Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

British Colombia

28th Aug - 9th Sept 2010 

August 28th :- We left London Heathrow on time and landed 9.5 hours later at a very pleasant sunny Vancouver Airport all fairly tired but full of anticipation. After the usual rigmarole of passport control, collecting our baggage we passed through the arrivals terminal where we were met by a representative of one of the vehicle rental companies. So I led half the group to the parking lot where we processed the minibus for the duration of the holiday. Roy had to go to another rental company and this was taking a little longer so we agreed to split up and meet at our hotel for the first night. So I, Sue, Ruth, John, Dave & Lyn headed south to coastal town of Delta where we soon found our accommodation the Tsawwassen Inn. Bird-wise the journey was pretty quiet although we did get good views of North Western Crow, Barn Swallow and California Gulls. A little later Roy turned up with Nev & Rosemary, John & Maggie who had faired a little better with a Northern Harrier, very well spotted by John. Once at the hotel we met up with Annabelle, Keith & Liz who had been spending some time around BC prior to this holiday. We checked into our rooms and decided to convene just before the evening meal as we were all pretty jaded from the rigours of travelling. The meal was taken early and afterwards Roy gave a short presentation on what our plans were for the duration of our stay, which was very well received. Then Dave & Lyn told me what they had seen on their walk to Boundary Bay, which included a (black form) Red Squirrel, a few Lesser Yellowlegs, Black capped Chickadee, Ring billed & Glaucous winged Gulls. Not long after this we were heading back to our rooms in anticipation of a good night’s sleep and the following days adventures.

29th August :- For Roy and I the day started quite early as we were sat drinking coffee and waiting for first light at 5am, in fact I think most of the guests were also like this! Just after 6 o’clock we decided to go for a stroll around the suburbs at the back of the hotel. This proved a very good decision as we found our first Glaucous winged Gulls and Canada Geese flying over plus a small mixed flock of Black capped Chickadees, Bushtits and Red breasted Nuthatches. Then on the way back for breakfast I got fabulous views of a young Northern Flicker sat on top of a telegraph pole. Apparently John & Maggie had also been around this area and had seen the young Northern Flicker plus a Douglas Squirrel and an Eastern Cotton-tail, two very good mammals of the area. Breakfast was a modest buffet style affair but certainly adequate enough for all the guests and soon enough we were convening with our luggage by the main entrance. Roy and I brought the vehicles round, loaded up and set off in the direction of the ferry terminal. As we passed through some agricultural fields we saw a couple of Great Blue Herons and at one very birdy corner Roy decided to pull over and check the passerine flocks. This proved to be a very good decision as he then proceeded to give an excellent masterclass on identification of House Finch, Chipping & Savannah Sparrows. In addition to this we also saw lots of Barn Swallows, Red tailed Hawk sat on a telegraph pole, a couple of Yellow Warblers found by Maggie and a Red winged Blackbird and House Sparrows amongst the House Finches. Then as we walked back to the minibuses an accipiter flew across the road and over the fields, which we confidently identified as a migrant Cooper’s Hawk. What a great start. Next Roy led us round to an area of estuary – Robert´s Bank, which was very good for wildfowl as we found lots of Pintail, Green winged Teal and one odd Mallard close to where we were standing. However a little further out Maggie expertly found several American Wigeon and I chipped in with a small party of Northern Shoveler. 50+ Caspian Terns loafed on the shore side as did lots of Ring billed & Glaucous Gulls with a single Mew (Common) Gull and several California Gulls. We did keep seeing a small group of peeps flying past but sadly they never settled however one surprise was a Black bellied (Grey) Plover stood right up to its belly in the water. John then found a distant group of Cormorants, which were most likely Double Crested and Roy then found an equally distant party of 3 or 4 Common (Great Northern Diver) Loons. Hopefully we would get better views of these later. It was now time to drive the short distance to the ferry terminal and once there we parked and waited to get on the boat. This gave us a little time to ourselves to have a comfort break or get a much needed coffee or light drink. Eventually we drove on to the ferry and made our way to the top viewing deck, which afforded excellent views to all sides. The ship was moored next to a sea wall made from boulders and as well as the ubiquitous Ring billed & Glaucous winged Gulls we found much more. Firstly Liz said “I’ve got a dark Turnstone?” and when I looked at where I thought she meant I found 2 Surfbirds! This made Roy quite ecstatic as he’d not seen this species for many years and then our attentions turned to the several Black Turnstones feeding amongst the rocks. Then Rosemary said “I’ve got a Black Oystercatcher here” and sure enough there was another of our main target species, then Roy added a fourth with several Pelagic Cormorants sat on a jetty – John was in raptures as he couldn’t remember when he’d last seen four new birds in such close proximity!. As the ferry started to leave port a Harbour Seal was seen close to the boat, but a California Sea-lion seen by John & Maggie was a great find. Lyn excitedly came up to me saying she had just seen a Western Gull - yet another fabulous find. Then John saw a possible Harbour Porpoise, which was confirmed by the rest of us as another pod of 3 or 4 swam past, and this was quickly followed by 3 migrating Vaux’s Swifts speeding past the boat. We got into more open water of the Strait of Georgia and heading for Nanaimo a few auks started passing the boat. After a little deliberation it was unanimously agreed there were both Rhinoceros Auklets and Common (Guillemot) Murres. The rest of the journey went very smoothly as we watched the island loom closer but this allowed Roy to pick our first Turkey Vultures of the trip over some distant forest on Vancouver Island. The boat docked at12:30 and we quickly got off and headed north towards Rothtrevor Beach near Parksville; our destination for lunch. On the way we passed through some Sitka Spruce forest seeing an Osprey, more Turkey Vultures and Ravens above the trees. A quick stop at Wallmart for water gave Richard an opportunity to find a Brewers Blackbird amongst the commoner European Starling. About an hour later we arrived at the lunch stop but the wind had got up and made any birding quite difficult. As a consequence we didn’t stay there long after lunch, opting to head for Torfino and possibly making a couple of stops en-route. This worked really well and Roy must be commended for his intelligent thinking as a potential comfort stop at the Taylor River Rest Stop produced a surprise 1st winter Barrow’s Goldeneye/ This individual was actually found by Sue as it same under the water! Nev identified a gorgeous Stellar’s Jay as we entered the car park, which was quickly joined by a couple more, a Hairy Woodpecker showed really well and a few more Vaux Swifts flew up the valley. Our next stop was near Kennedy Lake because Roy had seen a movement in the water and wanted to check it out. This turned out to be a young Pied billed Grebe another good bird for the trip, which was followed by me finding a very distant Northern Flicker sat in a dead tree. It was now getting late so we drove along the incredibly scenic winding road lined by massive Douglas Firs and the smaller Sitka Spruce. Every turn creating yet another ‘wow factor’ moment with deep forested valleys and snow-clad mountains – Scotland on Steroids. As we were nearing the turn for Torfino, we called in at the famous Pacific Rim NR visitor centre to allow Roy to buy us some passes for the next couple of days. While waiting for him in the car park, Richard, Liz and I heard the distinctive call of Red Breasted Nuthatch but sadly couldn’t locate it. We weren’t far now from our hotel and it didn’t take us long to get there but Ruth & I scored a Home Run in the second minibus as we both saw an adult male Sooty Grouse stood on a wall at the side of the road. What an incredible stroke of luck!. Eventually we reached the Clayoquot Orca Lodge, which is a fantastic place to stay on the edge of the forest and very near the Pacific Ocean. We managed to get checked in fairly quickly and were told the evening meal wouldn’t now be until after 8pm, which gave a few people a chance to wander the immediate area.

