Black Brant, the Little Sea Goose. The name is magical, and it carries with it a suggestion of distant places and amazing journeys. And so it is with this diminutive little goose, which pays an annual visit to British Columbia.
The Black Brant is the western North American subspecies of the Brant, (Branta bernicla). Black Brant are truly international travellers. They nest in Arctic coastal lowlands, in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Never venturing far from salt water, they migrate south to winter. Numbers formerly wintered in coastal British Columbia, but it is believed this changed as a result of active market hunting for the Christmas table. Now, only a few stay in the Haida Gwaii islands, and Boundary Bay on the Lower Mainland, with the vast majority travelling to the coastal lagoons of Western Mexico.
When it is time to move north again to breed, they work their way up the coast. In British Columbia, their arrival is a cause for celebration, as thousands of birds set their wings, and descend on coastal beaches and flats, to feed on Eelgrass (Zostera species). There is a large concentration of Brant on the east coast of Vancouver Island, and the communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach annually host the Brant Festival in April. There are excellent opportunities for birding, both casually and competitively. Exhibitions of wildlife art, photography, and carving draw many visitors, and there are many other activities and events.
The geese stay for a month or more, feeding and resting. They gabble to each other, ever alert to attacks by Bald Eagles. Then, group-by-group, they lift off, a few each day, and push on for the next leg of their long annual journey.