wordsfromanneli

Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.


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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.

 


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A Honkin’ Good Time

Skies are still a bit hazy from the wildfire smoke, but somehow the geese have found their way to the estuary. Many of these birds will move on further south, but many will stay for the winter, putting up with wind and rain, and possibly a day or two of snow. The farmers’ fields will provide food for them with leftover cobs of corn and grain seeds that have missed being harvested. In case of severe frost or snow, the geese have the estuary to find food as the salt water doesn’t freeze.

The arrival of the geese always tells me that summer is ending and the northern latitudes are cooling off already, driving the birds south.

For now, life is still comfortable for them and they chat and preen and enjoy the warm days and nights. Some stretch their wings while others preen their back and neck feathers. A few are resting, some are dabbling at the water’s edge, and the farthest one has his neck stretched up tall and alert. It’s like kiddies’ day at the beach.

Just before leaving, I snapped one more quick picture. When I got home I noticed that one of the geese was flying past the camera just by the tree on the left. Or was it? I zoomed in for a closer look.  You can see it on the next photo.

Here, below, is the flying goose at the end of a skinny branch.  It’s all dressed in leaves. Sure had me fooled.

Mrs. Goose is on the loose,

Chattering, she’s quite obtuse.

“There’s a party at the beach,

And I hear it’s out of reach.

Nobody will bother us,

We can honk and spit and cuss,

Holler loudly as we wish

And the place is one big dish.

Food aplenty ‘cross the way

in the fields  where corncobs may

Still be lying on the ground,

Seeds are scattered all around.

People stop and look at us

But they’re harmless, make no fuss.

It’s just heaven being here

Even though the winter’s near.”

“Honkin’ right,” the gander said.

“Still some pleasant days ahead.”

“Watch your language, Gander Dear,

Bloggers won’t approve, I fear.”

Gander stretches out his wings,

Rolls his eyes and up he springs.

Goosey scurries, much impressed,

Goes to give her mouth a rest.

 

 

 


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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.)