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Brant - the Sea Goose: Migration North

Often referred to as the "talkative little sea goose", Brant are best observed during their annual migration north along the inner coast of British Columbia. They are rarely observed in the interior, preferring marine waterways, bays and lagoons.

Brant are smaller and stockier than the Canada Goose. They are easily identified by the white patches on either side of the neck which often meet at the front, looking like a white band or ring. Be sure to listen for their distinctive, soft "raunk raunk" calls.

Spring migration occurs from late February through to mid May. In the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island migration peaks in late March and early April. While small flocks may be observed in parts of Boundary Bay, the largest visible concentrations are along the shores of Parksville and Qualicum Beach where up to 20,000 individuals migrate through from mid March to late May.

Brant are attracted to these specific areas because they contain large beds of eel grass which is a heavily favoured food. The eel grass is best accessed when the tide waters drop. Brant will also eat algae and sea lettuce.

The destination of these birds is the wet, coastal, arctic tundra. Here they build a shallow bowl of grass and other materials, heavily lined with down. The average clutch size is 3 to 5 eggs that are incubated for 22 to 26 days by the female only. When the female leaves the nest to feed she covers the eggs with down to keep them warm.

Once hatched the young leave the nest in a day or two and are tended by both parents. Feeding for long hours in the arctic sun, the young grow rapidly, fledging in 40 to 50 days. Soon follows the long migration to areas along the Pacific coast of the southern United States and northwestern Mexico.

During the fall migration period, Brant are rarely observed along the British Columbia coast. Most make a direct flight from staging areas in Alaska to their wintering grounds.

Historically, Brant were seen in British Columbia in greater numbers than they are today. The long-term protection of areas containing eel grass beds where human disturbance is limited will help to ensure that this bird continues to be observed.

Should You Leash? - Your Best Friend

Many dog owners seek locations for an outing where their best friend, or friends, may run off leash. While enjoyed by both you and your dog, please, use a leash.

Spring is a busy time for birds and other wildlife. Your unleashed pet can easily disturb nesting birds, especially those that nest directly on, or near, the ground.

A leash that automatically extends and retracts gives your dog freedom while providing you with enough control to keep your pet in close proximity, thereby reducing its chance of disturbing wildlife.

But more importantly, it keeps your pet safe and from getting into trouble - some wildlife species, such as coyotes, raccoons, opossums, ducks and geese can be very feisty and could seriously injure your pet.

A leash is good for you, your best friend and wildlife!

Nesting Cormorants - Viewing Colonies

With British Columbia's vast coastline, there are numerous places where you may observe nesting sea bird colonies. While most of these are viewed only with the aid of a boat, there are a number of excellent sites that may be easily viewed from land. Two such sites are the Pelagic Cormorant colonies located above the sea wall at Prospect Point in Stanley Park and along the southern cliffs of Helliwell Provincial Park.

The Stanley Park colony can be viewed from the sea wall, but activity at the colony is best viewed with binoculars or a scope from across the water at Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. This colony includes a few nesting pair of Pigeon Guillemot and Glaucous-winged Gull.

Pelagic Cormorant nest in colonies on narrow ledges and steep slopes. The best sites provide little or no access for land-based predators as these birds are not effective at defending their eggs or young.

The nests are constructed of seaweed, grass, moss, feathers and some marine debris, including plastic and man-made objects. On occasion the eggs are laid on bare rock with just a scattering of materials. One noticeable feature of these colonies is the amount of white excrement marking the nests and surrounding area.

The active nesting period, and best viewing, of Pelagic Cormorant is from May to early August.

Quick! Muskrat or Beaver - Did You Know?

There it is! But now its gone. Was it a Muskrat or a Beaver? These two fur-bearing mammals inhabit similar habitats and share some fascinating traits yet are quite different. The Muskrat is not a close relative of the Beaver, but rather a large field mouse that has adapted to life in and around the water.