August 30th :- An early walk had been arranged, so we all gathered outside the hotel at 7am after good night’s sleep. Around the hotel we started to find some good birds with John & Maggie calling a small party of Golden crowned Kinglets moving through the firs along with a pair of Chestnut backed Chickadees and an American Robin feeding at the edge of the car park. So we set off along the road with John Duerdin showing the group some Marsh Orchids on the roadside verge. The short walk along the main road produced 3 Pintail flying over, a couple of Collared Doves and good views of another pair of Chestnut backed Chickadees to myself, Ruth, Dave and Lyn. As we turned off the main road along a narrower minor road that was heavily flanked by trees and bushes Roy got on to a small group of passerines. It wasn’t easy to locate and identify this party as they fed high up in the canopy but we were very confident in seeing a few Orange Crowned Warblers and at least one Warbling Vireo. We eventually reached the estuary where we met local inhabitant Ralph who very kindly showed us the nest of a Bald Eagle that still had a grown juvenile bird sitting next to it and we all got great views through our telescopes. Also we found a pair of Belted Kingfishers, Ring billed Gull and a few Stellar’s Jays. Sadly there were not many waders around just a few Western Sandpipers as the tide was in and showing a very little exposed mud. It was now time to return to the hotel so we said our “farewells” to Ralph and walked back the same route. Back at the hotel we headed straight for our excellent buffet-style breakfast which was most welcome after our little excursion. After breakfast and time to freshen up we again gathered in the car park, eventually setting off for our first sea adventure from the quaint coastal town of Tofino. We found our way to the Stubb’s Island whale watching centre where we were met by our guide John who handed us all these very stylish (!) red life suits while giving a brief lecture on what we could expect to see during the trip. Expectation was high on this now calm and sunny day, as we walked like a group of intrepid explorers to the boat. At the quayside we all got on the rather shallow open vessel and while doing so Julian found our first Herrman’s Gull of the holiday sat with Glaucous winged Gull on a nearby building. Once aboard we got the obligatory safety instructions before charged up the engines and we headed out of Tofino Bay. Our first stop was for a Bald Eagle nest, which had been there for many years and Great Blue Heron fishing in the shallows. However as we sped along further out of the bay we started to see several groups of auks. These were mainly Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres (Common Guillemots) but John had seen another species at Calamus Pass the previous day and was keen to try and refind it. It did not take him long and there sat in the water next to the boat was a fantastic Tufted Puffin – one of the ‘hoped for’ species of the day. We had lots to do and after a couple of conversations with fellow boatmen already out in the open sea and the two Speyside guides we were speeding ourselves out into the Pacific Ocean and north along the coastline. Gray Whale was high on our ‘wish list’ but at this time of year they weren’t easy to find but John knew what he was doing and as we neared Raphael Point a few of us saw a ‘whale blow’ up ahead. This was followed by another and the excitement grew as we got closer to Raphael Bay. We thought there were 3 Gray Whales here but sadly two of them moved away fairly quickly. Although this left us to get absolutely fabulous views of the third individual surfacing and tail-fluking in the shallows of the bay – a photographers dream. What a moment and well worth the gamble of the time taken to get there. After about 30 minutes of watching this magnificent mammal we had to return south as there was still lots to do and see. Just south of Tofino Bay and while moving at a fairly rapid rate of knots John spied something in the water that made him immediately stop – a very cute Sea Otter. It was smiles all around as it lay on its back in the middle of the ocean washing and preening itself in an almost child-like way, and again giving a great opportunity to the photographers in the group. Soon enough we were powering south this time stopping to look at Clealand Island (basically a large rock!) – apparently BC’s first eco-reserve. Here we quickly found the resident populations of (very impressive) Stellar’s Sea-lions and Common Seals, which were mainly lounging around on the water’s edge but with also a few swimming. Around Clealand there were lots of other smaller islands (big rocks) that were home to many sea-birds and with John’s skilful navigation and Roy’s keen eyes we soon logged Brandt’s & Pelagic Cormorants,  a Wandering Tattler, Black Turnstone, female Harlequin Duck, 2 Common Loons (Great Northern Divers) and a Barrows Goldeneye was seen by John & Ruth. A group of gulls were mainly Glaucous winged and California but we did also manage to pick out a Western Gull amongst them, which was nice for comparison. Scanning further out to sea Julian picked up a couple of Sooty Shearwaters flying past far off but then thankfully we had another one skim past the boat at a more manageable distance, which most people saw. Time was moving on and John (our skipper) still had one more area he wanted to visit so off we sped to the Glory Hole. John had been told about a family party of 3 Humpback Whales seen there earlier in the morning and hoped they would still be around. We were not disappointed as a large blow gave away their position in one of the bays. Our luck was certainly in as our arrival coincided with the young Humpback starting to continually breach, making some enormous splashes. It was simply breath-taking and a memory that will stay with us for many years and also a very fitting end to our first organised boat trip, which had been a great success. It was now time to return to Tofino and it also gave us chance to appreciate the marvellous scenery that surrounds this lovely town. Back on dry land we said our thanks and farewells to John for such a brilliant morning, with many of us quite envious of Roy who would be doing it all again in a fortnight’s time. It was now lunchtime so we collected the picnics from the vehicles and Roy found a nice grassy area overlooking the bay where we enjoyed our sandwiches in the midday sunshine. It was brilliant just to sit there and contemplate the marvellous experiences of the previous few hours. Since it was so pleasant we hung around there for a while looking through the gulls and Roy found an American Herring Gull and Cabbage White butterflies were on the wing. After lunch we decided to return to the hotel for a short comfort break before heading out again locally and once we were all ready we returned to Sharp Road (Ralph’s) Estuary seeing the Bald Eagle again and a few Pintail. However it was fairly quiet so Roy suggested we go to Schooner’s Beach where there was a nature trail through some ancient temperate rainforest. The trees were simply amazing as the boardwalk wound its way through the forest; they were covered in lichens and fantastic fungi. Roy was over the moon as we found our first Banana Slug – the world’s second largest slug - (it was impressive!) of the trip as well as another mammal species, in the form of a delightful North American Red Squirrel. Unfortunately the birds were not a key feature of the walk to the beach with just a Mew Gull on the sand along with a few Western Sandpipers and Sanderling on the water’s edge. So late afternoon we returned to the Clayoquot Orca Lodge with a couple of people in the lead vehicle seeing a Sooty Grouse sat at the side of the road. We got back to the hotel in plenty of time for everyone to have a relax and get ready before the excellent evening meal, which was followed by a very enthusiastic species log and discussion on the following days activities.

