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Visiting Snow Geese - Fraser River Estuary

The Snow Geese have arrived in the Fraser River estuary! The best place to see thousands of these birds is on Westham Island in Delta at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Depending on nesting success, an estimated 22,000 to 28,000 geese, and sometimes many more, visit the estuary. They begin arriving in mid September and depart by late January. Peak numbers occur through November. These "Lesser" Snow Geese are returning from their nesting grounds on Wrangel Island in Russia.

The Lesser Snow Goose comes in two distinct colour phases, a blue-phase and a white-phase. The birds seen in the Fraser River estuary are white-phase geese, with an almost white body except for black wing tips. According to the Birds of British Columbia (Volume 1) only three blue-phase goose sighting records are documented for British Columbia.

The geese that frequent the Fraser estuary to feed often have faces stained rusty orange. When foraging, the bird's white head feathers often make contact with the iron-rich mud, staining them.

The Lesser Snow Goose has a wing span of about 90 cm and its average weight is 2.2 to 2.7 kg. They are usually observed in large, very vocal flocks. Unlike Canada Geese that generally fly in a V-shaped formation, snow geese form lines or U-shaped groupings.

In the Arctic, the breeding period is short. Geese often arrive before all of the snow is gone and must wait before nest building can occur. The melting of snow cover is critical. If snow melt is delayed, the female will reabsorb the eggs and try again the next year.

A nest consists of a bit of moss or gravel that, with years of use, becomes built up with moss, willow and grasses into a sizeable mound. The nests are located close to each other in large colonies. An average clutch contains 4-6 eggs.

Soon after hatching, the young geese are led from the nest to the water's edge. Snow Geese show a very strong family bond. The young and adults remain together throughout the fall migration, the winter months and the spring migration. When the parents start a new nest, the family generally breaks up, but sometimes the young of the previous year rejoin the new family.

Bald Eagles Invited Too! - Mark Your Calendars

You are invited to the 3rd annual Harrison Chehalis Bald Eagle Festival on November 28th and 29th. Despite low water levels and generally declining numbers of spawning salmon, hundreds of majestic Bald Eagle are expected to return to the Harrison Bay, Chehalis Flats and Nicomen Slough areas east of Mission this winter. In most years an estimated 700 to 1,100 eagles are present, along with about 150 to 200 Trumpeter Swans.

As in provious years, displays, boat tours on the Harrison River, and binoculars and scopesto view the birds up close. Several additions are planned for 1998, including at least one new site and several children's activities.

As in past years, there will be a passport draw with a special set of festival stamps. By collecting most of the stamps while visiting the sites you will be able to enter a special prize draw. Last year the prizes totalled over $1,000 in retail value!

While you don't need a passport to participate in the festival, we encourage you to purchase a passport for each member of your family and group to support this event. All of the $2 passport cost goes directly into the budget for next year's festival (last weekend in November).

This event relies almost entirely on the assistance of volunteers to stamp passports, to help with the binocular area, and to provide general information to festival participants. More volunteers are still needed for the 1998 event. If you are interested in helping, even for half a day, please contact April Mol (e-mail).

Common Sights Worth the Watch - Who Gets the Worm?

You might think that watching wildlife can only be exciting or interesting if you see a large flock of birds, a herd of deer, or a bear as it lumbers across the road. But this is not always the case.

The following personal wildlife observation, Resourceful Robin (Follow That Mole), is reprinted from the August 1998 issue of Birder's World Magazine. It was made by a Seattle, Washington resident and demonstrates that even common wildlife species are worth watching!

    The robin's mouth was literally stuffed with small worms, and it continued to pick up more. I could not imagine how the bird was getting them from the ground so easily. I had walked over that patch of earth many times, and it wasn't wet or soft. Yet the robin plucked the worms with ease. I watched the scene for some time, not more than thirty feet away. Then I saw the sod in front of the robin suddenly bulge upward maybe an inch or two. The robin darted to the fresh mound of broken sod and grabbed yet another worm.

