Active rest days when training: Our favourite winter route, Port Alberni’s Somass Estuary Bird Sanctuary

J.V. Clyne bird sanctuary, Somass bird sanctuary, birding, Tsomass River, Somass Estuary, Port Alberni

When you are training as a runner, you still have to be conscious about taking rest days, and not injuring yourself or becoming exhausted through overtraining. If you are fairly new to running, then your rest day should probably be fully a rest day. But once you have built up your mileage and endurance, going for a walk or a hike makes a great day of active rest or recovery. Especially if you are training for a marathon or ultramarathon – time on your feet is important, and every extra hour helps! One of Dave’s and my favourite routes for an active recovery rest day is poking around the bird sanctuary at the Somass River, across from the main town of Port Alberni.

J.V. Clyne bird sanctuary, Somass bird sanctuary, birding, Tsomass River, Somass Estuary, Port Alberni

We especially like this route in winter – for two reasons! One is that it is mostly open, without forest cover – which means that if it is sunny out, it is one of our only routes here in Port Alberni where we can feel that sunshine. (Most of our other routes are forested, or the winter sun is just too low in the sky and never makes it above the mountaintops). And the other reason is that, in winter, this is a really important refuge for birds. There is a variety of habitat: from wetlands, to river, to ocean, to forest. And, if it is a clear day (like it was this February day) you get stunning views of Mt. Arrowsmith.

J.V. Clyne bird sanctuary, Somass bird sanctuary, birding, Tsomass River, Somass Estuary, Port Alberni, great blue heron

A great blue heron stalking the wetlands.

J.V. Clyne bird sanctuary, Somass bird sanctuary, birding, Tsomass River, Somass Estuary, Port Alberni

Great views of the wetlands from the raised boardwalk.

According to our local birding guru, Sandy McRuer, over 155 species have been recorded there. The first time that Dave and I ever went there, a huge short-eared owl circled low over us, hunting – what a thrill!

J.V. Clyne bird sanctuary, Somass bird sanctuary, birding, Tsomass River, Somass Estuary, Port Alberni, Bewick's wren

A Bewick’s wren – a new species for me today!

J.V. Clyne bird sanctuary, Somass bird sanctuary, birding, Tsomass River, Somass Estuary, Port Alberni

And a pair of northern shovellers. Unlike a mallard, the male has lots of white on him… and those shovel-like beaks are unmistakeable.

J.V. Clyne bird sanctuary, Somass bird sanctuary, birding, Tsomass River, Somass Estuary, Port AlberniSandy has posted some great background info about the Somass bird sanctuary and how to get there. Dave and I go to the spot described in the last paragraph, and walk along beside the big white pipe. There is a raised boardwalk there, so you get really good views across the wetlands (keep an eye out for everything from herons to northern harrier hawks to marsh wrens to wild swans), and you can follow it right down to the river and overlook the rivermouth (look for ducks and geese, as well as bald eagles on the power lines above). You can also go down the south side of the boardwalk, and walk around the effluent ponds (many species of ducks, as well as geese, coots and gulls) and on to the edge of the estuary. Also, keep an eye out for raccoons and, in autumn, black bears!

Walking that route can take us two hours or more – depending upon how much we stop for the bird viewing. Definitely bring binoculars if you can. It’s a great way to get out there and get your body moving when you need a rest day from running. (If you want to see more bird photos from Port Alberni’s Somass estuary, including bald eagles, a northern shrike, a variety of ducks, and a cute little family of raccoons, check out my post from a year ago: https://daveandjackierun.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/hiking-around-the-port-alberni-christmas-bird-count/#more-1261).

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