Hard Times

The ferry route from Quadra Island to Vancouver Island can get quite sloppy during tide change. No problem for the ferry, but I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be out there in a small boat.

Heading home from the quilting retreat, I was surprised to see more and more snow, the farther south I got.

When I arrived in Comox, the field near the estuary was covered in snow … and geese. I counted about 230 geese in this field. I pulled over and quickly snapped a few pictures without even getting out of the truck. Sorry they are blurry. When taking pictures, “Hurry makes blurry.”

I noticed as I drove away, that there were a few trumpeter swans  with the Canada geese, but the photo doesn’t show them, as they were at the far end of the flock. But there were several other geese among the Canadas, too.

Do you see the white blobs in the front of the photo?

Five snow geese were foraging for food along with the Canada geese. They didn’t seem to mind each other. All were concentrating on digging under the snow for grass roots. Their usual dinner plate, the grain field, was mostly covered with snow, and they needed to find something to keep up their strength in this cold weather.

This photo is especially blurry but it shows how desperately the geese are foraging, searching under the snow to get at the grass and roots for any nourishment they can find. Only the goose in the front of the photo is not feeding at the moment, but she probably had to stop to warm up her bill after having it in the icy ground for so long. Hard times for the animals.


Talent to Spare

Our friend Bruce Glover is a talented man. Not only does he know a lot about the habits of many animals, he can paint and carve their likenesses with such skill that any of his subjects would be flattered if they could see his work. Here, Bruce stands before a display of some of his work on loan to a seniors’ residence.

Bruce Glover

One of Bruce’s favourite birds to carve is the brant goose. Here is a flock of them flying near Goose Spit on Vancouver Island. Notice the various wing positions in this photo and the next one.



Now compare the live birds with carvings that he has made.


This life-size brant has fooled many an admirer whose first inclination is to touch it to see if it’s real. Of course, touching a carving is a no-no, because even the cleanest fingers leave an oily residue that would soon break down the paint. This brant is carved from wood and each feather looks delicate when you look closely. It’s hard to believe it’s not alive.

The little miniature ducks at the brant’s feet don’t belong there. That was my own (silly) addition to the scene.


Bruce also did this flock of Canada geese …



and this one of the pileated woodpecker.



The black brant carved right into this piece of wood was meant to be a sign by our driveway. We didn’t like to leave it out in all kinds of weather though, and it now hangs in the house.001

A very large sign that Bruce has recently made covers the whole table in his shop. The bend in the wood is from the way the trunk grew when the tree was knocked over by a larger tree that fell on it. The small tree continued to grow for many years and had a huge trunk when it was finally knocked down. It makes a unique piece to work with.


The lettering is part of the wood, not pieced on. So is the salmon which is about to eat a smaller fish. A great deal of work went into making this large sign which will hang at the entrance to a fishing charter business. You won’t find another one like it anywhere.032

A Beach Too Far

“Stopstopstopstopstop!” I called. I rolled down the truck window and snapped a few pictures. The smell of the sea wafted in. Not that awful iodine smell of low tide, but the salty aroma of sea grasses and wet logs. A couple of pairs of mallards gabbled in duck-talk and waddled their duck-walk. A great blue heron stayed out of zoom range near the Canada geese who held a honking good conversation at the distant water’s edge.

I would have missed all this if I hadn’t insisted on capturing this photo. As I rolled the window up, the Captain said, “I could live here.”

“Me too,” I said, “but remember about 30 years ago we almost bought a place near here? We’d have peace and quiet and all this beauty, but it’s twenty miles to town if I ran out of cream for my coffee.”

“Or coffee for your cream.”

“Yeah.” We sighed. “Too far….”


The Estuary

Between  Comox and Courtenay, the road runs along the estuary. I always see at least one interesting thing when I pass by there.  It is a place where many species thrive, and a refuge for them when the weather is extreme. 124

From Comox Bay, boats sometimes (not often) come partway up the river. In old times they might have been going to the ways to be hauled out, or they might be going to the small government wharf in Courtenay. The Town of Comox has the much bigger facility, with easier access from the Strait of Georgia. Markers and pilings in the river mouth help to guide boats along the deeper river channels. Many a boat has run aground here, for lack of better navigation aids.


Birdlife is everywhere. Here are two kinds of ducks.  I’m ashamed to admit that a long time ago, I thought all ducks were brown and their ducklings were always yellow.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. Duck plumage is as varied as that of other bird species.

Drake mallards are immediately identified by their green heads, but look more closely and you’ll see other markers. Yellow bills, chestnut breast feathers, a hint of a white collar on the neck, beige sides, darker brown on top, dark blue wing speculum outlined by white bars. Flashy little devils, aren’t they? Their wives are dull for camouflaged safety when nesting, but in spite of the boring mottled brown, they do have the same dark blue wing speculum bordered in white. Oh, and notice the bright orange of the feet. Both male and female have these cool boots.

