Tofino Fall Bird Migration
by George Bradd, Tofino
In Tofino this time of year fall bird migration is in full swing, and
birdwatchers can expect the unexpected surprises. During late August
and September 2004 Tofino recorded several rare bird species including
Long-billed Curlew, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Brown Pelican and a Xantus’s
Migration is the movement of birds between two separate locations.
Birds that live in the northern temperate regions of the world are
strongly migratory. In the northern temperate zones like Tofino,
the numbers of hours of light per day, the air and water temperatures
food supplies affect the time of migration.
In Tofino we have bird migration of both altitudinal and latitudinal
kinds. The pretty orange and blue-grey Varied Thrush is now descending
from the mountain forests to the outer coast where it will winter.
The Red-naped Sapsucker moves down from the mountains to the outer
coast in September and is another example of a species that migrates
up and down in altitude.
Now during salmon season our coastal Bald Eagles are migrating to
the salmon spawning rivers, in order to feed on the readily available
Bald Eagles will gather in large numbers on an inland river to feed
in fall, and later will disperse after the fish are gone. Not all
eagles will leave, some of them will remain here. Not all birds of
will leave or migrate some often stay one year and then leave the
The Rufous Hummingbird that breeds in Tofino has a long way to go
to Peru, and the adult males leave first, then the females and young
follow later. Some species migrate in sexually segregated flocks,
mated pairs of birds do not always leave together at the same time.
North-south migration is not always on the same route in both spring
and fall. Migration is not a simple reversal of following the same
path both ways north and south. The Baird’s Sandpiper is seen
in Tofino only in fall migration, because in spring it heads north
from the high Andes up the center of North America. In late August/
September the Baird’s Sandpiper appears on our sandy beaches
for just a few weeks time. Their large size enables them to wade sometimes
chest deep in the shallow pools of water on the local beaches of Tofino,
much like their winter home of shallow fresh water ponds in the high
Andes. The Baird’s Sandpiper migration is sometimes called a “loop
Birds migrating south from Tofino will trickle south rather then
arriving in a large spring “wave” of migration. The necessity of
being the first on a breeding territory for spring is not present in
the fall, so birds are in no rush to beat each other to the wintering
Fall migration 2004 in Tofino has been marked by several significant
flights of migrating birds being “grounded” by low pressure,
fog and rain. Large numbers of passarines occurred on several occasions
giving impressive numbers of Yellow, Orange-crowned and Townsend’s
Warblers all waiting for high pressure and no fog before they head
south. Tofino beaches recently have been hit by waves of hundreds of
Savannnah Sparrows that were grounded by bad weather. These small birds
are thought to migrate at night to avoid predation and maximize the
amount of time available to feed during daylight hours. Bird species
always migrate before their food supply runs out, and migration routes
often coincide with available food supplies in other places.
Bird identification in fall migration can be difficult. At this time
immature birds are mixed with adults and adult plumages in different
individuals of the same species will be different depending upon
the stage of molt.
Adult plumages in fall will vary from partial breeding or complete
breeding plumage to eclipse plumage or partial or full winter plumage.
Young birds often look very different from adults in fall. A fall flock
with mixed species of warblers is enough to keep anybody on their toes.
In fall birds are not singing vigorously and so bird identification
by sound which is so useful during spring, can’t help us in fall
migration. Because bird sound is so essential in locating birds and
identifying them, many birds in fall slip through unnoticed because
they are silent.
Tofino sightings of Brown Pelican and Xantus’s Murrelet, both
normally found far south, may be due to warm ocean currents bringing
these birds north. Xantus’s Murrelet, a small black and white
seabird, is normally found off the Mexican coast north to Monterrey
California. Ocean temperatures of 14.3 °C. were measured offshore
Tofino the same day this rare seabird was seen. I would expect to see
a Brown Pelican flying over surfers in California, but on September
15th a pelican flew over Tofino surfers!
Fall migration is an exciting time of the year to birdwatch in Tofino,
offering the opportunity to challenge your identification skills with
juvenile plumages or the possiblity of finding a rare bird like the
George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising
in birdwatching tours. For more information, visit his website at www.justbirding.com
Tofino Birdwatching Articles
Tofino birding guide George Bradd writes about the Fall bird migration in Tofino in Tofino Time magazine in 2004.