Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Sampling the 19th annual shorebird festival in Tofino, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Heather walking one of the broad sandy beaches in the area
    On Friday, April 29th we headed to Tofino to check out their 19th annual weekend shorebird festival. My brother, Bruce and his wife , Mary Ellen  had been to the festival a few years earlier and suggested that we meet them in Tofino this year. We arrived in bright sunshine and the good weather lasted all weekend. We are new to birding so thought this might be a good way to learn about shorebirds. The Raincoast Education Society puts on the event and many of the events were free or had a minimal cost. There were boat tours, guided bird walks, indoor presentations and even a birding excursion by kayak that we planned on joining on Sunday, May 1.  On Friday night we listened to a talk by Dr. Mark Drever from the Canadian Wildlife Service who spoke about the northward shorebird migration in B.C. He said that the Tofino area is noteworthy since it has such a diversity of habitats, from sandy beaches to rocky headlands as well as extensive mud flats.  In past years close to 30 species of shorebirds have been seen during the spring migration. 
Jess Findlay (2nd from left) led an informative bird photo workshop on Cox Bay
   On Saturday morning we took in a very good bird photography workshop with Jess Findlay. He led a very informative session with a 45 minute indoor talk followed by an outdoor excursion on a Cox Bay. Jess leads photography workshops for a living and we were fortunate to be able to have him show us how to approach birds in the field to have the best chance of photographing them. There weren’t many birds on the beach that day likely because of the large number of people out walking the beach and surfing, but he did find a small flock of semipalmated plovers with a couple of western sandpipers in the mix. “Stay low and slowly approach the birds making sure that you don’t disturb them” he told us. He had many other practical tips for getting better bird images and we really enjoyed his presentation.

We saw semipalmated plovers feeding in the wet sand 

  In the afternoon we did a shorebird identification talk with Dr. Barbara Beasley and her talk was aimed mainly for the beginner which we appreciated. “Try to learn the shape and size of the various birds and that will help give you an idea of what you are looking at. For instance, plovers are usually round and curvy with short bills where as whimbrels and the long billed curlew are large and have long beaks.” After her talk we headed down to the mudflats to try to see some of the birds she had just described. Unfortunately the tide was quite far out and there were not any birds to be seen! As the tide rose it began to push the birds toward the shore and we were eventually treated to some whimbrels as well as a few other sandpipers.  Thanks to the Rainforest Educational Society  (http://raincoasteducation.org/) for organizing this event and they offer a variety of other educational courses and other programmes. For a review of what we saw on our "Birding by Kayak" tour on Sunday, May 1 click http://keithnicol.blogspot.ca/2016/05/birding-at-tofino-shorebird-festival.html
We saw several whimbrels on the mud flats (note the long bill)

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