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A Report from

British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Whistler and Vancouver,

John Girdley

(All Photos by Tom Girdley, Full sized versions of these and more are on

Friday 26th July - Sunday 10th August

This was my annual family vacation, but as always, birding would figure highly with early morning trips out and all day visits planned with an eye to birds likely to be seen.

Accommodation and travel.

I am a member of the RCI points scheme, which allows me to choose from excellent 5 Star self catering accommodation  anywhere in the world for two weeks a year. My first week was in the Pacific Shores Nature Resort, Parksville, Vancouver Island. The second week was at the Whistler Resort and Club on the mainland

An advantage of this system is that it enables me to shop around for the best possible flight prices. As a result I flew out a day early and returned a day late. The savings more than made up for the additional accommodation costs at the Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel where I stayed for the extra two nights. It also made for a relaxing start and finish to the holiday and I was able to arrive at my main accommodation on Vancouver Island relaxed and raring to go.

General Birding hints:

Birding monster old growth forest, with trees the height of ten storey buildings and with nothing singing is impossible! Don't go in summer!

Do better research than I did and contact some locals in advance!

There aren't roads to everywhere in Canada, (unlike Europe.) It is possible to drive 100 miles through thick forest without a turn off better than a rough forestry track. (4WD probably a good idea). I found no easy way to access habitat above the tree line other than by expensive cable car and of course the habitat at such locations is very disturbed.


The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America: Buy from or

  • This was the only ID guide that I took with me, the pictures are more than adequate for most needs. It is also handy and pocket sized. The one weakness was a lack of pictures of immature birds, i.e. juvenile sparrows. The full Sibley Guide is better in this respect though less easy to carry around.

Daily diary:

Day 1:

We arrived at the Delta Airport Hotel at about 7.00 pm - tired after a ten hour flight and an eight hour time difference. Sent for room service and birdwatched from the hotel window. Quite successful, I got two lifers in the shape of North-western Crow and Black-capped Chickadee.

North-western Crows (Common) (L)
2 Black-capped Chickadee (L)
20 Bushtit
2 House Finch
Glaucous-winged Gull
House Sparrow
Feral Pigeon
(Trip=8, Lifers=2)

Day 2: Saturday 26th July - Vancouver Airport to Pacific Shores, Vancouver Island.

Picked up the hire car at 10.00 am. And drove out towards the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. (Told my wife that I was going to take the coastal route via Westham Island - where the George C. Reifel Centre is - though I didn't tell her that bit!). As it was I missed the turn off and ended up at a dead end over looking the South Bank of the Island. I couldn't believe it when my first scan with the "Bins" turned up two incoming Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles were everywhere on Vancouver Island, often giving very close views.

Tsawwassen  harbour had lots of Gulls, mainly Glaucous-winged but also a few Mew Gulls. I looked at the latter quite carefully to see the differences between "Mew" and their "Common" European counterpart.

Interestingly when I got home, there was a copy of the excellent new "Gulls of Europe, Asia and N. America" waiting for me.  Mew and Common have been split in this, giving me a retrospective split.

Decided to "sea-watch" the whole of the Ferry crossing, in the hope of whales or the odd sea bird. No success however, other than Pelagic Cormorant when coming into harbour.

An evening walk at my accommodation, Pacific Shores gave me probably my luckiest birds of the trip. Leaving the restaurant, I caught sight of a high flying bird appearing over the trees. (Thankfully I had taken my bins to the restaurant, something that did irritate the family, but I prefer to be prepared!) It was a Common Night Hawk, a bird high on my wish list for the trip. Better yet, it suddenly turned into a flock of 28 birds! These were the only Common Nighthawks that I was to see.

Highlights: Marshes near Westham Island:
4 Bald Eagles
100's Canada Geese
American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Glaucous-winged Gulls

Tsawwassen Harbour + crossing
10+ Great Blue Heron
40+ Glaucous-winged Gulls
10 Mew Gulls (L)
Pelagic Cormorant

Pacific Shores Nature resort
1 Bald Eagle
28 Common Night Hawk (High S. evening) (L)
100+ Canada Geese
10+ Bushtit
10+ Chestnut-backed Chickadee (L)
2 American Robin
1 Great-blue Heron
2 Song Sparrow
10+ North-western Crow
(Trip=18, Lifer=5)

Day 3: Sunday 27th July Neck Point - Nanaimo

I had researched on the Internet as much as I could prior to leaving England. I found a couple of mentions of a regular Sunday Morning Bird Walk from the "Back Yard Bird Store" Visitors were apparently welcome.

