Visitors to Hardy Bay

Wonderful Hardy Bay shore life.

Ahhh… Beautiful British Columbia’s Hardy Bay on the North end of fabulous Vancouver Island.

Today’s quarry is a Great Blue Heron, a well known “solitary hunter” in coastal British Columbia. On the other hand I am seldom a solitary hunter. I prefer sharing the great outdoors with family, my lifelong & wifelong partner. On this day we are again bound together by nature, enjoying the wild kingdom’s vast pleasures just across the road from our Port Hardy home: The amazing Hardy Bay.

Hardy Bay, Port Hardy, North Vancouver Island

Winds are calm, sunshine high, a misty blue haze, and ebbing tide offering a clear view of a multitude of fascinating shorebirds foraging in Hardy Bay’s tidal pools. Our imaginations are immediately captured by a chorus of seabird activity: Turnstones, sandpipers, seagulls, mews, plovers, loons, ducks, grebes, crows, ravens, and eagles chatting it up. Partnered together for breakfast, right here in Canada’s coastal paradise, along the Pacific Flyway path.

It doesn’t take long for success! Our quarry is spotted in natures rich tidal shallows, backgrounded by the Queen Charlotte Sound to the North, and Coast Mountain Range to the East. Excitement…. a Great Blue Heron stepping forward in search of prey.

Amazing Hardy Bay and a Great Blue Heron

Coastal BC, is home to thousands of resident marine birds, as well as traveling avian visitors on their annual migration to northern breeding grounds. Port Hardy Bay and estuary is a grand refueling stopover for birds on route to points as far away as the high Arctic, such as the male Black Bellied Plover we encountered below…. A welcome chance meeting, his black tuxedoed attire immediately gripping our attention.

Black Bellied Plover

Difficult to approach, Plovers usually take flight when disturbed tending to then fly out over the water, circle, and land again behind the antagonist. We were lucky… he allowed a close visit with him…. Rosie, my Aussie shepherd laying low and whisper still.

Black Bellied Plovers are a medium sized heavy bodied migratory shore bird with a short thick black bill, and black underparts. They fly through British Columbia on their way to Arctic tundra nesting grounds; thousands of kilometers North. In fact they are phenomenal long-distance travelers, migrating almost half way around the world (5,000-13,000 Kilometers one-way) after summer Arctic breeding. Remarkably energy efficient flyers, Plovers fly about 3200 kilometers nonstop, before a rest & refueling stopover! We wished him a safe flight to his Arctic destination.

Moving forward we encountered another another fabulous estuary migratory visitor: A Greater Yellow Legs foraging about rock seaweed looking for worms and other crustaceans. These fine birds are one of the larger sandpipers, and a common North Vancouver Island visitor. This medium sized bird with a mottled brown back and white lower belly has unmistakably long bright yellow legs and a long slightly upturned bill. They breed in marshy & tundra areas across Northern Canada. Although the Greater Yellowlegs is common and widespread, its propensity to breed in inhospitable, mosquito-ridden muskegs make it one of the least-studied North American shorebirds. We bid our goodbyes and continued with confidence towards our Great Blue Heron quarry.

A Greater Yellow Legs

We finally connected with our Great Blue Heron, who had moved in amongst seaweed, barnacle, and mussels covered boulders, amid the tidal pool vastness. Clean pollution free North Island Tidal pools afford herons and other shore birds a veritable smorgasbord. Entrees include delights of sculpins, crabs, hermit crabs, limpets, snails, periwinkles, mussels, sea stars, chitons, sea urchin, and more.

We are so fortunate to encounter this magnificent foreshore sentinel… and doubly fortunate this wary forager was comfortable with close viewing. Normally they will fly away emitting a loud prehistoric sounding screech of distain.

Head Cocked Intently Looking for Movement

Nature’s magnificent long legged marvel strutted here and there, on a living green carpet amoung brown seaweed covered shoal boulders. Bright yellow rimmed eyes darted around ever watchful for a tasty morsel to grab with its long yellow swordlike bill. Herons will stand perfectly still for minutes, head cocked, eyes intently on guard for that flicker of movement signaling breakfast…. under boulders, above pools, and crevices … Then with a sudden burst of lightning speed thrust his yellow bill… a meal was caught, sliding noticeably down its long slender neck.

Checking Under Rocks for Breakfast

Great Blue Herons are year around residents here, and the tallest of our regular shore birds… standing about 116 -138 cm tall. Imagine their incredible 195 – 208 cm wing span! They are surprisingly light-weight, tipping the scales only around weight between 1.82–3.6 kg. It seemed heavier. While their preference is to hunt alone they nest locally in groups high in treetop colonies called “heronries,” which can be quite large. They hatch out 3 to 5 eggs to begin a life that can be about 15 years.

A Heron’s Intense Yellow Eyes & Long Formidable Beek

Mission accomplished we headed home through a chorus of coastal chattering and goings on. Indeed we were fortunate today, a tidal adventure filled with amazing natural beauty.

A “Rafter” of Shore Birds, Turnstones, Mews, Gulls & American Widgeons

Another successful adventure!

Photos © Gordon & Christine Patterson