Young Birder Hawk Watch Trip to Sooke!

On Sunday Sept 24th, we had the final Young Birder Trip of the year. 8 kids and I went to Sooke for a hawk watch. We left Vancouver on the 7am ferry to Swartz Bay, we had nothing notable on the ride across. Last year I asked the kids what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go and Liron suggested a Hawk Watch for Broad-wingeds out of Sooke. Well great suggestion Liron, as everyone loved the trip. I asked my friend Guy Monty to help me during the hawk watch, as he is proficient in hawk watches, loves them and most importantly gets along with and treats the kids well. He answered all of their questions and provided some really interesting info on the hawks and vultures we were looking at and searching for. My friend Ren Ferguson from Salt Spring Island also joined us which was great.

The weather was not ideal for a hawk watch since it was very foggy and windy. Hawks prefer warmer thermals and at times it was quite cold. We still did very well though! On the 40 minute hike up to Beechy Head (where we were to do our hawk watch), we carried up our chairs, lunches, bins, scopes and cameras. The walk in was beautiful and we had a Northern Flicker, Varied Thrush, Pacific Wren and Downy Woodpecker just to name a few. At the top of the hill we were greeted with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean beneath us and moss covered trees around us and a kettle of hundreds of Turkey Vultures above us. As the skies opened up and blue sky and sun appeared, the kettles were really something to see! A Northern Pygmy-Owl was calling loudly, Guy already had another on the hike up. Soon after, the hawks started coming and I mean literally the sky was full of Sharp-shinned Hawks! Guy who does these hawk watches all the time told us he has never seen such a high count of Sharpies! We had 65! On top of that we had 70 Red-tailed Hawks which was incredible! Guy Monty spotted an adult Broad-winged Hawk (one of the major reasons we came as the kids wanted this lifer) that quickly disappeared beneath the ridge, never to return. Sadly not all the kids got on the Broad-winged Hawk but they all had an amazing time regardless. We heard a Barred Owl calling and saw over 200 Band-tailed Pigeons flying by and some even perched. A few Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks perched in front of us as well. Sharp-shinned Hawks and Turkey Vultures flew low right over our heads providing for great viewing and photo ops! The kids scoped the water below and we had a Black Oystercatcher, Heermann's Gull and Belted Kingfisher as highlights. A Hutton's Vireo, many Golden-crowned Kinglets and Chestnut-backed Chickadees were chatting loudly in the trees. It was nice having our lunch there in that beautiful spot and we were glad we carried up our blankets and chairs. Adam had the perfect set up on his little chair that was quite cute. He had popcorn in easy accessible bags attached to his chair, now that's the way to properly watch this spectacle!

We spent 5 hours at Beechy Head and the hawk watch was great! The kids got to see a spectacle of kettling Vultures and Hawks and some got a lifer Broad-winged Hawk which they had never seen before. One youth said it was their favourite young birder trip since he had never seen that large amount of kettling Raptors. After leaving Beechy Head, we hiked down to the meadow by the parking lot where we saw hundreds more of Turkey Vultures kettling, 15 Vaux's Swifts and an Osprey and more Red-tailed Hawks. We said goodbye to Guy and Ren and headed to Whiffin Spit. Apparently 5 mins after we left Guy found an immature Broad-winged Hawk but our cells had no service there so we had no clue. Oh well there is always next year :).

A big thanks to Guy Monty for driving from Parksville to Sooke, for helping the kids and I and for hiking 40 minutes up with a foot injury!! He's already signed up for the hawk watch next year! Thanks Guy haha :)

Our Highlights from the Hawk Watch were:

350 Turkey Vultures
65 Sharp-shinned Hawks
1 Osprey
2 Northern Harriers
4 Bald Eagle
3 Cooper's Hawks
70 Red-tailed Hawks
1 Northern Pygmy-Owl
1 Barred Owl
15 Vaux's Swifts
1 Hairy Woodpecker
1 Pileated Woodpecker
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Northern Flicker
1 Merlin
20 Red Crossbills
200 Band-tailed Pigeons
20 Pine Siskins
11 Steller's Jays

At Whiffin Spit we were chasing a previously reported Lark Sparrow.  He was sitting right at the parking lot and this was really reminiscent of a Black-throated Sparrow many of us chased there 2 years ago. We quickly got the Sparrow after Rebecca's mom Cathy spotted it. Here we also got a Heermann's Gull and Black Turnstones and then we headed on to Panama Flats.

