Day 1 - Tour begins this morning in Vancouver, where participants will meet you at/or near the international airport. After loading up ourselves and our luggage into the vehicle, we will head for Iona Beach Regional Park, quite close to the airport itself. The area provides a unique blend of fresh and saltwater ponds. Nearby, a sewage treatment plant also attracts numbers of shorebirds, making this area quite productive for birds like scoters, loons, waterfowl and shorebirds. Peregrine Falcons are often seen cruising along the shorelines, looking for prey.
Our next stop, the Reifel Refuge, provides a great opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the local wintering species of waterfowl. The area is home to flocks of many thousand Snow Geese that call the marshes and agricultural fields home. Other ducks one can often get great views of at Reifel, includ Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead and the attractive Hooded Merganser. The marshes are also inhabited by the uncommon American Bittern, as well as Virginia Rail, Sandhill Crane, and the locally rare Swamp Sparrow. There are sometimes roosting owls at the refuge at this time of year, so we will keep an eye open in the trees for Great Horned Owl, or perhaps a Northern Saw-whet Owl.
We will make our way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, where we will board the boat and prepare ourselves for the scenic ride over to Vancouver Island and the city of Nanaimo. As we cross the Salish Sea and weave our way through the Gulf Islands, we will be on the lookout for seabirds, with the likes of Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled Murrelet, Pigeon Guillemot, Pacific Loon and Bonaparte's Gulls likely. Glaucous-winged Gulls will be abundant and Bald Eagles will be seen perched atop towering fir trees like sentinels. With any luck, we could see some cetaceans, such as Orca, or Pacific White-sided Dolphins. Occasionally Humpback Whales are seen in the area as well, though are not to be expected. Once we've docked and unloaded in Nanaimo, we've got about an hour's drive up to our accommodations in Courtenay / Comox.
For those keeners that are interested, your guide has prepared a presenting on seaduck identification for this evening.
Day 2 - This morning we will explore the east coast of the island, focussing on the Kye Bay and Point Holmes areas, places we might encounter Herring spawn. The rocky cliffs and sandspit found here can draw in a variety of gulls and other birds. If the flocks are present, we will scan through them, hoping to find something unusual, such as Glaucous Gull, however the expected species include Herring Gull, California Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull and Short-billed Gull, the latter species formerly called Mew Gull. Large rafts of seaducks will be easily identified after our seabird identification course the previous night, 'wink wink'. We can expect to see Surf, White-winged and Black scoters, as well as Long-tailed Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, Pacific Loons and Red-necked Grebes. The area is famous for its numbers of wintering Brant.
During the afternoon we'll visit some beaches towards Campbell River, where we hope to see the comical Black Oystercatcher, as well as brightly colored Harlequin Ducks, and both Common and Red-breasted mergansers. Our explorations will take us to locations including Oyster Bay, Saratoga Beach and Mystic Beach, amongst others.
Once again, for the this evening, your guide Joachim has prepared another identifcation workshop, this one on gulls. Joachim describes gull identification as the 50 Shades of Gray for birders. Night in Courtenay / Comox.
Day 3 - Our itinerary is open today, depending upon which birds we have or have not yet seen, and depending on where, exactly, the herring spawn is currently taking place. The general plan, though, is to explore areas between Courtenay / Comox and Nanaimo, such as Fanny Bay, Mud Bay, the Little Qualicum River Estuary, Parksille, Rathtrevor, Nanoose Bay and so on.
If we haven't seen a bittern yet, we may want to visit Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo. The extensive wetlands here are good for that species, as well as other marsh inhabitants, such as Pied-billed Grebes, Belted Kingfisher, Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck and Virginia Rail. Woodland birds possible along the trails at Buttertubs, include Bewick's Wren, Bushtit, Anna's Hummingbird, and Band-tailed Pigeon.
This evening, before returning to our home base, we'll look for Northern Pygmy-Owl in the mountains as sun sets. Once it is dark, we can attept to find a Western Screech-Owl, of the somewhat browner subspecies kennicotii. Night Courtenay / Comox.
Day 4 - This morning we will leave the Courtenay / Comox area and head for some high elevation boreal forest. Here, we will encounter some snow, as this part of Vancouver Island is well-known for impressive accumulations of the white stuff. We also hope to encounter some birds, including Sooty and Ruffed grouse, Canada Jay, and perhaps the locally rare American Three-toed Woodpecker and Pine Grosbeak.
We will make our way back to Nanaimo where we will catch the ferry across to Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver. Again, we'll keep our eyes peeled for seabirds, such as Brandt's, Pelagic and Double-crested cormorants, and Common Murre, for example. Once in Vancouver, we should still have some time to visit one or two more of that city's impressive parks before our tour comes to and end in the late afternoon.