A Birder’s Site Guide for the Somass Estuary, Vancouver Island

Posted by Sandy McRuer on February 23rd, 2007

Given my interest in birds, this is something I should have done a long time ago. But over the next few weeks, I am going to change this oversight.

For those who aren’t birders, a site guide is a way to guide a person around a park or public place from the point of view of a birder. However. They are usually nice areas for anyone to visit. In this case, the guide is for the Somass River Estuary.

I have provided a map of the area so you can follow along when I am describing how to get there. Follow this link:

Map Somass Estuary


Up until about seven years ago, there was an area known as the JV Clyne Bird Sanctuary at the mouth of the Somass River. It was named after Mr. J.V. Clyne who was a CEO of MacMillan Bloedel. Of course the company has changed hands twice since then. But locals still call it that. However, it has disappeared. It was never an official sanctuary under the Canadian Migratory Birds Act.

The property still exists and is, in fact, larger than it was. And it is in quasi-public hands. It is owned by Ducks Unlimited who acquired it in partnership with Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service), Department of Fisheries and Oceans BC, Ministry of Water, Land & Air Protection ,BC Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, City of Port Alberni, Port Alberni Port Authority Port, Alberni Enhancement Association, Weyerhaeuser Canada, Norske Canada and Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. For more information, see:

It is a tremendous asset to the community. Over 155 species have been recorded there to date including large numbers of over-wintering waterfowl. The best time to bird the estuary is in the winter as there is a higher diversity of waterbirds.

Getting there

The cook’s tour of the estuary would include the end of the inlet. The best public vantage point is Harbour Quay. To get there from the east, drive west on Hwy 4 past Cathedral Grove over “The Hump” and down into the Alberni Valley. Take the first paved road to the left and stay on it till you come to the second set of traffic lights. The road (Redford Street) end here. Turn left onto Third Avenue and drive to the second set of traffic lights at Argyle St. Turn right and drive to the end of the road. You’ll come to a touristy spot with shops and a great view of the harbour.

The next Place to check out is the river itself. Drive back out to Third Avenue and turn left. Stay on this road past the paper mill, till you come to a set of lights on Roger Street. You’ll see the best Western Barklay Hotel on your right. Turn left here and you’ll come to the Somass River. Follow the road around to the right. You’ll see some parking past the first bridge. Park anywhere.

To get to the Somass Estuary, from the parking lot by the river, continue in the same direction to the first set of traffic lights. You have now rejoined Hwy 4. Continue along the river on River Road. You will eventually come to a metal-girder bridge over this river. Cross the bridge and turn left right away. Drive through the Tseshaht Reserve till you come to where the paved road bends away from the river. A dirt road follows the river bank at this pont. Follow the dirt road to a gate and park in the small parking area there. Walk under or around the gate and follow the dirt road past a barn building eventually to another gate. Near the second gate is a rock with a plaque on it remembering the donation of a Mr. Paetzold (I think). This is the Ducks Unlimited property. Warning: There is a herd of about 14 horses that run loose on the walk in. They can be dangerous. They do not like dogs! I was kicked by one of them recently. They can break a leg! Do not bring dogs into this area without a leash and do not encourage the horses.
There is another way to get in to this area. Drive through the Tseshaht Reserve. But instead of taking the dirt road stay on the paved road till you come to a big yellow gate. This gate is closed sometimes. So you may have to walk from there. Do not block the gate or the driveway beside it with your vehicle. If the gate is open, drive to the place where the big white pipeline goes under the road. Park in the turnout there. Walk across the road to where the pipeline come out of the ground. There is a ramp onto an elevated wooden walkway beside the pipeline. This is a great way to see the estuary. Follow it until you come to a dirt access road that services both the city sewage lagoon and the mill effluent lagoon. There is a step-over the pipeline there and a ramp onto the road. You can either follow the road back around the hill on the right. You will return to the paved road where you left your vehicle. Or if you continue on the pipeline you will eventually come to another step-over and a ramp part way past the city sewage lagoon. It’s best to get off the pipeline here. The pipeline leads to the river where it goes under it to the paper mill. The road leads out to the mill effluent lagoon. You can walk around both lagoons and then walk all the way back. To do this second loop would take about three hours of easy-going birding.

If you would like to be shown around the area follow this link: Rainbird Excursions

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