Birds of Vancouver Island

Birds of Vancouver Island
Birds of Vancouver Island - A Photographic Journey by Glenn Bartley

These brief reflections represent but a few of my memories of the beautiful birds of Vancouver Island. Over the past four years I have spent as much time as possible out in nature finding and photographing birds. I feel fortunate to have been able to see such wonderful creatures, and even more so to be able to share the memories of these treasured birds in my new book. I hope that you will enjoy “Birds of Vancouver Island”.

Birds of the Rainforest:

I find myself walking down a familiar path this morning – one that leads its way through a majestic place where towering cedar and fir trees force my gaze upwards in awe. The air is damp and cool – yet the lush, mossy forest has a warm and welcoming feel to it.  Off in the distance a Winter Wren is singing and, as I catch a glimpse of it, I am amazed that such a small bird can produce such an impressive song. High above, Townsend’s Warblers sing to one another, proclaiming the extent of their territories and searching for mates. Approaching a small stream I watch as an American Dipper bobs up and down before eagerly jumping into the water to search for a quick meal. The persistent “tap-tap-tap” sound from a nearby tree redirects my attention towards a Red-breasted Sapsucker that is working hard for an early morning snack…

Red-breasted Sapsucker
Red-breasted Sapsucker © Glenn Bartley

Birds of the Sea: 

On a clear morning in July I wake at 4:30am. A quick bite-to-eat and a short drive to the waterfront and I am on the water in my kayak by 5:30. I paddle out into the bay as the sun rises over the Olympic Mountains in the distance and the raucous sounds of Harbour Seals make it clear that there is life all around me. Twenty minutes of paddling later and I am now a few kilometres off-shore. The water is calm – as calm as I have ever seen it – and there is something about this morning that makes it feel special. In the distance I can hear gulls squawking and starting to converge in an area where bait fish are “balling up” at the surface. I race towards them to see what I can find. Glaucous-winged and Heerman’s Gulls are everywhere making lots of noise and attracting even more birds from miles around. Among the new arrivals are plenty of Rhinoceros Auklets that are diving into the bait ball and emerging with their bills full of shiny silver sand lance. Pigeon Guillemots are also joining in the rapidly growing flock. The Guillemots are excitedly calling to one another revealing their brilliant vermillion colored mouths as they coordinate their attack on the helpless baitfish just inches below the surface. Just outside of this oceanic swarm of birdlife I spot two birds that seem distinctly different. Raising my binoculars to my eyes I feel a surge of adrenaline and excitement as I immediately recognize these two birds to be a gorgeous pair of Marbled Murrelets…

Marbled Murrelet
Marbled Murrelet © Glenn Bartley

Song Birds:

Emerging at a viewpoint after a lengthy hike up the side of a mountain I look out towards the horizon.  From where I now stand the towering Douglas Firs have given way to gnarled Garry Oaks. In the distance I can see an Olive-sided Flycatcher sallying up from a conspicuous open perch and snatching insects out of thin air.  The trill songs of Orange-crowned Warblers ring out from the scrubby habitat that surrounds me. Just then, a flash of colour catches my eye.  In the early morning sunlight the brilliance of the red and yellow plumage of this bird is beyond belief.  And yet here he is:  a too-beautiful-for-words male Western Tanager that I simply cannot take my eyes off…

Western Tanager
Western Tanager © Glenn Bartley


On a warm spring afternoon I am sitting quietly next to a small sheltered pond.  Reflected colours from the Yellow Dogwoods that surround the shoreline have given the water an attractive golden glow.  American Widgeons, Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks and the ubiquitous Mallards are excitedly quacking and calling back and forth to one another. A mated pair of Northern Shovellers are swimming around and around one another as they feed by filtering water through their oversized bills. Ring-necked ducks group together in the middle of the pond and dive for food over and over again.  Before long, a gorgeous male Bufflehead swims by showing off his brilliant white flanks and rainbow coloured head…

Bufflehead © Glenn Bartley


The inter-tidal zone along the coast of Vancouver Island always seems to be teeming with life.  Low tide exposes resources to birds who flock to these areas to feed. Among my favourite are the Black Oystercatchers whose raucous calls     announce their presence from far off.  I love watching them as they work their way along the shoreline picking off chitons and mollusks from the rocks that low tide has recently uncovered. Nearby, a small group of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds are also picking their way along the seaweed covered rocks. When a large Gull flies over, one of the birds becomes wary and flies off. All of his companions follow close behind; calling as they select a safer area to feed…

Black Oystercatcher
Black Oystercatcher © Glenn Bartley

Birds of Prey:

It is fall now. The long days of the summer months are beginning to fade away and, for me, the seasonal transition is accentuated by the abundance of migratory shorebirds heading south. As I walk along the oceanfront towards a large group of shorebirds they erupt into flight. Even before I see it, I know what must be nearby. Before I can appreciate what I am witnessing a Merlin has snatched a Short-billed Dowitcher from mid-air.  I watch as this efficient predator devours the smaller bird and am captivated by the beauty and ferocity of Mother Nature…

Merlin © Glenn Bartley

Backyard Birds:

Returning home from a fine day in the field I glance out the window to see the hummingbird feeder buzzing with activity.  Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds compete for their sought-after supply of nectar and whiz through the air with a speed and precision that mesmerizes me.  Looking beyond the window and into the backyard I see a group of birds busily feeding. The Juncos, Chickadees, Sparrows and Towhees may have individual intentions – but when a Cooper’s Hawk appears from nowhere to try for an easy meal it becomes clear that these birds are indeed working together…

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird © Glenn Bartley

To order your copy today please visit –

About the Contributor:

Glenn Bartley is a professional nature photographer who focuses on photographing birds in their natural habitat. He resides in Victoria, British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast. Glenn leads instructional photography workshops to exciting destinations around the world. To find out more or to see more of Glenn’s images please visit: Glenn’s latest book is “Birds of Vancouver Island: A Photographic Journey.”