After consultation with the family, we decided to join the walk and arrived very early. Neil Robbins, the walk leader was first to arrive. We introduced our selves and within a few minutes felt like old friends. We were duly introduced to everyone else as they arrived.

The venue for today was Neck Point, Nanaimo, an area of Pine clad Rocky Headland. Neil gave everybody a list of possible birds - there were several potential lifers for me.

Someone called out a Red-breasted Nuthatch calling in the trees, but it never showed. This was a pity because they remained elusive for the rest of the trip.

From the Headland I quickly picked up lifers in the form of Pigeon Guillemot and Black Oystercatcher. A Belted Kingfisher perched on the rocks and on the return through the woods a Brown Creeper showed briefly.

My wife got on well with all the plant watchers in the party. It was a really pleasant, easy going morning with some good birds and good company. I thank everyone involved for making us so welcome. I especially thank those who spent time with me afterwards and gave me some excellent stake outs for the likes of Purple Martin, American Dipper and Wood Duck.

Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull is THE common Gull Species on Vancouver Island. In the end I managed to see six different species.
Walk Highlights:
1 Great-blue Heron
2 Pigeon Guillemot (L)
8 Black Oystercatcher (L)
1 Belted Kingfisher (L)
1 Brown Creeper (L)
1 Bewicks Wren
3 Pelagic Cormorants
2 Double-crested Cormorants
2 American Robin
10 Bushtits
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
4 California Gull
5 Mew Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Turkey Vulture
(Trip=26, Lifer=9)

Most of the rest of the day was spent getting in supplies for the week. In the evening I walked down to Madrona Point where I picked up a hoped for Marbled Murrelet, and then drove on to Englishman River Estuary which was a superb bit of mixed habitat that I was later to visit again.

Highlights: Madrona Point
2 Marbled Murrelets (L)
2 Bonapartes Gulls

Canada Goose
Canada Geese are everywhere but apparently are about as tickable as those in English parks!
Englishman's River Estuary
1 Pigeon Guillemot
10 Western Gulls
1 Belted Kingfisher
6 White-crowned Sparrows
20 Bushtit
100+ Canada Geese
1 Spotted Sandpiper
1 Brown-headed Cowbird (Juvenile) (only ID'ed on Photograph (by Guy Monty) on my return to the UK)
(Trip=32, Lifer=10)

Day 4: Monday 28th July Buttertubs Marsh, Cathedral Grove, Little Qualicum Falls, Englishman River Falls.

Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo, had been mentioned as a stake out for Wood Duck, just about the only North American Duck missing from my list. I set off at first light whilst the family slept. The Wood Duck were very obliging. Passerine activity was low, with everything seeming to be very quiet. A very dark coloured Merlin (Pacific form.) initially confused me and then entertained me by hawking dragonflies nearby. Beaver was a good mammal tick.

American Sparrows, had proved difficult on my Easter trip to California. Juvenile Sparrows were even worse..I gave up and rejoined the family.

20+  Wood Duck (L)
30+  Mallard
2 Belted Kingfisher
1 Pacific (Black) Merlin (Hawking dragonflies)
2 Pied-billed Grebes
20+ Red-winged Blackbirds
1 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
1 Barn Swallow
Great Blue Heron
3 Chipping Sparrow
(Trip=39, Lifer=11)

After breakfast we all headed out to Cathedral Grove to see Vancouver Island's biggest trees. (and hopefully some birds). The woods were eerily quiet. Just a single Winter Wren, a couple of American Robins and 3 Common Mergansers on the nearby lake.

Next stop was Little Qualicum River Falls. Again, it was very quiet.

