The annual Brant Wildlife Festival officially kicks off its six-week run Monday, March 19. But local birders have been preparing for the event through months of counts of the stubby, dark geese thorughout the Parksville Qualicum Beach Wildlife Management Area.
“There were professional biologists hired (for the counts) for a number of years, through the Canadian Wildlife Services,” said Sandra Gray of the Arrowsmith Naturalists. “The Arrowsmith Naturalists have taken it over and we’re not professionals, but we are skilled observers with an interest in natural history and our community events. We want to keep the count going.”
Teams of counters canvass the shoreline from the Little Qualicum River in the north to Madrona Point in the south to track the progress of the Brant as they arrive on their annual migration from winter feeding grounds in Mexico to their breeding and nesting sites on the Arctic slope of Alaska.
The Brant population in Parksville Qualicum beach tends to peak during the annual herring run, which just took place, said Gray.
During its recent four-week count window, the Arrowsmith Naturalist teams recorded 410 Brant in the area on Feb. 16, 375 on Feb. 20 and 772 birds on Feb. 26 before the count jumped to 1,875 Brant on March 5.
“Suddenly, whoo! And it’s not wonder — there’s food,” Gray said while standing at Parksville’s beach and sweeping her arms out to encompass the last remnants of the herring fleet still plying the waters off Parksville bay.
Gray and her husband, Dan Gray, said the first Brant geese were actually spotted locally in November, and consisted of a group of 10 to 20 birds. That number grew to more than 50 in early December and to 200 by the time of the annual Christmas Bird Count held in mid- to late-December.
“They used to overwinter here,” Dan Gray said. “Then they were hunted out. Maybe this means the hunting has cut back and they’re repopulating; maybe we’ll get to see them stay over winter again.”
Sandra Gray said that Canadian Wildlife Services data going back to 1988 suggests the Brant goose population may have stabilized after a period in which the population was believed to be diminishing.
“The numbers have gone up and down over the years, but the mean has stayed about the same, which was a surprise to me,” she said. “It was interesting to note that some years the numbers have gone quite low while in other years they’re up. The reasons for that are a bit of a mystery.”
To learn more about the many events scheduled for the 2018 Brant Wildlife Festival and to find out where you can take part, check out our insert on page A4, or visit brantfestival.bc.ca.