• Photo credit
    Tofino Botanical Garden
  • Photo credit
    Tofino Botanical Garden
  • Photo credit
    Tofino Botanical Garden

Clayoquot Sound is situated on one of the major flyways for migrating birds on the West Coast.

Of the estimated 150 species of resident birds in Clayoquot Sound, you might see black oystercatchers, Stellar’s jays, osprey and more. The critical habitat of the Tofino Mudflats, located between the peninsula and Meares Island, is a 21-square kilometre protected Wildlife Management Area.

The Tofino Mudflats

Your first stop as a birdwatcher should be here, a muddy haven for birds and birders.  The most accessible land-based public viewing area is at the end of Sharp Road; turn off the highway at the Dolphin Motel. Another good access point is the waterfront of the Tofino Botanical Gardens.

This estuarine system is alive with a vast diversity of species, from shorebirds to waterfowl to waders. The importance of the Tofino Mudflats as a migratory shorebird stopover and a winter waterfowl refuge is recognized by Birdlife International, who designated the area one of Canada’s Important Bird Areas.

Great blue herons and bald eagles are commonly sighted year round on or near the mudflats, but the very best time for birdwatchers to visit the mudflats is late April through early May. Tens of thousands of shorebirds use the extensive mudflats and beaches in the area as a vital feeding and resting ground. Greater yellowlegs, whimbrels, dunlins, marbled godwits and dowitchers are all common sights in the spring, not to mention the abundance of western sandpipers. The massive flocks of these birds twisting and turning above Tofino’s inlets and beaches present astonishing aerial displays.

The shorebirds return in the fall, but their arrivals are staggered over many weeks, therefore less dramatic than their sudden spring convergence. This begins in July and by October, the southward shorebirds are joined by a cacophony of honking overhead from thousands of migrating Canada geese. Watch also for the majestic white trumpeter swans, stopping by briefly in the late fall to dabble in protected inlets at high tide.

Winter is waterfowl season at the mudflats. Tens of thousands of ducks arrive here each winter to take advantage of the relatively protected waters and the abundance of food. Buffleheads, northern pintails, white-winged scoters and green- winged teals are commonly sighted species.

The best mudflat birdwatching from land requires excellent binoculars or a good spotting scope.  A Meares Island tour will provide a partial view of the mudflats area, but the best way to view this highly diverse ecosystem is by sea kayak on a rising tide.

Pelagic Birdwatching 

Pelagic birds inhabit the open ocean, and our area of the Pacific Ocean is home to many species of pelagic birds that are rarely, if ever, seen on shore or from shore. These species are highly sought-after by many birders looking for rare birds to add to their life lists.

If you head out to sea some 50 km offshore from Tofino, you enter the territory of south polar skuas, pomarine and parasitic jaegers, pink-footed and sooty shearwaters and northern fulmars. It can be challenging to arrange a pelagic birding tour because the weather must cooperate with the timing of the trip. Heavy seas are common offshore, and birdwatching is not possible in these conditions. Fall is the most common time to try to get offshore for a birding trip.  Luckily, some pelagic bird species stay a little closer to shore. Seabirds that you might see on a whale watching tour include marbled murrelets, tufted puffins, rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots and common murres. These species are all spotted year round in Clayoquot Sound.  Happy birding, and here’s to your own big year!


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