Tim Clermont points to a dark line far out on the water.
“I would say there are 4,000 to 5,000 birds right there,” he said. “There will be some Brant, some goldeneye and scaup congregating. That’s a lot of birds, but when you look at it from here, you don’t really notice. That’s why you need binoculars or a spotting scope. There’s a lot going on out there.”
At times, said the Crown lands securement co-ordinator for the Nature Trust of B.C., he has seen as many as 100,000 birds on the water off Parksville beach, a fact not lost on birders from up and down Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, who flock to the area to see what there is to see.
What most people come to see — and hear — most of all during the annual Brant Wildlife Festival are the Brant geese, which turn up on beaches by the thousands as they fatten up on herring roe for two months before continuing on to their breeding grounds in Alaska.
“Brant are just about the noisiest birds out there,” Clermont said. “They’re always yakking.”
This year’s festival, Clermont said, will be different than in past years, with a pared down and condensed schedule.
“We are trying to condense the festival timing,” Clermont said. “We don’t have a co-ordinator anymore so it’s a leaner program, more like we used to do, focusing on two weekends and filling in with events in between.”
The festival, he said, will kick off with an official opening night reception at the Parksville Conference Centre on Thursday, March 29.
“It will be kind of like the old days, when we would have guest speakers come,” Clermont said. “There will be some good news announcements and some bigwigs coming to show up for the event, local food and wine and a martini luge called a brantini, which is an ice sculpture where they pour and it runs through the ice luge into the glass. We’re trying to bring some fun to the opening night and we’re hoping lots of people will come.”
Tickets to the opening are $25 each and are available at the Tourism Information Centre in Parksville and the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce office.
Another highlight, Clermont said, will be the Big Day of Birding, on Saturday, April 7.
“We get 60 to 80 people coming from all over Vancouver Island and elsewhere to see how many birds they can count in one day and how many species,” he said. “We also have about six nature tours where people can meet with local experts to get out on the beach and check things out. Guy Monty will be on hand with spotting scopes so people can zoom in get a good look at what’s going on. Right now, when we look out, it just looks like a bunch of black birds out there, but this allows you to get up close and personal.”
Monty, he said, will explain the cycle of the herring roe and how it attracts other animals.l
The festival winds up on the Easter weekend.
For a complete schedule of Brant Wildlife Festival events, visit brantfestival.bc.ca.