Category   Wildlife Viewing in Central Vancouver Island
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Wildlife Viewing Tour Operators in British Columbia

The beaches around Parksville and neighbouring Qualicum have been the site of an annual migration of brant geese, in their tens of thousands, since well before the settlement of the town. With the establishment of the Brant Goose Feeding Area by the Mid Island Wildlife Watch Society, the arrival of the geese has been the trigger for annual festivities in mid-April. By then, thousands of the black-hued, duck-size sea geese touch down on the beaches and marshlands surrounding Parksville and Qualicum to rest and feed on the algae, eel grasses, seaweeds, and especially herring roe. Most of the migrating birds are travelling from Mexico to the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta of western Alaska. Guided tours of the feeding areas take visitors to special viewing locations, or you can simply walk out on the beach with a pair of binoculars (and view the more than 200 other bird species passing through at the same time).

Trumpeter Swan
The trumpeter swans come in low over the treetops, two or three at a time. With a 2.5m wingspan, the world's largest waterfowl exemplifies aerodynamic magnificence. Mimicking the landing gear of a plane, pairs of wide, webbed feet drop down at the last instant to break their fall with a finesse that would make the best bush pilot burn with envy.

Seconds after landing, the new arrivals come to a quick halt, fold their winds, arch their necks like bass clefs, and drift regally off to join other swans already on site for the night.

An aristocratic bugling call and response rises among them that makes the homely honk of Canada geese and the quotidian quack of mallards sound decidedly plebian. This scene is repeated twice daily on lakes and ponds throughout the Comox Valley of Vancouver Island.

Over the past decade, as population numbers of trumpeter swans have continued to rebound remarkably from a dismal low of several hundred in the 1960s to well over 10,000 today, many Comox Valley farmers put out winter feed for the swans. This is part of a coordinated plan not only to provide for the birds' welfare but also to protect the sensitive grassland on which livestock depend for summer grazing. A hefty 10-kilo swan has a big appetite. More than a thousand of them remain to winter here and form the largest colony on the west coast of North America. Smaller flocks settle in the Lower Mainland, while others fly as far south as Oregon. As you drive around the valley, signs alert visitors to participating farms in the Trumpeter Swan Management Area.

One such spread - Knight Farm, one of the oldest in the valley - lies just inland from Cape Lazo. A good book to consult on trumpeter swan viewing areas is Nature Viewing Sites in the Comox Valley and Environs by the Comox Valley Naturalists Society. Augmented by the Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue Society's detailed regional map, these materials will fully equip you to prowl the backroads in search of more wildlife. Trumpeter-swan viewing sites abound in the valley, including along the well-marked scenic route on Comox Road between Courtenay and Comox. (The route is equally well suited to driving and cycling). Shoreline sites include Point Holes and Cape Lazo as well as Kin Beach, Singing Sands, and Seal Bay Parks.

Steller's Sea Lions hanging out together

Seal Bay Regional Nature Park is a BC Wildlife Watch viewing site where California and Steller sea lions, seals, and migratory birds hang out at this sunny stretch of coastline. Spring is a time of much activity, when the sea lions arrive as they follow the annual herring and eulachon migration. (Eulachon are small, sardine-sized fish.) The bull is a huge animal, which may reach 1000 kilograms, and a body length of up to three metres.

To reach the Seal Bay Regional Nature Park, follow signs to the Powell River ferry from Hwy 19A in Courtenay, then head north on Waveland Road to Bates Road. Trails begin from the north end of the road and lead to a staircase that descends to the beach.

If you can arrange a journey by boat to Mitlenatch Island Provincial Park, you'll find a birdwatching and wildflower paradise 13 kms northeast of Miracle Beach Provincial Park. Mitlenatch is home to the largest seabird colony on the Strait of Georgia, principally 3,000 pairs of glaucous-winged gulls. Other nesting species include pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, and black oystercatchers. Specially designed trails for wildlife viewing lead across the middle of the island between Northwest and Camp Bays to an observation blind. This area is characterized by open meadows that were cleared by the island's former owners a century ago. Access is restricted to other parts of the island where rocky uplands are forested with trembling aspen, a species more frequently seen in the British Columbia Interior. Their presence, along with prickly pear cactus, are a result of semiarid conditions here in the rain shadow cast by the Vancouver Island Mountains.

About 19 kms south of Campbell River, you'll find exceptional birding in Woodhus Slough. Viewing trails lead out into the slough from the parking lot in Oyster River Regional Park. To reach the park turn east on Glenora as it follows the north side of the Oyster River.

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