Beyond the mallards a flock of widgeons are milling around. Again, the drakes are the flashy ones with their white head stripe and black and white rump feathers. A slash of white under the wing takes the boredom out of the brown body colour. The hen widgeons, again, are dull, dull, dull. And in this case, neither drakes nor hens have those cool booties like the mallards have. The widgeon boots are a more modest greeny-gray.

I find it interesting that the two kinds of ducks are together here and yet they are keeping to their own groupings by species.

Most likely they are here in the estuary because there is snow on the fields just now. Usually, the widgeons visit grain fields where they are like lawnmowers when a group of them get together, nipping the tops of the grass. A new planting of grain can be devastated by a huge flock of widgeon grazing for a few hours.

The mallards, on the other hand, will forage for other things. They don’t mind eating rotten potatoes left in the field, or kernels of corn left behind. If they are hungry enough, you might see mallards snacking on a rotten salmon on the shore, something that is beneath the dignity of the widgeon.116

But see (below) who has moved in from the frozen fields and the mist of the last blog post. The Canada geese!

And if you look closely, in the distance, you’ll see another visitor, sitting on a branch on the island in the estuary (maybe click to enlarge the photo). He’s watching for anything edible, be it fish or fowl. The bald eagle seems to sit a lot, but his “eagle eye” is watching for any sick or crippled ducks that would be easy pickings. Barring that, there may be a careless fish in the shallows. You never know what might wash up. Just now it is a hard time for eagles. The spawned out salmon  are almost gone and it is a bit early for the herring to show up. But they are always on the lookout for an easy meal.


The estuary is full of life.You never know what you’ll see but there is always something of interest.


In the Mist

Through the mist of a farmer’s field I see nothing but stubble of last year’s crop, possibly corn. The trees beyond, so beautiful in the growing season are now like skeletons dripping water droplets from sticksy arms stretched out in the damp air. It’s as if they are sending out feelers because they can’t see.112


But the Canada geese welcome the mist. They probably feel safer partly hidden from view by the fog. Day after day they have been feeding in this field, playing at being two-legged cows as they graze on the new shoots of grass the farmer is hoping to grow for silage.

I would like to mention that it is a misconception that Canada geese mate for life. They do mate for the duration of their partner’s life, but if one of them happens to die or be killed, they do “remarry” and have more children. Lots! So many that they are considered a nuisance in urban areas. If they did not find a new breeding partner, Canada geese would long since have gone extinct.

109Many of the Canada geese we see on Vancouver Island today are the result of a goose transplant of the Moffiti subspecies which are more predominant in flyways east of the west coast of British Columbia. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, young flightless birds were brought to the island and released in strategic locations. These transplanted birds seldom migrate and are considered resident populations, wintering and breeding in the general area of Vancouver Island.

During the fall migration of waterfowl, you will also see other varieties of Canada geese stopping to feed in the Comox Valley, and if you look closely, you will see the subtle differences in coloration and size. Often the smaller varieties have a higher-pitched call than the larger, local residents.

And, once again, I would like to stress, that migrant or not, none of them have passports, since they have no nationality and are not called “Canadian geese.” They are “Canada geese.” No passport required.

Birds of a Feather?

I’m no longer so sure that birds of a feather flock together. Today as I drove past a farmer’s field, I saw several different kinds of birds sharing lunch.

The usual Canada geese were there in pretty big numbers, as were some trumpeter swans that have taken up permanent residence there.


??????????But in the foreground I noticed what I thought at first might be four domestic geese. On further investigation, I’ve discovered that they are white-fronted geese. Here they are close up, enjoying a bit of sunshine on a very chilly day.




And here is one with an itchy head.


When migrating, they fly very high overhead, usually at night, and make a lovely high-pitched cackling (laughing) sound. Whitefronts are not seen here on Vancouver Island in great numbers as are the Canada geese, but there are some that spend time here, perhaps because of going astray during the long migration south in the fall, on their way to California’s Sacramento Valley.

In the spring they fly back north to the tundra to nest. A man named Hersey encountered a family of white-fronted geese on the Yukon delta. Here is a description of that event by Arthur Bent (1925!) taken from F.H. Kortright‘s book, “The Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America.”

On the edge of a little pond on the tundra about 5 miles back from the mouth of the river I found a pair of these geese and a brood of five young. The birds had been resting under a clump of dwarf willows, and on my approach the old birds came out into the open and attempted to lead the young away over the open tundra. The young, although not more than a day or two old, could run as as fast as a man could travel over the rough ground. I had to remove my coat before I could overtake them. They did not scatter, but ran straight ahead, keeping close together, one of the parents running by their side and guiding them and the other flying along above them and not more than 3 feet above the ground. The young kept up a faint calling, and the old birds occasionally gave a low note of encouragement.”

I’m sure Mr. Hersey just wanted to say hello to the birds, but I felt a little bit sorry for the unnecessary stress the geese must have felt. On the other hand, it was a good “dry run” mock emergency  practice for them.

I was touched by the way both parents cared for the goslings. Most of us don’t even consider that this kind of good parenting goes on among geese. After I read these notes in Kortright’s book, I had a new appreciation for the four lost geese that I had photographed by the side of the road today.