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BC Self-drive: Lower Mainland Shorebird Migration

  1. 2021
    Sunday, August 22, 2021 to Tuesday, August 24, 2021
    Tour Duration: 
    3 days
    Tour Price:
     $975 CAD
    Single Supplement:
     $215 CAD
    Tour Starts/Ends: 
    + 5% GST
    Number of Persons Limit: 
  • Spectacular numbers and diversity of shorebirds
  • Excellent reserves and protected areas in the Fraser River delta with a marvellous backdrop of the Coastal Mountains
  • Always a chance of finding a rare or unexpected species!

The Fraser River estuary and delta south of Vancouver is a wonderful area for shorebirds, with huge expanses of tidal mudflats, bogs, and marshes, and is recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) owing to its diverse habitats and the huge numbers of migrating and wintering waterbirds.

Shorebird migration is in full swing in August as Arctic breeding shorebirds head south. Boundary Bay is a key refueling site for shorebirds heading further south. On this birding tour, we explore the marshes, wetlands and coastal mudflats of the Fraser River delta, and our daily itinerary will be determined by tides and by reports of target species.


Itinerary View Short Itinerary

Day 1: Iona and Sea Island

Our self-drive shorebird migration tour begins in Vancouver. Specifically, we will meet near the Vancouver International Airport— one of the British Columbia’s birding hotspots!

Iona and Sea Islands, near the airport, are top birding sites. Each has wetlands, lagoons and rocky jetties extending out into the delta, and are among the best places to see migrant birds. Landbirds here include Bewick’s Wren, Warbling Vireo and Bushtit, but the main focus will be the vast flocks of shorebirds and gatherings of waterfowl.

Iona, in particular, has long been recognized as one of the best places to study shorebirds. The riverbank, Fraser River tidal flat, marsh, grass and beach habitats attract a wide range of birds, including many rare and vagrant species. At lagoons and along the jetties we can expect Gadwall, American Wigeon, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teals, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Surf Scoter, Hooded and Common Mergansers, and Ruddy Duck. Marshy areas support Pied-billed Grebes and Virginia Rails as well as Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wrens, and occasionally a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds to be found in the gatherings of Red-wings. Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants and Black Turnstones might be along the jetty. Raptors are often numerous, ranging from Ospreys and Bald Eagles to Northern Harriers, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. Shorebirds are abundant, and with them come both Merlins and Peregrines. The most abundant shorebird is Western Sandpiper, occurring in the thousands, and among them are Semipalmated, Least, Pectoral, Baird’s, and Spotted Sandpipers. Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers should be here, as well as Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers occur in good numbers.  There is always the possibility of a rarity or two showing up. Other species we can expect are Mew, California and Glaucous-winged Gulls, as well as flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls which often have a few Franklin’s Gulls among them, Caspian and Common Terns. Finally, It’s possible to see all of the seven regularly-occurring swallows in Canada at this one site.

Depending on the tides and what we have found at Iona Island, we may visit Sea Island, and look for species that we have not seen up to now. Night in Tsawwassen.

Day 2: Reifel Bird Sanctuary and Boundary Bay

This morning we visit the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a part of the Alaksen National Wildlife Area, located on Westham Island in Delta. A superb birding spot, it is situated on the Fraser River Estuary, just west of the South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and east of the Roberts Bank WMA. The Sanctuary contains habitats important for migrating birds, including tidal salt water mudflats, fresh water springs, brackish and salt marshes, and upland fields. These habitats attract a wide range of bird species, expanding on our variety from yesterday. Wetland species include Wood Ducks among other expected waterfowl; Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Sandhill Cranes, Virginia Rails and possibly Soras, and shorebirds could include phalaropes, dowitchers and Solitary Sandpiper. Eurasian Collared-Dove is now very common, both Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds could be visiting the hummingbird feeders, and Marsh and Bewick’s Wrens are widespread. We have the possibility of finding owls – Barn, Barred, Great Horned, and Short-eared. Brewer’s Blackbirds are here, and there is a chance of finding Bullock’s Oriole.

In the afternoon, we head for Boundary Bay, considered by many to offer the best shorebirding in Canada (at least 47 species, over 30 of them occurring regularly). This area is internationally significant and designated as an Important Bird Area. Each year, Boundary Bay is used by 1.5 million birds and day counts of more than 100,000 waterfowl have been recorded. Birds and other wildlife depend on the extensive salt and fresh water marshes, tidal mudflats, grassland, sand dunes and sandy shoreline. We’ll search Boundary Bay Regional Park for Dunlin, Western Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover and there is always the possibility of encountering more uncommon shorebirds that pass through the region such as American and Pacific Golden-Plovers, Bar-tailed, and Hudsonian Godwits, Red Knot, and Buff-breasted and Stilt Sandpipers. At Blackie Spit we hunt for Caspian Tern, Sanderling, Whimbrel, and possibly Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit. Shorebird viewing, although challenging, offers high rewards with the chance of a surprise in every flock! Night in Tsawwassen.

Day 3: Revisit Shorebird Hotspots and return to Vancouver

We spend the morning revisiting a few more top shorebird sites, including the likes of Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, White Rock Pier, and/or Brunswick Point. This will give us a chance to look for new and interesting species, or even more of the same stunners! We end our self-drive shorebird tour in the late afternoon and you can head home or to your accommodation for the night.

We are happy to arrange accommodation at the start and end of the tour for people coming from outside the lower mainland.

Featured Wildlife