1 Steller's Jay
2 Red-breasted Sapsucker (L)
1 Northern Flicker
and a Flycatcher that defied identification.

Englishman River Falls next. This was my American Dipper stake out. It was a nice walk to the top of the falls, and sure enough a single Dipper was feeding in the stream.

1 American Dipper (L)
1 Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
(Trip=46, Lifer=13)

Day 5: Tuesday 29th July  -  Ladysmith Harbour, Butchart Gardens.

Today was to be a long drive down to Victoria to see the "world famous" Butchart Gardens. I had been told about a Purple Martin Colony at a Boat Jetty in Ladysmith, which was conveniently on the way. It took a bit of finding but driving down to the foreshore and "scoping" along soon found them, although they have a strangely Starling like jizz at a distance. My son got busy with the camera and fluked a good shot of one coming into land.

Butchart Gardens proved to be everything promised, well worth the visit, though it was apparently the hottest day in years. I even managed a couple of lifers.

Purple Martin
Purple Martin at Ladysmith "Harbour"
Highlights: Ladysmith
50+ Purple Martin (L)
2 Belted Kingfisher
Butchart Gardens
1 Swainson's Thrush (L)
2 Pine Siskin (L)
3 American Robin
1 Belted Kingfisher
1 Song Sparrow
1 American Kestrel
4 Killdeer
(Trip=51, Lifers=16)

Day 6: Wednesday 30th July - Tofino and Clayquot Sound

I had promised the family a trip out on the Pacific in an attempt to see some Whales. My ulterior motive was hopefully to see some real west coast seabirds. Another early start was indicated for the long journey to Tofino. (I was later to find out that the more southerly west coast town of Ucluelet is far better for birds!)

Northwest Crow
Northwest Crow; a bird common on Vancouver Island but with a very restricted N. American range.

The forests on the journey were seemingly devoid of birds though I did glimpse a single Banded Pigeon and the odd Steller's Jay. I also pulled in at several pull ins along the Pacific Rim National Park, once again there were very few birds in evidence other than a couple of Black Oystercatcher off Long Beach.

I booked our whale watching tour with The Whale Centre Ecotours. In the end about 12 hardy souls in full survival gear boarded a powerful Zodiac and headed out into the heavy Pacific swell towards Clayquot sound.

I saw Raven and Bald Eagles as we left harbour. Soon we picked up speed and it became evident that birdwatching would have to be postponed until we slowed down. Any auks that I glimpsed were quite unidentifiable.

The Tofino Whale watching teams clearly had their prey staked out. A single Grey Whale was in a regular feeding routine and the local boats were keeping it in their sights.

Whilst watching the Whale, I had a chat with the "Captain", she was quite amenable to trying to find some birds for me. She knew the waters well, and was able to spot herring shoals and their attendant birds from some distance. The best such gathering had large numbers of Alcids in attendance, including lots of Rhinos, a few Cassins and perhaps better still, good numbers of immaculate adult Herrmans Gulls. On the way back we were shown two Bald Eagle nests at very close range.

1 Banded Pigeon (on journey)
American Robin
1 Steller's Jay
2 Black Oystercatcher (Rocks off Long Beach)

Boat Trip
1 Grey Whale
3 Pigeon Guillemott
3 Common Murres
100+ Rhinoceros Auklet (L)
10+ Cassin's Auklet (L)
30+ Heermans Gulls
100+ Glaucous-winged Gulls
9 Bald Eagles
2 Raven
(Trip=57, Lifers=18)

Day 7: Thursday 31st July, Rathtrevor Beach area and Englishman's River Estuary

Another early morning (leaving family in bed) lead me down to Rathtrevor beach. As usual the woods were very quiet but I did manage to pick up a few birds near to some scrub by the beach.

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon Form). This bird is a juvenile. Common in most habitats in BC.

Dark-eyed Junco's
2 black-throated Gray Warbler
1 Hairy Woodpecker (Pacific form)

I decided to move on and revisit Englishman River Estuary.  For the first time on the trip I saw another birder in the distance. I quickly introduced myself. The birder turned out to be Guy Monty, a name I had regularly seen on the Birding-vancouver-island Yahoo e-mail group and arguably the most experienced and committed birder on this part of the Island.