At Panama Flats we entered off of Carey Rd and began searching the fields. The fields were literally ridden with hundreds of sparrows, most were Savannahs. 3 Black Merlins were flying low over the fields along with a female Northern Harrier. The scene was really pretty and reminded me of the prairies. We split up and began searching the quadrants and all of a sudden I spotted a female Bobolink and called it out as it flew over us. Bridget got on it but some others didn't. Liron started searching the centre dyke and flushed out another Bobolink that almost everyone got on. We ended up with a total of 2 out of the 4 Bobolinks that were reported. Here we left Rebecca and her dad and mom, Warren and Cathy. A big thanks to Warren Lee and Cathy Reader who are always keen to help me out on any Vancouver Island Trip, I truly appreciate it! I wish we saw more of you guys! Their other daughter Emma has moved back East for University and just as we very much miss Alice (who did the same), we will miss Emma a lot!

We headed next to Central Saanich Rd to try for one of the Young Birder Group's nemesis birds! We have two of them... the Eurasian Skylark and White-tailed Ptarmigan. Well finally after 3 years of trying we got our Skylarks! We ended up seeing 4 flush up and call several times from the bulb fields! This was a lifer for many, Cole was especially happy as he was trying forever, he said for these birds.

By this time our trip had run out of time and it was time to head back to Vancouver on the 7pm ferry. We did not have enough time to check out the reported Western Kingbirds in Sannich nor the Horth Hill location that Brian Self suggested I take the kids to for warbler migration. Thanks Brian, I'll have to keep it in mind for next year.

Thanks to everyone for a great trip! This is the final trip of the year and I thank you for another great year. This year we went on an overnight pelagic trip to Ucluelet, a trip to Manning Park, a hike up Mt Cheam in Chilliwack, a hike up Whistler Mtn and we ended with the Hawk Watch. This was a nice way to cap off this great year.

If anyone is interested in seeing Broad-winged Hawks and seeing the spectacle of hundreds of Vultures and Hawks kettling; there is going to be a public Hawk Watch on Saturday, Sept 30th. It is an all day drop in event and parking is at Alyard Farm at East Sooke Regional Park. The hike up to Beechy Head is highly recommended; where spotting scopes will be provided to participants. It is still best to bring your own if you have one.

If any youth aged 12-18 are interested in joining the Young Birder Program, please contact me at bcbirdergirl(at)gmail(dot)com
Young birders in Sooke - Photo: Warren Lee

The Young Birders enjoying the Hawk Watch at Beechy Head in Sooke - Photo: Guy Monty

Birding through the fog at Beechy Head - Photo: Melissa Hafting

A kettle of Turkey Vultures over Sooke - Photo: Guy Monty

Sharp-shinned Hawk flies overhead

Lark Sparrow in Sooke - Photo: Adam Dhalla


  1. Sounds like another great trip and a great way to end the year! Amazing all the birds you guys saw

  2. Stunning shots!! Big congrats to everyone on the Lark sparrow, Bobolinks, Broad-winged hawk, and Skylarks!! Glad you guys had an awesome trip!

  3. Thank you both so much! Viktor I wish you could have joined us as well! see you next year.

  4. melissa I am proud of you. although we don't see each other anymore due to distance you are someone you can't forget after meeting. you were a special person then and still are i can see. it's terrific what you are doing for those kids i wish someone like you were around when i was a kid, those kids don't know how lucky they are.

  5. Great post! This was a fantastic trip, probably my favorite of the young birder trips we have done so far. Thanks for taking us Mel!

    1. You are so welcome was my pleasure and thank you for the great trip idea I look fwd to this trip next year!

  6. Thanks so much mel for the awesome trip! It was so cool to see the skylarks!

    1. So welcome Adam and thanks for coming we will go back and see the Skylarks next year and hopefully improve on those photos! :)

  7. Congrats on the successful trip Mel, that is a lot of raptors!!! Also great to see you got the Bobolinks and Lark Sparrow! I wish I could have made it I love raptor migration!

    1. Yes I wish you could have to I'll do a Merritt or kamloops trip next year so we can see you again you are missed :)


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