Vancouver will be our home base as we explore the region. This celebrated North American city takes its influence as much from Asia as it does from traditional Canadian culture, and when we talk about tradition, we’re talking about thousands of years. Asian explorers visited as part of the early human settlement of the North American continent and we will get to hear stories from their descendants and experience wildlife they must have encountered as we’re enchanted by the sea, the rainforest, and the people of the region.
We’ll visit the famous Fraser River estuary, south of Vancouver, where a spectacular diversity of migrating and wintering shorebirds and waterfowl array themselves with the marvelous backdrop of the Coastal Mountains.
We then head to Vancouver Island. A marine outing to Johnstone Strait will provide excellent opportunities to see Orcas and Humpbacks, as well as a myriad of seabirds and other wildlife, including Northern sea lions!
We’ll immerse into the world of the Kwakwaka’wakw culture via U’mista Cultural Center, where interpretive visits to the burial grounds and the iconic totems, amplify our walk in the island’s ecological park.
As if that’s not enough, our excursion into the Great Bear Rainforest to observe Grizzly Bear and Black Bear during the Fall feasting period will cap a week of memorable natural experiences that are sure to create lifetime memories.
- 2 days in the Fraser River estuary, south of Vancouver for the chance to view spectacular numbers and diversity of migrating and wintering shorebirds and large concentrations of waterfowl
- Excellent reserves and protected areas in the Fraser River Delta, with a marvelous backdrop of the Coastal Mountains
- Marine outing in Johnstone Strait where Orcas and Humpbacks gather, as well as a myriad of seabirds and other wildlife (ie. Northern sealions!)
- Immersion into the world of the Kwakwaka’wakw culture with U’mista Cultural Centre, interpretive visits to the burial grounds and totems, and a walk in the island’s ecological park
- Adventure into the Great Bear Rainforest to observe Grizzly Bear and Black Bear
- Adventure to Scott Island Marine Wildlife Area to observe seabird diversity
Why book with Tours of Exploration?
- We specialize in wildlife and unique adventure touring and have done so for over 30 years.
- We will curate your trip's every detail to ensure you have the getaway you have been dreaming of.
- We choose to work with local partners, not only to guarantee an immersive, culturally authentic experience; but also to economically support the area's local population.
2023 Departure Dates and Costs
One departure Sept. 9 - 18, 2023 (10 days)
Cost: $ 4,585 CAD / 3,500 USD per person (plus 5% gst)
Single supplement: $ 775 CAD / $ 635 USD
$ 200 discount for bookings made by April 25, 2023
Conservation and sustainability fees included
Departure Point: Vancouver, BC
Group size: limited to 20 persons (with birds, and bear days two groups of 10 persons)
Liron Gertsman. Liron graduated with a degree in biology from the University of British Columbia in order to build upon his passion and commitment to the environment. Although young, Liron Gertsman is already an accomplished nature photographer and birds, bears and nature guide. You may have seen him on CBC’s “The National”, heard his voice on CBC Radio One, or seen his work in publications such Canadian Geographic magazine, The Guardian, GEO magazine, and others. His photographs have been experienced by millions in some of the largest museums across the world, including the Natural History Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Liron uses his photos to educate on the importance of preserving the natural world for the continued health and existence of all who live on our planet. Bears in BC, and birds are often the subject of his photographic pursuits including his submission for the 2018 Audubon Photography Awards where he earned a highly commended designation in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
Joining the trip will be Tours of Exploration founder Catherine Evans and local guides.
Day 1. Sept. 9: Arrival in Vancouver
Arrival in Vancouver, BC where our Birds, Bears, Whales and Indigenous culture in the Pacific Northwest tour begins. As the group members may arrive on different flights and at different times, we will meet in the evening and discuss the plan for the days ahead with our birding expert & guide Liron Gertsman. We will be spending the next 3 nights at our hotel in Richmond, BC.
Day 2. Sept. 10: Iona Island & Sea Island Conservation Areas (B,L,D)
We will enjoy breakfast and depart to the nearby Iona Island and Sea Island Conservation area, near Vancouver International airport - both excellent birding sites. Our guide will be the incredible Liron Gertsman.
Each of these areas has wetlands, lagoons and rocky jetties extending out into the Delta. These islands are part of the Fraser River estuary and sit in the midst of the Pacific Flyway – making it a mecca for thousands of migrating birds. Iona Island is a regional park that has a primary sewage treatment plant and an animal refuge. Our attention will be on the large flocks of shorebirds and the concentrations of waterfowl along riverbanks, tidal flats, marshes, lagoon, grasslands, and beaches. In addition to the coastal avifauna, an impressive number of land birds can also be observed. September is an impressive time in the Fraser River Delta owing to rich nutrients that upwell and attract birds and a myriad of wildlife. We have chosen mid-September dates that are ideal for tides. The itinerary may be adjusted to take advantage of migration patterns.