August 31st :- Sadly it had rained all night and was continuing to do so, in fact it didn’t look very good for the rest of the day. This was very sad as today we were being expertly guided by local naturalist Sandy McRear (Rainbirds) from Port Alberni. Before breakfast Roy & I had slipped out to quickly look at Chesterman Beach as Dave & Lyn had had so much success there, and we weren’t disappointed. At the car park there were a couple of bedraggled American Robins then on the beach we saw 100+ Western Sandpipers, several Semi-palmated Plovers and a few Sanderling. After breakfast we gathered at the vehicles with Sandy joining Roy in his bus after giving us a brief intro to the day’s events. Our first stop was at Swan Lake but due to the amount of rain we needed to access it by walk through the forest and not the normal track. Sandy found a Song Sparrow as we got out of the vans and made the walk to the lake very interesting with identification of tree and plant species plus finding a very nice Red legged Frog in the wet vegetation. At the lake, which is actually a shallow lily covered pond, the lead group unintentionally disturbed a couple of female/1st winter Wood Ducks, which sadly flew off. However we set up our ‘scopes’ and started scanning the area with Roy almost immediately finding a Lesser Yellowlegs, which was quickly followed by me locating a Killdeer whilst searching for Roy’s bird. As everyone was watching these two birds a bird flew in calling off to the right, which Sandy said was Greater Yellowlegs and then got on to a couple of Wilson’s Snipes, with at least one of them showing well through the telescope. The weather was proving to be a problem as our optical equipment was getting very wet and misted up so Maggie did incredibly well to relocate the Greater Yellowlegs amongst the vegetation and we all managed to get good views of this Greenshank-like wader. The weather conditions were not improving so we trudged back to the vehicles and hoped for an improvement at our next destination we were guided too by Sandy – Amphritrite Point. En-route to this wooded and rocky headland we saw our first Black tailed Deer at the side of the road before getting to the visitors car park. The nature trail cut through some more temperate rainforest and Sandy told us of how the Marbled Murrelets were discovered to be breeding on the branches of these mighty trees not many years previously along with many other interesting facts on the area. Eventually the boardwalk reached the rocky shoreline on the edge of the Pacific Ocean where through the mist and rain we found a Surfbird picking its way through the seaweed. We walked along this coastal route for some time stopping now and again to scan the seas and check out the bushes and trees for passerines but it wasn’t easy in the dire conditions. However we did manage to find a couple of Red necked Phalaropes, Marbled Murrelet and Rhinoceros Auklets on the water, along with a Song Sparrow, Yellow & Orange crowned Warblers amongst the vegetation. Quite bedraggled we left Amphritrite Point and drove the short distance to the Wickaninnish Information Centre where we could get some shelter from the incessant rain and use their facilities. After a look round the centre and a welcome cup of coffee we set up the telescopes on their viewing platform and scanned the bay for seabirds, which proved quite fruitful as we found more Marbled Murrelets, 2 Red throated Loons, Common Loon, Pigeon Guillemot and 50+ Surf Scoters. Annabelle had gone for a short walk along the beach and found a Least Sandpiper (which she photographed) amongst the Western Sandpipers and Sanderling. Roy and Sandy then took most of the group for a walk along the beach heading north from the Info Centre but as it required a little slippery rock negotiation Julian stayed behind with Annabelle, Dave & Lyn who tried (and failed) to relocate the Least Sandpiper but did see an Osprey fly past. Thankfully the other group didn’t fare much better getting good views of Heerman’s & California Gulls, more sea-duck and a few Pelagic Cormorants. It was now lunchtime and it seemed like the rain wasn’t stopping so luckily Sandy knew of a place near Wickaninnish where we could eat our picnics under cover. The covered picnic tables were well received and we stayed there an hour discussing our options on the rest of the day as it was so miserable. It was agreed Sandy had done a fabulous job under the extreme conditions but we should probably return to the hotel and hope the rain stops later that afternoon. Back at base we arranged to meet later to assess the weather and see if it was worth going anywhere else that day. It was an inspired decision by Roy, by mid-afternoon the weather was improving so we decided to return to Chesterman Beach in the hope of finding some more waders. First we stopped at the area Roy and Julian had visited that morning seeing virtually the same species as that morning so we decided to try another section of the beach. This proved to be another good decision as we were greeted to a large flock of ‘peeps’ feeding along the water’s edge,  which needed checking. They were (as expected) mainly Western Sandpipers, but we also picked out 10+ Least Sandpipers, Sanderling and a few Semi-palmated Sandpipers in with them. However it was Roy who called the best bird of the day as he picked out a Stilt Sandpiper in with its smaller cousins, a very good bird to find on this coastline. A Peregrine flew through creating havoc with the wader flock and out to sea we located 2 Red necked Grebes, Common Loon and a Bald Eagle was sat on an off-shore rocky islet. As so often happens, the day ended on a high with this visit to Chesterman Beach and it was agreed to return there the next morning before breakfast to see if any more species could be found.

