Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Birding at the Tofino Shorebird Festival with Tofino Sea Kayaking

By Keith and Heather Nicol
Andy Murray did a great job trying to find us shorebirds
    On Sunday May 1 we joined guide and naturalist Andy Murray with Tofino Sea Kayaking for a fine day on the water. Tofino Sea Kayaking had organized 2 “birding by kayak” trips as part of the shorebird festival and we opted to take their Sunday tour. The weather was ideal for paddling and it was our first time sea kayaking in the Tofino area. There were 11 of us plus 2 guides and the plan was to visit a variety of islands and likely shorebird habitats over the course of a 4 hour paddle. We used double kayaks for stability since it is easier to use binoculars and a camera from a double kayak. We certainly saw lots of birds but only distant flocks of shorebirds that seemed to be always heading away from us. Near one island we saw some Brants and numerous Common and Pacific Loons diving in the water. Further along there were pairs of common mergansers and a couple of lone red necked grebes. 
Paddling with Meares Island in the background
    The scenery is magnificent in this area and at one point we could see snow capped mountains which made for a picturesque backdrop. We stopped to set up the scope on the Arakun mud flats where there were a couple of eagles perched along the shore, but no shorebirds anywhere in site.  Andy explained that usually shorebirds have a 3 week window in which many of them pass through this area and it is hard to know in advance which weekend will have the most birds. Then just as we were about to end our tour Andy spotted several shorebirds on a small island and we all paddled over to investigate.  There along the water’s edge was a small flock of Short- billed Dowitchers busy feeding.
We saw a small group of Brants on an offshore island
The Tofino area certainly has much to offer the beginner and advanced sea kayaker and Tofino Sea Kayaking (TSK) has an ideal launch point for accessing the maze of channels and islands just offshore. TSK (http://tofinoseakayaking.com/) also has a small coffee shop with a great view and they sell kayaking supplies so check them out on your next visit to this scenic area.
Short-billed Dowitchers feeding along the shoreline

Sampling the 19th annual shorebird festival in Tofino, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Heather walking one of the broad sandy beaches in the area
    On Friday, April 29th we headed to Tofino to check out their 19th annual weekend shorebird festival. My brother, Bruce and his wife , Mary Ellen  had been to the festival a few years earlier and suggested that we meet them in Tofino this year. We arrived in bright sunshine and the good weather lasted all weekend. We are new to birding so thought this might be a good way to learn about shorebirds. The Raincoast Education Society puts on the event and many of the events were free or had a minimal cost. There were boat tours, guided bird walks, indoor presentations and even a birding excursion by kayak that we planned on joining on Sunday, May 1.  On Friday night we listened to a talk by Dr. Mark Drever from the Canadian Wildlife Service who spoke about the northward shorebird migration in B.C. He said that the Tofino area is noteworthy since it has such a diversity of habitats, from sandy beaches to rocky headlands as well as extensive mud flats.  In past years close to 30 species of shorebirds have been seen during the spring migration. 
Jess Findlay (2nd from left) led an informative bird photo workshop on Cox Bay
   On Saturday morning we took in a very good bird photography workshop with Jess Findlay. He led a very informative session with a 45 minute indoor talk followed by an outdoor excursion on a Cox Bay. Jess leads photography workshops for a living and we were fortunate to be able to have him show us how to approach birds in the field to have the best chance of photographing them. There weren’t many birds on the beach that day likely because of the large number of people out walking the beach and surfing, but he did find a small flock of semipalmated plovers with a couple of western sandpipers in the mix. “Stay low and slowly approach the birds making sure that you don’t disturb them” he told us. He had many other practical tips for getting better bird images and we really enjoyed his presentation.

