Bird aficionados in the Tofino area take note: Tufted Puffins are about.
Captain Keith Phillips at West Coast Aquatic Safaris, an accessible and eco-friendly tour operator, says from June to September they are anchored to Cleland Island, which is located south of Vargas Island in Ahousaht territory.
“Cleland Island is a burrowing ground for the Tufted Puffin. Sometime in June, they come in from the offshore and burrow to lay their eggs. It’s about a five week time and then after that there is another about five to eight weeks time that the hatchlings are growing. Every day, mom and dad are heading out before the sun rises and fishing all day and then returning back after sunset to feed their young,” said Phillips.
He told the Westerly a lot of the whale watching operators get excited when the Puffins come.
“When we are on the water, we are all buddies. We share as much information as we can. As soon as someone sees Puffins, it’s on the radio, it’s popping up in texts, ‘Come over to Cleland’.”
In 2010, cast and crew of ‘The Big Year’ descended on Tofino to film a movie about three guys trying to see the greatest number of different birds in one year.
“I’ve had birders with similar lists,” said Phillips. “We actually had one in the other day whose goal was to see the Tufted Puffin. Obviously, he would enjoy seeing the whales and the whole tour too, but his goal was to tick that off his list. He was going whale watching with the intention to see the Tufted Puffin.”
While most bird watching takes place on whale tours, Phillips says birding specific tours can be arranged upon request. Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation bird hobbyist Eugene Stewart is generally called on to lead those bookings. Stewart says Nuu-chah-nulth word for Tufted Puffin is Cicitiht.
West Coast Aquatic Safaris is also one of the only Vancouver Island wildlife tour operators that is accessible.
“Accessible wildlife viewing has always been something that is valued to me, personally. There is a ramp within our office, we have a ramp to get aboard and it’s wide enough to get most accessible tools through the gangway and up onto the boat. We roll you aboard and you chill out and watch whales.”
Or Puffins, if you please.