We continued our journey across the island from first light, driving from Port Alberni towards Tofino. We had seen via eBird that there was a Long-billed Curlew at the south end of Long Beach on the Pacific coast, so we made that our first stop on our tour of the beaches between Ucluelet and Tofino. We arrived in gloomy conditions with soft rainfall. There was a surf competition taking place at the beach, which shattered the otherwise tranquil setting, with Varied Thrushes singing in the background once again.
The beach itself was indeed very long, all sandy with rocky outcrops at the south end, and the north end out of sight in the gloom. There were small numbers of waders around the beach, as well as gulls on the beach and rocky outcrops. Large flocks of Scoters, Grebes and Divers could be seen bobbing around on the waves just offshore.
Long-billed Curlew - The bird we had come to the site for was still in place, in the company of three Hudsonian Whimbrels. They were all happily wandering around the beach, giving excellent views. The bird looked more like a Whimbrel than a Eurasian Curlew, with short squat legs, but with an enormous great bill on its face.
Marbled Godwit - We decided not to twitch a Marbled Godwit in Victoria, on the south of Vancouver Island, and so we had written off our chances. It was a pleasant surprise when we arrived at the beach to find one pottering about with the Whimbrels.
Black Oystercatcher - Like any other oystercatcher in terms of structure and behaviour, but completely black! We found them common across the west coast but we were always excited to see them.
Long Beach - South End: Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Pacific Diver, Great Northern Diver, Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Long-billed Curlew, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Black Oystercatcher, Rufous Hummingbird, Northern Raven, Northwestern Crow, Varied Thrush, American Robin, Orange-crowned Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Harbour Seal,
The next beach we called at was Chestermans Beach, further north towards Tofino than long beach, and according to my research, the best chance we had for a late Black Turnstone, a species we really wanted to see. The beach was once again sandy, with rocky outcrops at either end with a rocky island in the middle that was sadly private. The tide was some way out when we arrived, and the beach was busy with tourists and dog walkers. It was not ideal for looking for birds.
However, that did not seem to bother the birds that much, with a large flock of waders feeding away at the strand line; composed of Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling. There were numerous mixed flocks at various points along the beach, all of them feeding along the strand line.
We checked the outcrop at the south end with no joy, and the island with no joy. We also met a group of birders who told us not to that you don’t see Black Turnstone in the spring. However at the northern end of the beach, not ten minutes later we got our birds…
Black Turnstone - We managed to find a flock of five Black Turnstones foraging amongst the rocks at the north end of the beach. There was at least one bird in full summer plumage and it was stunning, but then so were they all. We were able to watch them from close range as they happily foraged around the rocks in front of us. We knew we might struggle with this species, so to even see one was a relief, but to see them this well was more than we could have hoped for.
Wandering Tattler - We moved out onto the rocks to obtain better views of the birds, and as a result we flushed a Wandering Tattler, a species we had almost completely forgotten about until then, out of the rocks. It flew a short distance before landing again, and continuing to feed in the company of the Turnstones.
For our afternoon we had booked a whale watching cruise from Tofino with ‘The Whale Centre’, so we made tracks towards Tofino late morning for lunch and our cruise at 13. 00. The boat for the cruise was fairly small and lightweight, but the skipper we had made the trip better than we could ever have imagined. For anyone planning a Whale Watching Cruise, try to get Howie as skipper and you won’t regret it.
The trip spent three hours travelling round the inshore islands looking at the marine wildlife in the area. We got to see large numbers of Auks and Cormorants, as well as the mammals that make the area so popular as a tourist destination. We got to see everything that we could have wanted during the trip!
Gray Whale - The main target species of the cruises are the Gray Whales that summer in the waters around Vancouver. Due to Howie’s keen eye and experience we managed to see around 20 different animals, including the first mothers and calves of the season. Some of them were extremely close to the boat, giving unbelievable views.
Sea Otter - The animal we really wanted to see was the Sea Otter, but were not sure what our chances would be. We did not expect to be shown a raft some 70 different animals sheltering in a rocky outcrop, but that’s what we got! They were a much bigger animal than we were expecting, and they were really quite shy, we had expected them to be more inquisitive like the seals and sea-lions that we also saw on the trip.
Auks - Many of the islands that we passed were breeding sites for a number of different Auk species. By far the most common species that we encountered were Marbled Murrelet and Pigeon Guillemot, but we also had nice views of Rhinoceros Auklet, flight views of Cassin’s Auklet and the first Tufted Puffins of the season. We had no idea if we would be too early for Puffin, so we were pleased to get these ones, picked out, of course, by Howie.
-Steller's Sea Lion
-Californian Sea Lion
The Whale Centre - Cruise: Cackling Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, Pacific Diver, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Pelagic Cormorant, Brandt’s Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Bald Eagle, Black Turnstone, Black Oystercatcher, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, Tufted Puffin, Cassin’s Auklet, Mew Gull, Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Belted Kingfisher, Northwestern Crow, Sea Otter, Californian Sea-Lion, Steller’s Sea-Lion, Harbour Seal, Gray Whale,
We were recommended by some local birders that the estuary behind Jamie’s Rainforest Inn was a good spot for roosting waders, so we had a look in the evening once we had finished our cruise. It conveniently matched with the high tide times, so we were able to see plenty of roosting waders on the saltmarsh.
Roosting Waders - There were probably less than 1000 birds roosting on the saltmarsh, it was still nice to be able to filter through the masses looking for something different, although we were not successful in finding anything. There was still a nice variety of commoner waders that we had grown used to seeing, especially given that once we return to Europe we won’t be seeing many of them.
Jaimie’s Rainforest Inn: Bufflehead, Goosander, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Belted Kingfisher,