Day 1: Meet in Parksville
Our self-drive birding tour of Vancouver Island begins at noon in Nanaimo on the east side of Vancouver Island. We’ll meet and go over the plan for the tour before visiting several pleasant birding sites between the ferry and the northern Gulf Islands. It’ll be a great introduction back into group birding amid the always-exciting west coast avifauna. Some of our target birds include Black-throated Gray, MacGillivray’s and Townsend’s Warblers, Hutton’s Vireo, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Anna’s Hummingbird and others. Night in Parksville.
Day 2: Parksville to Tofino
To start the morning we explore the shores of Georgia Strait and environs, scanning for waterbirds with a backdrop of the Coast Mountains behind. Peregrine Falcons often ply the airways here. We then traverse west, 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. Other species we should find during an easy hiking loop are Brown Creeper and Hairy Woodpecker.
Further west, we start smelling the ocean air again and anticipate the coastal environs beyond Port Alberni. Soon we can drive no further west and we’ll turn into Pacific Rim National Park to investigate the wild Wikininnish Beach, where we look for Black Oystercatcher, Willet, Sanderling, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Wilson’s Warbler, Fox Sparrow and Chestnut-backed Chickadee, to name a few! Night in Ucluelet.
Days 3 and 4: Pacific Rim
The next morning, weather permitting, we depart on our 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 we’ll visit a small colony of Tufted Puffins. Once arriving offshore at the deep Clayoquot Canyon we may encounter ocean-faring species such as Black-footed Albatross, Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Common Murre, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Red-necked Phalarope and Ancient Murrelet, among many others. Blue Sharks, Rizzo’s Dolphins and Northern Fur Seals are a possibility and on other tours we have twice seen the enigmatic Short-tailed Albatross, a species that nests in Japan. Surprises await us on this six-hour tour.
Our second full day in the Pacific Rim area allows a backup day for the pelagic tour and otherwise more exploration of the ethereal rainforests in this area. We’ll hike a couple of old-growth trails, scan for loons and scoters over Florencia Beach and visit the town of Tofino, where Bald Eagles are more common than House Sparrows. Shorebirds could be on the move and this area has some of the best viewing in the province. Early mornings on Long Beach and other sites offer a peaceful experience for birders, to be shared with only a handful of surfers and a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. Near our hotel is Amphitrite Lighthouse, which provides a spot for gorgeous ocean views. Nights in Ucluelet.
Day 5: West Coast and return
This morning we’ll go on the hunt for any species that may have eluded us so far. A final overlook of Florencia Bay or Amphitrite is always warranted, and can provide surprises. After lunch, you are free to make your way back to Nanaimo and points beyond. Alternatively, you may wish to extend your time here and enjoy more of what this area has to offer: Kayak, whale-watch, or even surf!