This tour of the Canadian province of British Columbia was blessed with some wonderfully settled, warm and sunny weather. Indeed at times the warm conditions and the fact that the breeding season was a little ahead of the usual schedule made it more difficult than usual to find some expected species. However, we did of course see many great birds and also a nice selection of mammals. Beginning in the Vancouver area we saw Red-breasted Sapsucker, Townsend’s Warbler and Rufous Hummingbird on the first morning. Our itinerary then visited the stunning mountain landscapes of Manning Park where amongst a backdrop of extensive forests and rugged snow-capped peaks we encountered species such as Clark’s Nutcracker, Sooty Grouse, Harlequin Ducks, American Three-toed Woodpecker and Mountain Bluebird. The dramatic landscapes of the Okanagan Valley were next up and here our highlights included Lewis’s Woodpecker, Canyon Wren, Grey Flycatcher, Lark, Vesper and Brewer’s Sparrows, Bullock’s Oriole and stunning breeding plumaged Bobolinks. Returning westwards our time on Vancouver Island yielded species such as Varied Thrush, Black Turnstone, Heermann’s Gull, Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Anna’s Hummingbird and Bushtit, with mammals including Grey and Humpback Whales and Steller’s Sea Lions.
This tour was perhaps more relaxed than some of the other tours we offer, but it was most enjoyable with some great birding highlights in spectacular surroundings.
6th July: London Heathrow to Vancouver. Ambleside Park.
Weather: Warm and sunny with a moderate breeze.
We assembled at Heathrow's Terminal 5 ready for our BA flight to Vancouver. Everyone except yours truly managed to secure upgrades for the flight out, something that was seemingly greatly appreciated. We arrived in Vancouver a few minutes ahead of schedule and once we had cleared the usual formalities and picked up the rental vehicle we were soon on our way to our hotel in the northern part of the city. Predictably Northwestern Crow opened our account on the bird list and after a quick break at the hotel we had a short walk in a fairly busy nearby park. Birds here included Song Sparrow, American Robin, Black-capped Chickadee, Glaucous-winged Gull, Goosander, Canada Goose and Pelagic Cormorant. However with our body clocks beginning to scream for some rest it was soon time to get a bite to eat and then some much needed sleep.
7th July: Cypress Provincial Park. Travel to Manning Park with stops at Sumallo Grove and Beaver Lake. Overnight in Princeton.
Weather: Warm and sunny. A few showers in Manning Park late afternoon.
For one group member who took advantage of not being able to sleep through to breakfast, early highlights included Northern Flicker and White-crowned Sparrow near the hotel. For the rest of us the birding began after breakfast in the nearby Cypress Provincial Park where our first roadside stop produced a couple of smart Townsend's Warblers. Heading up to the Yew Lake trail we had a most enjoyable introduction to the birds of this part of Canada in glorious sunshine and warm temperatures. On arrival in the car park we saw two cracking Red-breasted Sapsuckers working away at a tree trunk by the car. These were followed by a fairly distant Steller's Jay, whilst out on the trail it quickly became clear that Dark-eyed Junco was the commonest bird here. Other highlights included Olive-sided Flycatcher perched high on a dead tree delivering its 'Quick three beers' song, a Hermit Thrush, several Rufous Hummingbirds, a Sooty Grouse at close range plus Vaux's Swift and Red Crossbill. Varied Thrushes were heard but refused to give themselves up. Down the mountain a party of Chestnut-backed Chickadees were feeding in the canopy and further views of Townsend's Warbler were also secured.
As we drove east towards the Cascade Mountains we marvelled at the impressive mountainous backdrop and we passed through some farmland before climbing up into Manning Park. Along the way we notched up Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture and during our lunch stop Bald Eagle and singing White-crowned Sparrow. A stop at Sumallo Grove was predictably fairly quiet in the mid-afternoon but Warbling Vireo eventually performed nicely and two Cedar Waxwings flew in. A Yellow Warbler was less sociable offering itself up to the leader only whilst Pacific Wren sang unseen from the undergrowth. At Beaver Lake we enjoyed some nice views of a singing male Common Yellowthroat whilst more Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-pine Chipmunk and Red Squirrel were also popular. Heading down into Princeton for the night, we paused for a male Purple Finch and after dinner added Brewer's Blackbird to our growing bird list.
