An October Pelagic

Black-footed Albatross off Tofino  - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On the weekend I went out with 12 friends on a pelagic trip with Ocean Outfitters out of Tofino. Let me first start with our trip on the ferry. As we were having breakfast Bridget Spencer noticed a small passerine flying by after closer inspection we realized it was a Pine Siskin! A new ferry bird for us all. The poor thing was so tired it was sitting and drinking from the puddles on the car deck of the ferry. After we went back to our table and resumed eating Mike Toochin noticed a second passerine fly in this one seemed a bit bigger but we never could make a conclusive id as we saw the bird once more but only briefly.

The night before I had chased Kevin Louth's Tropical Kingbird in Delta but I promised the 2 young birders I drove over that we would go look for the reported one in Port Alberni. Bridget needed it for a BC bird so we went straight to the sewage lagoons at Somass Estuary. We saw lots of bear dung but no physical bears and a great variety of birds including a pure Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. As we walked in 2 km to the spot, I saw the Tropical Kingbird from a great distance away. It was so far I wanted to walk closer to clinch the id. As we finally got there we got good looks but the bird was skittish and kept dropping down but we were happy to get him!

Tropical Kingbird in Port Alberni - Photo: Bridget Spencer

Tropical Kingbird in Tofino - Photo: Bridget Spencer

As we were there I got a rare bird report about a Vermilion Flycatcher in White Rock. It was BC's first record and we were all the way on the wets coast of Vancouver Island. For a moment our happiness dissipated but we quickly remembered where we were and how lucky we were to be here and to be going on a pelagic the next day. Sadly that bird was never seen again by anyone. We headed straight for the Co-op in Tofino where we planned to buy our lunch and breakfast for the next day. Well before I could even start the car my friends Cameron Eckert and Joachim Bertrands texted me to let me know they found a Tropical Kingbird at the Co-op! You mean we just walked 4 km and you can just drive up to a Kingird?!! haha. Well we got to the Co-op and walked straight to the bird sitting on the wire. He was actively flycatching and we watched him catch a large bug. I couldn't believe that I had just seen 3 Tropical Kingbirds in less than 24 hours in BC! That's never happened to me before and I doubt again! After grocery shopping we ended the night with a delicious dinner at "Sobo," but before we even got into the restaurant I spotted a Barred Owl which was a new Port Alberni County bird for us all! We stayed at the fabulously renovate Tofino Marina Resort and went to bed with dreams of Red-footed Boobies and rare petrels.

Young Birders Cole and Bridget at Sobo Restaurant in Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Delicious Lingcod from Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next morning we all gathered at Ocean Outfitters. I was thrilled to have my friend Cameron Eckert there. He had flown down from the Yukon to join us. He is an exceptional birder as well who found some incredible birds like a Far-eastern Curlew. It was great to finally meet him in person. We had stunning weather on our trip. We went out with a few bumpy waves but beautiful sunshine and minimal fog. We were really worried about the fog since on Saturday (the day before) we went out there was thick pea soup fog and you could barely see in front of you. Well on Sunday it was warm, not raining and no fog! We couldn't believe our luck. Were we really in rainy Tofino I mean it was October after all! I had 2 young birders with me and they ended up getting 4 lifers Flesh-footed Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater, Black-footed Albatross and Buller's Shearwater. 2 adults on board also got lifers in the Short-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters.

There was no lifers for me but it is always a joy to be out on the water and see great birds like Flesh-footed, Short-tailed and Buller's Shearwaters  My fave bird of the day though, was the Black-footed Albatross. I am always in awe of their incredible wing span and subtle beauty and cute cries as they tear into rock fish!. We saw over 100 of them trailing behind the fishing boat.

Black-footed Albatross in flight - Photo: Cameron Eckert

Black-footed Albatrosses eating a rockfish - Photo: Melissa Hafting

"Fear Not II" Longliner (the boat that saved the day!) in Tofino - Photo: Cameron Eckert

A fishing boat makes or breaks your pelagic so it is always essential to find one and a dragger is always preferred because they drag up more fish which creates more smell which is needed to bring in the tubenoses. It took us an hour to find a fishing vessel. We did not find a dragger like we did when we found the 3 Short-tailed Albatrosses but we did find a Longliner. The Longliner rightly called "Fear Knot II" dissipated our worst fears and was actively fishing for rock fish and lingcod. Longliners are really bad news for albatross and cause thousands of their deaths every year as they chase fish on the lines and drown on the hooks. Draggers are even worse, but with new simple cheap technology like putting lights on their nets, commercial fishermen can save many of these birds. Seeing the Buller's with their gorgeous back pattern really got us all excited.

Buller's Shearwater with distinctive "zigzag" pattern  - Photo: Joachim Bertrands

Buller's Shearwater in flight - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After we left the Longliner we ended up finding 2 huge natural feeding frenzies.