Both species are active year round, even when the water is frozen over. When in a relaxed state, they can remain submerged for up to 15 minutes, but 2 or 3 minutes is most common. They both have lips that close behind their incisors enabling them to gnaw and chew plantlife while under water. Non-aquatic mammals would have great difficulty in trying to chew on a large object under water, because water would enter the mouth, throat and nasal passages.

The most obvious physical differences are in size, weight, hind feet and tail. Beaver are considerably bigger weighing (depending upon age, sex and season) an average of 20 kg (44 lb) as compared to about 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) for the average muskrat. When swimming it may be difficult to clearly see the tail. Beaver have the characteristic flat tail and Muskrat have a long rodent-like "rat" tail. The hind feet of a Muskrat are not webbed whereas a Beaver's are webbed.

In many marshes and wetlands it is not uncommon to find both Beaver and Muskrat. While both species construct lodges or homes, it is not uncommon for either to create bank burrows or dens. Almost everyone has seen a Beaver lodge and dam but did you know that that mound of partially dried and decaying plant material is a Muskrat home?

The Muskrat builds its house on a log or stump or in a clump of sturdy vegetation. It is usually located near deep water. Initially a platform is built and then a dome is arched over a central chamber. When completed it may rise up to four feet above the water level, with a bed of dry grass.

During the breeding season, muskrat may have 2 or 3 litters, averaging 6 young per litter. Born naked, blind and helpless, weaning takes between 3 and 4 weeks and the young are on their own by the time they are about a month old.

Beaver have just one litter per year, averaging 4 kits. They are born fully furred and their tails are only slightly flattened. In their first year the young do little work. In the second season, as juveniles, they remain in the lodge while their parents have another litter. They assist with the many colony chores, including cutting food, repairing dam and lodge, and digging channels and canals. When the next spring arrives the adults drive them out of the colony before the arrival of the next litter. They establish new colonies, either in the same area, if it is big enough, or they go farther afield.

Widely distributed throughout British Columbia, it is not hard to find a site with Beaver, Muskrat or both. While activity may occur throughout the day, your best chance to observe these critters is first thing in the morning or in the evening at dusk.

Parksville-Qualicum Beach WMA - New Brochure Available

here are 19 officially designated wildlife management areas (WMAs) in British Columbia, with several more in progress. Wildlife management areas are created where there is a need to conserve and manage special lands which have significant habitat values.

Information brochures are available for some of these special areas, specifically the Pitt-Addington Marsh WMA, the South Arm Marshes WMA and the Serpentine Wildlife Area. They contain general information about the area as well as history, access and facilities, recreational opportunities and viewing highlights. Each also has a detailed map(s) of the area.

The latest brochure is for the Parksville-Qualicum Beach WMA (PQBWMA). Its 873 ha (2157 ac) of critical wildlife habitat consists of 830 ha of intertidal habitats (beaches, mudflats and estuaries) and 43 ha of uplands. Stretching about 17 km along the shoreline, there are at 8 estuaries and two large tidal bays.

Viewing Highlights

    PQBWMA is an excellent area to observe a wide range of wildlife species throughout the year. At least 252 bird species plus mammals, amphibians and reptiles live, breed or migrate through this coastal area.

    A number of wildlife spectacles may be observed. In the fall months,when salmon return to local streams to spawn, many Bald Eagle may be observed. During the spring and fall migration, shorebirds are numerous, especially yellowlegs, Dunlin, Black Turnstone and Western Sandpipers.

    The largest concentrations of waterbirds occurs from October through April, with individual numbers highest during migration. The most common species are scoters, scaup, goldeneye and wigeon.

    Migrating Brant arrive in early March and depart as late as May, Peak numbers usually occur in the first 2 weeks of April. The Brant Wildlife Festival is held during this period.

    In early March, Pacific Herring spawn in the intertidal eel grass beds, algae and rocky area. This annual spawn attracts much attention as thousands of gulls and waterfowl congregate in a feeding frenzy that is joined by sea lions and seals.

