In late September 2020, partners from across the province launched the BC Bird Trail with support from the Co-operative Marketing Partnership Program and Destination BC. The initiative was created to raise awareness about the diversity and quality of BC’s birding experiences and to generate bird-watching travel to British Columbia.
There is a Central and North Vancouver Island Trail that includes Cowichan, Nanaimo and Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Tofino, Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Port Alice, Sointula, and Alert Bay. Sooke and Langford have joined the initiative as outpost communities, in partnership with Destination BC, with bird-watching trails launching this season.
The BC Bird Trail enables people to explore birding areas on Vancouver Island by sharing free self-guided travel itineraries for visitors and locals alike. Birding hot spots and identification keys are also provided on the site, along with some travel and tourism information.
Westshore wildlife photographers, such as Michelle Savery also take advantage of the opportunities the region affords. In an interview with The Westshore, Savery said “birds are one of the best subjects in learning photography and one of the most challenging. There are so many bird sanctuaries in Sooke and Langford that are perfect for finding local and migratory species.”
Julian Fisher, a UVic environmental politics instructor who offers workshops in bird vocalizations, told The Westshore he believes birds are a “great kind of gateway to an attention to the wider ecology or the unfolding story of the natural world, taking place. And I think birds are such a unique and kind of singular way into understanding ecosystems or our relationship and our impact on the environment.” Quoting Australian naturalist John Young, he ventured that bird watching is a way “not just to identify birds but a way to identify with birds.”
Fall is a fantastic time to go birding because of the large south-moving bird migrations and the fact that fallen leaves allow for great spotting conditions. And while the growing cold can drain camera batteries a little faster, fall angles elongate the diffused golden hour(s) for photographers—the final hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise.
In Langford, small private lakes such as Langford Lake, Glen Lake, and Florence Lakes, are the perfect places to catch mergansers, grebes, goldeneyes, and other waterfowl. Seaside Sooke has the advantage of being home to forest, shoreline, and ocean birds, such as Black Turnstones and Sanderlings Pacific Loons, Northern Pintails, and Sora (if you’re lucky). Both places are great spots to also catch raptors such as Peregrine Falcons and Northern Harriers as they pass through.
Savery’s favourite bird to photograph is the majestic, powerful, and graceful bald eagle. “We just have to get out and enjoy nature,” she said.
Hollie Galloway, spokesperson for the BC Bird Trail echoed some of Fisher’s sentiment. “Bird watching,” she said, “is a very accessible way to interact with the environment. For more serious birdwatchers, it definitely becomes a huge impetus for travel to find those difficult-to-see species. The South Island is a great place to do that because we do have, especially during the winter time, a pretty unique climate and birds can be seen in larger numbers because they overwinter here.”
Sooke has the advantage, for birders, of having coastal and interior hot spots. “Whiffin Spit, one of those hot spots on the Sooke Outpost trail, is unique,” points out Galloway, “in that, you’ve almost got the open ocean on one side and a protected harbour on the other and so during migration and during the winter, a lot of birds come in to use the harbour where it’s a bit more sheltered but they still have access to a productive ecosystem.”
If you are headed to Sooke or Langford to watch the birds, BC Bird Trail reminds visitors to stay on designated paths and trails, dress for the weather, not to feed the birds, pack out what you pack in, and be mindful that these paths and trails are on the traditional territories of the Coast Salish Peoples.