Young birder overnight trip to Cleland Island

Young Birders happy in Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I rented a large 8 seater GMC Yukon SUV and we drove to Tofino from Vancouver. We had kids from the island meeting us there! We had 12 youth in total. The kids were stoked when I picked them up in Ladner. We drove to Tofino and had no problems on Hwy 4 because it was open to alternating traffic on weekends. When we got to Tofino we checked out Wick Beach as my friend Ian Cruickshank had told me he had 8 Marbled Godwits there earlier. However, by the time we drove through the beach was filled up with people. 

Young Birders at Wick Beach - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Ian told me he had also seen hundreds of shorebirds. He had 130 Semipalmated Plovers, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, 40 Sanderling, 180 Westerns and a dozen Leasts! 

We had to check in and get groceries for the next day and get dinner so didn’t have time to hike down to Comber’s but we went to the Sharp Rd Lookout and MacKenzie Beach instead. Mackenzie was so peaceful and beautiful. We had a hundred Western Sandpipers,  Belted Kingfisher, Oystercatchers, Pigeon Guillemots, Townsend’s Warblers, Surf Scoter, Western Flycatcher and more. We also had a River Otter and Harbour Seal and had fun tide pooling.

The Youth exploring Mackenzie Beach - Photo: Melissa Hafting

River Otter at Mackenzie Beach - Photo: Heather T.

After this we checked into our private rooms at the hostel and then went to the Shed for a delicious dinner of burgers and went to bed with dreams of Tufted Puffins in our head.

We woke up the next morning and ate the breakfast I bought for the kids the night before at Co-Op Grocery Store.

We got to the Whale Centre and met up with the other youth coming from Vancouver Island, Katya, Julia and Adam. We put on our survival suits and were ready for our adventure!

We loaded onto the boat and went off towards Cleland Island. John told us about a wolf pup family on one of the islands (leaving the name off for their protection). We saw tons of cute Sea Otters and heard about one that was very nasty who dragged Seal Pups in the water bit them up, tortured them and eventually killed them. I knew males were brutal to females during mating season and could sometimes kill them and their pups but never heard of this! They are deceptively cute!

Sea Otter at Cleland Island - Photo: Heather T.

Sea Otters in Tofino - Photos: Melissa Hafting

John Forde pointed out a Minke Whale and a Humpback Whale lunge feeding! which was super cool. We also saw Harbour Porpoises, Harbour Seals, Steller Sea Lions and many Harbour Seal adults with pups. 

Humpback Whale near Cleland Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Heather and Toby on the boat near Cleland Island - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Steller Sea Lions at Cleland Island - Photo: Toby Ye

When we got to Cleland Island I pointed out an Ancient Murrelet for the group. It was among all the Rhinocerous Auklets. It is rare to see them there this time of year, since they breed in Haida Gwaii. 

Ancient Murrelet at Cleland Island - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Rhino Auklets at Cleland Island - Photo: Heather T.

Rhinoceros Auklet in Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We also spotted a whopping 6 Wandering Tattlers, Common Murres, Marbled Murrelets, dozens of Rhino Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oystercatchers and Heermann’s Gulls! We also had over 100 Sooty Shearwaters! Spotted Sandpipers and Westerns were also present. It was a bit strange to see a Whimbrel on the island!

Black Oystercatcher at Cleland Island - Photo: Toby Ye 

1 of 6 Wandering Tattlers at Cleland Island - Photo: Heather T.

Pigeon Guillemots on Cleland Island - Photo: Toby Ye

Common Murres at Cleland Island - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Whimbrel at Cleland Island - Photo: Toby Ye 

Marbled Murrelets in Tofino - Photo: Toby Ye

The highlight though was the Tufted Puffins and we ended up spotting 6 of those beautiful alcids with the clown faces and blond locks! It was a lifer for almost all in the group except for Bentley and Julia! You can never tire of seeing puffins! When one flew right to me I got the best shots I think ever personally of this species. They are my fave of all the Puffins!

Tufted Puffins at Cleland Island - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Tufted Puffins at Cleland Island - Photo: Toby Ye

Heermann’s Gull at Cleland Island - Photo: Toby Ye

Sooty Shearwaters at Cleland Island - Photos: Melissa Hafting

On the way back in we had a Red-necked Phalarope fly across the bow.

Youth happy on board - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Most youth got 5 lifers including Tufted Puffin, Heermann’s Gull, Sooty Shearwater, Ancient Murrelet and Wandering Tattler.

After this we had delicious Rockfish and Chips from “Big Daddy’s Fish Fry” and then drove home very happy! On the ferry we had fun playing Uno and Cheat with glow in the dark playcards. The kids also taught me how to play Monopoly with cards since I’m so old I knew only how to play the board game!

Thanks to all the young birders attending for another great trip and to the supportive parents!


  1. What a great trip and what a wonderful mentor you are, Melissa. Those kids will probably remember this trip for the rest of their lives. Great photos of the Puffin in flight. Wish I was a kid again, but am still finding some fun as much as I can, Cheers, G. McDonell

  2. Mel you are a marvel. You have made the bc birding community so much better especially for younger folk. Your legacy will live on through all the children you have mentored. I am in awe of all you do.

  3. PacificnorthwestkateJuly 26, 2023 at 4:41 PM

    What a great trip - you’re such an inspiring mentor to these young people Melissa!! And puffins!! How wonderful!! What a fun trip - well done!

  4. What a fantastic trip you organized, looks like an amazing adventure and wonderful photos! Love the work you do with youth, getting them together exploring the natural world.

  5. It takes a special person yo wrangle that many kids and boy they will be grateful to you when they grow up. This was beautiful to read and you got wonderful flight photos of that puffin Mel!


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