    Aha! Truly ingenious. The clever robin had discovered an easy way to gather a big feast for the family. I watched again as the hard-working mole caused the sod to erupt, and the robin once again moved in, cocked its head, and crammed another worm into its overloaded bill. I was amazed but I suspect that robins are so taken for granted by most of us that we often miss the creativity that goes into their attempts to gather food. The common things in life are still worth watching.

Snow Goose Month - Reifel Bird Sanctuary

The month of November is Snow Goose time at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. After spending the summer months up north in places like Wrangel Island, Siberia, tens of thousands of these geese migrate south. Many spend the winter here on the Fraser River estuary, and are easily visible in and around Westham Island in Delta.

To celebrate the geese the Sanctuary organizes special activities on each weekend in November. In past years, a Snow Goose Festival was held on just one weekend but the interest and participation was too great!

For more information on Snow Goose activities at the sanctuary contact the British Columbia Waterfowl Society [5191 Robertson Road, Delta, B.C. V4K 3N2: phone/fax 604-946-6980].

Adams River Sockeye - Salmon Arrive Early

Were you were planning to attend the annual Salute to the Sockeye at Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park? The salmon are arriving earlier than expected so the event dates have been changed. Originally planned for October 10 to November 1, the new dates are October 3 to about October 25.

This is a peak year (1994, 1998, 2002, etc.) for the Adams River run, so there should be lots of bright red sockeye salmon to see.

This event is organized by the Adams River Salmon Society (ARSS), BC Parks and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. For more information contact the ARSS [phone: 250-679-5397; e-mail]. Information on this celebration can be found at the ARSS web site.

Goldstream Provincial Park - Salmon and Eagles

This park is located a short 19 km drive from downtown Victoria, with easy access from the Trans Canada Highway (Highway 1). The late fall and winter months offer excellent opportunities to view spawning salmon and wintering Bald Eagle that come to feed on the dead and dying fish.

Be sure to visit the Freeman King Visitor Centre where a bookstore/gift shop, hot beverages and baked goods await you. But check out the displays and interpretive programs too! From the picnic area parking lot, the centre is an easy 10 minute walk. It is located alongside the estuary where the Goldstream River (fresh water) enters Finlayson Arm (salt water).

Salmon Run

    Beginning in the middle of October through to late December an estimated 20,000 salmon enter the waters of the Goldstream River to spawn. Most of these are Chum Salmon, with small numbers of Coho and Chinook Salmon. A trail located along the river makes viewing the spawning salmon easy.

    In addition to weekday school programs, special talks and game activities are scheduled for the weekends. Beginning on the October 17-18 weekend through to December 6-7, presentations are scheduled for 10 am, 11am, 12 noon, 1 pm and 2 pm. Most of these are given by Goldstream interpretive staff and some by guest lecturers. The topics include Birds of the Salmon Run, Where Do They Come From - Where Do They Go, Salmon - the Inside Story, Charlie and Linda Storybook Time, the Salmon Cycle in Song, and the Regal Scavenger and Friends. You can also participate in Salmon Games at the picnic site, the Egg Lottery Children's Game or the Fish Jeopardy Game! Japanese fish printing is located at the visitor centre.

    It is recommended that you try to avoid coming on a weekend afternoon. The best viewing is during the early morning hours before the crowds arrive. If you are taking a group or going with friends, consider car pooling.

    When viewing spawning salmon, here or at another site, you should avoid wearing bright coloured clothing. Apparently salmon see red, purples and pinks very well!

Eagle Extravaganza

    From December through February Bald Eagle visit the park and are best seen from the visitor centre.

    A decade ago only a few eagles would be seen. But in the winter of 1990-1991, a quiet zone was created on the lower stretch of the Goldstream River. Four years later, the Goldstream estuary was added to this quiet area during the winter months. The absence of people in these areas has provided the eagles with space to feed without human interruption. Since closing the estuary, the number of Bald Eagle has risen from a yearly high of 12 to over 200.

    The quiet zone benefits all of the wildlife species that want to feed on salmon. This conservation strategy has encouraged a pair of eagles to nest. In 1994, a black bear fed in the estuary.

