I haven’t had a chance to check out the bird activity during the herring spawn since 2001. But finally, after 13 years, Joanna, Amelia and I made time to take a day trip up the east coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria to Comox to check out the action. We departed at about 9:00am and returned home by 7:30pm. The weather was generally unfavourable for birding, with strong windows blowing off the water and rain varying from mild to heavy throughout the day.
Our first stop to check for birds was Englishman River estuary near Parksville. The rain was heavy here, and the birds were light. Good numbers of gulls, but ducks and shorebirds were in the low double-digits. A little further north and in Parksville we stopped at the recreation and RV park. Bird activity was much better here…with the first sighting being a Yellow-rumped Warbler hanging on for dear life in a lone scrawny tree in the middle of the park. Along the coast were decent numbers of Brant (50-100), and a huge mixed flock of Black, Surf, and White-winged scoters. In the parks fields were good numbers of Dunlin (about 200) and Black-bellied Plover (about 60). At the park we met a woman who advised us of a Northern Mockingbird at Little Qualicum River estuary, near a bird feeder. We headed there next, but after 30 minutes we were unable to locate it. At the feeders were Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, California Quail, Purple Finch and several other common feeder birds.
From Parksville we continued north to Fanny Bay. As expected, good numbers of Northern Sea-Lions were hauled out onto the log booms, and a smattering of birds including Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon and Great Blue Heron were present. From Fanny Bay we ended up next in Courtenay, which had impressive numbers of Trumpeter Swan (300-400) in the agricultural fields, as well as good numbers of Mallard and American Wigeon. We continued through Courtenay and into downtown Comox where we had a tasty lunch at a café.
After finishing lunch we went to Kin Beach Park…thee rain continued to pelt down in combination with a strong wind…but after searching most of the day, we finally located a large flock of sea ducks, gulls and shorebirds benefiting from the herring feast. Among the ducks were at least 1,400 Long-tailed Ducks, 3,600 Surf Scoters, 800 White-winged Scoters, and 200 Black Scoters. We also saw about 10,000 gulls, of which we could successfully pick out Glacous-winged (the dominant), California, Herring, Mew, and Thayer’s gull. Dunlin, Black Oystercatcher, Harlequin Duck, and Black-bellied Plover hugged the shoreline and took shelter behind anything that seemed to lessen the wind and rain. A few lone species, including Common Loon, Pacific Loon, Red-necked Grebe, and Common Murre, drifted amidst the waves.
From Kin Beach we made the direct drive home, and it rained the entire way. Our species count for the day was XX. A decent count considering the weather.