Brant Migration Time

When I look out from my house I see, far away, the opposite shore of Comox Bay. This day I drove around to the far side of the bay to see the brant,  annual visitors who always stop in our area on their northern migration.

The brant like to feed mainly on eel grass (probably called that because of its long flat shape) that grows in shallow tidal areas. The little sea geese don’t often come ashore to walk around. They are safer in the water, away from people and their dogs running along the beach.

Because of this, they are often too far away to offer good clear photographs, but I tried to hold the camera steady and took five times as many photos as I needed in the hope that a few of them would be usable. The brant I was trying to photograph are the last row of what looks like rocks way out in the water in the photo below.I walked out as far as I could and tried again.

Here is a small portion of the flock, zoomed in and snapped up with a shaky hand.

You can see (below) that some are tipped up, reaching for grasses to feed on, while others are alert and watching for danger.

Among the brant I noticed several widgeons dabbling around. I see four in the photo below. The ducks and geese don’t seem to mind each other’s company.

You may also see, if you look closely, that the brant near the top middle of the photo below has a piece of grass in his bill. They are still in water that is shallow enough to be exposed at low tide, allowing the eel grass to grow.

At high tide, this grass is out of reach of the brant so when they happen to fly past a beach on their way north and want to stop to rest and feed, it is best when the tide is low and it is daytime so they can feed. If the tide happens to be high when they need to rest and feed, they find much less food accessible to keep up their strength on the long journey north.

In our area, the brant stay for many days, feeding and building up their strength for the continued flight north.

I have often wondered how the geese decide that it is time to continue the migration north, but however they communicate this major decision, it is an amazing sight to see. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of brant geese leave the bay and head up high in the sky to continue the trip north to their annual nesting area. I love to hear the distant  nasal honking of these flocks as they share with each other the excitement of traveling onward.

The photo above shows a wood carving of a nesting black brant done by our friend Bruce Glover. (The other bird is a duck decoy that has nothing to do with the brant except for sharing shelf space in our house.)

Brant Time

The arrow in the photo below points at the roof of our house, just above the white house on the hillside. From there we can see, with the help of a spotting scope, that the black brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) are on the far shore of the bay.

They come here every spring to rest and feed and gather their strength.

We drove around the bay to the beach where the brant are congregating. A friend had told us that the day before, there were many more, and we think some may have left already on their long migration to the north to nest.

Here they are, sitting at the edge of the water in a place where they can see danger approaching from land or the water.

They come from as far away as the Baja coast of Mexico, and will go all the way up the continent to Alaska where summer daylight hours are very long and the food is plentiful for raising their young in the short weeks of summer, so they will be ready to make the long migration back south in the fall, to winter in Mexico again.Here, in one of many staging areas on the east coast of Vancouver Island, they gather at first in small flocks, gradually joining up into bigger flocks as they are closer to leaving for the north.

I’ve often wondered how they decide when it is time for the flocks of thousands to lift off and begin the journey. Who says, “Okay folks, it’s time for liftoff”? Looks like plenty of discussion going on here. The widgeon in the background are being kept out of the loop. See them in the background with their pale heads?

Notice that these geese are similar to the Canada goose but they don’t have the white cheek patches or the long necks. If you saw them side by side you’d see they are quite different.

If you go walking on the beaches at this time of year, please be sure to keep your dog on a leash. When the brant are disturbed repeatedly, it prevents them from feeding. They need daylight hours and low tides to feed on the eel grass they prefer above most other food. If they can’t feed, their bodies will not have the reserves they need for the long flight ahead. Emaciated birds don’t have healthy clutches and this results in weaker young and lower numbers of brant.

You can do your bit to help keep the brant population healthy. Keep your dogs on a leash at brant time.

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.

IMGP1117

IMGP1115

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

001

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.

008

Bruce also did this flock of Canada geese …

005

 

and this one of the pileated woodpecker.

002

 

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.

039

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