    To provide visitors with views of the eagles, and other wildlife, feeding on salmon carcasses in the estuary, a video camera has been installed. Live shots of activities in the estuary can be seen in the visitor centre. There is also a newly constructed viewing tower with high-powered spotting scopes.

    Beginning the weekend of December 12-13 and every weekend through to February 27-28, special presentations and activities will be scheduled. Last year nearly 60,000 visitors came to view the Bald Eagles in December, January and February. Again, early morning is the best time, or visit on a weekday.

    From December 12 to February 28 there will be an exhibit of the Birds of Prey of British Columbia at the visitor centre.

Other wildlife species come to Goldstream Provincial Park to feast on the salmon, including mink and river otter (early morning is best for a chance to see them), harbour seal, a few California Sea Lion (look in the estuary), and several thousand gulls, primarily Glaucous-winged, Mew and Thayer's.

For more information on the happenings at Goldstream Provincial Park contact the Freeman King Visitor Centre at 250-478-9414. For general information on this park contact the South Vancouver Island District office of BC Parks [2930 Trans Canada Highway, Victoria, B.C. V9E 1K3; phone 250-391-2300; fax: 250-478-9211].

Quinsam River Hatchery - Fishy Business!

Opened in 1974, this Fisheries and Oceans Canada facility is a busy place in the fall. Located along the Quinsam River, about 10 minutes drive from Campbell River, the hatchery played an important role in the restoring chinook salmon into the nearby Campbell River.

A trail along the Quinsam River from the campground of Elk Falls Provincial Park to the hatchery provides good opportunities to view spawning salmon throughout the fall and early winter months.

Pink Salmon spawn from the middle of September to early October. Chinook Salmon spawn from late October to the middle of November, Coho Salmon peak in the middle of November, and Chum Salmon spawn in November and December.

The hatchery is open year round and a small visitor area with displays is located inside the hatchery building. For more information contact the Quinsam River Hatchery [4217 Argonaut Road, Campbell River, B.C. V9G 1B3; phone: 250-287-9564; fax: 250-286-0261].

Elk Falls Provincial Park - Campbell River

The campground portion of Elk Falls Provincial Park is located about 5 minutes from downtown Campbell River on Highway 28. Immediately after crossing the bridge over the Quinsam River, park on the right side of the highway opposite the campground entrance.

A trail leads along the Campbell River and an easy 5 minute walk up the trail brings you to a spawning channel. The trail provides good views of spawning Pink (mid September to early October), Chinook (peak in mid November) Coho (peak in mid November) and Chum (November and December).

This channel is just one of several that has been constructed along the Campbell River to provide spawning habitat.

For more information on this park contact the Strathcona District office of BC Parks located in Rathtrevor Provincial Park [Box 1479, Parksville, B.C. V9P 2H4; phone 250-954-4600; fax: 250-248-8584].

Bird Tracks

Tofino Mudflats

    Located south and east of Tofino on Vancouver Island, the Tofino Mudflats support internationally significant shorebird populations and rank as one of the most critical wetlands for migratory waterfowl on Canada's West Coast. With shorebird fall migration beginning in late summer, the best viewing periods are from late summer through spring. Waterbirds include loons (all four species, but mostly Common Loon), Trumpeter Swan, grebes, ducks, geese, cormorants and herons. Harbour Seal frequent the area.

Weaver Creek Spawning Channel

    October is the best time to observe thousands of spawning Sockeye Salmon. It is estimated that about 60 million fish eggs are laid in the channel each year. During the winter months be sure to look for American Dipper that frequent these waters to feed. Weaver Creek Spawning Channel is located about 30 minutes drive east of Mission. From Lougheed Highway (Highway 7) follow the directional signs onto Morris Valley Road. The channel is 12 km from the highway down a paved road.

Puntledge River Hatchery

    Located a few minutes drive from downtown Courtenay. Fall salmon viewing includes Chinook (mid September to end of November), Coho (mid September to mid December) and Chum (mid October to end of November). Adult fish being held prior to egg collection are easily seen in the viewing room. The hatchery is open every day. From Cliffe Avenue off the highway turn left onto 5th Street and travel through downtown Courtenay. Continue to Lake Trail Road and turn right, and then right onto Power House Road.