The lengthening days of spring are a very exciting time for birding the outer coast of Vancouver Island.  The mudflats and protected waterways of Clayoquot Sound, a major overwintering site for ducks and other waterbirds, become a stopover site for tens of thousands of shorebirds of 24 species in April and May each year – 40 species of shorebirds have been recorded in the Tofino area.  These shorebirds are using our rich mudflats as a short resting and feeding stop as they wing their way north from their wintering grounds that may be as far south as South America.  Most of these shorebirds are destined for breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra, many on the north slope of Alaska.  The peak of shorebird migration is the last week in April and the first two weeks in May.  Some particularly good spots to watch the shorebirds on the mudflats are at the viewing platform at the end of Sharp Rd in Tofino, and at Grice Bay in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  Both of these sites are best viewed with a spotting scope at low to medium tides, when mud is exposed for the shorebirds to feed on.  Here in Clayoquot Sound we have the largest numbers of Whimbrel on the BC coast in migration, and up to 100,000 Western Sandpipers have been recorded on the Tofino mudflats in a single day during early May – one of the true spectacles of nature.  Rarer species such as Red Knots, a beautiful salmon-pink hue in their breeding plumage, are regularly seen among the large flocks.  The sandy beaches of the outer coast harbour another suite of shorebirds, while offshore, Pacific Loons stream north by in the thousands.  On land, colourful songbirds return to our forests from their tropical wintering grounds – it’s a great exercise in birding-by-ear to pick apart all of their songs as they sing from high in the rainforest canopy.  With luck, you’ll catch a brilliant flash of yellow as a Townsend’s Warblers or Western Tanager shows itself.  And in late April and early May, you’ll see many thousands of Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese passing northwest overhead – the outer coast is a key migration corridor for them.  It’s a spectacle to watch the river of birds heading north.

Written by LBNT Guide; Ian Cruickshank