Day 1 – Tour begins this afternoon / evening in Prince Rupert, on BC’s Central Coast. From here we’ll spend the night together, and sail across to the islands in the morning. Night in Prince Rupert.
Day 2 – This morning we’ll find ourselves a BC Ferry, on our way to fabled Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. The crossing takes several hours and we have a good chance at some exciting pelagic species from the boat. A few of the goodies we may encounter on the crossing include Sooty, Pink-footed and Buller’s shearwaters, Fork-tailed and Leach’s storm-petrels, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake and who knows what else. This time of year is great for unusual pelagic species to turn up. Alcids, such as Cassin’s and Rhinoceros auklets, Marbled Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Common Murre and Pigeon Guillemots are seen on many crossings. This is one of the best places in North America to see Yellow-billed Loons. Up to 10 can be seen on the crossing by lucky observers. Both Parasitic and Pomarine jeagers were noted on our 2015 tour as were several groups of Orcas!
Once we arrive in Queen Charlotte City, our home base for the next two nights, we’ll unpack our stuff, relax a little and perhaps if there’s time, walk around the town a little to see what we can see. Any town and village on the islands at this time of year can be harboring exciting rarities and we’ll spend a bit of time searching for these birds. In particular Asian Vagrants that may be hiding in the shrubs and trees of towns could include birds like Brambling, Rustic Bunting, Little Bunting, or perhaps something even rarer! Night in Queen Charlotte City.
Day 3 – From Queen Charlotte City, we’ll take a short ferry ride over to Alliford Bay, which is near Sandspit. On the short ride, we should see Pacific Loons, Common Murre, Rhinoceros Auklet, Black-legged Kittiwake and Pelagic Cormorant. Once we’re back on land we’ll make our way for Sandspit. This area is well known for producing a number of rare species over the years, but being that these birds are ‘rare’, we don’t actually expect to see them. We just hope. At any rate, there should be numbers of rock-loving shorebirds about such as Black Turnstone and with luck perhaps less common species like Rock Sandpiper, Surfbird or Wandering Tattler. This area is excellent for plovers and on our 2015 trip we saw close to 30 Pacific Golden-Plovers on the shore, along with several Black-bellied Plovers. As we walk around the Sandspit Airport we’ll have our scopes trained on the Pacific where good numbers of Black, White-winged and Surf scoters, Pacific and Red-throated Loons, Harlequin Ducks and several species of grebe are regular. The short grass surrounding the airport is excellent for Lapland Longspurs and once in a while something rare such as Red-throated Pipit is noted amongst them. Scrubby vegetation along the shore is often alive with Savannah Sparrows and we will search through them for other hidden gems. The airport area is a great spot for raptors and one can find Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk and perhaps even a Short-eared Owl here at this time of year. Geese should be appearing in small numbers and there could be Brant, Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose (Dusky) Canada Goose and Snow Goose about. Night in Queen Charlotte City.
Day 4 – We make our way up island this morning, popping in at Halibut Bight where a scan of the water could yield Pigeon Guillemot along with the usual Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres. Harlequin Ducks are numerous here and we could add Long-tailed Duck to the list with any luck.
As we make our way through the artsy little village of Tlell, we’ll scan a tidal flat that can have several interesting species of waterfowl and can have American Pipits and Lapland Longspurs. A short drive along the shores of the idyllic Tlell River should yield fish loving species such as Bald Eagle, Common Merganser and Belted Kingfisher and a couple of old totem poles along the shore add to the beauty of this location.
Port Clements, the home of the famous ‘Golden Spruce’ makes for a good pit stop along our journey, and if there is time we’ll have a peek at the harbour to see what is about. There are Black Bears on the islands, so we’ll always have an eye open for one of these charismatic creatures, often seen from the vehicle as they cross roadways. Eventually we’ll arrive in Masset where we spend a further two nights at a B & B on North Beach. If there is still daylight when we arrive we’ll have a scan of the beach, often home to Sanderlings and flocks of gulls. Offshore there will be ducks, loons, grebes, gulls and more to sift through. During one of our two nights here we will have a look and a listen for the endemic race of Northern Saw-whet Owl that inhabits the coniferous forests of Haida Gwaii.
Day 5 – Today promises to be an exciting day as we explore areas around Masset and out towards Rose Spit. The road to Rose Spit passes by enchanting locations such as Tow Hill and Agate Beach. From Agate Beach you can look north across the Dixon Entrance and see Prince of Wales Island, in Alaska. Estuaries along the way are excellent for shorebirds and we could find regular species such as Western and Least sandpipers, Semipalmated Plover and Greater Yellowlegs, and just maybe something more exciting in with them. Amongst the driftwood on the beaches one can imagine a Yellow or White wagtail, or Red-throated Pipit. Hopefully we don’t just have to dream. Coniferous forests along the beach are home to tiny Pacific Wrens, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers.
A stop at the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary, an area excellent for shorebirds, waterfowl and passerines, will keep us busy in the afternoon. The area has produced a mouth-watering list of vagrant birds over the years.
Back in Masset we’ll take a drive to check out the old native village at Old Masset. If time permits we’ll wander around the neighborhood a little searching for mixed flocks where interesting birds can often be hiding. Night in Masset.
Day 6 – This morning we leave our comfy B & B on North Beach and make our way back to Queen Charlotte City where we will catch the ferry over to Alliford Bay for another look at the Sandspit Airport area. Night in Sandspit.
Day 7 – Our final morning of birding again will be done in the Sandspit area, one of the most consistent places on Haida Gwaii for vagrant birds. Tour ends this afternoon and flights back to Vancouver.