by George Bradd, Tofino
Summer birding season in Tofino offers breeding species of birds that
spend the winter in the neo-tropics. Many of our common breeding birds
spend our winter months in Central or South America. The Swainson’s
Thrush, like many other Canadians, spends its winters from Mexico to
Peru. It arrives in Tofino in mid June. Their flute-like songs ring
through the forests until late July when they start to be less vocal.
During August they leave again for the south, spending just a short
The summer populations of songbirds swell the forests with singing
birds. The vigorous singing of the nesting birds is a crucial help
in locating rare nesting birds by their song. The rare Hutton’s
Vireo has a distinctive song that it gives the bird away even though
it tends to be shy, yet curious, and hard to find because it is found
only in few places. Without summer singing this species would be even
more difficult to find.
The end of July is a time when many young songbirds can be difficult
to identify. Many young warblers are flocking together with adults
and travelling together in migration. Many young Orange-crowned Warblers
are in our area now. Immature Orange-crowned Warblers can vary in
colour from brown to grey, have little facial markings and they do
not sing. In addition, normally Orange-crowned Warblers stay low in
the vegetation, but now they are feeding higher in the trees. No song
or distinctive field marks make this one of the species that can be
confusing in the late summer. Some young birds are very tame and curious
and will approach very close to you. This close up view sometimes also
confounds observers because you miss the field marks while getting
blown away by looking at a bird only a foot away from your head.
Exciting summer rarities show up every year and provide a constant
puzzle as to where they came from and how did they happen to arrive
here in Tofino.
Chesterman Beach has hosted summer Long-billed Curlews and Buff-breasted
Sandpipers. Pacific Rim National Park has had records of Ruff and Solitary
Sandpiper during summer months. Seabirds seen off of Tofino include
Horned Puffin (from Alaska) and Ancient Murrelet. A Prothonotary Warbler
was seen at Long Beach for bc’s second record. This year a Manx
Shearwater and Ancient Murrelet were seen off of the West Coast Trail.
Brown Pelican were seen off of Tofino!
Early this July I was treated to a summer surprise. I was leading
a birding group one morning after 3 hours sleep the night before and
a full night of owling. I was groggy to say the least. When you have
birdwatched in one area for a long time, you get used to common species
and tend to give them less notice then something unusual. Having
birded many years in California I have seen many Mockingbirds and they
are a common backyard bird there. In Tofino they are rare.
As I led my group of keen British birders down Long Beach, a Mockingbird
flew by me in full view. It snapped up an insect in mid-air and landed
on a log on the beach. I noted the Mockingbird in my half sleep,
walked by and ignored it, instead I was listening to warblers in the
I realized an instant later what I had seen and turned to see that
my birders were frozen in their tracks, with that look of, “What
was that?” in their eyes. They were elated to see a Mockingbird
in Canada on their holiday from Britain!
Summer is nesting season and a crucial time of year for birds. All
nesting birds should be treated with respect. If you know where there
is a nest in your yard try to avoid scaring the parent birds when they
are bringing food home for the babies. Don’t trim garden bushes
or hedges with nests, until after the babies have fledged and left
home. Keep your cat or dog from disturbing the nest or killing the
young birds. Domestic cats kill large numbers of bird every year and
feral cats are a major predator of birds in the Tofino area.
On our rocky coastlines, the stunning Black Oystercatcher with its
bright red bill lays its 3 to 4 eggs in a crack in the rocks. One
parent bird attends the nest while the other forages for food. Beachcombers
should be aware that if you get too close to the nest, you will scare
the incubating bird away and gulls may eat the eggs or chicks. During
the unusual period of heavy rain earlier this summer many Oystercatcher
nests flooded with water resulting in up to 50% nesting failure in
some areas. Next year it will be important for our local birds to
be able to produce more chicks to make up for this years losses. If
you see a large black bird peeping loudly, go the other way on the
rocks. A little extra caution can go a long way in not disturbing nesting
and feeding Oystercatchers.
Two other sightings of Mockingbird have been reported from the west
coast this summer, one of them from the very same beach where we
saw our bird! Nothing like a rare bird to provide a name for a magical
place of beauty that I previously had not named. Now I have a place
I will always think of as Mockingbird Beach.
George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising in
birdwatching tours. For more info, visit his website at www.justbirding.com
Tofino bird watching guide George Bradd writes about his experiences during birding trips in Tofino for Tofino Time magazine.