On April 25 2014, a group of 34 birders gathered in Port McNeill and Port Hardy, BC, to attempt to make it out to Triangle Island, one of Canada's most important seabird breeding grounds. The island is located off the tip of Vancouver Island, and his a home to breeding Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, Cassin's Auklet (over half of the world's population!), Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, BC's only Horned Puffin, Pelagic Cormorant, Leach's and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, and more. The boat we were on was the Naiad Explorer, a fast 55 foot boat owned by Mackay Whale Watching, which is based in Port McNeill.

Now before I get too far ahead of myself I should talk about how this trip even got scheduled in the first place. It all started in June 2013, when I received a contact submission through my website from a lady from Sointula, Malcolm Island (population 650), located a 25 minute ferry ride from Port McNeill. Her name was Annemarie, and she invited me to come give a presentation in Sointula for their 14th annual spring bird count. Well, why not! But unfortunately the date didn't work out. However, we soon learned that it wouldn't work for them either due to scheduling of BC ferries (they get lots of people over from Vancouver Island and need the ferries to be running). So, they rescheduled the count, and the second date (April 26/27) worked for me.

It wasn't until a couple months later when my Dad asked me about the Scott Islands. He said that he had heard that lots of birds nest on them including Tufted Puffins, and he was wondering if there are any birding trips that run out to them, since we wouldn't be far from that area. I had heard about Triangle Island, one of the Scott Islands, but had not known exactly where the island was. Well, I looked but no trips are run regularly out there.

More research showed the reason why few trips have ever been done out to Triangle Island and the other Scott Islands. The seas and weather conditions in the area are brutal, and though a few trips have been scheduled for that area, most have had to turn back due to dangerous, high seas and strong wings. Some trips didn't even get near open ocean and had to turn back due to fog. But the research also showed good things. I learned so much about the amazing birds of Triangle Island.

There was one big problem though. As I mentioned, no trips are run out the the island. I still wanted to go though, so I asked around and it was suggested that I email whale watching and fishing companies about going out to the island. I was hoping that if a company agreed I would get a good price and I would gather a few friends to go out with me.

I ended up emailing all the fishing and whale watching companies I could find that are in Port Hardy and Port McNeill. Some didn't respond, some said no, and others gave offers. The ones who gave offers still all talked about how bad the sea conditions are and that few trips have ever made it out to the island successfully.

I decided to go with Mackay Whale Watching. They had been recommended by multiple people and they have the best boat and best captain. The problem was that i couldn't afford this trip on my own, so the next step began: gathering birders to go on the trip.

For the next few months I advertised, emailed, and planned the trip. I got lots of people who said they were interested. As the proposed date of the trip (April 25) got closer, I began to try to get commitment from people. Things moved along slowly, and I had soon gotten 20-25 committed people.

In the month before the trip, things really began to pick up. Especially during the few weeks leading up to the trip I received an overwhelming number of inquiries, so many that the boat filled up. But lots of people was good. We were going to try to go to Triangle Island!

The date of the trip finally arrived. I woke up at the hotel in Port McNeill and after having breakfast (and taking a few motion sickness pills), my Dad and I walked down to the dock in Port McNeill. As we got closer, I could see the Naiad Explorer at the dock, ready for the trip:

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We were at the dock about 45 minutes before the scheduled departure, and 30 minutes before I asked people to arrive, but people were already arriving at the dock, ready to get on the boat. There were clouds in the sky, but no rain. More importantly, there was no wind, and the water was like a lake. And wind and the sea conditions is what determines whether we make it out or not.

We left Port McNeill on time, and started birding. Like I mentioned before, the water was like a lake which allowed us to travel at about 30 knots.

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Right at the dock there was a pair of Marbled Murrelet and some Red-necked Grebes, both in breeding colours:

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We continued to bird as we went towards out next pickup spot, Port Hardy. This Long-tailed Duck in breeding colours flew beside the boat:

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Many Bald Eagles were perched in trees along the water, including this one:

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We now turned into Hardy Bay to pick up more people in Port Hardy. After they got on the boat we had 34 birders on board, as well as our captain Bill Mackay and his wife Donna Mackay. "Chum" (fish guts) also got on board in Port Hardy to use to attract birds to the boat far offshore.

