tofino fall migration visit the photographer's website

Tofino Fall Migration

by Lisa Fletcher, Tofino


Once again, summer has come to an end, and life in Tofino is slowing down. Tourists are returning home to resume to their regular lives. Tired students who have worked three jobs all summer in our busy resort town are excited to be going back to school. Other folks are anxiously making plans to seek sun in some distant locale over the winter. In fact, if you took a walk through Tonquin Park, you'd probably find tarps gone and only a lingering scent of patchouli. Fall is definitely a time for migration

In a town at the end of the road, with only 1,900 residents in the winter and up to 20,000 people on any given summer day, it's easy to notice when people begin to move. What we may not notice so much is how many other creatures are beginning to move as well, and just how important Tofino is for these other migrants.

So why migrate? We migrate to potentially improve our life--whether we are going to learn more at school or going somewhere warm to improve our mental health, we are really just looking to do something that makes our lives better. Countless other species migrate for the same, but even more importantly, they migrate to stay alive. As seasons change, migrants must meet their basic survival needs in more than one place. Maybe that place is warmer, colder, has longer daylight, has more food, or is just safer from predators but shrinking food supplies, shifting winds, or changing temperatures tell migrants it's time to get a move on.

After the tourists leave, so do the whales. All summer, people flocked in droves in hopes of witnessing the humpback whales' magnificent acrobatics, though they were often placated with the blurry sight of a diving fin. Most of the humpbacks in our waters are starting to think about saying farewell to Clayoquot Sound to make their move to the breeding grounds in Hawaii. The gray whales are gearing up for an even longer journey. After feasting all summer, they've saved enough energy to do the longest migration of any mammal--a 16,000 km journey to their breeding grounds in Baja California (no wonder they get their own festival every March!).

And even though it feels like only a short time ago the shorebirds were heading north, they're back on our beaches already, part way through their winter migration. Sandpipers, whimbrels, plovers and other shorebirds are traveling from breeding grounds from as far north as Alaska down south to their wintering grounds in South America. Some travel over 7,000 km during the migration, and may not even rest for 2,000 km stretch at a time! Tofino is an important stop for these frenzied troops. We have long sandy beaches and a huge mudflats sanctuary that offer plenty of food.

Many other local summer birds make long migrations too. The rufous hummingbird is the most common hummingbird on the West Coast and will make a migration of up to 12,000 km. The males will move south first, sticking to late blooming nectar in the high elevations. The females and young leave in late August and September, and all meet up in Mexico for the winter months. They won't be seen again around here until March.

And the distinctive whistles of the thrushes, heard so often in July, are gone after summer. Like most reasonable species, these birds head south as well. The hermit thrush will go as far as southern U.S. and Mexico, while the Swainson's thrush migrate as far as Argentina and Paraguay, and the Veery will make it as far as Brazil and the Amazonia. Too many birds to list, many of them undertake migrations whether it's transcontinental travel or just moving from open waters to the protected coastline.

Surprisingly, many insects migrate as well. Ever wonder where the dragonflies go? All of a sudden, they just disappear. Some species of dragonflies are known to travel south in spectacular masses with thousands and even millions, traveling together. Even amphibians like the salamander are known to migrate but on a slightly different scale. Instead of traveling far distances, they will migrate over land to seasonal pools.

Of course, we can't leave out one of the most important migrants of all, the wild Pacific salmon. Sexually mature Pacific salmon migrate to their streams and rivers in the fall months to spawn. Many of us have witnessed the unforgettable chaos of determined salmon fighting for their rights to spawn on some river or stream in British Columbia. Not only can these fish 'remember' the river they were hatched in, but research shows that some salmon can actually determine the exact spot where they were hatched - that's unreal!

So, as you are pondering your own personal migration for the next season, have a look around you and take notice of what else has moved on. Whether it's tourists, hippies, insects, birds, or whales, they may travel thousands of kilometers away or just down to the bottom of the pond. Enjoy your travels.

To learn more about migration and other interesting information about this area come visit the Raincoast Interpretive Centre at 451 Main Street. The Centre features beautiful hand-crafted displays, a resource library full of interesting information, interpretive programs for all ages, and evening guest speakers.

Upstairs in the
big yellow building:
451 Main Street
Tofino, BC
Phone (250) 725-2560

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Tofino Migration: Whether it's tourists, hippies, insects, birds, or whales, they may travel thousands of kilometers away or just down to the bottom of the pond.

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