Birding in British Columbia

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SITE GUIDE: COWICHAN BAY AND DUNCAN, B.C.

By Keith Taylor

Driving north on Highway 1, 50.9 km from Victoria (a 45 minute drive), turn right onto Bench Road (at the Shell station). Drive 0.8 km to Cowichan Bay Road, turn left onto Cowichan Bay Road, and continue for an additional 0.9 km. You will have reached the Cowichan Bay Dock Road, also known as the CNR Dock Road (large sign). Turn right, looking at the edges of the waterways for Green-backed Heron (uncommon, mid-April to August) hidden in the brushy margins. [ED. NOTE: Beware of large trucks on this road!!]

After driving an additional 0.7 km you will see a wet field on the right. This area has produced many rarities including Great Egret and Ruff. Many species of shorebirds are well represented here, including both species of dowitcher. (The Long-billed Dowitcher is the more common of the two here.) Lesser Golden-Plovers (uncommon fall) may be seen here, as well as Semipalmated Sandpipers, which are found among the many Western and Least Sandpipers. Wilson's Phalarope (fairly rare) has nested here. Occasionally Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, and Northern Pintail have remained in summer to nest. Among the many Pectoral Sandpipers in the fall, the very rare Sharp-tailed Sandpiper has been recorded. This is possibly one of the better locations to search. Virtually all of the rarer shorebirds could show, especially the Stilt Sandpiper.

The brushy margins along the road are good for finding various sparrows, warblers, and Rufous Hummingbirds. This is a good area for finding vagrants such as kingbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Watch for Black Swifts high overhead in early June. Bank Swallows can be seen during the fall migration. Bushtit, Bewick's Wren, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Shrike, Purple and House Finches are seen in season. Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, and Merlin are possible.

Continue to drive or walk for another 0.6 km. On the left on Cowichan Bay are many feral Mute Swans (resident) and Ring-billed Gulls (late June to early November, with a few into December). This is the best place on eastern Vancouver Island for seeing Ring-billed Gulls (up to 60 daily); they are uncommon elsewhere on the east coast. Look for the Purple Martin nest boxes on the pilings on the right (south) side of the road. The pilings are out on the mud flats, or in the bay at high tide. This is the most convenient and reliable spot on southern Vancouver Island to see Purple Martins (mid-April to late August). The nest boxes on the left are full of Tree Swallows. An Osprey nest will be seen atop a man-made structure on the left (north) at the edge of the lumber yard. Check for numerous waterfowl in winter on the bay, including Barrow's Goldeneye amongst the logs. An occasional Caspian Tern may be seen in summer (May to July) flying over the bay. Sandhill Cranes are rare but regular migrants in mid-September in the grassy fields in the estuary.

Retrace your route to the CNR Dock Road sign and park your car. Walk over the bridge to the right and walk along the gravel dike road immediately on the left. Red-eyed Vireos will be found in the cottonwoods. An occasional Black-headed Grosbeak may be in the area. Green-backed Herons have been seen along the creek, partially concealed by brush, where the dike road turns sharply to the right and swings around close to the main river. Walk back to your car.

The Cowichan Bay Road has now changed its name to Tzuhalem Road. Turn right off CNR Dock Road, stop at the second bridge (0.5 km) to look for Green-backed Herons, and continue on another 0.9 km to the fourth bridge. A walk on the dike road to the left will produce Red-eyed Vireos and Black-headed Grosbeaks and another chance for Green-backed Herons. Cattle Egret has been recorded once at the farm on the right (October to December).

Continue Along Tzuhalem Road to the junction of Trunk Road and Tzuhalem Road, and turn right toward Maple Bay. Drive for 2.9 km, then turn right onto Kingsview Road (at the properties). Continue for 0.8 km, then turn right onto Belcarra Road for another 0.8 km, then left onto Chippewa for 0.3 km; park at the end of Chippewa. From this point walk along the wide trail for 400 paces until you see the ecological reserve sign on your right. A few more metres on the narrow trail will bring you to a steel fence. Here is an ecological reserve, Mount Tzuhalem, where nesting boxes have been placed for Western Bluebirds. Walk the many trails in the more open areas to find them. The bluebirds are usually found 750 paces beyond the steel fence, the most reliable area to find them on the Island. Occasionally Townsend's Solitaires are found in April migration. This is an interesting area to visit; the view is magnificent.

Retrace your route to Tzuhalem Road and Trunk Road, turning right on Trunk Road toward Duncan. After driving a short distance you will cross over a small bridge. Turn left on the dirt road. This is the entrance to the Duncan sewage lagoons. Check the creek here for Green-backed Herons; possibly the best area on the Island for them is to walk north toward Somenos Lake. Yellow Warblers, Willow Flycatchers, and Black-headed Grosbeaks will be heard in the willows here. As parking may be a problem, you may want to drive to the far side of the lagoons. Continue driving on Trunk Road, turn left at Marchmount Road to its end and park. To reach the sewage lagoons from downtown Duncan, turn right at the lights at Trunk Road and drive straight onto Marchmount to its end (1 km). There are "postings", but birders are tolerated. The aesthetics are not pleasant, but the ponds are good for ducks, especially Wood Ducks (common in summer, scarce late winter). Tufted Duck has been recorded in April in the last three years among the hundreds of Lesser Scaup. Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal are regular in late summer. Various gulls are recorded in season. Bonaparte's Gulls (July to November) commonly perch on the power lines, and the fairly rare Franklin's Gull is annual here (September to October). Up to eight were seen here in 1987. They have been seen into December some years. In early June keep a watchful eye overhead for Black Swifts. Red-eyed Vireos are found in the cottonwoods along the river. For those looking for Wood Ducks unsuccessfully in winter, check along the river or drive back to Duncan, turn left at the lights, and drive to Boys Road (0.8 km). Just over the steel bridge you will see a Chinese restaurant. Behind the restaurant there are ponds that Wood Ducks frequent in winter.


EDITOR'S NOTE: This site guide for Cowichan Bay/Duncan area was previously published in the BRITISH COLUMBIA FIELD ORNITHOLOGISTS NEWSLETTER (now B.C. BIRDING) 1(4): 10-12, February 1993. This account is excerpted, with permission, from A Birder's Guide to Vancouver Island by Keith Taylor (1990), published by the author. Keith Taylor's book is available through a variety of book stores. Thanks go out to Andy Buhler--Editor of B.C.Birding for providing this site guide to Birding Victoria.

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