There were some eagles in the trees along Hardy Bay as well which were cool to see:

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Once we were out of Hardy Bay we picked up speed and began to travel at about 30 knots again. Birds that we saw now included these ones:

Lots of alcids (especially Marbled Murrelet and Pigeon Guillemot), including many Common Murre:
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White-winged Scoter
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As we headed towards the open ocean, the skies began to clear and blue sky emerged from under the clouds. The wind still was very light, which was very good, and lots of birds were still around.

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Once we got offshore and past Cape Scott, the waves began to get larger. They started off as 1 metre swells, but once we got farther offshore they were 2-3 metres (6.5-10 feet).

Not long after we got offshore, we began to see our first Sooty Shearwaters, among other birds like Rhinoceros Auklets and Pacific Loons. A lifer for me and all of the people on the boat who were on their first pelagic! It was very cool to watch them as they followed the boat. There were a whole lot of them, probably over 100 in total! We also almost ran into a Gray Whale that surfaced right beside the boat.

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Soon we were beside Cox Island which is the closest Scott Island to Cape Scott, the tip of Vancouver Island. We soon got past Lanz Island, and then way far off in the distance, probably more than 25 kilometers away, we could see it. Triangle Island! We were going at a good pace (20 knots or so) through the 2-3 metre swells. It looked like we were going to make it!

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Even far offshore birds were still around. A Leach's Storm-Petrel was seen, as well as the first Tufted Puffin. Cassin's Auklets began to show up and would scurry away from the boat, and Sooty Shearwaters were very common:

Cassin's Auklet (90% of Canada's and over 50% of the world's Cassin's Auklets breed on Triangle Island).
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We got closer and closer to the island. Finally, we arrived, and circled Triangle Island. We ate lunch in the "calm" waters around the island. It was amazing. We became the few people who have ever seen the island, let alone be so close. Vancouver Island was nowhere in sight, just the birds, sea lions, Triangle Island, and more distantly the other Scott Islands.

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Rocks around Triangle Island (photo by Jeff Jones)
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Steller Sea Lions resting on rocks around Triangle Island (photo by Jeff Jones)
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Many birds were around the island. A Bald Eagle and a Peregrine Falcon were perched on the island. Alcids were around including Rhinoceros Auklets, Cassin's Auklets, Tufted Puffins, and many more.


This photo is of the Triangle Island lighthouse (or all the remains of it). The lighthouse was set up around 1910. People thought it would be the perfect spot for a lighthouse, because it was the first bit of land people would see coming towards that part of North America. However, once they got it up and running, they ran into problems they did not foresee. People needed to be on the island to record weather and maintain the lighthouse. This meant that food needed to be brought to them. Some ships got shipwrecked trying to bring food the island, which meant people on the island had to go without food for days. Another problem was the weather. Most of the time there was thick fog, which meant the lighthouse was useless as nobody could see. One year 240 out of 365 days the lighthouse couldn't be seen due to fog. Wind was a huge issue as it would tear apart the houses and it blew off all the cattle brought to the island. Wind was recorded in the area at about 110 knots (over 200 kilometers per hour!), and seas reached over 13 metres (45 feet). Finally in 1919, the top of the lighthouse was dismantled, but the base remains on the island to this day:

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After spending some time circling the island, we began our journey back towards the mainland. Similar birds were present as on the way out, but on the way in many showed a lot better.

This Sooty Shearwater was one of many that we saw on the way in. These birds breed in New Zealand and travel across the globe on their migration. Most of the birds were saw where molting, but this one looked pretty good, as it flew around close to Triangle Island:

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Like on the way out there were lots of Cassin's Auklets. These birds feed at sea all day and only return to their nests after dark. They leave at dawn the next day to go and find food again.

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On the way in we also did some "chumming". Chumming is when you throw fish guts over the side of the boat to hopefully attract birds like tubenoses. The only tubenoses that came in for chum were Sooty Shearwaters, but they were always cool to see!

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Chumming brought in lots of gulls as well, of course. Most were Glaucous-winged Gulls, but a few Herring Gulls came in as well.

Herring Gull
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Herring Gull (bottom) with Glaucous-winged Gull
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Young Glaucous-winged Gull (head is just out of focus unfortunately)
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Young Glaucous-winged Gull (head is just out of focus unfortunately)
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After chumming for a bit we continued on. As we passed Beresford Island, a huge flock of Cackling Geese flew over. A few Canadian Geese and Brant Geese were mixed in with them as well.