We saw semipalmated plovers feeding in the wet sand 

  In the afternoon we did a shorebird identification talk with Dr. Barbara Beasley and her talk was aimed mainly for the beginner which we appreciated. “Try to learn the shape and size of the various birds and that will help give you an idea of what you are looking at. For instance, plovers are usually round and curvy with short bills where as whimbrels and the long billed curlew are large and have long beaks.” After her talk we headed down to the mudflats to try to see some of the birds she had just described. Unfortunately the tide was quite far out and there were not any birds to be seen! As the tide rose it began to push the birds toward the shore and we were eventually treated to some whimbrels as well as a few other sandpipers.  Thanks to the Rainforest Educational Society  (http://raincoasteducation.org/) for organizing this event and they offer a variety of other educational courses and other programmes. For a review of what we saw on our "Birding by Kayak" tour on Sunday, May 1 click http://keithnicol.blogspot.ca/2016/05/birding-at-tofino-shorebird-festival.html
We saw several whimbrels on the mud flats (note the long bill)

Friday, 22 April 2016

Sea kayaking at Point Holmes during the spring shorebird migration

by Keith and Heather Nicol     
Heather with Hornby Island behind
      We finally dusted off our sea kayaks on Wednesday, April 20 after a great year of skiing at Mt Washington. Last year with Mt. Washington closing in mid February, we had our kayaks out in early March in time for the annual spring herring run!  But this we were even x-c skiing after the trails closed and had our final ski on April 16. One of our "go to" places for sea kayaking in Comox is Point Holmes since it offers a boat launch so that you can easily launch even at low tide. Also another bonus is an outdoor toilet which has been recently installed in the parking lot. Point Holmes is easy to find (it is located along Lazo Road in Comox)  and there is a large parking area for cars with benches and picnic tables overlooking the water.
A Blue Heron poses for a photo
  We put in and then headed northeast toward the Lazo Cliffs. The tide height was roughly 2.4 meters and rising and immediately we began to see evidence of some shorebirds that we hadn`t seen since last fall. They are heading north on their spring migration and so we opted to paddle along the shore to see what new birds were around. We saw many black bellied plovers but the highlight was a flock of dunlins which banked and swooped in unison. Why they don`t crash into one another in flight is impressive. If you like paddling with various birds then check out the shoreline over the next few weeks as this migration takes place. Evidently the dunlin are heading to Northern Alaska where they breed during the summer. 
A flock of Dunlin rest on the rocks at Cape Lazo


Thursday, 21 April 2016

You have just a few more days to check out the Snowbirds in Comox

by Keith and Heather Nicol  
The setting at Air Force Beach is stunning
The Snowbirds are back practicing in Comox but will be here just a few more days. We saw them today under clear blue skies and the grassy fields at Air Force Beach were packed with on lookers. The setting is spectacular overlooking the Strait of Georgia with the snow capped mountains of Coast Range behind. Check out their updated practice schedule at:   http://comoxairforcemuseum.ca/snowbirds-and-cf-18-demo-team-updated-practice-schedule/  and don’t forget to bring your camera and lawn chair. You don’t need a fancy camera to capture the action since you have a front row seat for the performance. They also feature a CF 18 Hornet in a separate show. 

The Snowbirds put on a great free show!

Note the 2 outer planes are flying upside down!
The show lasts between 30 and 45 minutes.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Exploring Mack Laing Park-Macdonald Wood Park in Comox

by Keith and Heather Nicol
     April’s sunny skies and warm temperatures have brought spring out in force in the Comox Valley and so we decided to check out some short hiking trails in the Comox area. We like walking looped trails and a nice one at this time of year is the Macdonald Wood Park -Mack Laing Park area of the city of Comox. We did this walk on the April 9 and parked at the end of Croteau Road where there is a small parking lot. From there we walked toward the ocean and along a very pleasant board walk with nice benches that look out to Comox Harbour. The board walk is sheltered by trees and this spot is worth knowing about even if you just come down to sit on the benches and look out at the water.

The boardwalk at end of Macdonald Wood Park is a perfect place to rest and lookout over the harbour
   From the end of the board walk the “trail” follows the coastline and after 100-200 meters heads back into the forest at Mack Laing’s old house. There are large signs that interpret various aspects of Mack Laing Park and the trail follows scenic Brooklyn Creek. When we were there various spring wild flowers were in bloom including trilliums and fawn lilies and you could hear  wood peckers and songs of other birds filling the forest with sound. The trail winds toward Balmoral Ave where a set of stairs brings you to the road. From there we walked back to Macdonald Wood Park and took a trail back down to our car. The total loop is about 2.5 km and suited to a wide range of walkers. This makes a good short walk and we recommend it for its variety of habitats. 
There are several interpretative signs along Brooklyn Creek

Spring flowers like the trillium are in bloom