Sunday, 20 May 2012

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

May 19 -- By the time Mike and Phil arrive in Victoria on Westjet from Calgary at 8:25 AM, we are “delighted” to learn that Brian and Ray have already been out birding for a couple of hours and notched up two new birds, Rufous Hummingbird and Black-headed Grosbeak. It is a fine sunny morning and we are happy to find a Black-throated Gray Warbler at Horth Hill Regional Park, just a few minutes from the airport. Here we heard a Pacific-slope Flycatcher, but don’t manage to track it down. It is the first of three “heard-only” species today which go onto our list, but we won’t be satisfied till we’ve actually seen the birds.
Black-headed Grosbeak

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Our destination is Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where we will go on a Whale Watching outing on Sunday morning. Tofino lies just outside the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Most of the route is on Highway 4, a long and winding road crossing the island from east to west, which could almost have been the inspiration for Paul McCartney when he wrote the last song The Beatles would record. (Note: in point of fact, The Long and Winding Road is said to have been inspired by the B842, a thirty-one mile (50 km) winding road in Scotland, running along the east coast of Kintyre into Campeltown.) We made a few stops along the way for birding, leg stretching, food, etc. At Yellowpoint Lodge south of Nanaimo we heard Western Tanager and Olive-sided Flycatcher; on a logging road towards Mount Arrowsmith, the hoped-for Sooty Grouse does not materialize, but brief looks at a MaGillivray’s Warbler provides some compensation. Just before the entrance of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Brian and Ray observe a Townsend’s Vole scuttling across the road in front of the vehicle. 

Stopping at the first of three visitor centres on a 30 km stretch of road, we learn that the best resource for birding information in the park is Ewen Brittain, who’s working at the Kwisitis Visitor Centre (the old Wickannish Inn). We track down Ewen, who is very helpful and advises that another birder saw a Bar-tailed Godwit in Tofino yesterday, which we’ll try for later. Scoping from the Visitor Centre, we see a good variety of birds and mammals on or near the small islets scattered in the sound, including Steller’s Sea Lions and both Humpback and Gray Whales.  Following up on Ewen’s advice, we find over 50 Whimbrels and a Black Bear (new mammal!) at Grice Bay.
Black Bear, Nonchalantly Watching Us
It’s time to check into our hotel, the Best Western Tin Wis, where we find the rooms to be comfortable and then enjoy an excellent early dinner in the restaurant overlooking the bay. It’s time to head to the mudflats at the end of Sharp Road, as the tide will be coming in. Ray soon finds the godwit for us, but it is at a considerable distance, and the light is fairly poor. Was it a Bar-tailed Godwit? – we may never know. A highlight is watching two Caspian Terns fishing in the shallows.

We make a run down to Ucluelet, 40 km to the south, and are successful in finding the Sea Otters in Little Bay, just where Ewen had told us to look. No luck, however, with California Sea Lions in the harbour.

May 20 -- Today we are booked on a whale watch, but first we head back to Sharp Road. Brian has read on VIBirds that a local birder saw a Hudsonian Godwit there yesterday. This morning we see what is, without doubt, a Hudsonian Godwit.

We check in to the West Coast Aquatic Safaris office and put on the rain jackets supplied  for the whale watch.  Ray and Phil spot a California Sea Lion right next to the wharf as we are boarding. We go out on the Nanuq, a very comfortable 36-passenger catamaran, with about 15 passengers on board this morning. Unfortunately the route is planned to take us for a close encounter with a Gray Whale off Long Beach, and away from Cleland Island where we’d hoped to see Tufted Puffins. And we don’t go far enough offshore to see any petrels or shearwaters. So we have to content ourselves with excellent looks at the Gray Whale and a colony of Steller’s Sea Lions. We see lots of seabirds, but the looks are not great as we speed along in the catamaran.

Gray Whale

Steller's Sea Lions hanging out

A male Steller's Sea Lion Ponders His Next Move
In the afternoon we scour various coves and rocky areas for Wandering Tattlers, but have no success. A couple more visits to Sharp Road prove disappointing from a shorebird standpoint, but we do finally manage  glimpses of a Townsend’s Warbler singing high above us. The rain forecast for today has settled in and we elect to bring the birding day to an end.

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