I watched a flock of Surfbirds (Aphriza virgata), possibly fresh in from breeding grounds in Alaska’s rocky alpine areas, as they worked the intertidal zone in front of the large rocky island in the middle of Schooner Cove yesterday.
I love visiting Schooner Cove and consider it one of my favourite places in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It’s far enough from the main parking areas that most casual walkers don’t make the effort to walk out to the cove. However, it’s close enough that it takes under an hour to get to the cove. Schooner Cove is a prime destination for intertidal exploration because barnacles, mussels, sea stars and anemones cover the rocks. The Surfbirds were making their way through beds of mussels, plucking out invertebrates, small mussels and barnacles with their short bills.
On wave pounded rocky coasts, chunky little surfbirds are completely in their environment. At this time of year they’re moving into winter plummage, a flat gray back and white belly. Its short bill is yellowish at the base and black at the tip while its legs are yellowish-green in colour. By far the most conspicuous field mark is the striking black band on the end of the white tail and the white “V” pattern on the wings, visible when the birds are flying from rock to rock. Surfbirds move almost continuously, keeping one step ahead of the waves crashing on the rocks while searching for invertebrates to eat.
I enjoyed watching these birds as they moved effortlessly around the mussels and barnacles that covered the rocks at Schooner Cove. While I had to watch out for waves and the incoming tide, they were perfectly at home in this dynamic environment.