8th July: Manning Park - Lightning Lake, Resort, Subalpine Meadows, Beaver Lake.
Weather: Very warm and sunny. 25 C.
After breakfast we headed back up to Manning Park where we spent a most enjoyable day amongst some wonderfully dramatic mountain scenery. On the way up we had a short roadside stop for a pair of Mountain Bluebirds along with a few Chipping Sparrows and White-tailed Deer. Up in the park our first stop was Lightning Lake where Great Northern Diver, Mountain Chickadee and Barrow's Goldeneye were quickly added to the list. The latter included two females with young, one of which we could watch swimming about under the crystal clear waters. A slightly longer than envisaged walk produced some excellent sightings with American Three-toed Woodpecker, Hammond's Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush, Red-naped Sapsucker, Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Townsend's Warblers and Black Swift among some memorable birds during the morning. A singing Varied Thrush again proved elusive. Lunch was taken in the Manning Park resort and here we enjoyed some nice encounters with Clark's Nutcrackers and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
The afternoon proved a little slow, partly due to the high temperatures, but we did marvel at the dramatic landscape with many snow-capped mountain peaks and we did enjoy further views of American Three-toed Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Mountain Bluebird, Dark-eyed Junco, Cedar Waxwing, Common Yellowthroat and Western Wood-pewee.
9th July: Manning Park. Travel to Osoyoos with stops near Keremeos & Richter Pass. The Throne, Black Sage Road, Vaseux Lake.
Weather: Hot and sunny.
We began the day in Manning Park, where a visit to Rein Orchid trail produced Western Wood-pewee and finally some decent views of Golden-crowned Kinglet. Further along the road we enjoyed a nice encounter with a female Sooty Grouse with chicks feeding beside the road. However with things a little quiet and our time up here we headed east towards Osoyoos a journey that took us through an increasingly dry, although still dramatic landscape. New birds began to appear with regularity; a fast flowing river hosted three Harlequins; a pair of Western Kingbirds at a nest in a roadside sign was a highlight, whilst a stop near Keremeos yielded Grey Catbird, Eastern Kingbird and a juvenile Lazuli Bunting. Near Richter Pass we saw our first Western Meadowlark and a small lake hosted our first Red-winged Blackbirds. Dropping down into Osoyoos we visited The Throne where the windy conditions were not very conducive to good birding. Nevertheless we winkled out a smart male Lazuli Bunting and nearby a House Finch. Heading along Black Sage Road we came across a smart Lewis's Woodpecker on a telephone pole. Vaseux Lake was next up and here we saw a nice group of Redheads, American Coot, a most obliging Song Sparrow and a brief Black-headed Grosbeak. A Nashville Warbler was a brief leader-only sighting which evaded the group. Returning to Osoyoos we checked in to our 'beachside' hotel complete with Ring-billed Gulls outside.
10th July: Road 22, McKinney Road, The Throne, Old Richter Pass.
Weather: Hot and sunny, with a strong breeze in the afternoon.
Our day began in the birdy Road 22 area. Here we had a most enjoyable couple of hours picking up good numbers of stunning breeding plumaged Bobolinks, California Quail, Willow Flycatcher, Cinnamon, Green-winged and a lone Blue-winged Teal, Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Cliff Swallow, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Marsh and House Wrens. Moving onto the McKinney Road we spent several hours exploring the habitats at various elevations and found amongst other things Lazuli Bunting, Calliope Hummingbird, Grey Flycatcher, American Kestrel, Lark, Vesper and Brewer's Sparrows, Bullock's Oriole and American Black-billed Magpie. A late afternoon visit to The Throne turned up Say's Phoebe, Lewis's Woodpecker and Canyon Wren ending a productive daytime of birding. After dinner a trip up into the nearby hills yielded some great views of Common Nighthawks and a Common Poorwill, concluding an excellent day in the southern Okanagan Valley.
July 11th: Road 22, Vaseux Lake, Okanagan Falls, White Lake, Manning Park, Vancouver.
