Herring Roe Feast

I never seem to get the timing right when it comes to the spectacle that is the herring spawn on the east side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I’m usually a little too early or a little too late and I have to settle with looking at the amazing photographs of other birders and naturalists like Guy Monty who have been there when the fish arrive. The problem is that the spawn is so unpredictable and can be over in a matter of hours.

This year was not different. I drove to Parksville in early March just before the peak spawn on March 17th. In late March I tried again but by that time it was done.

Herring Eggs on Seaweed
While the herring have spawned you can still find plenty of eggs on the beaches between Parksville and Qualicum Bay.

The good thing is that all the gulls and ducks and brant that feed on the roe and the herring are still around. I checked out the estuary at the Little Qualicum River and while I didn’t see any herring I certainly saw signs that they had been there.

Herring Eggs on Seaweed
Herring eggs on seaweed at Little Qualicum River estuary, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The shore was covered with drifts of herring roe and clumps of seaweed thick with eggs. These are the unlucky ones, though they do play an important role as a food source for animals higher up in the food chain. I picked up a handful of herring roe and rolled it back and forth between my fingers – the texture was sort of like couscous. Pure protein!

Brant Geese Feeding
Brant Geese feeding on herring eggs, eelgrass, and seaweed at Little Qualicum River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

On the shore were large flocks of gulls and the exquisitely dressed Brant. With their dark heads and white neck markings they looked like they were decked out in formal dining wear, and in a sense, they were.

Brant (Branta bernicla)
Brant (Branta bernicla) – a beautiful little sea goose that stops in a number of sheltered bays on the east side of Vancouver Island to fuel up for its northern migration.

Thousands of Brant (Branta bernicla) stop in the eel-grass beds of Parksville/Qualicum to fuel up for their migration north. It’s an important time for them and crucial that they’re able to feed without being harassed by dogs and people. Give them lots of space and let them do their thing.

Dog Closure
Beaches are off limits to dogs between March 1 and April 30 to give Brant and other migrating birds the opportunity to focus on the all important task of refueling.

I’ll be heading back to Parksville this coming weekend to take part in the Brant Festival‘s Big Day Bird Count event on Saturday, April 9. There will still be lots of gulls around and hopefully we’ll be able to find something unusual in the thousands of birds around the bay. The herring may be gone but the birds are still here for a little while longer!