Natural Feeding frenzie of Gulls and Shearwaters note mostly Herring Gulls - Photo: Melissa Hafting

This was where we would pick up our 2 Flesh-footed Shearwaters among others.

Flesh-footed Shearwater off Tofino - Photo: Cameron Eckert

Flesh-footed Shearwater off Tofino - Photo: Blair Dudeck

I can't forget the Sooty Shearwaters! We saw over 600 of them and they are never tiring to look at!

Sooty Shearwater - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We were surprised that we had no Fork-tailed Storm-petrels and no South Polar Skua. The Long-tailed Jaegers have already headed south but we did see one Pomarine Jaeger. We were all kind of surprised we didn't see a Parasitic. However, we were thrilled to see some Short-tailed Shearwaters and some sat on the water and others flew close by the boat allowing for some good photos and looks for this difficult id. We didn't see many Pink-footed Shearwaters, only 15. We saw a good number of all morphs of Northern Fulmars. Cole on board was telling us about how he was fishing off Haida Gwaii and the Fulmars came to his boat so he fed some by hand but they have razor sharp bills and they sliced his fingers open! Ouch!

Immature Pomarine Jaeger - Photo: Blair Dudeck

Pink-footed Shearwater - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Short-tailed Shearwaters in Tofino - Photo: Sharon Toochin

Pink-footed Shearwater in flight off Tofino - Photo: Cameron Eckert

light morph Northern Fulmar - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Northern Fulmar in flight - Photo: Blair Dudeck

As we drove out to this vessel we were greeted by a male Northern Fur Seal, that was waving his flippers at us, 4 Humpback Whales and Dall's Porpoises riding the wake of our boat which was really cool to see. They always remind me of little Orcas even though Orcas eat them. Getting back to the Northern Fur Seals my friend Blair Dudeck says they look like weird aliens ? What do you think?!! I think they are cute :D

Northern Fur Seal offshore in Tofino - Photo: Cameron Eckert

We almost thought we had Scripp's Murrelets at one point but on closer examination we figured the light played a trick on us. We did see many Cassin's Auklets though. Mike and Sharon Toochin were the only ones on board who got to see 2 Tufted Puffins in non-breeding plumage. The rest of us had to settle for Rhinos. We did see some beautiful Black-legged Kittiwakes though! Not to mention some definitive Red-necked Phalaropes and possible Red Phalaropes that were too distant to id to species.

A record shot of a Cassin's Auklet off Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Immature Black-legged Kittiwake on the water - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Immature Black-legged Kittiwake - Photo: Blair Dudeck

One of the coolest birds we saw on the trip was a Sandhill Crane flying around with the Black-footed Albatrosses. David Bell even got a photo of both the Crane and Albatross in one shot I wonder if anyone else in the world has a photo like that?

Sandhill Crane flying in pelagic waters! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Sandhill Crane with Black-footed Albatross - Photo: David Bell

On the way back in we saw Harbour Porpoises, California and Steller's Sea Lions and the most adorable marine mammal Sea Otters! It was so cute watching them lie on their backs with their paws up in the air!

Female Stellers's Sea Lions fishing near Cleland Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

An adult Sea Otter looking terribly cute! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On the way in we tried hard looking for a Manx but came up empty. I never did see a Laysan that I had hoped for either. But it didn't matter it was one awesome trip in beautiful weather! In the inshore waters we did see a Heermann's Gull, Pacific Loons and a Bald Eagle dive bombing a poor Cackling Goose. Everything else in shore was expected. As we got back into the dock we saw the thick fog rolling in and we realized just how lucky we were that we had that small window to do our pelagic so successfully! Another great pelagic in BC and I can't wait for the next one in 2019 where I hope to finally get a Parakeet Auklet.

A Pacific Loon helping send us home - Photo: Joachim Bertrands

A full trip list with more photos for the pelagic portion can be found HERE


  1. Wow, what a trip! Thanks for sharing.
    Your trip report plus the smith island trip wet my appetite for more. I need to get onto a pelagic next year, there will be so many new birds for me. Thanks again!

    1. Hey mario if you want to come on pelagics with me just send me an email and I'll add you to the invite list! cheers

    2. ps thanks for the nice comment glad you liked the report!

  2. Sounds like a great trip! Congratulations to everyone!

    1. thank you so much brian! great meeting you at iona it's been long time coming! :D

  3. What a wonderful trip you had! Every one of those birds would be a lifer for me. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Stunning pictures, Sounds like an absolutely amazing trip with beautiful weather. Amazing to see so many beautiful animals

    1. thanks meghan yes even though we saw fabulous birds seeing all the marine mammals was a true highlight for me. i loved seeing the dall's porpoises and sea otters and fur seals especially

  5. Thanks for organizing another fun and successful pelagic. Nice write-up and beautiful pictures by everyone!


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