Tofino birdwatching: On the Edge for Rare Birds in Tofino
by Adrian Dorst & George Bradd, Tofino
Among birdwatchers, Tofino has a reputation for rare and unusual birds
wandering from far away lands. Our unique location on the edge of the
west coast gives us storm blown rarities from Asia, northern species
from Alaska, oceanic species from offshore, and birds from southern
US. A series of factors combine to contribute to the consistent occurrence
of rare birds in Tofino. Tofino is located where fierce storms often
wash up scores of birds migrating offshore. During one big storm last
winter, many exhausted Northern Fulmars were washed up on Tofino beaches.
The Fulmar is normally found far from shore.
Tofino is the only place in Canada where you can hope to see a Tropical
Kingbird with any degree of likelihood. Nearly half of all Canadian
sightings of this Robin-sized bird with a lemon-yellow breast have
been in Tofino. This becomes well over half if we include Long Beach
and Ucluelet. This bird normally lives in Mexico and Central America.
Another desert bird from Mexico, the Ash-throated Flycatcher, has
been seen in our area on two occasions. Brown Pelicans, a California
that in summer migrates as far north as the Columbia River, on occasion
reaches the latitude of Tofino. A few years ago, one was seen perched
on the dock in front of the Weigh West. More recently, one Mockingbird
was seen in town, while simultaneously another was seen perching
on Wilf Rocks off Vargas Island! Watching a Mockingbird sitting on
while washing dishes is normal in Los Angeles, but not in Tofino.
Downtown Tofino with its homes and gardens is a Mecca for rare birds.
A Clay-coloured Sparrow from the Okanagan, a Lark Bunting from the
Great Plains, a Hooded Warbler from eastern hardwood forests, and
an Oriental Turtle Dove, all have been recorded in Tofino. The latter
species was in fact a new bird for Canada.
Why do these birds wander so far from their normal range? A bird
from the east, rather than flying south to Central America, may mistakenly
head west. Instead of finding itself over a mangrove swamp in Nicaragua,
it ends up on the west coast. Finding itself over the open Pacific,
it returns to the nearest land which turns out to be Tofino. An Asian
bird may island hop across the Aleutian chain and follow the Gulf of
Alska east and then south to Tofino. Southern birds such as Tropical
Kingbird may be swept in a north-westerly direction until they hit
the ocean’s edge on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Failing
to find the open desert that is their natural habitat, they naturally
gravitate to open places such as Tofino.
Global warming is changing bird distribution and nesting ranges.
In recent years, Turkey Vultures have become more frequent visitors
the west coast of the island. Several were seen this spring, soaring
over Tofino. Anna’s Hummingbird, a bird limited largely to Southern
California in the 60’s, is now found year round in Victoria and
are seen occasionally in Tofino as well, inevitably in winter. Any
hummer in winter is likely an Anna’s, since our migrant Rufous
Hummingbirds head for Peru at the end of the summer. Anyone keeping
their hummingbird feeder out until Christmas in Tofino may be rewarded
with a visit from a hummingbird from Hollywood.
Other storm blown strays arrive from Asia and Siberia. This spring
a Yellow Wagtail from Siberia was seen at the airport. Brambling.
Rustic Bunting, Falcated Duck, and Red-throated Pipit, all Asian birds,
all been recorded in Tofino. Last October, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers
were seen on two occasions. These sandpipers normally breed in Asia
and winter in Australia.
Birds of a feather do flock together and rare birds seek the safety
of large flocks migrating through Tofino, which is ideally located
on the Pacific Flyway. Lost birds seek similar related birds of their
same family. A flock of our native Green-winged Teal sometimes contains
Eurasian Teal. Little Curlew (Asia) has been recorded at Chesterman
Beach, and Falcated Duck on Tofino mudflats. Large protected areas
around Tofino provide food and shelter for migrating birds. This
area is a crucial refuelling stop for tens of thousands of shorebirds,
geese, and passerines.
In Sept 2002, a Prothonotary Warbler from the hardwood forests of
the southeast US was seen at Tofino, and a last summer a visiting Horned
Puffin form Alaska was spotted on one of our seabird voyages. If
think that seeing an Albatross over Tofino on Christmas Day is a
result of holiday celebrations, think again. It really happened to
and she has a photo to prove it. Only my friend, who lives in Honolulu,
can reasonably expect to see this bird on Christmas Day.
Tofino offers the chance of seeing rare and exotic birds not seen
elsewhere in Canada. Who knows what will show up next? Keep your eyes
like Rory Paterson did with the Oriental Turtle Dove, you may just
spot a new bird species for Canada.
George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising
in birdwatching tours. For more information, visit his website at www.justbirding.com.
Adrian Dorst is a Tofino nature photographer, author, and birdwatching
guide. His photos can be found on his website at www.adriandorst.com.
Tofino Birdwatching Articles
Tofino birding guide Adrian Dorst and Tofino birdwatching expert George Bradd write about the rare birds that visit Tofino and delight Tofino birders.