September 1st :- Today was thankfully a much better day as regards the weather so most of us went for a pre-breakfast visit to Chesterman Beach as it had been so good the previous evening. As we gathered at the vehicles a couple of Band tailed Pigeons and an Osprey flew over with John finds a Song Sparrow in the trees next to the car park. At Chesterman’s things were much the same as the evening before with an impressive number of Western Sandpipers flying around with much smaller numbers of Semi-palmated Plovers, Least Sandpipers and Sanderling. A small group of Black Turnstone flew through and a Black Oystercatcher was seen on one of the off-shore islands. Out to sea we found a Common Loon and a couple of Guillemots but Roy did well seeing a Red necked Phalarope pitch into the sea whilst watching for Humpback Whale blows – of which there had been several during the back end of our visit. The pair of adult Bald Eagles was showing well especially the male, which was sat in full view on top of a huge rock in the middle of the bay. Two Red throated Loons showed well as they flew past where we were standing as did a small party of female/1st winter Surf Scoters and John saw a Pelagic Cormorant heading north over the Pacific Ocean. The hour (as always) went very quickly and soon enough we returned to the hotel for our breakfast and to meet up with the others who had stayed behind. This was one of our main travelling days so after breakfast we convened at the minibuses with our luggage and said our fond “farewells” to Monique et al, thanking them for a wonderful stay. Around 9am we were heading south and then east towards the interior of the island and a couple of hours later we were entering Port Alberni having seen a few Turkey Vultures and a Red tailed Hawk en-route. We stopped at the pre-arranged petrol station where we used their facilities, bought coffee and cookies! but more importantly met up again with Sandy who had kindly agreed to take us to the Stamp River Provincial Park about 15Kms away. Once everyone was ready we headed north out of the city and just out of town Liz & I saw a large dark bird fly in front of the vehicle and land on the trunk of a tree. Liz called “woodpecker”, so both Sandy and myself instinctively said “Pileated” on size alone. So we pulled over to the side, while informing Roy in the bus behind us of what had happened. We all quickly got out and walked back to where it had been seen and after a brief search found it high up in the same tree, giving fantastic views. We watched this magnificent bird knock lumps of bark and wood off the tree for the next half hour, with one or two decent photographs being obtained particularly by Keith. Sandy informed us time was of the essence so reluctantly we climbed back into the buses and continued towards the natural park arriving there soon afterwards. We drove down the metalled track to the end and followed Sandy along the mighty Stamp River, where with his local knowledge found our first American Dippers. We watched enthralled as these 3 brilliant birds fed in the shallows before moving away. A little further along the track the river turned into rapids and the scenery was majestic but even better was getting to see some Chinook Salmon up close for the first time. Over the next hour we wandered up and down the river watching these wonderful fish with Roy and Sandy enhancing the situation with information on the salmon’s habits and life-cycle. In addition to this some of us got good views of a Chestnut backed Chickadee and a few dragonflies patrolled the river edge with a positive identification of a vivid red one, which is Cardinal Dragonfly. It was now time for lunch so after collecting the picnics we ate them at the picnic tables next to the river. During this time a Glaucous winged Gull flew up stream and Ruth did very well finding a Belted Kingfisher. After lunch we returned to the buses and left this incredibly scenic area, taking Sandy back to Port Alberni before continuing west. The weather was now lovely and before long we pulled into the car park of Cathedral Grove. This reserve is home to some of the best examples of Douglas Fir in the whole of North America. We were particularly interested in one huge individual, which is now over 800 years old and the biggest remaining tree in the forest after the devastating storm of 1997. After a little confusion we eventually found this incredible living thing, which stands higher than the Leaning Tower of Pisa! It was just mind-blowing to think this tree started life when John1 (Richard the Lion heart’s younger brother) was at the throne and about 300 years before North America was discovered by Christopher Columbus. However this wasn’t the only impressive tree here as lots of these immense trees were dotted about the forest, as were lichen covered individuals, fallen ones with massive root systems and just phenomenal natural beauty. However the day was wearing on and we thought we still had a long drive ahead. So we convoyed our way on to the main south to north highway and struck for Campbell River where we were staying for the next three nights. Thankfully the journey wasn’t as long as we had anticipated which meant we got to the hotel with enough time to do a little birding before freshening up for the evening meal. So most of us looked out over the Strait of Georgia where we found several Bonaparte’s Gulls, with California & Glaucous winged Gulls, a couple of Marbled Murrelets were seen as well as a Double Crested Cormorant, Harbour Seals and Harbour Porpoises.

