Shorebirds: Tofino’s understated tourists

Drive to the western edge of Vancouver Island and you’ll find the surf-mad village of Tofino. Toque-wearing surfers cycle by, their surfboards clipped to a small trailer, the money saved on petrol buying them more time in this rainforest paradise. Motorhomes that were popular in the 70’s – and worn-out in the 90’s – limp along highway 4 as surfers coax more life from them; neoprene wetsuits dry on car mirrors as shaggy haired guys heat soup and discuss surf conditions.


Weaving around the world’s hardiest surfers – waters are bone-chilling cold even in July – are other travelers who stroll the Pacific Rim National Park beaches. Some of them chow down on crab and mac cheese at Long Beach Lodge Resort, or hop a boat for a tour of Clayoquot Sound. Others are pecking the sand for their lunch, their trip to town accomplished by wing flapping. These are the shorebirds that fly thousands of kilometers from South and Central America to their breeding grounds in the north. They are the tourists not counted by visitor bureaus but Tofino is very popular with traveling birds.


Plovers are one species of shorebird seen in Tofino

Behind the hotels and spas that pamper human visitors are the Tofino mudflats, gooey coastal wetlands that at low-tide serve up a nutrient buffet for sandpipers, whimbrels, and plovers. Shorebirds fly long distances, sometimes half-asleep with one eye open and one eye closed (similar to a red-eye economy flight for humans). In addition to being some of the world’s longest migrators shorebirds are also some of its biggest eaters. They consume about a third of their body weight each day as they prepare for migration and eat so much they poop every two minutes!

Tofino mudflats

Tofino mudflats

In late April, Tofino boasts impressive numbers of shorebirds. “Our most prevalent shorebird is the western sandpiper,” said Andy Murray, Tofino Sea Kayaking guide and naturalist, “150,000 Western sandpipers can pass through here in three weeks!”

The beach in front of Long Beach Lodge Resort is a comfortable place to look for shorebirds

The beach at Long Beach Lodge Resort is a comfortable place to look for shorebirds

The town celebrates these understated tourists by holding the Tofino Shorebird Festival each year. From April 29- May 1, 2016 you can take a kayak tour with Murray, learn to photograph birds, hop on the M.V. Lady Selkirk to look for Tufted Puffins and Rhinoceros Auklet, or if you’re really adventurous, journey to the offshore Continental shelf break to see pelagic birds.

If you decide to go:

Register for festival events at

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.


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