Guy gave me loads of pointers as to where to go for the remaining birds on my hit list. I can certainly thank him for Willow Flycatcher that I would not have been able to identify without his knowledge of calls. His attempt to show me Purple Finch failed on the day but I was able to go back to the same place earlier the next morning and see them with ease.

I regret that I did not contact Guy in advance. He does do some guiding and would certainly have got me some extra birds. With only one day left on the Island I was unable to follow up on all his leads.

2 Spotted Sandpiper
13 Black-bellied Plover
2 Least Sandpipers
1 Killdeer
2 Willow Flycatchers (L)
1 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Osprey
1 Turkey Vulture
1 Bald Eagle
2 Common Yellowthroats
1 American Goldfinch
2 Cedar Waxwing
20+ California Gull
4 Common Merganser
1 Brewers Blackbird
1 Red Crossbill
(Trip=69, Lifers=19)

Day 8: Friday 1st August (Last full day on the Island.)

I decided to have another quick, early morning, trip Englishman's Creek Estuary, as the most  productive site that I had visited and also the place most likely to turn up a "good" wader. (I still needed Semi-palmated Sandpiper!)

6 Least Sandpipers
3 Western Sandpipers
2 Purple Finch (L) (See comments from previous day.)
1 Bewicks Wren
1 Song Sparrow
1 Coopers Hawk
2 Common Loon (Flyovers)
1 California Quail
1 Spotted Towhee
(Trip=75, Lifers=20)

During my conversations with Guy, I had asked about possible stake outs for Barrow's Goldeneye, something of a holy grail for European birders.

His comment was that if I must see one, then they were still on their breeding lakes. I would have to go up to Paradise Meadows, near Mount Washington. He said it was a popular area for hikers, beautiful but that I would be lucky to see five different species up there at this time of the year. However, to me this sounded like a good plan for the day and so the family were duly persuaded.

Paradise Meadows turned out to be scenically superb with fantastic walking. In the end I saw nine species, which was better than expected! Three were lifers, which was much better than expected! I didn't see Barrow's Goldeneye however which was a real shame.

The Gray Jays were incredibly confiding and possibly my favourite bird of the trip. I was very lucky to see a Golden-crowned Kinglet, there was one on the only patch of stunted dwarf forest that I walked through. I heard many others but they were quite impossible to see in the "tall" forest.

Gray Jay
Gray Jays are incredible inquisitive birds, often flying in and perching right next to you.
Highlights for Mount Washington / Paradise Meadows
20+ Gray Jay (L) (about 8 family parties)
1 Hooded Merganser (F or Imm)
1 Brown Creeper
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
100's Dark-eyed Junco's
1 Bald Eagle
1 Golden-crowned Kinglet (L) (but obviously 100's high in the trees)
1 Varied Thrush (L)
1 Belted Kingfisher

Goshawk (On road to Mount Washington)
(Trip=79, Lifers=23)

Day 9: Saturday 2nd  August.

Took the ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay and drove the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler. I did attempt to seawatch the ferry crossing but there was little to be seen.

Days 9-16: Saturday 2nd -Saturday 9th August

Whistler and surrounds

I arrived in Whistler full of hope for some great birding. There is a fantastic cycle-way / footpath  (The Whistler Trail) running the length of Whistler valley. It passes lakes and rivers and goes through some nice woodland. It is obviously the best place for birding in the immediate area.

The main habitat around Whistler is unending BIG Pine Forest! I found this almost impossible to bird, very frustrating, nothing singing and nothing showing - I presume that it is better in Spring.

My first evening walk gave me just three species: Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Chestnut-backed Chickadee. The next morning added little extra. After three days I had managed just six species and two of them were House Sparrow and Starling.

On the fourth morning I didn't even bother getting up! The weather had been unseasonably hot and everything had gone quiet. 

The family had also gone on a go slow that morning and by 10am I was bored enough to try birding again. Remarkably it had clouded over and suddenly birds were moving. Looking up, four Black Swift flew over and I was able to pick up a few Warblers and my only Hummingbird of the trip.

