Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.

Brant Migration


The black brant are back from the coast of Mexico and California. These small sea geese are on their northerly migration to their nesting grounds, mostly in the  coastal areas of the Canadian Arctic.

The long daylight hours of the far north allow plenty of time for the young to feed on plants and insects that are so prolific there.

But right now in the early spring of the year, as these adult black brant take a rest from their travels here on Vancouver Island, they are selectively foraging on marine vegetation. They especially like eel grass and bits of sea lettuce or other greens. Many of them have their beaks in the sand, rooting out plants, and small bits of grit. At this time of year, just after the herring have spawned, the brant might also get the odd mouthful of herring eggs stuck to the seaweed.  Caviar and green salad. Gourmet dining.

The brant have a long flight ahead of them and they need to recharge their strength and stamina for the next part of their northward journey.  This is why they spend so much of their time feeding. They are limited in the availability of the food by the tides. On high tides the grasses and seaweeds are underwater and not as easily accessible, so the brant prefer lower tides when the plants are uncovered. They eat during the day, so they have to make the most of the low tide and eat while the table is set. Low tides at night don’t do them much good.

By the way, do you see one bird who doesn’t seem to belong? It is being tolerated nicely though.

The snow geese are doing pretty much the same thing, heading north to nest, and eating as much as they can before the next leg of their flight. The difference is that they are not as particular about what they eat, and will happily enjoy some grass roots meals.

Our brant numbers seem to be down from past years. I don’t know why that is, but those that are left are a precious sight to see.

Coastal communities have put up many signs for visitors at the beach not to disturb the brant. While these birds are here, it is not helpful to them to let dogs run on the beach. It disturbs the birds,  who then use up energy in flying out of reach of the dogs, before they can then resettle to continue feeding.

While I watched from a distance, I saw a young father take his daughter down to the beach and walk right up to the brant, pointing at them, obviously showing his little girl what wonderful birds these are.

But here is the result of his naive, misguided good intentions.

While I was there, I saw two young fellows go down to the beach to play frisbee, right beside the brant, disturbing them yet again. They could just as easily have played frisbee on the grassy park area across from the beach.

A nearby kiteboarder had sense enough to go along the beach a little farther so he didn’t upset the geese.

The Captain and I drove on a few miles up the road to check out another beach that often had brant on it. Beautiful as the beach was, not a bird was to be seen. Perhaps the landscape here allows the tide to come right in  much faster and doesn’t leave as much “brant food” exposed.

We enjoyed the empty scene for a while before continuing on the road home, happy to have seen the brant earlier in the day.


Author: wordsfromanneli

Writing, travel, photography, nature, more writing....

41 thoughts on “Brant Migration

  1. The last photo shows the beautiful, stormy scene in the distance, lovely! I don’t recall hearing about these birds before, they are very attractive like their larger cousins. And, how thoughtless to have disturbed the birds’ feeding. Great photos, Anneli! 😎🇨🇦

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  2. Ihope that everybody takes heed ot the signs not to disturb the birds.

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  3. So faszinierende Bilder!!

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  4. I have seen them at the other end of their journey in Aklavik. People can be so thoughtless. We so often don’t consider the impact we’re having, or even think that we need to be.

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  5. What wonderful pictures of nature. I love the naturalness of life in these, Anneli.

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  6. It´s a shame that people can´t just watch the birds without disturbing them. Very nice pictures!

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  7. Thanks to you, I learned the brant of the goose family this morning. It is a shame that people have so little respect and don’t hesitate to disturb them willfully or out of ignorance.

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    • Mostly it’s ignorance. The effect on the brant is still the same, whether the disturbance is intended or not, so I’m hoping that people will become more aware of why it matters that these birds not be disturbed. They are highly specialized in their feeding habits and so they are more at risk – they don’t change their habits easily, so the species suffers with any upsets to their usual food source or availability of it.

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  8. They are wonderful looking birds. I enjoyed reading about them. It might be an idea if signs were posted to advise people how to behave during migration 😏

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  9. I was going to ask about disturbance when I saw the topic of this post. Very familiar issue in the UK, sadly. We have initiatives like Solent Bird Aware https://birdaware.org/ which aim to control disturbance, but it’s an ongoing challenge and far too many people seem to think that their actions don’t matter. One new issue is paddle-boarding, which might be fun in the right place but in sensitive bird areas is a disaster. Birds seem more jumpy about a standing paddle-boarder than they are about a canoe.

    Anyway, your geese are very handsome, and I hope they find quiet corners somehow.

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    • Thank you for your informed and thoughtful comment. The Captain has been an avid studier of brant behaviour for over 50 years and I’ve been hearing about these birds being disturbed by people for about 49 of those years, There is some awareness now of the fragility of brant and their habits and habitat, but possibly it’s too little, too late. They could almost be considered a species at risk, because unlike other species of waterfowl, the black brant has remained highly specialized in its habitat and feeding areas. They find change difficult.

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  10. Lovely, Anneli. How long do they stay?

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  11. I thoroughly enjoyed this look at the brant geese migration, Anneli. Some brants spend the winters down here in No. Calif. but we don’t see them in great numbers like you have here. I loved seeing your big flocks and enjoyed hearing what they eat on the shoreline. Wonderful words and photos, my friend.

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    • Thanks, Jet, but this was not a big flock. We were just commenting lately on how the brant number are down. We are wondering if it’s because many of them are heading north along the west coast of Vancouver Island instead of the east coast of the island where we live. Possibly a quieter route over there. I’m hoping that’s the case, but I do think the numbers are down. Thanks for visiting the post, Jet, and for your kind comments.

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  12. I love how much you enjoy the wildlife around you, Anneli. And that you are conscious of what they need to survive and thrive. I’d never heard of Brant, though perhaps I’ve seen them and just didn’t know it. Enjoy your birds. 🙂

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  13. Wow, look at that flock of birds! I love the sense of moving together between them and the way they are always with each other in their flock. It is a lovely feeling belonging to something, and these pictures give me a taste of that. 🙂

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  14. Pingback: Brant Migration – Nelsapy

  15. You get so many cool birds! Thanks for the refreshing photos, Anneli!

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