Wandering Tattler Tale

Halfmoon Bay is one of those spots in Pacific Rim National Park that is often overlooked by visitors with only a short amount of time. Access is via the 1.4 km long Willowbrae Trail—at the 1.3 point, just before it descends into Florencia Bay, the trail splits. The trail that leads off to the right runs through a stretch of roots, mud and weathered boardwalk before it reaches the top of the bluff above Halfmoon Bay. It’s a long descent down a steep series of steps and ramps to the beach below (longer on the way back up).

Because Halfmoon Bay is a respectable 1.7 km from the parking lot (one-way) it takes longer to get to and the folks that make their way down to the sand are fewer. There was a family of four on the beach when I arrived so I walked toward the far end of the beach, stopping to admire a small patch of large-headed sedge (Carex macrocephala).

There is a very short, rough and muddy trail at the west end of the beach (farthest from the stairs) that leads over a small rise to the exposed rocky coast. With some caution—stay well back from the edges since falling in the water here is probably a one way trip—it is possible at low tide to get a distant view of some of the creatures that make their homes on the rugged coast. Binoculars recommended.

Outer Rocky Shore at Halfmoon Bay
Rocky shore to the west of the sandy beach at Halfmoon Bay. Photographed from a safe location well above the waves – if you’re in the sea palms you’re way too close!

Rocky shorelines like these are excellent places to find black oystercatchers and other shorebirds that prefer the dynamic shoreline. While there were several oystercatchers flying from mussel bed to mussel bed, I noticed a solitary gray bird on a steep rock covered with mussels, goose-necked barnacles and sea palms.

Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus)
A Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus) perched high above the waves in a mussel bed.

Without binoculars it was a bit challenging to get close enough to identify the bird by eye (especially with the steep drop off of the shore) but the drab gray colour and longer bill didn’t suggest a surf bird. I took a couple of photographs with a 105mm lens which showed the bird well in its habitat. Cropping/zooming in showed enough detail to conclusively identify it as a wandering tattler (Heteroscelus incanus).

Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus)
A closer crop showing the distinctive white eyebrow, long bill and yellow legs of the Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus).

I was able to sit and watch the tattler and the waves for a while—there was more than enough space between my location and where the bird was and I think it felt pretty confident that I wasn’t going to get anywhere near it. When I left, I had renewed respect for both the ocean and this small shorebird that forages along its dynamic edge.