Every year, around mid-March, Black Brant geese flock to the Parksville/Qualicum Beach area in anticipation of the annual herring spawn. It is here where they fatten themselves up by gorging themselves on herring roe for the long journey north to their breeding grounds in the arctic. There is even a Black Brant Festival in the Parksville/Qualicum Beach area, which celebrates these nomads every year.
Peterson’s Field Guide for Western Birds describes the Brant as a “small, black-necked goose the size of a mallard”. Its habitat are salt bays, estuaries and during the summer the tundra. Once I had become aware of these geese, I always wanted to photograph the Brant geese, but their limited stay in the area made this all but impossible until my recent relocation to Parksville.
The Black Brant leave the lagoons and estuaries of Baja, California in northern Mexico in early January and follow the west coast north, stopping at estuaries along the way to feed. The first ones to leave are the breeders, followed by non-breeders and last year’s young.
The first arrivals in the Parksville/Qualicum Beach area can be observed in late February and over the following weeks their numbers swell considerably. The reason for their presence is the annual herring spawn. Herring move from offshore waters to the more sheltered bays and estuaries to spawn. The Brant use this opportunity to feed on the herring roe and to fatten themselves up for the long journey north. This herring spawn also attracts other customers: Harbour Seals and Stellar Sealions, for whom there were slim pickings during the winter months, join in the melee along with the local seagulls and eagles.
Brants are fun to observe. Even from a distance their content C-r-r-r-ruk or Krr-onk, Krronk can be herd as they happily feed while swimming in the protected bays along the coast. small groups come and go for no particular reason. Unless of course an eagle makes an appearance and the whole flock rises into the air, make a round or two until the eagle disappears and settle right back down and continue feeding. But sometimes things take a different turn. On one occasion I watched a small group of Brant of about thirty birds being chased by three eagles. five of the geese split off from the main group with the eagles in hot pursuit of the five. another two split from this group and the eagles now had what they wanted. I could see how the raptors redoubled their efforts and started gaining on the pair of Brants. The distance was getting too great to see any details but I have watched eagles snatch seagulls out of mid-air. So I think that there might have been Brant on the eagles's menu that afternoon.
Once this food source has dried up around mid-April the Brant leave here and make their way north to Izembek Lagoon in Alaska before heading to their breeding grounds in the arctic, where they arrive toward the end of May. There they build nests and raise their young. And there is no rest. By the end of August family groups start their journey south for another stopover at the Izembek Lagoon in Alaska. There they feed to get ready for their trans-oceanic journey back to Baja, California, Mexico, bypassing Vancouver Island entirely.
The threat to the Brant is development encroaching on their wintering grounds by developments and disturbances.
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