1 of 2 Horned Puffins we saw at Triangle Island off Vancouver Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Young Birder program graduate and friend Ian Harland asked me to go out to Triangle Island with the company he works for in Port Hardy on Canada Day and I said HELL YES and THANK YOU! I had seen Horned Puffins before but never in Canada. 

Ian's awesome boss Andrew Jones from Coastal Raincoast Safaris let me bring young Birder Kalin Ocana who has always been unlucky on any pelagic I've organized. All the ones he signed up for got cancelled or he couldn't make it for one reason or another. He always said Mel if you ever find a way out to Triangle Island to please bring him. I told him to come down the night before and stay at my place and LET'S DO THIS! So he did and we were off to Vancouver Island to see some other friendly unfamiliar and friendly familiar faces on the boat that I wasn't expecting to be there and my friend Brian Stech.

Before I get to the boat trip we stopped in Campbell River on the way up to look at an Arctic and Common Tern that had been present for a few days. Both are rare there for this time of year. A few Arctic Terns have bred at nearby Cortez Island in the past. These Terns were at the end of Heard Rd where I had seen a Snowy Plover before. It is a peaceful and beautiful place just to sit, watch and photograph these Terns, which were flocking with Bonaparte's Gulls.

Juvenile Common Tern in Campbell River - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Adult Arctic Tern in Campbell River - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Bonaparte’s Gulls in Campbell River - Photo: Kalin Ocana

As we were riding out, on what would be a 10 hour trip, we were awed by the beauty surrounding us. This was my second trip to Triangle Island having been there before in 2014 with Liron Gertsman on the Naiad Explorer with McKay's Whale Watching. On the ride out we were lucky to see Dall's and Harbour Porpoises, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, a Humpback Whale, Steller's Sea Lions and Sea Otters. We even saw a Black Bear feeding on the shore as we passed Cox and Lanz Islands. I loved watching the Dall's Porpoises ride the waves at the bow of our boat.  I made a video of this excitement you can watch below:

Sea Otter (1 of many) en route to Triangle Island - Photo: Kalin Ocana

As we made our way out to Sartine Island we saw tons of Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinocerous Auklets, Surf Scoters and a few White-winged Scoters, Sooty Shearwaters, Pacific and Common Loons, Common Murres and Cassin's Auklets.  This was my first time visiting the Sartine Island Ecological Reserve. It was quite abundant with Tufted Puffins. Not a single tree on the island just like Triangle. Public access is only granted by permit by BC Parks for research or education purposes and there are additional regulations for this area under the Canada Wildlife Act (the Scott Islands Protected Marine Area Regulations) which prohibit boaters from being within 300 meters of the low water mark of Triangle, Sartine or Beresford Islands. There are also flight restrictions in place.

1 of many Rhinoceros Auklets near Triangle Island - Photo: Kalin Ocana

When we finally got out to the impressive Triangle Island it was very wavy. It takes about 4 hours by boat to get from Port Hardy to Triangle because of the swells and waves and this was a good day to go out! Many trips don't get out to Triangle because of the swell and rough conditions. We sure lucked out with the weather but it was still so wavy and rough around the island. This is not the trip to do if you even get mildly queasy on boats and if you know you get seasick, never do this trip. The boat is jostling and bumping you always up and down and you get wet from the splash in your face (you were a warm dry suit) especially if you sit in the front like Kalin and I did. Boy was I glad to be wearing ski goggles to help with the wind and salt ocean going into my face constantly. The seats are super comfy though with shock absorbers but it was still akin to riding a rodeo bull down a rollercoaster at super fast speeds! We just loved it but I know some may not. Kalin and I were laughing the whole way out. It really did feel like a constant roller coaster ride haha.

