This celebration is for the birds and those who love them.
International interest in Tofino is taking flight as bird lovers from across the globe are flocking in to experience the 19th annual Shorebird Festival.
Thousands of shorebirds are traveling from South America to their feeding grounds in the Arctic and Tofino is a popular stop along their journey.
“They’re coming here because we have intact mudflats and eelgrass meadows and beaches and the perfect habitat for them,” said Raincoast Education Society executive director Dan Harrison. “We’re an internationally significant stopover point for these birds and it brings in tens of thousands of birds per day at the height of the migration.”
The Raincoast Education Society hosts the popular Tofino Shorebird Festival, which will run from April 29 to May 1 this year.
“They’re an iconic species of the West Coast. They’ve been coming here for thousands of years and we’re part of this giant migration cycle, so it’s a wonderful thing to celebrate,” Harrison said. “This is one of the last big migrations left on the planet.”
He said Tofino’s shorebirds never disappoint the festival’s fans.
“They’re absolutely gorgeous little birds that fly in probably the most eloquent symmetry you’ve ever seen,” he said.
“They look like schooling fish. They have such beautiful flying patterns and they remind us that we’re connected to something much, much, bigger and that’s a global community of wildlife. These massive flocks of birds travel all over the world, connect people, connect places and when they’re here for a short while, we celebrate that we’re part of that.”
The society is celebrating its 19th birthday this year and has been heavily involved with shorebirds from the start hosting the festival every year since its inception.
Harrison noted the society played a key role in establishing the Tofino Mudflats as a recognized Wildlife Management Area and part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve network.
“We’ve been involved in managing, and doing research on, the mudflats and ensuring the conservation of the mudflats for upwards of 20 years so, for that reason, to highlight and celebrate the shorebirds that are the iconic species of the habitat we’re protecting makes a lot of sense for us,” he said.
He suggested shorebirds are becoming popular spectacles for locals and tourists to enjoy and this enjoyment is helping sow the seeds of appreciation and conservation.
“More and more people are starting to understand just how rich a habitat we have here and how ecologically important the Clayoquot Sound is on the global sphere,” he said.
“Shorebird festivals like this provide people with an understanding and an introduction and really connect them to something outside of themselves and help them realize there is an importance in maintaining natural systems; that they have a lot to offer us and that we’re a part of them and we’re very interconnected…If you learn to appreciate and fall in love with the natural world, you’re going to make an effort to uphold the integrity.”
A full schedule of festival events can be found at raincoasteducation.org and Harrison is particularly excited about new research set to be unveiled during the event.
“The Canadian Wildlife Service are coming up to do a presentation on the health and vitality of shorebirds in our backyard and let us know how those populations are doing,” he said. “We’re also excited to offer a suite of programs adaptive to the many different types of birders out there.”
The Wickaninnish Inn held a Brunch for the Birds event on April 17 as a fundraiser for the upcoming festivities and Harrison said the Inn is a key supporter of the festival.
“They’ve been with us from the beginning and they’re incredible in their generousity,” he said.