For the Birds

The West Coast is for the birds and their fans who flock to see them.

“This area has some of the best birding in North America year round,” said local birder Peter Clarkson. “We’ve got the mudflats, the exposed ocean, the rocky headlands, the inlets, the fresh water rivers and the old growth forests so when you combine all those things, we have a huge diversity of very different habitat types which attracts such a variety of birds.”

This diversity means the West Coast can satisfy a broad spectrum of birder palettes and Tourism Tofino is stoked to cater to the niche market of traveling bird enthusiasts.

Tourism Tofino general manager Kirsten Soder said birders are high on the list of “ideal visitors we’d like to attract to Tofino.”

She said anecdotal and survey data collected from past visitors combined with ‘Activity Appeal’ numbers within the Explorer Quotient (EQ)-a market intelligence tool licensed by the Canadian Tourism Commission-suggest birds are a top draw for global travelers.

About 70 per cent of global travelers and 72 per cent of Canadian travelers identified birding as an appealing activity for an extended vacation, according to Soder.

“Based on this market intelligence, birdwatchers are an ideal type of visitor to Tofino because their social values and travel motivations are well aligned with our experience offerings,” she said.

“They are more likely to be older in age, with grown or no kids, have a higher tendency to appreciate nature and a pursuit of novelty, they are attracted toward destinations who value conservation and social responsibility, and they tend to be higher yield-spend more time and therefore more money- than other traveller types.”

Soder said the Tofino Mudflats inclusion into the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) last year is a huge plus for the West Coast’s international reputation as a birding destination.

“Tofino is well positioned to attract new and seasoned birders and welcome them to our community to learn, share and promote the passion they share, with the added bonus of visitors having the opportunity to connect with locals who share this same affinity for fowl,” she said.

Clarkson said the WHSRN designation is “another jewel in the crown” of an area rich with Important Bird Areas (IBA). “It’s an international program recognizing areas with significant concentrations of birds,” he said of IBA. “We’ve got a number of those sites here.”

He said the West Coast sits at a junction on the Pacific Flyway meaning it is part of a vital chain of habitats that migratory birds navigate through to travel between Northern Alaska to Central and South America.

“It’s a junction within the flyway for birds coming from both inland to the Coast over winter and coming from the south and the north,” he said, “and there’s also birds coming down from the mountains.”

The abundance of local birding opportunities played a key role in Clarkson becoming a local. In 1992 he started working with Harlequin Ducks in Jasper B.C. and this work brought him to the West Coast often.

He developed a keen interest in Oystercatchers and found an Oystercatcher lover’s paradise on the West Coast where the birds live year round.

He decided to live here year round himself in 1998.

“I was coming down to the Coast and it was getting harder and harder to leave and it was really because of the birds in many ways,” he said. “This area is one of the world’s hotspots for the Black Oystercatcher.”

Bird enthusiasts have long considered the West Coast to be an important bird habitat and Clarkson spoke to a seabird database that began in the mid-1900s.

“People back in those days were astute enough to recognize that these were very unique and important places for birds that demanded some attention,” he said.

He added this database provides a rare resource for researching Oystercatchers and other local seabirds.

Many newer resources have blossomed within the West Coast’s birding community and Clarkson said opportunities abound for anyone looking to get into birding.

“There’s some great resources locally and people are interested and want to help people learn about birds,” he said.

Locals have a number of citizen science programs at their doorstep including the BC Coastal Waterbird Survey and the Backyard Feeder Watch Program and Clarkson encourages any budding birders to visit the Birds Studies Canada webpage at www.bsc-eoc.org. reporter@westerlynews.ca