Day 1: Arrival
Our Ultimate British Columbia birding tour begins in Fort St. John (just a short flight from Vancouver) where we meet at our hotel for dinner on the first night. We’ll discuss our plan of spending the next three days exploring the pleasant countryside, forests and wetlands of the Peace River valley.
Days 2 - 3: Peace River area
On our first morning we begin in earnest to track down boreal songbirds in the mixed woodlands behind town. The songs of “eastern” birds like Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green and Cape May Warbler seem out of place here, given but they are but three of many “Peace River specialties” that cross over from the boreal forest only in this part of the province. This part of the tour will focus on seeing as many of these species as possible. We’ll explore popular hotspots such as Watson Slough (a site threatened by a hydroelectric project) for endangered Yellow Rail and Nelson’s Sparrow. Fort St. John’s sewage lagoons are less threatened but still harbor numerous species and if the timing is right we’ll catch the shorebird migration in prime season, with eastern species like White-rumped Sandpiper a possibility.
From here we’ll explore to the north, scoping Charlie Lake for scoters, grebes and other migrating waterfowl before checking out Beatton Provincial Park with its numerous boreal species. Blue Jays, Common Grackles and other raucous birds welcome us in the mixed woods. In aspen stands we’ll be on the lookout for Connecticut Warbler and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Still north of here forests of black spruce dominate and in some years Bay-breasted and Palm Warblers may be found in numbers. In the alpine zone of Pink Mountain we might see three all species of ptarmigan—Willow, White-tailed and Rock! At treeline we might encounter Gray-cheeked Thrush, Wilson’s Warbler and Bohemian Waxwing.
To the south of Fort St. John we visit the area around Taylor where Ruby-throated Hummingbird can be found. Nearby slopes conceal singing Canada Warbler and with some perseverance we admire these gorgeous birds. In grasslands and riparian areas near Dawson Creek we will be on the lookout for Upland Sandpiper, LeConte’s Sparrow and Philadelphia Vireo among other species not found elsewhere in the province.
Up in the north other wildlife abounds and we might see mammals such as moose, black bear and the prairie subspecies of white-tailed deer. Nights in Fort St. John.
Day 4: Vancouver
We transfer via a short flight to Vancouver in the morning and hit the ground running by exploring two birding sites near the airport. Sea Island and Iona Sewage Lagoons are some of the best sites in the city to see migrant birds and anything is possible at this time of year. We’ll listen for the chattering of Bewick’s Wren, Warbling Vireo and Bushtit as we explore this part of the Fraser Delta. Iona is yet another primo site for shorebird and waterfowl viewing, and rarities are possible. A Spoon-billed Sandpiper was sighted here once! From here we’ll head right into picturesque downtown Vancouver to explore the rainforest environs of Stanley Park and Lost Lagoon where Wood Duck and Barred Owls make their home. After this we’ll cross over to the north shore for an early dinner. In the evening we’ll head upslope for some montane forest birding. Weather permitting, from Cypress Mountain we’ll have unreal vistas over the city while Vaux’s and/or Black Swifts parade by. If luck is with us we’ll hear and perhaps see a displaying male Sooty Grouse (booming one of the world’s lowest frequency songs) while more obvious songsters include Olive-sided and Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo, Pacific Wren, Western Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak along with Varied, Hermit and Swainson’s Thrush. Night in North Vancouver.
Days 5 - 7: West Coast and Tofino Pelagic
This morning we’ll take an early ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, scanning the waters for seabirds such as Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorant, Rhinocerous Auklet, Marbled Murrelet and Pigeon Guillemot. Upon arrival we’ll get the sense of the relaxed feel of Vancouver Island as we traverse to the west coast, stopping at a grove of majestic Douglas Firs, some more than 800 years old! Pacific Wren provides the complex audio backdrop to this wondrous ecosystem.
Nearing the coast we smell the ocean air and investigate the wild Long Beach, where we look for Black Oystercatcher, Willet, Sanderling, Hammond’s Flycatcher, MacGillivray’s Warbler and Northwestern Crow, among others.
The next morning, weather permitting, we depart on a pelagic adventure, and we don’t have to go far to find excitement. Gray or Humpback Whales might be sighted in near-shore waters and so might Tufted Puffins. Once arriving at the deep Clayoquot Canyon we may encounter ocean-faring species such as Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Red-necked Phalarope and Ancient Murrelet, among many others. Blue Sharks are a possibility. Surprises await us on this six-hour tour.