September 2nd :- We enjoy a nice lie in and leisurely breakfast this morning before meeting at the vans at 8:15am. Although a few of us enjoy some time birdwatching the trees and shrubs at the back of the hotel on the edge of Campbell River. Over the course of thirty minutes or so we log a nice tally with American Robins, Song & White Crowned Sparrows, House Finch and Yellow Warbler with John and Maggie finding a Ruby Crowned Kinglet – not an easy bird to see on Vancouver Island. At the minibuses we watch a Bald Eagle perched in the tree tops, which is then joined by a Merlin - it is interesting to see just how dark these North American birds are compared to ours at home. Then Dave Maslin wanders over with a large grin on his face saying he’d been watching a River Otter playing on the edge of the water further up the road much to the envy of the rest of us. We drive round to the meeting place for our Aboriginal Journeys boat trip over to Bute Inlet where we are going today in search of Grizzly Bears. We meet our two skippers Garry & Nick with Garry taking us to one side to give us an information and safety talk on the vessels and the day ahead, adding the welcome news Orcas had been spied in the Strait of Georgia. We split into two groups and aboard our respective vessels and head out into the open water and across the Strait to Quadra Island where Garry has to drop something off. This proves quite fruitful as we get very good views of Marbled Murrelets in the harbour bay and the wonderful haunting sound of a Common Loon singing (something I had never heard before). We head back out into the Strait of Georgia as the guys have had news of a small group of transient Orcas* heading our way. As we speed along in our vessels the expectation is high and quite soon the huge dorsal fin of a male transient Orca is seen in the distance and its coming our way! Then the small group of females seen closer and one of the females has a young one next to her – what a start to the trip, this is absolutely fantastic seeing half a dozen Orcas with one baby surfacing in unison. However it was the male that started to create a stir as Garry and Nick became very animated about its identity – this was T14 (or Pender to his friends). Apparently this is one of the oldest and largest Killer Whales in the world, the daddy of the oceans and when it surfaced alongside the boat not 20m away it took your breath away. The dorsal fin cleared 2m (6ft) and with its arched body the tip of it stood higher than all of us stood on the boat – incredible. Over the next 30 minutes Garry and Nick kept us within a safe range of these magnificent creatures and we awed and wowed our way through this time watching them power through the water with such ease and grace. All this with the visually stunning backdrop of the distant mountains and peaks of British Colombia made for an unforgettable experience. However we had much still to do so reluctantly we headed for Bute Inlet with a small flock Goosanders and a few Surf Scoters seen en-route. This boat trip of about 1.5 hours travels through some of the most spectacular scenery any of us had ever scene and worth the journey alone. At the mouths of the rivers Orford and Algard we go ashore on First Nation land and from the jetty we scan the enormous timber trunks anchored in the bay with several species of gull lined up along them. Roy skilfully picks out the different species, which are standing side-by-side - Ring-billed, California, Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls. Soon we meet our Homalco First Nation guides Wilson and Matt who after a little hanging around take us in their minibuses to the first of purpose-built viewing platforms along the river. As we trundle through the vegetation the first minibus get views of a few Black tailed Deer and also disturb a group of Roosevelt’s Elk. Luckily one remained in view long enough for the rear vehicle to get a look at this new mammal to the holiday. Before long we arrive at a tower overlooking a nice section of river where we set up our telescopes and wait (hopefully for Grizzlies!). We have a distraction of a Merlin flying around looking somewhat like a ‘goat-sucker’ (nightjar species) and caused a little confusion. There was of course an adult Bald Eagle, which showed incredibly well and we also watched some large Chum Salmon migrating up river. However it was Dave Maslin who scored the jackpot by finding our first of several Grizzly Bears during the day. It wasn’t a big individual but it still thrilled us completely but it stayed away and partially hidden until it finally disappeared down the river - we wanted more. We don’t have to wait long before Julian spies another bigger individual off to the right of the platform. It comes out to the edge of the river and starts to wander along the river bank towards us - we hold our breaths as it continues to walk along the river straight towards us!! One of our First Nation guides actually recognises the bear as ‘Scarface’ and with a little careful scrutiny you could see how it got this infamous name. It’s like a paparazzi outing as the cameras rattle into action, it is simply amazing how close it passes by, completely unconcerned by our presence! Once it was round the bend of the river and out of sight it was huge grins all round, what an amazing experience. We now decide its time to try another platform along another section of river but when we arrive it is quiet so we don’t waste time here. Then as we are driving along the river the first bus pulls over on a bend and there on the other side is another Grizzly Bear scrutinising the clear waters for a Salmon lunch. Sadly it doesn’t hang around and ambles away from our position but we continue to watch him until he’s finally lost to view. It was now time to return slowly to the base camp seeing a few more Black tailed Deer along the way. It was now a really glorious day and quite warm and a few Question Mark butterflies were on the wing and a small bright green frog is found next to the centre buildings. Back at the boat we are soon on our way out into the beautifully calm water of the various channels between the many islands here. The scenery is looking magnificent as we head back spotting a couple of Dall’s Porpoise as we go, these sea mammals are incredibly fast and as a consequence difficult to get good  views of. Then as we round one of the many rocky islets the front boat suddenly heads for the shore, they have obviously spied something. Another Grizzly Bear on the edge of the water and this one’s a big female – she’s magnificent. We watch her as she makes her way through the undergrowth along the shore-line and eventually out of sight into the dense pine forest. A wonderful way to say farewell to Bute Inlet and return to the open waters out from Campbell River – many thanks to Wilson & Matt. On the way back Garry points out numerous other things such as the sawmills, first nation villages and we pass huge tug boats pulling enormous barges loaded with containers and even vehicles from Seattle destined for Alaska. Although a huge raft of Surf Scoters was a great spectacle as they scattered from our speeding boats. Back in the Strait of Georgia a quick conversation on the walkie talkie means we are on the hunt for transient Orcas again. Although a commercial business, Aboriginal Journeys staff is also highly conservation minded wanting to log and identify any of the transient Killer Whales moving through the Straits. Before long we locate the two mammals and they are incredibly identified as a brother and sister pair well known to our guides Garry & Nick. This was a wonderful end to an unbelievable day out and one I am sure we will all remember for many years to come. We say goodbye to Garry & Nick (Roy the lucky so and so will be back in two weeks!) and then we head back to the hotel for our evening meal then after a run through the checklist we meet Dave, who is to be our guide tomorrow. He tells us about tomorrow and provides some materials about the places we are hoping to visit and some of the birds we might get to see. Let’s hope for more good weather!

