Young Birder Pelagic Trip to Tofino Plus A Special Surprise In Vancouver!

Young Birders on Mackenzie Beach in Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafitng

We had a great pelagic trip this weekend in Tofino. We all got to meet young birder Gaelen from Nelson for the first time this trip. He was an awesome kid and birder and fit right into our little group. On the ferry ride over Gaelen got his lifer Pelagic Cormorant but we didn't see much else. We drove straight from Departure Bay to Tofino as we wanted to have time to bird the beaches.

Toby's dad had thought he might have found a Spotted Redshank the day before flying by the crab dock so we looked for it but didn't find it. However, we did have a Purple Martin here flying over us, which is quite uncommon. Here we also got Gaelen his lifer Black Turnstone.

The beaches were really quiet. We stopped at Wick, Long Beach and Mackenzie. Mackenzie was good though because the youth had fun tide-pooling. They caught and released sculpins, crabs and looked at sea anemones and watched Black Oystercatchers and an Osprey. Katya was definitely the best fish catcher!.

Crab in a tide pool at Mackenzie Beach - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Mackenzie Beach in Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We were disturbed when we watched a grown adult illegally harvesting Starfishes. We have 3 vegetarians in our group and it was horrifying to know these animals would die a slow death when the offenders told us they were going to dry out the live sea stars.

Black Oystercatcher on Mackenzie Beach - Photo: Gaelen Schnare

Regardless, we had a nice time and due to the lack of birds it was nice to find something to occupy the youth's time. We had a heck of a time finding a place to eat. Tofino was so crowded! We ended up getting in at SHED restaurant after an hour wait. The food was delish. I never saw the youth eat so fast as they did that night!.

We went to bed at the hostel (which is sadly now pricing their private rooms at the cost of a 4 star hotel) and were up at 5:50 am for the pelagic. The weather was gorgeous the day before but this morning it was raining and the forecast didn't look great. 7 people on the pelagic bailed out and would not be refunded but the youth and I were eager to go. The captain said it would be wet but safe to go out so off we went in our orange warm survival suits.
Gaelen and Katya excited to go out on our pelagic! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We went in a boston whaler from The Whale Centre with Captain John Forde. He was very kind to our group and helpful and we first drove by Cleland Island where we saw 3 Tufted Puffins. This was a lifer for Gaelen. The other youth had seen Puffins before on a Cleland Island Trip we did with John a few years ago. We didn't see any of the reported Brown Pelicans seen a few days prior on the island. At Cleland Island we saw a cute Sea Otter and some Harbour Porpoises. Plus the island had many nesting Pigeon Guillemots and a few Harlequin Ducks and quite a few Common Murres, Rhinos and Marbled Murrelets.

Tufted Puffin at Cleland Island - Photo: Gaelen Schnare

However, nearby we got our first Cassin's Auklet and great looks at it too. We ended up seeing 40 of these little guys that ate so much they couldn't fly. Funny enough we ended up seeing more Cassin's than Rhinos in pelagic waters.

Cassin's Auklet off Tofino - Photo: Gaelen Schnare

We saw at least 90 Red-necked Phalaropes on our trip and a handful of Red Phalaropes. Which was cool. We could really see the differences in size and plumage. We did have a few Northern Fulmars fly by as well. 

Red Phalarope off Tofino - Photo: Bridget Spencer

The most numerous pelagic bird we had was 300 Sooty Shearwaters but we had very low numbers of Pink-footed Shearwaters. These were the only 2 shearwater species we saw during our trip. 

Sooty Shearwater off Tofino - Photo: Gaelen Schnare

When we got out to the Continental Shelf we started to see Albatrosses. All were Black-footed but they never fail to disappoint; they are such stunning incredible birds.

Black-footed Albatross off Tofino - Photo: Bridget Spencer

When we were out by the shelf we came upon some cute Northern Fur Seals and a Humpback Whale! The whale was huge and right in front of us. John told us about the footprints that whale's like this make when they dive which was really interesting for the youth to know about. He also took some photos to help identify the whales. John sometimes goes out with DFO researchers and recently photographed the new Orca calf from J-Pod. You can see his photo HERE.