Weather: Distinctly cooler, although still pleasantly warm and sunny. 23C.
Our final morning in the Okanagan Valley began early along Road 22 where amongst the biting insects we found a few new species for the trip. A number of Veery sang from the riverine woodland and scope views were eventually obtained, although they could have been more prolonged! Northern Rough-winged Swallows were new to the list, whilst shallow pools hosted good numbers of Killdeer and singles of Spotted, Least and Western Sandpipers, and a female American Wigeon was accompanied by her brood. After breakfast we headed to Vaseux Lake where the cliffs were patrolled by flocks of White-throated Swifts and a Canyon Wren showed nicely. A Rock Wren was heard but it refused to play, so compensation came in the form of some extended views of Lewis's Woodpeckers, Spotted Towhee and Golden Eagle. A brief visit to Okanagan Falls turned up Western Wood-pewee, whilst nearby we saw our only Cassin's Finches of the trip. At White Lake a Sage Thrasher showed very nicely and other birds on our route to Manning Park included Western Bluebird, American Kestrel and Bullock's Oriole. Pausing for lunch at Manning Park we saw Clark's Nutcracker and Steller's Jay and the rest of the journey back to Vancouver passed off with few other distractions other than the traffic.
July 12th: Campbell Valley Regional Park. Tsawassen - Victoria. Tofino.
Weather: Warm and sunny. Heavy rain showers in the evening. 23 C.
The day did not start particularly well as I discovered we had a slow puncture. So, first stop was to get the tyre pumped up, before heading to Campbell Valley. Here I had to leave the group birding whilst I got a fix for the puncture. Mercifully this was achieved fairly swiftly and it was not too long before I was back with the group. I had missed Western Tanager in the meantime, but other good birds here included Black-headed Grosbeak, Bewick's Wren, Wilson's Warbler and good numbers of showy Swainson's Thrushes.
I had planned that we should get the 1245 ferry to Nanaimo, but on arrival we were told we wouldn't be able to get a ferry before 1515 and maybe not until 1700. So we took a ferry to Victoria instead, although that meant a five hour rather than the planned three hour drive to Tofino. The ferry trip was fairly quiet for birds although Pigeon Guillemot and California Gull were new for the list. On arrival in Victoria we headed north and paused briefly at Goldstream Provincial Park where we saw two American Dippers very nicely (thanks to Gavin Bieber of Wings for the gen). Our onward journey to Tofino proceeded without any problems, although the evening meal in Port Alberni took a long time to arrive and consequently it was nearly 2200hrs before we had arrived in Tofino, a very tired group.
July 13th: Pacific Rim National Park, Tofino and Ucluelet including Comber's Beach, Amphitrite Point and Sharpe Road.
Weather: Overcast start becoming warm and sunny with clear blue skies. 17C.
After the late arrival the previous evening we had a leisurely start to the day and headed out after a nice breakfast in a nearby restaurant. Our first stop was intended to be a quick 5 or 10 minutes, but ended up keeping us thoroughly entertained for the best part of an hour and a half. Orange-crowned, Townsend's and Wilson's Warblers, some more very obliging Swainson's Thrushes, Fox Sparrow and Steller's Jays were all seen very nicely. Moving onto Comber's Beach we saw our first Marbled Murrelets and a couple of Rhinoceros Auklets, plus Great Northern Diver, Pigeon Guillemot, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and a small flock of Least Sandpipers although the last of these did not linger long.
At Wickaninnish we had some extended views of Black Oystercatcher, White-winged and Surf Scoters, whilst Amphitrite Point proved quiet. A side road near Ucluelet passed through some woodland that hosted Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a rather elusive Pacific-slope Flycatcher. We finished the day checking the tidal areas near Tofino, but the tide was high and the birds distant, so Hudsonian Whimbrel was the only identifiable species (although Dowitchers and some peeps were also present). A most enjoyable day was completed by a good meal in the restaurant adjacent to our hotel.
July 14th: Ucluelet, Florencia Bay, Wickaninnish, Sharpe Road.
Weather: Warm and sunny. 18 C.