*There are two main types of Orca – Residents and Transients with transients being by definition more pelagic travelling the world’s oceans looking for prey, which they hunt in their family parties. They are generally bigger than the resident Killer Whales and more carnivorous taking sea mammals instead of purely fish, which the residents do. Transient Orcas are one of the oceans main predators.

September 3rd :- It was yet another lovely sunny morning and it had been agreed to meet at the minibuses at 08:30 allowing everyone to have their breakfasts when they felt like it. It had been a little quieter than the previous morning but Double Crested & Pelagic Cormorants sat together gave a superb comparison between the species. The perched Bald Eagle looked majestic in the morning sunlight and the Merlin had again been seen dashing around by a few of the guests. Today we were being taken out by Victoria-based naturalist Dave and as we were loading the vans Dave Maslin and I spied a Northern Flicker flying over showing its distinctive reddish underwing. We set off south along the highway seeing a couple of Turkey Vultures and a sat Red tailed Hawk at the side of the road. Soon enough we were taking the turn for Mount Washington and the Strathcona Provincial Park and the drive up the mountain was fabulous with breath-taking views and gorgeous Pearly Everlasting lining the roadside. We got to the reserve’s parking area and readied ourselves for a walk around the Paradise Meadow Loop – a wonderful place with pine forest, freshwater lagoons and grasslands. At the start of the trail had our first good bird with a point-blank view of Grey Jay, which sat looking at us about 3m away. After the obligatory photos the Jay flew up into one of the many Sub-alpine Firs in the area where it was joined by a second bird. We followed the board walk finding new species amongst the firs and pines such as the very vocal Red breasted Nuthatches, Golden Crowned Kinglets and a very cute American Red Squirrel. John Duerdin skilfully identified some lovely American Ladies Tresses amongst the course grasses, with Satyr Comma butterflies flying around. The walk passed some sizable ponds, which held plenty of fish that were tentatively identified as Arctic Char by our number one guide Roy. Pondhawk dragonflies hunted insects over the clear waters but it was the discovery of our first Red headed Sapsuckers that caused some excitement. We found three of these beautiful woodpecker species sat in the top of a stand of dead pines along with a couple of Dark eyed Juncos and a Northern Flicker. Then ‘eagle eyed’ Maggie calmly said “I think I have seen a Varied Thrush!” – one of our main target species but it had disappeared behind some vegetation. After a few minutes Julian relocated it on a fallen log but was only seen again by a couple of people as it flew back into the trees. This was all very frustrating as it was seen again briefly in flight but wouldn’t show itself properly before we had to move on. A little further on some lucky folks saw a Cedar Waxwing and an ‘empidonax-type flycatcher was found by John & Maggie in the distant pines but sadly its identity couldn’t be confirmed due to this bird family being so similar. As we continued around this Mount Washington reserve walkway a couple of Vaux’s Swifts flew over and a distant female Western Tanager caused a little confusion before its true identification was confirmed. Dave led us back to the car park, which was now starting to fill up with visitors and the use of the facilities was most welcome before we climbed back into the vehicles and slowly made our way back towards the coast. Our next stop was the Seal Bay Nature Reserve – a 714 hectare reserve of forest and swamp around a deep ravine to the beach. The K’omox First Nation call the park Xwee Xwhy Luq meaning “place of serenity and beauty”. We carried our lunches through the woodland (seeing Chestnut backed Chickadees and Golden Crowned Kinglets) to lovely area called Melda’s Marsh. This swamp was named in memory of Melda Buchanan who campaigned tirelessly to have this area protected as a park. The day was gorgeous and after Dave teased out a couple of beautiful male Common Yellowthroats we sat and enjoyed our picnics with lots of Boreal Bluets (damselfly) hawking over the pond system. Due to the heat of the sun and the tranquillity of the area the pace of the day had slowed somewhat but our local guide was keen to show us as much as possible. So we made our way back through the wood this time finding our first Brown Creeper of the holiday and a Hairy Woodpecker proved a little elusive. Back at the minibuses we headed off again and Dave led us through the delightful suburbs of Seal Bay to our next destination to the north – Miracle Beach Provincial Park. At the entrance to the park we discovered a fantastic visitor centre (Nature House) with plenty of retail therapy for the group with an excellent book section. Once everyone had completed their purchases we again walked through more pine forest this time finding another Red breasted Sapsucker, Song Sparrows and more Chestnut back Chickadees, Golden Crowned Kinglets and Brown Creeper. We followed the river to the beach where Neville discovered a vocal Belted Kingfisher and at the beach we set up our telescopes and checked the birds off-shore. Over the next hour we found plenty of wildfowl including a female Harlequin Duck, Green winged Teals and Mallard with a flock of 10+ American Wigeon flying through. A Common Seal was watching us along with a couple of Red necked Grebes, Pigeon Guillemot and a Marbled Murrelet. We had a short walk along the beach checking the gulls and picked out five species – Mew, Ring billed, California, Glaucous winged and Bonaparte’s Gulls before returning to the car park. A little further north of Miracle Beach is the Oyster Bay river inlet, which we would have never found this place if we hadn’t been instructed by Dave - just shows the benefit of local knowledge. The trail again followed the river to an estuary that had large sandbank covered in wildfowl and gulls so Julian, John and Maggie spent some time searching through them while Dave and Roy led the rest of the group along a forest track. On the sand bar we found 20+ Harlequins (both males and females), 30+ Goosander, Pintail and Green winged Teal along with a Heermann’s Gull amongst its commoner cousins. Julian, John & Maggie eventually caught up with the rest as they were completing their walk through the trees to find out they hadn’t seen anything new to the day but again more good views of the usual woodland species. It was now late afternoon and we only had time for a couple more quick stops so we first visit the nearby Oyster Bay Shoreline Regional Park where a walk to the sea and back produced another new species. Purple Martins nest here in purpose-built communal boxes and we were hoping to see one despite being late in the season. Sadly this was not to be but while searching Julian picked out a couple of Horned (Slavonian) Grebes in the bay. Also on the sea we saw several Common Loons, Surf Scoters, Pigeon Guillemot and a Harlequin Duck. Maggie found a couple of Black bellied Plovers on the beach and a White crowned Sparrow was seen in the dune grasses. Soon enough we were heading back to the minibuses and a lucky few got fabulous views of a Northern Flicker feeding on the track right in front of them!. We continued on towards our hotel at Campbell River but it was now late and many of us were getting tired so a quick stop at Ken Forde Park for waders produced a few Harlequins but the tide was too high for anything else, we would have to try the next morning when the tide was out. We got back to the hotel quite quickly and with enough time to freshen up before going for the evening meal. Our sincere thanks to Dave for providing such a wonderful and memorable day

