There's better remedy to brighten up a cold winter's day than a flock of delightful, hyperactive Bushtits. For most of the winter I was able to enjoy almost daily visits from these gregarious, whimsical creatures. Whenever I spotted them out the kitchen window at the suet feeder I would always stop to enjoy their antics as the flitted from the holly trees to the feeder and rhodo bush. At times there would be three or four on the feeder and another three or four lined up on a branch waiting for their turn. They would usually stay about 5 to 10 minutes before fluttering off to their next feeding station.


The annual Brant migration is usually one of the local natural wonders. By mid-February large flocks start arriving around the local bays and beaches to refuel on their way to their nesting grounds in the Yukon, Alaska, and Siberia. Eel grass and sea lettuce are part of their regular fare but the main attraction is the annual herring spawn which provides a nutrient rich bonus to their diet. Normally there is a major spawn around Parksville and Qualicum Beach, but that didn't happen this year. Most of the herring spawn was centred around Bowser and Denman Island. As a result, the normal large flocks of Brant ffollowed the herring and were not seen around Parksville or Qualicum Beach.


The Pacific herring was once the most abundant fish on the west coast, but its populations have been decimated by over-fishing and under-management. The only remaining major population is clinging precariously to existence, and it usually spawns between Comox and Parksville anytime from late February to mid-March. Tens of thousands of seabirds, eagles, gulls, sea lions, seals, and aquatic veterbrates congregate for the event, but they must compete with the herring fleet for their share. The fleet is usually allocated 20% of the assessed stock which leaves 80% for the wildlife and the survival of the species. Considering that only one in 20,000 eggs become a mature herring, is current management plan adequate? The question is even more significant when you put herring as a foundation species into context. There is currently a huge concern regarding the survival of the southern resident killer whales. They depend on Chinook salmon, and Chinook salmon depend on herring. So far the government hasn't been able to connect the dots to see that increasing herring stocks would probably be good for the Chinook stocks.

At one time the herring fishery was lucrative because of the Japanese demand for the roe. However, with the world-wide economic downturn the exhorbitant price of roe wasn't sustainable and prices have plummeted. Unfortunately, the lower prices haven't decreased the amount of fishing even though most of the fish is actually used for fish meal to feed farm salmon. Regardless of the demand for roe the legal question of fishery comes to light. I believe there is a law against using fish that is suitable for human consumption for other puposes like fish food. When you consider that probably 80 - 90% of the herring caught is used for fish food, the fishery should be illegal. (Do the math: 50% of the fish caught are males and don't have roe. Of the females assuming half the weight is not roe that's another 25%, and not all roe is mature so knock off another 10%.)

The fishing fleet at Northwest Bay - Mar. 10/19

Seine boat pulling in its net accompanied by sea lions and gulls.

Sea lions lounging on the log booms at Northwest Bay.

Mallards, Northern Pintails, American Wigeons and other dabbling ducks feeding on roe at parksville Bay - Mar. 12/19.

Buffleheads, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye and other diving ducks feeding in deeper water beside the turquoise band of herring milt.

Always alert, the group of dabblers scatter as a Bald Eagle cruises by.

Tens of thousands of Surf Scoters congregate of the annual spawn. They are the most abundant species seen during the spawn.

Many Barrow's Goldeneyes also take advantage of the spawn, but they are not abundant and not seen in large flocks during the spawn.

The second most abundant species is the Greater Scaup and they are usually seen together in large flocks.

The scaup fatten up on roe before heading north to their breeding sites in the Canadian Arctic and Alaska.

I haven't seen how the cormorants take advantage of the spawn, but I would imagine they get their fill on herring.

One of the favorite roosting sites is the the dock at Hornby Island Resort. Most of the cormorants are Double-crested like the one above.

There are usually a few Pelagic Cormorants in the mix but they seem to prefer the ferry dock.

Sea lions love herring spawn time. I watched this sea lion at Denman Island for about 20 minutes catching a herring on every dive.

Bald Eagles also depend on the herring. Notice the eagle and a sea lion both have a herring.

Piracy in the sky. Despite the abundance of herring some eagles prefer the easy meal by steaking from others. Actually piracy is a fairly universal practice from raptors and gulls to ducks.


Whenever I pass TIDAL TACO at Qualicum Bay I have to stop for a fish taco. You won't find a tastier bargain anywhere for $5.50. My friend Kamal doesn't hesitate when he feels like a taco treat even though it's a 40 km drive one way. I'm not quite as desperate since I get tto stop there fairly regularly while I'm birding. In fact, I'll be going to Denman for some eagle photography in two days so I'll be having my taco fix.

On March 19 I decided to search for a herring spawn. There was nothing from Nanoose to Qualicum Beach except for a small spent spawn in Parksville Bay. Despite cloudy skies I carried on to Bowser. By the time I reached Tidal Taco the skies had cleared and as I entered Bowser the Salish Sea had turned turquoise blue with streaks of white foam. The spawn was happenening.