Humpback Whale off Tofino - Photo: Gaelen Schnare

Humpback Whale showing its tail flukes before diving - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We also ended up seeing not one but 3 Mola Mola! These odd and weird looking fish swam right by our boat. I've seen these a few times during pelagics in BC and WA but never on the youth pelagics so that was really cool! I think this weird looking fish may have been the highlight for some of the youth.

The largest Mola Mola seen during our trip - Photo: Bridget Spencer

Cole spotted an Arctic Tern in the distance and then 2 more were spotted closer to the boat. Bridget was able to get some nice photos. We had fun going over the differences between Arctic and Common Tern together.

1 of 3 Arctic Terns seen during our pelagic - Photo: Bridget Spencer

By now we were getting soaked =, even though we had our water resistant survival suits on and our rain gear ...water started coming down our neck. It started to hit our faces hard and hurt our skin but we kept going... the birds were worth it. We won't lie though, it was kind of miserable and cold. No pain no gain right?

We were rewarded with a flock of Fork-tailed and Leach's Storm-Petrels that flew right near our boat. This bird was a lifer for all youth on board except for Cole. It was nice to compare the vast differences between Fork-tailed and Leach's in such close proximity.

Leach's Storm-Petrel off Tofino - Photo: Bridget Spencer

At one point I was sure I saw a small flock of distant Sabine's Gulls but my bins were so rainy and fogged up and the birds too distant to confirm this. To counter this small disappointment; we had an adult Long-tailed Jaeger literally fly right over our boat, which was just incredible. John took us back via Ucluelet and by Amphitrite Lighthouse. It was nice to see this impressive landmark from a different vantage point on the ocean.

It may have been a wet pelagic with low numbers and diversity for this time of year but this was mostly due to the fact that we were unsuccessful in finding a fishing boat. It is active fishing boats (since we aren't allowed to chum on bc pelagic charters) that make or break your pelagic but we still had a very fun pelagic with some great seabirds.

The kids all had fun which is what counts. We were drenched when we got back so we all changed into dry clothes and made it back (amazingly) as the last car on the 5:45pm ferry!.The whole drive to the ferry we were all telling jokes it was quite hilarious some of these kids should think about careers as comedians.

A Brown Pelican had been seen in Point Roberts while we were in Tofino and also spotted from the Tsawwassen ferry jetty so we checked out the area when we got off but couldn't find it. We did see many Oystercatchers, 7 Marbled Godwits and a Whimbrel (another lifer for Gaelen) which was cool.

I treated the kids to some yummy hot chocolate at Starbucks and then said goodbye to all the youth. It was a bit sad to say goodbye this evening as it was the last young birder trip that Cole would be on. He is soon off to University in a few weeks. Next month we have our last young birder trip, which will be to Manning Park and I'll be saying goodbye as well to Bridget. I sure will miss these youth that I have had the privilege to work with for the last 5 years. They are incredibly special to me. I am so proud of them as they travel on to Uni and a new life stage. It's been so fun learning with them.  They have taught me so much about birds and working with youth.

Anyways, we did have a lovely overnight trip to Tofino and fun pelagic. Gaelen slept over at my place as he would fly back to Nelson the next day. I asked him if he wanted to get up early and bird before his flight and he said yes and listed off a few lifers he needed in Vancouver. We could get 3 of them (Hutton's Vireo, Purple Finch and Bewick's Wren) at the Richmond Nature Park, so off we went. We walked the Bog Trail and quickly found these lifers and more. Gaelen and I were quite thrilled. As we were admiring the very high number of American Goldfinches and fledglings present we turned and saw a male Black-chinned Hummingbird coming to a nearby feeder!.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Gaelen was surprised they were considered rare here, as they are common in Nelson! haha. This was a new Vancouver bird for me and the 4th record for Metro Vancouver!. Many people got to see the bird throughout the day, making the find all the more special.

It was a great way for Gaelen to end his trip. I took him to the airport and closed off a great weekend with some fabulous young birders.

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting


  1. Sounds like another great trip! Never heard of a Mola Mola before. Nice end with an awesome hummingbird!


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