A relaxed day began with a seawatch at Amphitrite Point, where Surf and Black Scoters, Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled Murrelet and Pigeon Guillemot were noted. A Fox Sparrow was close by as was a Rufous Hummingbird. Heading for Florencia Bay we at last secured some good views of a stunning Varied Thrush, whilst further along the trail three more were encountered. Other species here were the Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Brown Creeper and Swainson's Thrush.
In the afternoon we enjoyed seeing Bald Eagles at their nest, whilst waders proved frustrating again with disappointing views of distant flocks of peeps, Whimbrel, Dowitcher sp and Grey Plover. A Bonaparte's Gull was rather more obliging if rather tatty. With many of the beaches teeming with tourists we elected for a slightly early finish to the days birding and some free time in Tofino.
July 15th: Chesterman Beach, Tofino Boat Trip.
Weather: Pleasantly warm and sunny. 22 C.
We began the day with pre-breakfast walk on Chesterman Beach. Here we took the opportunity to get the grips properly with the peeps of this part of the world. Least Sandpipers were the most numerous, but two each of Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers allowed us to study their oft subtle features. Also present and rather more straightforward to identify was a Sanderling still boasting its breeding plumage. Back in town we had breakfast and then headed for our boat trip, the main focus of which was to look for whales. On our way down to the boat we saw White-crowned Sparrow.
Out at sea we headed rapidly away from land pausing for a Sea Otter and then locating perhaps three Humpback Whales. We enjoyed close range views of these magnificent creatures and could hear the blows. Birds included Sooty Shearwaters, Red-necked Phalaropes, Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets and the other now familiar local alcids. Moving location we investigated an area of rocks where Black Oystercatcher and Black Turnstone were seen and nearby a lone Brent Gosse. However, sadly there was no sign of the hoped for Tufted Puffins. We did however get some close views of Grey Whale with a calf before heading back to town locating an adult Heermann's Gull en-route. Back in town a House Finch was singing near to our hotel.
July 16th: Tofino to Victoria.
Weather: Warm and sunny.
A leisurely start and we were soon on our way to Victoria, a five hour drive away. We made stops on the way with Hutton's Vireo located at the first of these being particularly welcome. Lunch was taken in a regional park with Dark-eyed Junco and Red-breasted Sapsucker for company. On arrival in Victoria we headed for Clover Point where there were large numbers of Rhinoceros Auklets and Glaucous-winged Gulls, plus a few Black Oystercatchers. Hybrid gulls are easily seen in this area (indeed some observers suggest most Glaucous-winged types here are actually hybrids) with a Glaucous x Glaucous-winged and Western x Glaucous-winged both present. A check of the local park produced nothing new, so we headed to our hotel for the night.
July 17th: Victoria area - Francis King Regional Park, Witty's Lagoon, Esquimalt Lagoon, Clover Point area.
Weather: Sunny and warm with a brisk SW wind. 24C.
Our final full day of birding began close to the hotel where we found Purple Martins visiting nest boxes and saw three Racoons wandering on the mudflats. Francis King Regional Park is an extensive area of woodland and it was here we encountered Anna's Hummingbird, MacGillivray's, Wilson's and Orange-crowned Warblers, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Western Wood-pewee. A visit to Witty's Lagoon was a little quiet, but nice views of Belted Kingfisher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Harlequin and Great Blue Heron were well received. Esquimalt Lagoon was our lunch stop and here we were a little surprised to locate a Trumpeter Swan amongst the Mute Swans, with Bufflehead and a mixed flock of Scoter offshore. Finally we visited the Clover Point area where we enjoyed sifting through the flocks of alcids and gulls. Although apart from Double-crested Cormorant little was new, it was a most pleasant way to end our last full birding day.
July 18th: Victoria - Tsawassen. Iona Island. Vancouver - London.
Weather: Sunny and warm. 24 C.
We caught an early ferry back to Tsawassen, noting Brandt's Cormorant, Belted Kingfisher en-route. A visit to Iona Island was fairly quiet but still yielded Hooded Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Caspian Tern, nice views of Tree and Cliff Swallows, White-crowned Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing and House Finch before it was time to return to the airport and catch our homeward flight after what had been a most enjoyable and relaxing birding trip in the west of Canada.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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