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).
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.
Sea Lions hanging out together
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.