September 5th :- Roy & I woke to another fine calm morning thankfully since today we were going on another boat trip – this time looking for Sea Otters. So before breakfast I strolled down towards the harbour with John & Maggie although she left us a little earlier. Around the harbour we saw a Belted Kingfisher, Glaucous winged & California Gulls, then as, then as we returned a small flock of Pine Siskins flew into a nearby Red Cedar. John & I walked back to the hotel where we were greeted by the others already enjoying their cooked breakfasts. Around 9am we gathered at the minibuses and drove the short distance to the harbour and met up with Dan & Christine who were taking us out for the morning. So we split up into two groups and climbed onto our respective vessels with John & Maggie, Nev & Rosemary with Dan and the rest of us with Christine on her bigger aluminium boat. As we left the harbour a Spotted Sandpiper flew past us and landed on some rocks on the edge of the water. We continued through Zaballos Inlet admiring the wonderful scenery that surrounded our every view, it was absolutely breath-taking – but nothing prepared us for what happened next. As we entered the Esperanza Inlet we were met by the sight of a breaching Humpback Whale causing an enormous splash as it hit the water. This was then followed by a second individual going the same thing, what a fantastic show. Dan’s boat was ahead of us and got much closer than ours but we still managed to get some wonderful views of them breaching and then tail fluking before going into a dive. These two massive mammals then started to make their way out of the inlet at which point we continued on our course for Gillam Channel. A little further and we saw our Sea Otter around the extensive Kelp beds in this area but as we approached it slipped underwater and away undetected. A couple of Harbour Seals were also fishing along with some seabirds, which included Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Common Loons, Pelagic Cormorant and Great Blue Heron. Dan & Christine knew these waters very well and we spent the next couple of hours slowly making our way around the numerous islets in search of these incredible animals. We were not disappointed because during this time we must have seen in excess of 15 animals most of which were collecting shellfish voraciously, breaking them open with a stone on their chest (while on their backs in the water), eating the mollusc and then diving to find another one. The photographers amongst us snapped away at these cute creatures as they bobbed around on the surface of the water giving some wonderful facial expressions. I think Ruth would have taken one home if she could have! Eventually we had to start our way back to Zaballos and one the way back we again looked for the Humpback Whales but without success. The guys in Dan’s boat however were successful with a few Harbour Porpoise and a Marbled Murrelets whilst crossing the Esperanza Inlet. The journey back was wonderful in the late morning sun as we tried to take in the spectacular scenery of this wilderness area. Eventually we reached Zaballos Harbour with huge smiles all round for yet another successful boat trip. When we met up with the others Maggie informed us of a small flock of Pine Siskins in the nearby trees, which we saw very well. It was now lunchtime so Roy & I drove the vehicles back to Cedars Lodge although most people wanted to walk back (who could blame them) and enjoy this quaint Canadian village. Back at the accommodation we sat and drank coffee on the balcony waiting for everyone to arrive and found a gorgeous Townsend’s Warbler, a couple of Cedar Waxwings and several American Robins. Shaun the local chef had made us a great lunch of cheesy onion soup followed by spinach, feta cheese and garlic pizza (although there were other choices). After lunch we packed the luggage into the vans before going for a short walk towards the camp ground. Roy found a female Hooded Merganser along the river, which was followed by John T finding a lovely Yellow rumped Warbler in the trees on the side. As so often happens - birds started to be found as Lyn called a woodpecker that turned out to be our first Downy Woodpecker. This caused a little confusion as there was also a Hairy Woodpecker in the same area making for a great comparison. A small flock at the top of the trees were mainly Starlings with at least one Red winged Blackbird amongst them and Roy pitched in with a Western Tanager. It was time now for us to visit the local museum but Julian decides to give it a miss and do some more birding (what a sad individual!). However while the group were having a fascinating talk on the history of Zaballos Julian was enjoying some fabulous birds that included 3 Black throated Grey Warblers, a stunning male Wilson’s Warbler and several Hutton’s Vireos. After about an hour we all reconvened at the hotel got our luggage together and said our farewells to Dan & Christine of Cedars Inn for their wonderful hospitality. We were now travelling north to Hidden Cove, which was going to take a few hours but the time passed fairly quickly. Just outside Zeballos we found a few Black tailed Deer and in one of the forest ponds there was a female Barrow’s Goldeneye, but mostly the stunning scenery of internal Vancouver Island held our gaze. Roy had already told us that he thought Hidden Cove Lodge would be a great place to stay but even that was the understatement of the holiday. After a little confusion with the sat nav we found the forested track to the hotel and after a kilometre or so it opened up into some lovely cultivated gardens with the most gorgeous rustic accommodation on the edge of a tranquil cove. Sadly the weather hadn’t improved so we arrived in the light rain but Roy nearly wet himself as the first thing he saw was a huge Black Bear on the opposite shore. It was like a military operation (not) as we tumbled out of the minibuses and got wonderful scoped views of this massive beast as it searched for food amongst the rocks and seaweed. However we had to get settled in to our new hotel and after initial introductions to the lady of the house – Sandy we unloaded the bags and got refreshments in their gorgeous lounge and dining area. This hotel had been built with the view to wildlife watching as picture windows overlooked the cove and gardens and a balcony that surrounded the hotel was used to feed both birds and mammals. Consequently we couldn’t drag ourselves from the warmth and comfort of the room while watching a female Raccoon feed on nuts just one meter from the windows along with several Stellar’s Jays. The Black Bear continued to be watched below us in the cove before disappearing back into the forest and a pair of Hooded Mergansers (including a stunning male) swan in the dark waters. All this was completely mind-blowing and it was smiles all round with the prospect of staying here for the next two nights. After heading back to our rooms to unpack and change we gathered later in the lounge for pre-meal drinks and an introduction to Dan, the owner and Sandy’s husband. It was fascinating how he spoke about the building of the hotel and the pleasure and joy it had brought to their guests – already we were not disappointed. Tomorrow we had another exciting sea journey but really we couldn’t wait to get up and experience more of the hotels natural surroundings.