After a day of birding, we will visit the Steveston Waterfront for dinner. Return to the hotel.
Day 3. Sept. 11: Reifel Bird Sanctuary and Boundary Bay (B,L,D)
This morning we visit the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a part of the Alaksen National Wildlife Area, located on Westham Island in Delta, BC. It lies just west of the South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and east of the Roberts Bank WMA. The Sanctuary consists of nearly 300 hectares (850 acres) of managed wetlands, natural brackish and salt-water marshes, low dykes, tidal saltwater mudflats, freshwater springs, and upland fields. It is a superb birding spot for the millions of birds seeking feeding and resting areas during their Spring and Fall migrations along the Pacific Coast. These habitats attract a wide range of bird species. The Sanctuary will be explored in guided groups with additional time for self-exploration.
We will be treated to a field or restaurant lunch, and in the afternoon, we head for Boundary Bay – 25 minutes along the Westham Island Road. Boundary Bay is used by millions of birds as a crucial rest-stop; day counts of more than 100,000 waterfowl have been recorded here. The bay consists of extensive salt and freshwater marshes, tidal mudflats, grasslands, sand dunes and sandy shorelines. The Pacific Flyway Migration Route – a major bird migration route that spans from the North Slope of Alaska to Central and South America – makes a stop in Boundary Bay. In our short time there, it should be easy to spot 30 to 40 species of shorebirds.
Day 4. Sept. 12: Vancouver to Port McNeill, Vancouver Island (B,D)
After breakfast, we depart for the BC Ferries terminal in Tsawwassen. Our two-hour ferry is bound for Duke Point, Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. On arrival, we will drive to the north end of the large island (approximately 6 hours drive). Here, we will have the next 4 nights’ accommodation in Black Bear Resort in Port McNeill. We will have a group dinner in the town. In the evening a short orientation to the area. https://www.port-mcneill-accommodation.com/
Day 5. Sept. 13: Telegraph Cove / Whale Watching (B,D)
Breakfast is included at the Black Bear Resort.
We depart for Telegraph Cove (approximately 30 minutes from Port McNeill). Here, we will depart by boat for an afternoon whale trip. Both Humpbacks and Orcas are still in the Strait during this time of the year as well as seals, Northern sea lions, 3 species of porpoise, dolphins, and a myriad of birds. The covered boat can accommodate the whole group’s capacity with comfortable seating. The upstairs seating area is open and outdoors, or the downstairs area is covered – the choice falls upon our travelers. There is a washroom onboard and tea or coffee is served partway through the trip. Travelers can feel free to bring snacks of their choosing.
Before or after the trip, time will be set aside to explore the historic boardwalk and the Whale Interpretive Centre, as well as the shops and cafes. Dinner included.
Day 6. Sept. 14: Great Bear Rainforest day (B,L)
Steep fjords, small islands and lush rainforest with old-growth red cedar and Sitka spruce up to 1000 years old characterize the Great Bear Rainforest. Subsurface upwellings and penetrating ocean currents result in a rich marine environment in the connecting waterways that are home to five species of salmon, numerous sea birds, Orca, minke, and humpback whales, several species of dolphin, black bear, harbour seals, Northern sea lions, and in the remote inlets – Grizzly bears. Look out for bald eagles, grebes, Marbled Murrelets, loons, herons and many other sea birds while in this area.
A select few travelers are afforded the incomparable thrill of close encounters with some of North America's most impressive creatures – massive grizzly bears. Each spring, the Grizzlies are seen feeding on grasses near the inlet shores. Each fall, millions of salmon make their final spawning run, while giant grizzlies gather at the spawning channels to fatten their already massive bodies in preparation for the imminent winter freeze. You will be there during prime season.
We meet at 6:30am, on the Municipal dock for check-in. We will depart by boat at 7am for a full day program and enjoy the added experience of sightseeing in the Great Bear Rainforest. A field lunch is included.
The covered boat has comfortable seats. The journey can sometimes be somewhat rocky but the boat design and comfortable seating help ease those minor inconveniences. There is a skipper and one or two crew members as our guiding team. The 33-foot vessel, MAYUMI, is designed for 10 to 12 passengers. Additional vessels will be needed based on our group size. These boats have a unique and highly stable hull which allows tougher seas to be navigated. A heated cabin and marine head make for a comfortable ride! Dinner on own at a restaurant in town, or can purchase groceries across the street to use the BBQ.
