Alan Gough comes face to face with a giant Brant goose (Carrie Powell-Davidson) during the kickoff to last year's Brant Wildlife Festival. The 2016 festival begins March 19 with a gala at the Beach Club Resort.

Parksville Qualicum Beach is going to the birds

26th annual Brant Wildlife Festival set to kick off March 19

The Brant Wildlife Festival returns to Parksville Qualicum Beach March 19 to begin a nearly month-long run of viewing, dining and entertainment options for residents and visitors alike through April 17.

The 26th annual celebration of nature — and the return of the Brant geese on their annual migration to the Arctic — was conceived in 1991 by volunteers from the Mid Island Wildlife Watch Society.

Since 2006 the festival has been co-ordinated by The Nature Trust of British Columbia in partnership with a variety of local organizations.

“There’s a huge variety of things going on, whether you like to be in the outdoors trucking around, or would rather be inside and have someone knowledgable come in and share with you,” said Robin Rivers, communications director for The Nature Trust. “We work with a lot of groups in the area, including the Arrowsmith Naturalists and Friends of French Creek.”

The festival will feature several public bird-viewing and nature tour opportunities, but also activities ranging from cooking classes to an Easter high tea to a concert to the signature Pacific Brant Carving and Art Show.

The carving and art show returns to Parksville this year after being held in Sidney for the past five years.

Many of the events are free to the public, while others will include a participation or admission fee.

In addition, local arts societies are getting into the act to recognize the bird-centric festival. Two displays featuring birds are part of the March exhibits at the McMillan Arts Centre in Parksville, while local artist Sharon Perrin recently hosted her In the Company of Birds exhibit at The Old School House Arts Centre in Qualicum Beach.

Jan van de Linde examines some of the bird carvings on exhibit this month at the McMillan Arts Center. An entire MAC exhibit is given over to bird paintings, photos and sculpture to recognize the upcoming Brant Wildlife Festival. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

The festival kicks off with an opening event Saturday, March 19, from 5-9 p.m. at The Beach Club Resort.

This event features a buffet dinner, live music, a silent auction and a youth nature photo display. Tickets are $40; reserve by calling 1-866-288-7878.

The Brant Festival will continue with events in communities across the region through April 17.

The showcase will be the Pacific Brant Carving and Art Show, set for the weekend of April 9-10 at Parksville Community & Conference Centre. Hosted by the Vancouver Island Woodcarvers Club, the carving and wildlife art show was a staple of the Brant Festival from its beginning through 2010, when it shifted south to Sidney.

Many of the other events will invite people to join naturalists and biologists on interactive observation tours, in locations ranging from Parksville Community Park to the Vancouver Island University Deep Bay Marine Field Station to Hamilton Marsh and other “hot spots” in the area.

“Every year we have guest speakers, and they vary depending on their expertise and subject matter,” said Rivers.

This year, biologist and restoration technician Karen Berry will speak about estuaries and coastal habitats Saturday, April 2, at Parksville Museum and Archives. Also, ornithologist and author Rob Butler will speak about sandpipers and falcons during a dinner and lecture event at the VIU Deep Bay Marine Field Station Thursday, April 7.

Kid-friendly activities include a Spring Break Nature Camp March 21-24 at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park; the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Water Day Sunday, April 3, at Qualicum Commons; and the unofficial closing event, a tour of Hamilton Marsh near Qualicum Beach that will allow kids to observe aquatic life under magnifying glass and microscope.

“When we first took over 10 years ago, it was sort of a two-week event,” said Rivers. “Then at one point we got up to two months of activities; it was huge. We’re down now to a  month, but there’s a lot happening.”

Other highlights include an eagle release and live bird displays at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington April 9 and a concert by the Cantando Chamber Singers at Knox United Church April 15.

“Almost every year the wildlife rehabilitation centre has had an eagle they’ve been rehabilitating and release it to the wild,” said Rivers. “Of course, eagles feed on Brant geese, but we don’t look at them like they’re the bad guys. It’s the cycle of life.”

For a full listing of events, fees and contact information, visit brantfestival.bc.ca and click “events”.

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