Our second full day in the Pacific Rim area allows is a backup day for the pelagic tour and allows more exploration of the ethereal rainforests in this area. Nights in Ucluelet.
Days 8 - 9: Victoria
After another morning session of birding some mist-shrouded rainforest or wave-swept beach we’ll commute south to the provincial capital of Victoria, stopping en route to explore a rare Garry Oak savannah. We’ll see why the southeastern part of Vancouver Island is so attractive to retirees. Once in in Victoria we’ll settle in and decide which of the myriad birding sites to explore first: Esquimalt Lagoon, Martindale Flats, Swan Lake, Clover Point or Metchosin. Exciting west-coast specialties like Hutton’s Vireo, Anna’s Hummingbird and Black-throated Gray Warbler might be around each corner. Unlikely species such as Sky Lark are established here, and suburban Victoria has the highest density of Cooper’s Hawks in North America! We’re not done with our ocean watch however, and we’ll scan for Glaucous-winged, Western, Mew and other gulls. Common Murre and Harlequin Duck could be a highlight. One day we’ll take a short boat tour into Juan de Fuca Straight to see orcas up-close and personal, as they munch on Chinook salmon and perhaps even dive right under our boat.
In the evenings we’ll have a chance to relax amid Victoria’s charming ambience and perhaps enjoy a microbrew and some local seafood treats. Nights in Victoria.
Day 10: Manning Park
Keeping the flow, we depart Victoria and return on a different ferry back to the Lower Mainland, this time stopping in Tswawassen and nearby Reifel Refuge. These renowned hotspots are excellent for cleaning up on lingering shorebirds and waterfowl, while picking out their associated predators such as Peregrine Falcon and Great-horned Owl. Resident Sandhill Cranes are about as friendly as they get. After shaking the blackberry bushes of Reifel for all possible birds we make one more stop to peek in on a Barn Owl before driving to the Cascade Mountains. Night at Manning Park Lodge.
Day 11 - 13: The Okanagan
Manning Park is a renowned place for birding. Depending on the snowpack in the mountains, we may be able to drive up into the montane zone to pick up some higher elevation species such as Boreal Chickadee and Spruce Grouse. On Strawberry Flats we’ll have a look in the Engelmann Spruce forest for Pine Grosbeak, Hermit Thrush, Red Crossbill and Gray Jay. After lunch we’ll continue east and soon enter the Great Basin ecosystem. Nighthawk Road is a great introduction to sagebrush birding where hopefully we’ll catch Brewer’s and Lark Sparrows singing in the evening and with much luck we could encounter something rare such as Black-throated Sparrow or Sage Thrasher. These birds seem to arrive annually from south of the border, which is just over the hill. We arrive in the nearby and splendid Okanagan Valley in the evening and prepare for two final days of birding— possibly the best yet!
While in the Okanagan we’ll base centrally so we can explore the best options for sagebrush and forest birding. Small lakes will hold plenty of ducks including Cinnamon Teal and Redhead. We might find Spadefoot Toads or Tiger Salamanders if we dig around. Near Oliver we’ll watch breeding Wilson’s Phalaropes try to out-compete Bobolinks for our attention while we search grasslands and patches of water birch for more amazing birds. At White Lake we’ll look and listen for Grasshopper Sparrow. At Vaseux Lake we’ll investigate the riparian areas for migrant surprises while listening to Canyon and Rock Wren both singing from the cliffs above (Marsh, House and Pacific Wrens are also present!). We’ll scan for Golden Eagle across the lake and search the surrounding Ponderosa Pine forests for Gray Flycatcher and Cassin’s Finch. In the vicinity we can find Rufous, Black-chinned and Calliope Hummingbirds. Lewis’ Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker and Pygmy Nuthatch each have their favourite tree species to cling to. An evening foray might produce a Common Poorwill or Flammulated Owl.
If we need a breather there’s always a nearby winery to lunch at, or we can dip our feet into the warm waters of Skaha Lake nearby our hotel. Nights in Okanagan Falls.
Day 14: Return to Vancouver
On our final full day we have some time for more birding or relaxing prior to returning on a four-hour drive to Vancouver. This leaves time for exploring since we take a different route—one takes us through other scenic mountains. We’ll be driving through areas of contiguous forest and will have time to detour and look for bonus birds such as Sharp-tailed Grouse or perhaps even a Great Gray Owl. We’ll check the Hope airport en route—a likely spot for vagrants. Night in Vancouver (1)
Day 15: Departure
Our British Columbia birding tour ends today and you can depart for flights home anytime today.