The Ultimate West Coast Pelagic Tour

If you’re looking for the ultimate in pelagic birding tours in British Columbia, WildResearch’s annual pelagic trip out to La Pérouse Bank has to be on your “to do” list. At the end of the day, this 7 hour off shore tour is nothing short of “shear” birding and wildlife viewing fun—not only are the birds spectacular, but great looks at killer whales, humpback whales, gray whales, and even sea otters are possible. This year’s tour is scheduled for Sunday, September 15, 2013.

Russell Cannings

Russell Cannings calling out the birds from the upper deck during the 2012 spring pelagic tour.

WildResearch charters the 128’ MV Francis Barkley, a vessel that does a regular run from Port Alberni through the Broken Group Island to Ucluelet and Bamfield during the summer months for this annual tour. The large size of the boat and three outside deck levels provide a variety of different viewing levels and excellent sight lines to see birds and marine mammals. It also makes it a fairly comfortable vessel in the potentially rough 40 kilometers of open ocean between Ucluelet and La Pérouse Bank.

Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)

Plenty of Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) on the 2102 tour, some quite close to the boat.

Sooty shearwaters (Puffinus griseus) were the most common shearwater seen on the 2012 spring WildResearch pelagic tour. Mixed in with the more common “sooties” was the occasional pink-footed shearwater (Puffinus creatopus)—definitely fewer in numbers and generally only solitary birds were seen. Unfortunately, I missed a flock of short-tailed storm-petrels (Oceanodroma furcata) when I went into the cabin to get my camera gear. I did get some nice looks at mixed flocks of Sabine’s gulls (Xema sabini) and Bonaparte’s gulls (Larus philadelphia).

Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus)

Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) were also seen in 2012.

Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) became more common as we got further out. The massive wingspan of these birds made them distinctive, even from a distance.

Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)

The signature bird of the La Perouse Banks is the Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes).

At La Pérouse the ship slows and “chumming” begins. Fish offal from the processing plants in Ucluelet are thrown over the side to attract gulls and the black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes). Everyone on the boat was able to get great looks at these beautiful ocean wanderers as they came in close to feed.

Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)

Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) approached closely to feed on chum from the MV Francis Barkley.

Listers on the spring 2102 trip were also able to add Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) to their British Columbia lists—a single bird was seen on the way out and on the way back in. This was only the 22nd record of Manx shearwater in the province so it was definitely a highlight of that trip!

And while the birding was good in 2012, but numbers and variety are supposed to be much better in the fall.

Unfortunately, the 2013 trip is already sold out, but if you’re interested it is worth contacting WildResearch and being added to the wait list – between now and September there may be some cancellations and some last minute spaces.

About Dave Ingram, BC

Dave is a naturalist and photographer based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. His passion for birds began after a season guiding zodiac boat tours in Haida Gwaii, BC. Since then he has volunteered with several bird research projects including Laskeek Bay Conservation Society’s ancient murrelet study at Limestone Island, and SFU’s remote Triangle Island research station. His interest in nature and birding led to over 10 years of seasonal work as a heritage interpreter with BC Parks, Parks Canada and a number of NGOs with a focus on environmental education as well as travel throughout Central America. He now has a "real" job teaching in the Comox Valley.   Dave's blog can be found at Island Nature , follow him on Twitter at @BCNatureTweets
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