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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Birding the Pacific Marine Circle Route




Aug 2-5 2016 Victoria to Port Renfrew. Sunny 22c
The Pacific Marine Route.

The Tsawwassen ferry had just left the terminal when five pelagic cormorants flew by.
Several more could be seen flying toward the Delta Port Terminal where it appears some might be nesting. As we passed the gulf islands and headed toward Vancouver Island dozens of pigeon guillimots could be seen diving for fish. Glaucous-winged gulls and bald eagles wheeled overhead. Harbour seals lounged on the rocks. The early morning clouds were burning off and the sun warmed our faces. All was good with the world. No internet, no newspapers, only the ping of Mel's bird alerts would be allowed to disturb the peace and tranquility. 

First we visited friends in Victoria who we hadn't seen for years. We then made our way west to Whiffin Spit in Sooke where the dogs and piles of poop out numbered the birds, so much for it being one of the premier birding spots on southern Vancouver Island. Russell and Dick Cannings give ample warning about the Whiffin dogs in their excellent must have book.


We weren't too surprised, a shame really as I wanted a closer look at some sandpipers and a common merganser with young but dogs running loose on the beach makes for a frustrating birding experience, especially if you don't watch where you are walking! I suppose a 5 a.m start would be a better ploy next time.


French Beach


Our next stop was French Beach where a few passing sandpipers were feeding on the ebb tide. They looked hungry, some with plenty of rufous on the scapulars, others hardly any.

Western Sandpiper feeding at French Beach Provincial Park.
The sandpipers must have been hungry as they tolerated a steady stream of holidaymakers and a few off-leash dogs. To be fair most people, did leash their animals. Most park visitors were completely unaware of the peeps until made aware of their presence at which time they stood transfixed at the little bird's antics as the birds dodged the pounding waves.


                         

French Beach Provincial Park




 bald eagle

American robin

 red crossbill
 chestnut backed chickadee
 north-western crows
 western sandpiper
Gulls ???
 Pacific wrens with 2 young
 Brown creeper
 Varied thrush


Jordan River


Heeman's gull
A second or probably third year bird was mingled in with a flock of California Gulls. 

Turkey vultures were a common sight along the Pacific Marine Coastal Route.

   Jordan River




 California gulls

Non breeding Heeman's gull

 Turkey vulture
Harlequin duck
 Common loon





Next day we camped a few miles down the coast at China Beach Provincial Park. The beach is one km from the campsite and the steep walk down offered the usual forest birds, most of which were way up in the thick canopy.






Someone has to do it!
China Beach Provincial Park is clean and quiet, the park's dense forest yields the usual forest birds. A nearby beach offers the chance of shore birds and ducks. Bald eagles can be seen scavenging along the coastline.
Western Sandpiper feeding at China Beach Provincial Park.


 The Sandpipers were feeding on many kinds of invertebrates including sand shrimps.


China Beach


Western sandpiper
Hermit thrush
Red crossbill
Cedar Waxwing
 Brown creeper
Wilson's warbler 
 Hairy woodpecker
 Northwestern crow

Port Renfrew

Recreational smelt fishermen are closely watched by a flock of California Gulls. I really couldn't tell if they were Calornian/Western X or not.
Nikon P7100.

Smelt.
Nikon P7100
The fish are fried and eaten whole, a delicacy i'm told!


California Gulls.
Pacheedaht White Sand Beach. Nikon P7100
The Pacheedaht campsite is run by the local indian band with sites near the beach as well as along the river. The beach front can be windy and is most popular camping spot. Book ahead if you want one of those sites. We arrived late and took a riverside site that gave us views of the tide changes, the herons, gulls and about 28 common merganser feeding in a mass frenzy, obviously this years hatch. We also were visited by many of the woodland birds which were foraging along the riparian area close to the river. The beach sites lacked the same variety of habitat but are better suited for the children, if you happen to have some in tow.

There were a good variety of birds feeding along the riverbank especially the kingfishers. The woods had a good selection of birds. The campground has everything except as stands it, feels dirty and disorganized. Why not have designated fire pits for example. Our campsite had five fire areas of scorched grass where previous occupants had made fires, little things like that would make the whole experience so much better for the camper and the environment.

Port Renfrew/San Juan



 osprey
 Black swift
 Belted kingfisher
 Red crossbill
 Great blue heron
 American robin
 Bald eagle
 Vulture
 California gulls
 Rufous hummingbird
 Brown-headed cowbird
 Least sandpiper 
 Willow flycatcher
Hermit thrush.
 White-crowned sparrow
White-winged scoter
 Yellow-rumped warbler
 Western sandpipers
Stella's jay
Wilson's warbler
 Common merganser
 Bonaparte gull
 Canada geese
 Song sparrow

 Cedar waxwing


San Juan River looking toward Port Renfrew. Nikon P7100

Least sandpiper.
    At our campsite we had a steady parade of visitors including this willow flycatcher below.

Willow flycatcher.

Botanical Beach

The main attraction out of Port Renfrew is Botanical Beach. A perfect location for all members the family, a place to study intertidal pools and the marine life. Make sure to study the tide tables so as to arrive at low tide. Watch out for rogue waves as they pound the shore, they can be dangerous. The few birds present on  our visit included a flock harlequin ducks, a great blue heron, a pair of bald eagles and a sandpiper which may have been a wandering tatler but it was spooked by another tourist before I had a chance to get a good view. But it is not the birds that are the attraction but the weathered sandstone and creatures in the tidal pools.

Sandstone is weathered by the action of the waves and wind creating a myriad of interesting shapes. Nikon P7100





For more see

Botanical Beach
I know I should have used a polarizing filter to cut down the glare on the water but these days I use a point and shoot for everything except birds. Nikon P7100.



We really enjoyed the Pacific Marine circle Route concluding the mini tour by going through Lake Cowichan to Duncan and then Nanaimo. We did the whole thing from Cloverdale and back on half a tank of gas or about 400 kms. 

The route offers many different types of habitats that change with the seasons so going back in the autumn might not be such a bad idea as inclement weather might push in a few pelagic and others birds into the Juan de Fuca Strait.

All pix Nikon D500 200mm-500mm F5.6 handheld unless noted.

Until next time.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale
BC Canada


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