with persistent rain; however a brief stop at the river mouth added both Goosander and Belted Kingfisher to the list.

5th to 6th May

Port Renfrew area

ebird site: Bird List - Port Renfrew (general), Capital, British Columbia, Canada - eBird Hotspot and Bird List - Port Renfrew--Snuggery Cove, Capital, British Columbia, Canada - eBird Hotspot

This is a remote area and is just inside the Pacific Rim National Park. For the first time we needed to be both bear aware and cougar aware! My wife had really done me proud with the accomodation choice, which was an elevated house, with a large outside balcony, overlooking Port San Juan Bay. I eagerly setup the scope and tripod, and over the next 2 mornings the following birds were seen in the bay and in varying numbers: Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Western Grebe (flock of 49 birds), Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Glaucous-winged Gull, California Gull and Bonapartes Gull. Throughout we were also entertained by an adult Bald Eagle, which would sit in the surrounding pine trees, really close to our balcony. Both Annas Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird were feeding below the balcony in the flowering bushes. Varied Thrush could also be heard singing nearby.

On the first evening we walked down to the Port Renfrew pub for something to eat. After we had eaten and on exiting the pub, I noticed a pale looking thrush drop down from the trees to the beach area, where a stream entered the sea. I lifted my binoculars and finally, I’d connected with a female Varied Thursh! Over the the next 20 minutes, we saw a total of 4 including two stunning males, all of which were feeding along the shoreline amongst the seaweed.

The next morning we drove to Juan de Fuca Provincial Park - Botanical Beach, where we explored the old growth forests down to the sea. This area had a real wilderness feel to it, with its ancient damp forest and fern understudy. The coast held flyby Harlequin Ducks and summer plumage Great Northern Divers. The woods despite being impressive, seemed thin on the ground bird wise, mostly holding American Robin, Varied Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Pacific Wren.

Overnight it rained really hard and before leaving Port Renfrew, I couldn’t resist one last look for Varied Thrush, which had suddenly become my new favourite bird! On walking down to the pub, it was evident that the overnight rain had brought in good numbers of passerines. Both Yellow-rumped Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler were well represented, a male and female Black-throated Grey Warbler were also seen well, chasing each other through the bushes. As I approached the pub area both Western Wood-Pewee and Fox Sparrow were heard singing. The Varied Thrushes also didnt disappoint with a total of 7 birds encountered. Other birds seen included Stellers Jay, American Robin, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Orange-crowned Warbler.

I can honestly say that this whole area was a truly magical and wild experience. I would have liked more time to explore the general area and I also got the feeling that if we’d timed the trip a little later in the spring, far more passerines, including warblers, thrushes and vireos would have arrived to breed in the area.

7th to 10th May

Victoria City

After leaving Port Renfrew we made the 2 hour drive south to the city of Victoria, which is the state capital of British Columbia. A brief stop at the Jordan River mouth added both Red-necked Grebe and American Goldfinch to the trip list.

This leg of the trip was supposed to give my non-birding wife a break from the birds; however when she pointed out that Beacon Hill Park, a noted eBird site, was only a 5 minute walk from our guesthouse, I didnt need much encouragement. For the next 4 mornings I visited the park before breakfast. This is a large municipal park, leading down to the pacific coast. It contains a variety of woodland habitats, none of which are densely populated with trees and as a result the birding is really easy. Over the next 4 mornings the following birds were seen: Canada Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Great Blue Heron (heronry in the park), Raven, American Crow, Barred Owl, Annas Hummingbird, Downy Woodpecker, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Barn Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Warbling Vireo, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Bushtit, Brown Creeper, Bewicks Wren, Cedar Waxwing, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and Brown-headed Cowbird. Unlike other sites, warblers were easy to see, with Yellow-rumped Warbler, Wilsons Warbler and Orange-crowned Warbler all well represented in good numbers. The best bird of the park, I discovered on the final morning, which were two singing and stunning male Western Tanagers!

ebird site: Bird List - Beacon Hill Park, Capital, British Columbia, Canada - eBird Hotspot

If the Merlin sound ID app is to be believed, it did briefly pick up both Townsend’s Warbler and MacGillivray's Warbler in the park. This said, as valuable as the sound ID app is for identifying unfamiliar birds, it did occasionally suggest the odd misidentification, including some out of region birds.

On reaching the coastal part of the park, the view across the Pacific sea straight to Washington State in the USA, really is breathtaking with the snow covered peaks of the Olympic Mountains, dominating the horizon! The coast here held Harlequin Duck, Pelagic Cormorant, Brandts Cormorant, Glaucous-winged Gull, Black Oystercatcher and Bald Eagle.

On the second day we did a 4.5 hour whale watching trip from Victoria harbour, which also took us into U.S waters. In addition to great sightings of both Killer Whales and Humpback Whales, both Rhinoceroses Auklet and Common Murre were added to the bird list. The trip was booked with Prince of Whales Tours and is highly recommended.

Victoria is a really nice city, which my wife and I really enjoyed exploring on foot. It also has a great selection of small bars and restaurants. We stayed at Abigails Guesthouse, which was excellent and a great base to explore from.

11th May

Boundary Bay Regional Park

ebird site: Bird List - Boundary Bay Regional Park, Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada - eBird Hotspot

We took the car ferry back to the mainland before noon and checked into a hotel at Tsawwassen. With the afternoon to kill, we decided to visit the nearby Boundary Bay Regional Park. This area consists of scrub, marsh, dunes and mudflats. The first bird we encountered was a stunning male Northern Harrier in full sky dancing display mode! A female bird was also seen and the harriers do breed in the park. Other notable birds encountered along the trails included Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warbler, Marsh Wren and Savanna Sparrow. We also saw a pair of Killdeer with 2 very young chicks. The mudflats covered a huge area, but unfortunately it was low tide, meaning other waders were thin on the ground.

This ends this particular leg of the trip, as the following morning we took a flight to Toronto and then headed south to Lake Erie for peak warbler migration.
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I did Vancouver Island back in 1999, didn't connect with McGillivray's Warbler nor Black-throated Grey Warbler as you did, but did add Red-breasted Sapsucker on the island. No Anna's Hummers either, all we saw were Rufous repeatedly. I think we were a month earlier than you. Also saw several Varied Thrushes and Rhinoceros Auklet, also Pigeon Guillemot.
I always enjoy reports of trips when you squeeze what birding you can out of a shared holiday, as my wife is also a confirmed non-birder.

I missed Varied Thrush and Townsend's Warbler on three different visits to the US West coast, so I'm also feeling just a little bit gripped! Great stuff!

Sounds completely perfect for me; I love forests, and have seen a lot of N American birds, but not the Pacific North West ones. One day.. 😀👍🐦🐦

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