What do you get when you combine 150,000 birds, surfers with brain freeze, and gin that tastes like a rainforest?
A Vancouver Island festival that will entertain both culture and nature seekers! Tofino will host its 19th annual Shorebird Festival April 29 to May 1, 2016. Some of the world’s toughest frequent fliers – sandpipers, plovers and whimbrels migrating from South America to the Arctic – visit Vancouver Island’s west coast beaches in late April and early May. Stopping to feed on the mud flats near Tofino, the birds are the reason for the celebration but not the only party in town.
Visitors can try their luck in the 8°C surf, layering on the neoprene at one of the surf schools in Tofino before wading into the wake wash at Long Beach or Cox Beach. Instructors will help you get on your feet but nothing will prevent the brain freeze from a wave crashing over your head. If you are more inclined to watch surf than ride it, there is no better place than from the Great Room at the Long Beach Lodge Resort. With its large windows fronting Cox Beach you can tuck into the après-surf menu (the crab mac and cheese is delish) or try one of the gin and tonics served up by Bar Manager Andre McGillivray. “Our gin and tonic program started a year ago. Gin and tonic goes with every season,” said McGillivray. Using Stump Coastal Forest Gin – a gin made on Vancouver Island with hand-foraged botanicals – the drinks taste like you are drinking the rainforest.
Special Tours During the Shorebird Festival
During the festival there are special presentations and tours to showcase spring’s arrival. Pelagic bird trips out to the Continental shelf run if water conditions permit. Albatrosses, shearwaters and storm-petrels patrol the waters over underwater canyons. If a queasy stomach keeps you closer to shore, a guided voyage to the Cleland Island seabird colony plies more sheltered waters and might yield sea lion or sea otter sightings as well as Tufted Puffins or Rhinoceros Auklet.
Photographers can join Jess Findlay for tips on approaching birds and working with different lighting for better pictures. Kayakers can paddle to the Arakun mudflats near Meares Island, an area accessible only by water. Kids can join in shore fun and everyone will enjoy a special birders breakfast at Long Beach Lodge’s Great Room. Fresh and local ingredients are featured and diners can watch shorebirds and surfers in Cox Bay from of the most impressive views in Tofino.
Best time to see the birds
If you want to look for birds on your own, guide and naturalist Andy Murray from Tofino Sea Kayaking says it is important to coordinate your visit with tide tables. “At low tide the birds are only visible with a scope fully zoomed out, then they move closer as the tide comes in until they get too close to shore to feel comfortable and they all fly off. The best time to see them is mid-tide rising.”
So if you are looking for another excuse to visit Vancouver Island this combination of birds, surf and gin might be a great way to start your spring explorations.
If you decide to go to Tofino
Register for festival events at Raincoast Education Society.
Reserve your hotel in advance. Hotel sponsors with great birding onsite are:
Look for shorebirds at the end of Sharp Road (the turn-off is by the Dolphin Motel). Best viewing is mid-tide rising.
Warm up after birding with a Forest Sour cocktail at the Great Room.