After checking Bucaneer Bay and Deep Bay to see the extent of the spawn (it ended at Deep Bay) I returned to taco shack for lunch. While waiting a trio of Trumpeter Swans landed right in front of me. After a brief stop they headed south.

There was spawn activity and large flocks of ducks further out which attracted many eagles. Most were too far out for high quality shots but here's a reasonable large crop to show some of the action. An eagle flew down and grabbed a herring.

For the eagle the herring is a one bite meal. It reached down with its bill, grabbed the herring, and downed it all in one motion.

After lunch I decided to look for more herring spawn activity and discovered a large gathering of about 100 Harlequin Ducks. Most were on the beach basking, preening, or resting, but a few were on the water dabbling for roe.

Just for fun I took a few shots hoping I could find one with a band that I could forward to the folks in Alberta who are studying the Harlies.

Despite a fairly concerted effort all the Harlies I checked were bandless.

I did mention that the spawn was a fair ways offshore from the taco shack. From the shore the ducks looked to be fairly close to the tideline. Just to satisfy my curiosity I walked out during the low tide only to find that the ducks for still too far out for reasonable shots.


Taking advantage of the beautiful sunshine on March 30 I made one of my infrequent visits to Duncan. I had two targets in mind - Western Bluebird and Ruddy Ducks, but neither were available.

Consolation bird - One has to de desperate to settle for an American Coot at Art Mann Park as a consolation bird, but with my luck I thought it would be coot or nothing.

Fortunately, I was carrying on to the Dock Road to look for the Ospreys. There were no Ospreys in sight but I just happened to park by a tree near a Tree Swallow nest box. To my surprise not one but two Tree Swallows landed in the tree.

It was a treat to have the Tree Swallows land so close. I grabbed the camera and hand-held it for a few quick shots.

The last time I photographed a tree Swallow was in 2011 at Raines Road.

The scene at the Cowichan estuary was quite birdy with herons, Green-winged Teal, and swallows in abundance. I was impressed to see nest boxes on every piling and post.


On April 4 I delivered a few books to Victoria which gave me a chance to look for the California Tortoiseshells that had been reported at Mt. Tolmie and Mt. Douglas. I did my butterfly book in 2015 and 4 years later I finally got decent photos of one at Mt. Tolmie and two at Mt. Douglas.

Welcome back Harry! - The hummers were two weeks latre this year, but chalk it up to the cold weather. Harry arrived on April 5 and the population has grown steadily. For the past three days they have been consuming 3 cups of nectar a day.

A solitary visitor - I was pleasantly surprised but not surprised to see a Townsend'ss Solitare in the yard on Apr, 5. It only stayed two days. The Townsend Solitaire has been fairly regular yard visitor and some have stayed as long as three weeks..

April 9 was my next chance to do some birding. My first stop was French Creek where I was hoping for the Kingfisher and Common Loon. The Kingfisher was AWOL but I got Jim Murray for a consolation Jim is always good for asome birding bs, and while we were trading trivia a Eurasian Wigeon floated downstream in front of us. It was fortuitous since I had just mentioned to my wife that I hadn't seen the Eurasian here all winter.

As hoped for the Common Loon was in the marina by the coast guard station where it looked like it was diving for crab legs. I wasn't close enough for a definitive shot to identify what it was catching.

After French Creek I went to Morningstar to look for migrant warblers. I expected to see the alders dripping with Yellow-rumpeds, but there wasn't a single one. On my pass to the second pond all I got was the Red Slider on a driftwood and a pair of Buffleheads in flight. Besides the Buffleheads there were also lesser Scaup, Hooded mergansers, and Ring-necked Ducks in the pond.

On the way back a lone warbler flew past me and landed on a tree. At first I didn't recognize it,but when I told my wife it bobbed its butt like a Palm Warbler the light came on. Of course, it was a Palm Warbler. I had never seen one in breeding plumage, size, shape, and behavior spelled Palm Warbler.

The warbler flew in front of us challenging me to get the perfect shot, but the location of the sun and the quickness of the warbler was the perfect remedy for defeat. However, the glass was half full and I was delighted just to see the breeding plumaged warbler and to get some decent record shots.

That's it for this installment. Like the Palm Warbler was for me I hope you'll feel the cup is half full after browsing this journal. In the next journal I'll be showing off some of my hummer photography and hopefully some eagle activity on Denman and Bowser. On Denman I'm expecting the eagles to be tending to two new hatchlings and in Bowser I'm hoping the eagles will be feasting on midshipmen. Until then, keep shooting.




Bird Poster

My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House. (Note: This poster has been produced in a more manageable size and is now available for $20 unlaminated and $32 laminated.)
















Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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