Steller’s Jay
Steller's Jay was easier to see than most of Whistlers birds.

I took two trips up Whistler Mountain during the week. This was the only place where one could easily access terrain above the tree line. My first visit before the end of the heat wave yielded just two Raven on a ten mile mountain top hike. My second, much shorter visit, in cloud cover was far more productive and produced lifers in the shape of American Pipit and Hoary Marmot.

About thirty miles north of Whistler is Pemberton. We went jet boating on nearby Lillooet Lake and river. This was an unforgettable experience but birding is very difficult at 40mph!

Birding Highlights: The Village Trail. Cycle track area.
Song Sparrow,
Dark-eyed Junco
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
3 Pileated Woodpecker
4 Black Swift (L)
Yellow Warbler (L)
1 Warbling Vireo (L)
1 Rufous Hummingbird
American Robin
Steller's Jay
American Crow/NW Crow ? (apparently un-tickable in Whistler)
House Sparrow (Whistler Village only)
European Starling
1 Mallard
1 Hooded Merganser
White-crowned Sparrow
1 Western Tanager
2 Northern Flicker
1 Gray Catbird
2 Glaucous-winged Gulls
20 Cedar Waxwing
Pemberton Meadows area
2 American Kestrel
1 Possible Bald Eagle
Whistler Mountain
Dark-eyed Junco
Gray Jay
4 American Pipit (L)
1 Swainsons Thrush?
Pine Siskin
3 Hoary Marmots
Jet boat trip, Lillooet River and Lake
4 Turkey Vultures
2 Great-blue Herons
10 common Merganser
1 Spotted? Sandpiper

(Trip=87, Lifers=27)

Day 16: Saturday 9th August

We spent our last day and a half in Vancouver. On the Saturday we went to the beautiful Stanley Park. The woodland here was as quiet as everywhere else, however the coast and the park lakes had plenty to keep me interested.

Stanley Park Highlights:
Pelagic Cormorant
Double Crested Cormorant
Glaucous-winged Gull
1 Merlin
1 Spotted Towhee
Black-capped Chickadee
4 Wood Duck

Day 17: Sunday 10th August (Departure day)

I decided to visit the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary first thing in the morning and I arrived at the gates for 6.00 am! This was something of a mistake as they were locked! I'm not used to locked nature reserves in the UK! On the positive side, I saw more birds by the gates in ten minutes than I had in my first three days at Whistler.

Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swan at George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary

I quickly returned to the hotel for breakfast and persuaded the family to return afterwards. The range of birds was less than expected, the tide had gone out and most of the waders were out in the estuary. A Red-necked Phalarope was a good sighting, the only wader remaining!  A seemingly unseasonal Trumpeter Swan was being taken seriously by the locals and so I ticked it.

The aforementioned locals were keen to talk to a Brit and told me all about a great wader site next to the Airport; Iona Sewage Ponds, they even gave me the number for the lock on the gate.

Talking my wife into visiting a sewage works as the final act of a memorable holiday was not going to be easy. In the end it was all down to timing. I "accidentally" arrived back at the airport an hour early and suggested that we should explore down this attractive looking side road..a Northern Harrier quartering the end of the runway helped my case. The waders at Iona were good and I picked up four trip ticks in the last hour.

Reserve gates at 6.00am.
Downy Woodpecker
Red-tailed Hawk
Cedar Waxwing
Barn Swallow
Red-winged Blackbird
Main reserve:
100's Mallards
1 Red-necked Phalarope
2 American Goldfinch
4 Brewers Blackbirds
Red-winged Blackbirds
Black-capped Chickadees
1 Hooded Merganser
1 Trumpeter Swan (L)
Bald Eagle
Iona Marsh and Sewage Ponds
1 Northern Harrier (Quartering the rough ground at the end of the airport runway)
4 Pectoral Sandpiper
6 Lesser Yellowlegs
1 Marbled Godwit
Western Sandpiper
Numerous distant unidentifiable small waders
(Trip=94, Lifers=28)

Other birds heard but not seen during the trip.

Pacific Slope Flycatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Orange-crowned Warbler

All Photos by Tom Girdley, Full sized versions of these and more are on

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