Birding in Kitimat, BC
BC is one of the most exciting places in watch birds in all of Canada. The diverse habitats throughout the province support a remarkable number of species that either breed, migrate, or stay throughout the winter.
British Columbia has more species of breeding birds than any other province in Canada. Over 300 species breed here, which is about 70% of all species known to breed across the country. About 30 species nest only here and nowhere else above the 49 th parallel.
Further to BC's importance to the Canadian avifauna, BC is the centre of at least 15 species' range and supports most of their Canadian breeding population. Ten species have international significance because most the world's breeding population nest within the provincial boundaries.
The north coast of British Columbia is home to many of these species. The Kitimat River Estuary is host at various times of the year to well over 100 species. For eastern birders, this can be an exciting place to see popular western birds such as the American Dipper, Greater White-fronted Goose, Vaux's and Black Swift, and Violet-green Swallows. In the coastal rainforest surrounding the estuary flatlands, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Varied Thrushes, and Steller's Jays are considered common species. Even the brilliant Red-breasted Sapsucker can be expected.
The estuary flows into Kitimat Arm, a short extension of the much longer and larger Douglas Channel. The entire channel is one of the scenic wonders of coastal BC. Along with breathtaking scenery, expect to be escorted by Bonaparte's, Mew, Glaucous-winged, and possibly Thayer's gulls. Along the rocky, steep walled shorelines, Marbled Murrelets dive for small fish as they prepare to fly to secretive nest sites in old growth stands. They share the shoreline with Barrow's Goldeneye, Harlequin Ducks, and Pigeon Guillemots. The deeper waters, often mid channel, are the favored hangouts for Western Grebes, Surf and White-winged Scoters, and sometimes one or two Common Murres. On any trip, you can observe Bald Eagles soaring overhead, perched expectantly along shoreline snags, or standing guard over their nests.
Any outing, whether it be a walk in the woods, an estuary stroll, or a day trip down the channel will almost certainly be a birding highlight.
Walk on the Wild Side
The Kitimat River Estuary is the most biologically productive area in the Kitimat Valley. Over 114 species, some very rare, have been recorded here. Peak birding times begin with the arrival of the eulachon fish (late March) and continue through to mid May. Expect to see ample numbers and species of ducks, geese, shorebirds, as well as a few unexpected visitors heading north to their Arctic breeding grounds.
Paddle on the Wild Side
Lakelse Lake offers a superb opportunity to enjoy a relaxing canoe trip and spot some exciting birds at the same time. Lakelse Lake is alive with waterfowl and passerines from late April through to mid June. Paddle through the marsh area, up small meltwater streams, and straddle beaver dams. Loons and grebes' haunting calls signal our arrival on the water while overhead Western Tanagers and Townsend's Warblers feast on the abundant spring insects. Long dead snags make a welcome fast food outlet for Red-breasted Sapsuckers or a home for Violet-green Swallows. In the evening, a beaver, muskrat, or moose might make a welcome appearance.
A Wild, West Coast Inlet
A boat ride along Douglas Channel offers excellent scenery, fresh salt air, and an opportunity to view one of BC's endangered species - Marbled Murrelets. The first breeding record in British Columbia of Marbled Murrelet came from Gilttoyees Inlet, a northerly extension of Douglas Channel. We will journey back along this steep walled inlet and watch dozens of adults at close range feed, preen and rest in the quiet headwaters. When darkness approaches, they leave their watery restaurant and fly inland to secret nest sites.
On the return trip, we'll stop at Coste Rocks, a high-relief pinnacle known as a haven for unusual shorebirds, migrating seabirds, and a solitude for seals. This will be an unforgettable trip.
Dennis and Brenda Horwood have lived in the Kitimat Valley for over 25 years. Prior to accepting a teaching position in Kitimat, Dennis worked for Parks Canada and BC Parks as a park naturalist. His award winning photographs have appeared in Nature Canada, Seasons, and Alaska magazines as well as several other books, periodicals and newspapers. He authored Birds of the Kitimat Valley and recently republished his first book Haida Gwaii: A Guide to the Queen Charlotte Islands . He is also a contributing author to the soon to be released Birds of British Columbia .
Brenda and Dennis have been leading tours in the northwest over the past decade. They have explored the area from mountaintop to valley bottom, the width and breadth of the coastal inlets, and often spend summer evenings padding on Lakelse Lake and having a restful evening supper in a secluded coastal cove. Their combined love of birds and the outdoors will be certain to make your trip even more memorable.