Grizzly Photo credit: @M Jordan
Day 7. Sept. 15: Scott Island National Marine Wildlife area (B,L)
Travelling through the traditional territories of the Tlatlasikwala and Quatsino First Nations, our 9 to 10 hour birding tours plan to visit the remote Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area off the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island*. These islands have the highest concentration of breeding seabirds on Canada’s west coast and the surrounding waters provide prime feeding
habitat. 90% of Canada’s Tufted Puffins nest on the Scott Islands. The area is recognized as an international Important Bird Area.
Just some of the species we are looking for include Tufted Puffins, Common Murres, Cassin’s Auklets, Rhinoceros Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oystercatchers, Sooty Shearwaters, Black-footed Albatross, Leach’s Storm Petrels, and Fork-tailed storm petrels.
In addition to a wide diversity of birdlife, we may also view humpback whales, sea otters, and sea lions during our time on the water. This excursion is by open (zodiac) boat. Dinner on own at a restaurant in town, or can purchase groceries across the street to use the BBQ.
Day 8. Sept. 16: Cormorant Island & Alert Bay (B, L, D)
Breakfast. We then transfer to the BC Ferries terminal (5 minutes away) for a trip to historic Alert Bay.
We depart from Port McNeill to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island at 8:40 am, a 45-minute ferry sailing. The town is historically significant as the oldest First Nations community on North Vancouver Island. It is also known as a centre for the resurgence of Indigenous culture. The Kwakwaka’wakw have been instrumental in spearheading a movement to reclaim their traditional art, dances, songs, legends, ceremonies, and language. The U’mista Cultural Centre showcases an incredible collection of historical and repatriated artifacts depicting the Potlatch Ceremony of the Kwakwaka’wakw. We will first visit the Centre. Those wishing to walk can do so along the board-walk, a pleasant 1.3-km stroll. The walk passes natural habitats and items of cultural significance. At 10:30 am, we will have a private guided cultural tour of the museum with a local guide. The potlatch collection housed in the museum is impressive, and its significance is heightened by a guided visit. Based on conditions in the community, a cultural performance is planned that depict the Kwakwaka’wakw legends and dances.
Next, we visit the Namgis Burial Grounds, which feature an impressive collection of memorial totem poles. These are viewed from the street. While sobering, the Namgis Burial grounds commemorate the deceased members of the Kwakwaka’wakw - in the wake of recent discoveries of mass unmarked children’s graves at former residential schools across Canada, the visit to this area is moving and impactful. It is important to respect the protocols that may be in place in the village of Alert Bay.
Another attraction is the Ecological Park, with a treasure trove of botanical delights accessed by boardwalk and trails through marsh and moss-draped forests. We will be lead through this area by a forest guide.
We will have some time to walk along the waterfront to see gift galleries and shops, such as Cultural Shock. We will return to the ferry terminal for the 3:15 pm sailing. We arrive in Port McNeill at 4:00 pm and transfer back to the hotel. Dinner.
Day 9. Sept. 17: To Vancouver (B,L) or Victoria
We depart Port McNeill for a return to the BC Ferry terminal in Nanaimo (approximately 6 ½ hours). This time, the crossing takes us to Horseshoe Bay, and we will have the opportunity to drive through Stanley Park. Our overnight accommodation in Vancouver will be at the Rosedale on Robson.
Trip extensions will be available on request. Passengers may chose to end their trip in Nanaimo or travel south to Victoria by Island Link bus (2 hours) with an overnight at the Parkside Hotel instead of the night in Vancouver. Trip ends.
For those wishing to fly back to Victoria or Vancouver, a taxi shuttle can be arranged to the Port hardy airport. One way airfare approximately $ 230 USD on Pacific Coastal Airlines.
Day 10. Sept. 18: Departure (B)
- Accommodation: 9 hotel nights
- Meals: as mentioned in the detailed itinerary (B: breakfast, FL: field lunch, L: lunch, D: dinner)
- Transportation as described
- Activities: as described in the detailed itinerary
- Guiding fees
- Meals: any meals not explicitly mentioned in the detailed itinerary, any alcoholic drinks
- Transportation: International flights or other transportation to/from the start/end point of the tour (Vancouver airport YVR)
- Personal purchases: any personal items such as (but not limited to) phone calls, laundry, souvenirs, additional snacks etc.
- Tips: Any tips you would like to offer tour leaders, guides, drivers, porters, wait staff, housekeeping etc. for outstanding service