The first weekend of April is a rite of spring for the folks who live on the mid-coast of Vancouver Island. As early as February small flocks of Pacific Black Brant Geese begin returning to the Parksville and Qualicum Beach areas. [See Getting "Up Island" .] By mid-March the annual "sea goose" migration is in full swing, peaking a month later in the middle of April. By the time it is over in mid-May some 20,000 of the small geese will have passed through, stopping to rest up and feed on eelgrass, green algae and herring roe before continuing their northward journey.

Wintering in Baja California and adjacent mainland Mexico, the brant follow the coast northward until reaching British Columbia. As the Pacific coast north of Vancouver Island is rugged and rocky most brant wing towards the northwest from this last staging area to begin the transoceanic flight to breeding grounds in Siberia, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. Altogether this three month journey covers more than 10,000 kilometres. Interestingly the southward migration in the fall follows a more direct route across the open Pacific. Only in the spring do the Brant grace the British Columbia coast with their presence. To celebrate this annual return local businesses and naturalists have inaugurated the Brant Festival. Brant viewing areas have been established at Rathtrevor and Qualicum Beaches with telescopes and nature interpretation provided. Peripheral events include art shows, photo exhibitions, a wood carving contest, craft fair, Native Indian-style salmon barbecue, Native dance displays, special children's events and environmental displays.

To be completely honest, unless you are a bird watching fanatic, the Brant Festival is neither awesome nor profound. It is, however, interesting. To make a trip to Vancouver Island simply for this event may be disappointing to some. Coupled with a cycling weekend or a trip to the Pacific Rim area, the Brant Festival could provide a more than satisfying glimpse of one of nature's marvels.

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Krumholtz

Krumholtz

Trees clustered together in the sub alpine stand a much better chance of surviving the harsh conditions. Called krumholtz, these tree islands are miniature ecosystems unto themselves, providing mutual protection against the elements while acting as a catch basin for moisture. A krumholtz provides habitat for lesser plant species as well as insects, birds and mammals big and small. Usually trees in the krumholtz, German for "crooked wood," are old if not ancient, stunted by a short growing season, harsh weather and a paucity of nutrient-rich soil. Branches tend to flourish on the downwind side only.

Illustration by Manami Kimura