This photo shows just a tiny portion of the flock, which was many many times as large as this
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Sooty Shearwaters were still very common and we passed by this flock resting on the water:

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We soon did some more chumming. In addition to gulls and shearwaters, lots of Rhinoceros Auklets and Pacific Loons came in this time:

Sooty Shearwater
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Glaucous-winged Gull
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Herring Gull
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Gulls
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Pacific Loon
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Pacific Loon
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Rhinoceros Auklets
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This photo is by Jeff Jones
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Soon the coast of mainland Vancouver Island was back in clear sight. We soon passed Cape Scott, and it wasn't long before we were back in more sheltered waters without large waves. Captain Bill took us by Hope Island, where a group of Steller Sea Lions were out of the water. This provided good photos for everybody!

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We now went over to Pine Island, a small island where Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets breed later in the year.

Pine Island lighthouse (photo by Jeff Jones)
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Harlequin Ducks
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Brandt's Cormorants (with a Double-crested Cormorant and a Glaucous-winged Gull)
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We now continued in the direction of Port Hardy and Port McNeill. Alcids were still being seen, as were these guys:

Mew Gull
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Great Blue Heron
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We now dropped off people in Port Hardy, and after the rest of us continued on to Port McNeill. At the dock in Port Hardy a Turkey Vulture flying around, and at the dock in Port McNeill there were some Western Sandpipers and Dunlin:

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Well, that concluded our journey! It was a trip of a lifetime, one that I know I will never forget. We were so lucky to get a beautiful day and to see all the amazing birds and marine mammals that we did. The habitat of northern Vancouver Island is such an amazing place home to so many creatures, and being on the boat and seeing them makes you really want to protect them. It was amazing trip!

We traveled 352 kilometers round trip! One long journey!
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Here is a photo of the people who got on at Port Hardy:

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Here is a photo of the people who got on in Port McNeill:

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Thank you very much to Bill and Donna Mackay for safely getting us out to the island and back!

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Trip bird list:

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Marine Mammal List:

Sea Otter - 3
Gray Whale - 1
Harbour Seal - 2
Dall's Porpoise - 4
Harbour Porpoise - 6
Steller Sea Lion - 300 (out of the water on Hope Island and Triangle Island).


Video clips from the trip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o48AhpUyodE


Article in Sointula Ripple about the trip by Jeff Jones: http://sointularipple.ca/2014/05/voyage-to-triangle-island/#.U26oCPldWqK

Quotes from the article:

"Suddenly, the inside passage was behind us, and we were facing large waves and ocean swells. Bill explained this was what the open ocean was like…if it was calm. And it was much worse when the wind was up."

"And further away we could see a speck, way out in the open Pacific: Triangle Island."

"And slowly but surely, things began to get better. We moved away from the cloud which hung over Cape Scott and the sun came out. The water went from a slate gray to a brilliant, sparkling blue. Birds were everywhere, close and far. At one point, we came up behind a giant grey whale who was sleeping on the surface. People pointed excitedly. And the boat kept heading out to sea. We were keen to arrive at our destination."

"Sometime shortly after twelve noon, we passed Sartine Island. Triangle Island was only six miles away. It seemed to take forever to cross that last distance but finally, Bill pulled back on the throttle and the Naiad Explore came off plane. Putting the engine in neutral, we were suddenly surrounded by oceans swells breaking on battered rocks. Birds were circling above, and Triangle Island was just off the bow. We had arrived."

"We spent an hour circling Triangle Island while people ate lunch and scanned the island with binoculars. Cameras, needless to say, were everywhere. Every direction you looked revealed a unique view of incredible scenery. The island itself was almost prehistoric looking. The island was covered with sea grass and small plants but trees cannot grow in this inhospitable marine world. People were basking in the sunshine on the vessel, but all of us were imagining the huge winter storms that batter the island, month after month. You couldn’t help but lapse into silence when confronted with the remoteness of this lonely island."

"According to Bill Mackay, we traveled 186.6 nautical miles, which is the same distance as going from Sointula to Maple Ridge! "

"As we slowly came back to the Port McNeill dock to disembark, I couldn’t help but think about the rich variety of life we had witnessed. Whales, dolphins, birds, Stellar sea lions, all living within islands, beaches, forests, and trees. They all evolved over thousands of years. They live in this shared environment with each other and ourselves. The idea that we might be endangering their right to exist by destroying the coast with industrial developments such as oil tankers, fish farms, oil pipelines or LNG plants is just wrong."

"This was truly a trip of a lifetime."