Red phalaropes are a popular sight during the Tofino Shorebird Festival. They breed in the Arctic and winter off the coast of Peru, spending roughly 10 months of the year on the open ocean. (Photo - Raincoast Education Society)

Red phalaropes are a popular sight during the Tofino Shorebird Festival. They breed in the Arctic and winter off the coast of Peru, spending roughly 10 months of the year on the open ocean. (Photo - Raincoast Education Society)

Tofino Shorebird Festival ready for flight

Annual event raises awareness of tiny travellers

Birders are flocking to the West Coast to participate in one of the region’s longest running celebrations and one of the world’s longest spectacles of flight.

Tens of thousands of vibrant little travellers, including whimbrels, sandpipers and dunlin, are embarking on their annual journey from South America to their Arctic breeding grounds, stopping only a few times to rest and eat along the way.

One of those stops occurs in Tofino and the Raincoast Education Society is excited to take the opportunity to educate locals and visitors on the flurry of winged wonders during the 21st annual Tofino Shorebird Festival, which will run from May 4-6.

The festival uses the Tofino Mudflats, a member of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, as its home base and Raincoast Education Society executive director Mark Maftei said the festival helps raise awareness of the important role the area plays in the migration’s “extraordinary spectacle of nature.”

“It’s a fairly narrow window of time, but it’s an amazing sight to behold and it also really provides a concrete example of the ecological importance of this habitat,” he said. “We’re talking tens of thousands of birds…There’s probably a minimum 15 species that you’re going to definitely see every single year.”

He said coastal development in other areas has pushed shorebirds out of many of their traditional feeding grounds and put populations in peril.

“They have not fared particularly well in terms of the population declines that they’ve suffered as a direct result of human interference,” he said.

“We don’t hunt them anymore, but now the biggest threat that faces them is the destruction of these stop over sites that they rely on during migration. A lot of the areas that they use are in high demand for humans to use as well.”

He added that, while Tofino remains relatively pristine, human interference still occurs through disturbance, which can limit the amount of time and space birds have to feed. That’s dangerous because shorebirds need to roughly double their weight before embarking on the next leg of their journey and, those that can’t, might not make it to the end of their journey.

“Starting down in South America all the way to Alaska, the Tofino Mudflats are probably one of the last relatively pristine areas that they can rely on,” he said adding birds can be pushed out of their local feeding areas by people and pets. “It limits the amount of time that they’re able to feed and just puts an extra stress on them during a brief part of their yearly cycle when they’re really susceptible to that stress…The number one offender here are off-leash dogs.”

He hopes the shorebird festival helps raise awareness so that people can begin to understand the important role they play in either helping or hindering the migration through stimulating lectures, boat trips and family fun activities.

“We have a lot of unique events and opportunities,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun events that are all focused on raising awareness and informing people. It’s a great way to spend time outdoors and learn more about nature.”

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne helped coordinate the festival for several years during her time with the Raincoast Education Society. She said the event remains a “personal favourite” of hers and she’s excited to see shorebird knowledge boosted both locally and beyond.

“The quality and level of education provided at this festival really is unparalleled,” she said. “Events are intimate, social, fun and filled with valuable information and teachings about the importance of these migratory birds and the habitat they require. It’s very encouraging to see new, younger birders and the deep appreciation and interest that Tofitians have for the protection and health of these amazing little animals.”

Anyone looking for a delicious way to support this year’s festival is encouraged to attend a Brunch for the Birds fundraiser on April 22 at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn.

“Every year, they host a scrumptious, delicious brunch and the proceeds go directly towards supporting the Shorebird Festival,” Maftei said.“The Eggs Benedict you eat on April 22 is going to support what we do May 4-6.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(B.C. Government photo)
POLL QUESTION: Are you in favour of B.C.’s three-week ban on in-restaurant dining?

Dr. Bonnie Henry called the three week stoppage a “circuit breaker”

A 3.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Ucluelet just after 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and was reportedly felt as far south as Oregon. (Map via United States Geological Survey)
Quake off Ucluelet reportedly felt as far south as Oregon

Magnitude 1.5 earthquake also reported off Vancouver Island’s west coast hours earlier

Theatre manager Sophie L’Homme is ecstatic to share the news that Tofino’s aging Clayoquot Sound Community Theatre is finally getting upgrades. (Nora O’Malley photo)
BC Arts grant funding breathes new life into Tofino’s community theatre

“Once it’s done, it’s going to be a pride of the town.”

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Pickleball is a favourite recreation for older adults on the West Coast. (Westerly file photo)
Pacific Rim Hospice releases older adult survey report

One key theme unearthed during the research process was the need for companionship

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read