    Killer Whale are occasionally seen from March to October, and California Sea Lion from November to March. Harbour Seal are very common year round. Northern Sea Lion and Harbour Porpoise may also be viewed.

Access and Facilities

    All access into the management area is by foot. No motorized vehicles are permitted. In Parksville, there is beach access through the municipal park adjacent to Parksville Bay off Corfield Street, through Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park and via trails on both sides of the Englishman River estuary.

    At the estuary, there is a viewing tower and interpretive kiosk on the west side and a viewing platform on the east side. To access the west side trails, turn on to Shelly Road from Island Highway 0.6 km west of the orange bridge over the Englishman River. Continue straight to the end of the road. Park here and walk out to the viewing tower.

    To access the east side of the estuary turn on to Plummer Road, located 0.3 km east of the orange bridge and 0.4 km west of the entrance to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. Continue 1.2 km to Shorewood Drive. Park here and walk the short distance out to the viewing platform.

    In Qualicum Beach the highway runs next to the WMA and beach.

Brant Wildlife Festival - 10th Annual Event

The 10th annual Brant Wildlife Festival will be held from April 7th to 9th, 2000 in the communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

This event was first held in 1991 to celebrate the migrating Brant sea goose. This three day weekend event also focuses on the return of spring and the flood of migratory birds as they travel along the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. Visitors may see 20,000 Brant (the "talkative little sea goose") and 250 other species in a variety of habitats. Festival highlights include the Big Day Birding Competition, workshops, photography exhibitions, special guests and the very popular Wildlife Carving Competition.

For more information contact the Brant Wildlife Festival Office [(250) 752-9171; 174 Railway Street, Qualicum Beach, B.C. Canada V9K 1K7] or visit their web site.

Up Close & Personal - Festivals and Events

The following wildlife festivals and special events will occur in the next four months. There is something for everyone!

If you know of other wildlife festivals or special events taking place anywhere in British Columbia, please pass along some information. British Columbia Wildlife Watch maintains a list of events that is updated regularly on the program's web site. Included are some event details, contact information and web links if known.

Pesky Bugs? - Viewing Enhanced

While we all look forward to the arrival of spring and summer, there are some aspects that "bug" us. Mosquitoes, flies and other biting insects! Before you curse, remember that areas with thriving insect populations are good places to look for wildlife. These bugs form an important food source for many species, including bats. When the bugs are best (early morning and at dusk) your chances for viewing bats is best. Good bat watching sites in the Greater Vancouver area include Colony Farm Regional Park, Minnekhada Regional Park, Burnaby Lake Regional Park and the Lost lagoon area of Stanley Park.

Bird Tracks

Helliwell Provincial Park

    Located on the eastern point of Hornby Island, this park contains numerous trails. The shoreline trail is a 6 km loop from the parking lot. In spring be sure to look for a wonderful show of wildflowers. Some of the park's high, south-facing cliffs provide nesting habitat for Pelagic Cormorant. With binoculars visitors can easily watch the cormorants without disturbing them. Other birds to watch for include Harlequin Duck, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet and Ancient Murrelet.

Shoreline Park

    Located at the end of Burrard Inlet in Port Moody. This municipal park has a 3 km trail from one side of the park to the other with several viewing structures. Access is from Rocky Point Park, the recreation centre or Old Orchard Park. Harbour Seal frequent the inlet waters. Be sure to visit Noon Creek Hatchery situated in the park. Visitors may watch salmon spawning in two streams each fall, as well as observe over 125 bird species throughout the year. A British Columbia Wildlife Watch bird checklist is available for the park.

Inkaneep Provincial Park

    This is one of the best, but least known, birding sites in the south Okanagan. It is located just north of Oliver off Tuc-ul-nuit Drive. The trees and riparian thickets along the Okanagan River are home to a wide range of our feathered friends. Watch and listen for warblers, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lewis's Woodpecker, Bald Eagle and Great Blue Heron. In late spring visitors may see families of California Quail. Eastern Kingbird, Bullock's Oriole, Black-headed Grosbeak and Gray Catbird may also be observed.