Every year around the month of March, the black brant arrive in the Comox Valley.
What’s a brant, you ask? Well, let me tell you a little bit about these small sea geese of the Pacific Coast.
They breed in the Arctic in early summer. In the fall migration, they fly great distances offshore, rarely stopping on the way to their wintering grounds, which can be as far south as Baja California.
The brant visit our coast on their return, during their northern spring migration. At this time it is important for the birds to “fuel up” for their trip to the Arctic breeding ground.
Some of our beaches provide eel grass, one of their favourite foods. The occurrence of eel grass beds is limited along the coast, so feeding opportunities are precious. When the migration coincides with the spawning of the herring, the eel grass is often loaded with herring eggs, adding to the richness of the birds’ protein intake and helping them build their fat reserves. A thin bird on the breeding ground will lay fewer eggs.
You can see brant in the shallow waters near the beach as they feed on the eel grass and herring spawn. Please don’t go too close when viewing them, and above all don’t allow your pets to chase them as this disrupts their opportunity to feed.
When you observe these birds you’ll be fascinated by their sounds, their antics, and their habits. Watch for birds flying in an undulating line close to the surface of the water when they’re traveling, or in a flock (as pictured) if they have been scared up or are milling around looking for a new landing place. Listen for their gutteral, almost nasally call, “Gr-r-r, gr-r-r, gr-r-r.” We’re so fortunate to have them visit us, we should do what we can to be aware of them and do our best to help keep their population healthy.
Except for the old hunting decoy on the far bottom left and the taxidermy mount above it, the brant in the display case shown below were all carved by local wildlife artist Bruce Glover. My apologies for the amateur photos which reflect the lighting in the room.