As grey skies start to clear and the weather gets warmer, it means spring in British Columbia is right around the corner! With spring comes a huge increase in bird activity all over the province. If you’ve been waiting to get into birding, this is the season to start!
One huge advantage of spring is that the warmer weather means fewer adverse birding conditions. If you struggled to get out birding during the winter because of the dreary, cold, and wet weather, spring is an enthusiastically welcomed shift. Also, the springtime change means that peak birding hours of dusk and dawn aren’t as difficult to catch as they are in summer. The weather is also much better than winter’s dawn and dusk. It’s truly the best of both worlds.
The key thing that makes birding in spring so exciting is that it’s migration season. Thousands and thousands of birds move to and from their nesting and wintering habitats during spring, often stopping over in their favourite places all across BC. It’s a great time to catch less common birds, too. Migration time means that rarer birds have more chances to end up in unexpected places on the BC Bird Trail. Keep an eye on the BC Rare Bird Alert blog for rare bird sightings in your area!
Planning Your Birding
We know the weather in spring is generally much better than winter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare. BC weather can be fickle. It’s always best to keep an extra jacket or set of clothing in a car or backpack, just in case it gets a bit cool or windy, or you get caught in a spot of rain and need to change.
A general rule of thumb for longer days out bird watching is to dress in layers. An early start outdoors might feel like cold winter weather, but it could end up being hot as a summer day by the time you’re off the trails! And one extra tip if you’re out taking photos: an inexpensive rain cover stashed in your bag can be a life (or at least camera) saver if the spring weather turns sour.
Where to Go and What Birds You May See
South Fraser Bird Trail
On the South Fraser Bird Trail, check out the shorelines and marshy areas. Iona Beach Regional Park, Terra Nova Rural Park, the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island, and Boundary Bay Regional Park all offer great opportunities to catch migratory visitors and year-round birds alike.
Shorebirds like Western and Least Sandpipers, Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Short- and Long-billed Dowitchers, and Black-bellied Plovers can be seen along the water’s edge. If you have good vantage points of the ocean, keep an eye out for Common or Caspian Terns along this trail. Resident Northern Harriers can often be seen doing laps above the farm fields, then hovering in place before diving for a catch.
Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail
The estuaries and marshes on the Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail are also hot spots for migratory birds in spring and come to life with songbirds, shorebirds, and raptors. Somenos Marsh, Chemainus River Estuary, Nanaimo River Estuary, Buttertubs Marsh, and Englishman River Estuary are all great spots for birding.
From February to April, be sure to catch the Brant Geese while they stop over during their migration to fuel up on the coinciding Pacific herring spawn. This abundant food source attracts tens of thousands of water birds and marine mammals making it an exciting time to be out on the coastal trails.
Fraser Valley Bird Trail
From late February to early March, Great Blue Herons return to their nesting grounds along the Fraser Valley Bird Trail and remain until late July. One particular nesting site that offers amazing views of the birds is the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, home to one of the largest heron nesting colonies in the Lower Mainland. Bald Eagles also start to build their nests around this time, with offspring hatching throughout April, especially common in the Lhá:lt/Harrison-Chehalis Wildlife Management Area and parks in the Harrison area.
The Red Crossbill, found in coniferous forests of the Fraser Valley area, is a fascinating bird to see with its unique, overlapping beak. At a river or stream’s edge, you might catch the impressive sight of a small, round American Dipper swimming through the rushing water to catch its tiny meals. Sumas Mountain Regional Park and Willband Creek Park on the Sumas Flats are both great spots to see birds as their mixture of marsh, grassy field, and treed areas give lots of room for a variety of birds.
Columbia Valley Bird Trail
The Columbia Valley Bird Trail thrives in the spring, as the Columbia Valley Wetlands become a busy breeding ground for many species, including Horned Grebes in their striking plumage. The Wetlands aren’t the only popular spot on the Pacific Flyway in this region. Wilmer Wetlands is another place to check out the busy activity of birds in spring. If you’re looking for a short and easy hike, try Wycliffe Buttes – not only is there amazing birding, but the relaxing 2km trail is speckled with beautiful wildflowers in the spring and gives spectacular views of the BC Rockies. Confluence Park and St. Mary Lake offer opportunities to see and hear many varieties of songbirds.
All Over BC
Across all the BC Bird Trails, songbirds come out in abundance in spring. Warblers such as Yellow, Orange-crowned, MacGillivray’s, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s, Wilson’s, and Common Yellowthroats can be found. Swallows can also be seen zipping around in the skies, especially Tree, Violet-green, and Barn, with some Cliff, Bank, Northern Rough-winged, and Purple Martins as well. Feisty Rufous Hummingbirds also come back in the spring, making for crowded feeders with the resident Anna’s who often stay throughout the winter.
Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teals make appearances on calm bodies of water from marshes to small lakes. Colourful delights such as Western Tanagers and Black-headed Grosbeaks are exciting to see. Ospreys and Turkey Vultures start to return – catch them soaring over the sky or perched high up in trees. And as spring comes to an end and gets closer to summer, Flycatchers arrive, but good luck identifying these tricky species!
Birding in spring in BC is the best time to take advantage of bustling bird activity on the BC Bird Trail. Use our self-guided itineraries to plan out your birding trips by picking out where to grab snacks, supplies, and the trails and birding spots you want to explore. Happy birding!
Watching birds is a safe and enjoyable activity we can do during the Covid global pandemic. Please be sure to comply with all current country, province, state, First Peoples’ lands, or municipal Covid-19 regulations and guidelines.
For more information about current COVID-19 restrictions in British Columbia, visit https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/covid-19/info/restrictions