Anyways, when we got there we were struck by the islands rocky cliffs full of Brandt's and Pelagic Cormorants, Glaucous-winged Gulls, and huge numbers of Common Murres and when I say huge numbers I mean around 7500. When they flew the sky looked like it was full of insects. It reminded me of a smaller scaled Witless Bay in NFLD. Thick-billed Murre have been spotted there by researchers like Ken Wright who work on the island. However, from a boat you must stay 350m back from the island, since it is an ecological preserve and the chance to pick one out in the crowd is pretty near to impossible in my opinion from the water. Access to the island is only by research permit only. We scanned the thousands in the water around the island but came up empty. If you got one on the water near your boat it would be relatively easy and I say relatively because of the big waves around there making viewing difficult. 

Kalin looking at the thousands of Common Murres at Triangle Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Common Murres on the water at Triangle Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Common Murres were thick as thieves at Triangle Island - Photo: Kalin Ocana 

We had one single Leach's Storm-Petrel fly by which was nice to see, especially for Kalin whom it was a lifer for. We scanned the large mass of Tufted Puffins for Horned Puffins and came up with 2.  In about 230 Tufted Puffins I was surprised to find so few but maybe some were in burrows or feeding elsewhere. Of all the puffin species I think Tufted Puffins are the most beautiful, with their orange bills, black bodies and striking long blonde locks. Seeing the Horned Puffins were so special though. It was special because for one that I could get out there in the first place. Secondly, that I got to share it with Kalin, who got so many lifers on the trip and his excitement was palpable. When a huge Black-footed Albatross started flying right to our boat I thought he was going to fall overboard because he was so excited! It definitely made my trip! Black-footed Albatross are not common at Triangle Island and are awe inspiring with their impressive wingspan, no matter how many times one sees one.

1 of hundreds of Tufted Puffins at Triangle Island - Photo: Kalin Ocana

It was fun to watch the little Cassin's Auklets being too full of fish to take off the water. They would try to take off and just plop right down again it was kind of comical. There were ground nesting Bald Eagles there. We also saw some nesting on a cliff ledge using driftwood for their stick nest.  There was also a Peregrine Falcon of the Peale's subspecies hunting over the cliffs. Both of these raptors survive on nesting seabirds on the island. 

Some sides of the island are not sheer rock and covered in burrows and greenery where the Puffins nest. The guano smell from the Cormorants and Murresm Gulls and seabirds is quite strong, even from the water. I spotted 4 Ancient Murrelets for the group. One adult and 3 chicks. Ancient Murrelets are rare for this time of year and location, as they nest in Haida Gwaii and traveled this far.They normally travel to Alaska with the parents. After the chick hatches and the adult on the water calls them from their nest holes in the forest, the tiny chicks go running to the ocean and never come back to land until they are ready to breed. If you want to learn more about the migration and nesting habits of Ancient Murrelets in BC check out the new netflix documentary Our Planet II episode 1 with David Attenborough. When these chicks are only 2 days old they make one of the most incredible journeys of any chick in the bird world. The adults only have 2 chicks so it was a tad strange to see an adult with 3 large chicks.

Ancient Murrelet adult with chicks at Triangle - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Ancient Murrelet family at Triangle - Photo: Kalin Ocana

Andrew had prepared a delicious lunch for us. His wife made cookies and ham and cheese sandwiches with quinoa salad. It was kind of hard to eat on the bumpy ocean but so yummy. On the ride back in we had more Dall's Porpoises riding the bow and when we got back to the dock everyone was tired and covered in salt but very happy.

The Horned Puffin was BC bird #452 for me and a nice way to spend Canada Day. Thanks again to Ian and Andrew for this wonderful opportunity and epic trip!


  1. wow mel looks like so much fun congrats on the horned puffins and so nice of you to take out the nice young man. after your difficult loss this year it is nice to see you get a little joy in your life. the photos of the common tern are so beautiful. the horned puffin is nice too but hard to beat your amazing photos of that species from smith island, wa

  2. PacificnorthwestkateJuly 3, 2023 at 8:50 PM

    What an epic trip Melissa!! Such a great experience for you all - including Kalin! Thank you for sharing awesome photos - it looks an amazing place!

  3. Thanks for taking me Mel. Was a sweet trip thanks for all you do for young birders and the mentorship and friendship you have provided me I ain't forgetting it.


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