September 7th :- It was our last morning at the outstanding Hidden Cove Lodge but the weather had turned weather had turned misty and damp. A pre-breakfast delight was watching the female Raccoon with her young feeding on the balcony along with the ubiquitous Stellar’s Jays. Then after breakfast some of us had a short walk around the grounds of the accommodation while others got their bags ready for loading in the minibuses. This proved to be quite successful as we saw several Fox & Song Sparrows, American Robin and a couple of delightful Yellow Warblers. We said farewell to Dan & Sandy, thanking them for their wonderful hospitality making this one of the memorable places we had been during the holiday. The journey across Vancouver Island was very easy and we made good time on the quite roads seeing just a few Black Vultures en-route. Roy had an ace up his sleeve for a lunch stop and about an hour’s drive north of Nanaimo we stopped at the coastal site of Qualicum Bay. The weather now had significantly improved being warm and sunny, making this an ideal place for our picnic overlooking the sea. There were plenty of seabirds so we started scrutinising the flocks finding Common Loons, Red necked & Horned Grebes, Pelagic & Double Crested Cormorants. Roy had thought it looked good for the ‘hoped for’ Pacific Loon but we were coming up blank until Julian tried looking a little further up the beach. He found two beautiful divers still in summer plumage and being sure they were ‘Pacifics’ he called over Roy to corroborate this, which did with a great smile. We watched these gorgeous birds for the rest of the lunch stop and Ruth showed us a Hermit Crab, which was great. We wanted to leave ourselves enough time to get to the ferry terminal so we headed off south getting there with time to spare for a coffee and some retail therapy. We did also look out for the birds and found the usual Double Crested Cormorants, Surf Scoters, Glaucous winged, California & Bonaparte’s Gull. Although it was quite nice the crossing was still cool so we opted for one the covered seated areas at the front of the boat, which gave us a great view of the sea in front of us. During the early part of the crossing we saw a few Harbour Seals, Rhinoceros Auklet and more Surf Scoters. Then out in the open water Julian saw a dark bird fly up from the edge of a group of gulls and he immediately recognised the distinctive flight of a jaeger (skua). Thankfully it headed straight towards us and we could confirm its identity as a Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), our first of the holiday. As we entered the Tsawwassen harbour there are lots of Pelagic Cormorants on the port structures and a Caspian Tern fished in the bay. Once we exited the ferry on the Vancouver side we made a stop to scan for waders from the terminal’s car park and found a very nice flock of Black Oystercatchers. Then as we left the area another stop by the second bus produced another very good wader species in the form of a Willet, not often found here. We got back to the Tsawwassen Travel Lodge in plenty of time for a relax and freshen up before our evening meal. That evening we did the checklist and ate in the hotel in a rather odd room again and then did the ‘bird of the trip,’ ‘place of the trip’ and ‘magic moment’. The results of this are at the end of this trip report.

September 8th :- On our final day we started with an optional early morning jaunt to Boundary Bay. It was very misty and rather atmospheric but we could still see enough to see huge numbers of duck on the far side. There were thousands including a lot of Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Shoveler and American Wigeon amongst big numbers of Mallard and out to sea were lots of Common Loons and Red-necked Grebes. On the shore were a few waders including Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs and amongst the Western & Least Sandpipers Roy brilliantly found a single Baird’s Sandpiper. At the top of the beach there were quite a few Savannah Sparrows and we got fabulous views of a hunting Northern Harrier and a family party of Cooper’s Hawks. However the biggest surprise was Dave finding a group of four distant Coyotes foraging along one of the sandbars that jut out into the bay. We returned to the hotel for breakfast thankful for making the effort to go out early and finding all these extra species. After breakfast we went to Reifel Island and found it alive with birds. There were again large numbers of ducks including more American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Pintail etc. There were a lot of small birds in the scrubby bushes and trees including Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-crowned Sparrow, lots of Black-capped Chickadees, Yellow Warbler and we found a lovely flock of Bushtits near one of the platforms. From this platform we saw American Coots and more ducks including our first Gadwall and a couple of rather dull looking Hooded Mergansers. We found a very scruffy Marsh Wren here and got good views of Downy Woodpecker and Red-winged Blackbirds. We walked round to the bank overlooking a large pool and the big reedbed on the seaward side of the reserve where we saw Northern Harrier and a flock of three Sandhill Cranes feeding in the heat haze in the distance. There were lots of Barn Swallows with a couple of Northern Rough-winged Swallows amongst them. Maggie picked up a flock of American Goldfinches in the bushes and then the three Sandhill Cranes took flight and flew in right over our heads looking fantastic and many people got good photos. The weather today was again glorious and it was really warm and sunny by this stage, making our walk around this wonderful reserve a real pleasure. On the pool we found a group of three Pectoral Sandpipers and a larger flock of Long-billed Dowitchers and after careful scrutiny located a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers amongst them. Walking round the pool we spotted a Peregrine then another Marsh Wren then as we walk back towards the centre we pass through some taller trees. Here we found some Cedar Waxwings, Western Tanager and Purple Finch while on the path were Chipping Sparrow and Spotted Towhees. We also found a (dark morph) Eastern Grey Squirrel, plus a Night Heron and a very close male Harlequin Duck on the river. Back the car park we got lunch and ate it with the Mallards before heading back to the hotel where we had the chance to get changed before heading to the airport where Roy waved us off before having a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days on his own!!!  The flight back was an easy affair and we got back to the UK on time, where Julian said his sad farewells to all the guests thanking them for their fabulous contribution to this inaugural British Colombia holiday.

 

 

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