Black Brant - The Poetry of Spring

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"Black Brant - The Poetry of Song"

with Barry M. Thornton

Spring is a time of marvel in British Columbia. On the Pacific coast Spring arrives early, and unlike the vast majority of Canada, we have months rather than weeks of growth and refreshment. Spring also offers many wildlife wonders. It is early in spring, during late March, that the first swallows return, darting, swooping and exploring, as they search for that special nesting locations. In the shallow coastal areas most herring have spawned by the time April arrives, yet, many seals, sea-lions and sea birds still linger hoping for a new or late silver bounty upon which they can feed.

A British Columbia coastal Spring also offers the view of an unique migrating sea goose. This is the brant, a common sea bird on both the east and the west coast of Vancouver Island. In that vast inland sea, the Strait of Georgia, it is a northern migrant in the Spring visible only during April and May, then it flies to the high Arctic where it nests. What is unique about this small sea goose is the fact that while it migrates north through the Strait of Georgia and along the east coast of Vancouver Island, it migrates south in the open Pacific down the west side of Vancouver Island during the Fall, completely bypassing the vast waters of the Strait of Georgia. Their southern migration appears to be a single flight starting from marshaling areas in Alaska and ending in Mexico.

Early in April I watched the first small flocks arrive during those days when the tide was particularly low. Swinging in to the beach from the open saltwater, they would stoop into sandy bays where clusters of green sea lettuce had washed up on shore or which clung to pockets of cobblestone rocks. Their flight, on a warm bright Spring morning was true poetry in motion. Brant like eel grass and this is one of the primary attractions which draws them to numerous areas of the east coast of the Island in the spring.

Historically brant first appeared on their migration north late in February, in fact large numbers were known to actually winter in the Strait of Georgia, like many of the dabbler (butts-up) ducks. Unfortunately changes in habitat and shoreline development have eliminated the specific areas, often near estuaries, where they held. But, like the Canada goose, they too are making a rapid rise to near historic numbers. Returning Brant have captured the interest of many communities along the east coast of Vancouver Island. One region, Parksville and Qualicum, has seen a dramatic increase in Brant during the past few years. These are coastal communities with vast sandy beaches, the ideal intertidal stopping areas for Brant. The interest in the area has been so strong that the community now holds an annual "Brant Festival" during the first weeks of April. This festival has become a noted location for birders, photographers, wildlife carvers, and painters.

I am writing much of this with my new laptop on a lonely coastal beach, a new tool for this wandering writer. In front of me a flock of about thirty brant are 'chortling' and 'honking' with their numerous flock calls - a never ending sound! What is most striking at this moment is the white flash of their posterior end and tail when they butt-up to reach for eel grasses and seaweeds. The distinct division, almost a painted line between the white and black feathers, reminds me of similar distinct white and black lines on Killer whales. When I look at native art styles I often wonder if this is one of the animal features that lead to their distinct style of white and black lines.

The Brant Branta bernicla nigricans ( Pacific brant, sea-goose, black brant) is a small goose, about the size of the common mallard. From a distance the Brant takes on a sooty black color except for the stark white rear. It has a long wing in relation to it's body length making this an identifying feature which distinguish the black brant from other waterfowl. The black brant also has white feathers ringing the full neck, similar to the Canada goose, another very obvious key identifying feature.

The coast of British Columbia offers a vast cornucopia of birds. In the Spring they are in their full adult plumage and give the photographer many opportunities to take pictures during the lengthy coastal spring period. Special species like the Brant are readily available in highly accessible regions for those interested in expanding their birding knowledge.

"The End"


© Copyright Barry M. Thornton

Barry M. Thornton

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Black Brant - The Poetry of Spring