Little Qualicum Estuary to Nanoose Bay (BC056)
Parksville, British Columbia
The IBA covers a 30 km stretch of the coast of Vancouver Island facing the Strait of Georgia, from the Little Qualicum River estuary in the northwest to Nanoose Harbour in the southeast. It extends a few km upriver along several estuaries and out into the Strait, and includes some small islands off the Nanoose Bay peninsula. Partly within its borders and partly adjacent to it are several contiguous municipalities with a combined population of over 30,000. All are growing residential areas. The shoreline, which is broken up by several river drainage basins with estuaries, is mostly rocky with large varied tidal flats of sand, rock, pools, eelgrass beds, and mud. Inland from the IBA, the land slopes gently up to the mountain range of central Vancouver Island. This is the catchment area of the IBAs major rivers (the Little Qualicum and Englishman Rivers), which includes both residential developments and large wooded tracts, some of which have been logged.
At the northwest end of the IBA is the Little Qualicum River with a large estuary and, upriver, a Fish Hatchery. To the southeast of here is the Town of Qualicum Beach with its extensive sand and rocky tidal shore bordered by a highway and public footpath. Adjacent is the large private estate of Qualicum Woods, owned by the local university and maintained for its habitat, and the large tidal rocky Columbia Beach in French Creek which extends to the next major estuary where the French and Morningstar Creeks empty into the Strait of Georgia. Here there is a commercial Marina. Southeast from here is the built-up urban area of Parksville, with a community park and a major tidal beach that when uncovered at low tide extends more than 1 km into the Strait. It is bounded to the southeast by the Englishman River Estuary, a protected, undeveloped parkland. The community of San Pareil is next, followed by Rathtrevor Provincial Park. It adjoins Craig Bay which fronts many large resorts and a large condominium development. The stretch from Rathtrevor to Craig Bay has tidal flats consisting of sand, rocks, oyster beds, and tidal pools extending more than 1 km out from the high tide line.
Around the corner from Craig Bay, the much deeper Northwest Bay contains an active log sort. Between this bay and Nanoose Harbour lies the peninsula of Nanoose Bay with its rocky shoreline of bays and small offshore islands. The peninsula itself is rocky and has several large hills with a variety of habitat including several large housing developments, farmland, and a large forested and lightly used area controlled by the Department of National Defense. Nanoose Bay Estuary at the western end of Nanoose Harbour has extensive tidal flats and is fed by several creeks running through the protected lands of the Qualicum National Wildlife Area.
The marine environment of the Georgia Strait with its coastline and estuaries and offshore islands and islets dominates the IBA and supports the most abundant birdlife in the area. However, most of the species associated with this environment are only seasonally present, traveling through during fall or spring migration or residing in the area during the winter months. Globally significant numbers of Brant pass through on spring migration. A sizable fraction of all individuals of the Western population of this species rest and feed for up to 30 days in this area during spring migration coinciding with the herring run. Thayer's Gull and Mew Gull are common to abundant in this IBA from late fall to mid-spring with maximum abundance during the herring run. Numbers suggest that a very significant proportion of the global population of Thayer's Gull passes through this area annually. Very large congregations of birds, of the order of a million in number, can be seen on the water during the second half of April. These include all three scoter species, Long-tailed Duck, and Pacific Loon. The relative importance of the IBA to the other species listed in the table below is under review
Common marine winter residents include Bufflehead, both on salt and fresh waters, Harlequin Duck, Black Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, and Dunlin. Long-tailed Duck is a fairly common winter resident, but usually well off-shore. Black Oystercatcher and Killdeer are among the few species resident throughout the year. Among the non-marine species, Trumpeter Swan is present from fall to spring, usually in small flocks or family groups. The 2004 Christmas Bird Count in this area found 272 individuals. Common year-round residents include Chestnut-backed Chickadee, House Finch, American Robin, Northwestern Crow, Bald Eagle, and California Quail (groups with young of up to 50 can be observed in the winter in residential areas). The latter are subject to predation by both domestic and feral cats. A number of non-marine species breed in the area during the summer, arriving in early to late spring and leaving in mid-summer to early fall. These include Turkey Vulture, Rufous Hummingbird, and passerines. The November-2005 edition of the Parksville-Qualicum Beach Area Bird Checklist lists 292 species, including accidentals.
Healthy eelgrass beds are crucial to maintaining a large number of birds, mammal, fish and invertebrate species in the IBA; eelgrass supports the spring herring spawn, which in turn attracts the large spring concentrations of many bird species. The condition of the IBA's eelgrass beds is described as fairly healthy, especially in the area of Rathtrevor, but development to accomodate the increasing human population has adversely impacted some areas, e.g., Qualicum Beach. Shoreline development, such as construction of hard retaining walls, may have altered currents and wave action and led to a reduction in terrestrial vegetation. Pollution from run-off associated with urban development is a potential threat; logging and the log sort in Northwest Bay have the potential to negatively impact water quality. Disturbance from recreational use is another threat, with potential to fragment eelgrass beds. There are several docks and marinas in the IBA and numerous aquaculture ventures.
The Little Qualicum Estuary to Nanoose Bay IBA falls within the boundaries of a Provincial Wildlife Management Area. Rathtrevor Park is protected, but has a large campground. There is an annual Brant Festival held at the end of March which celebrates the IBA's importance for Brant and many other waterbird species.
Potential or Ongoing Threats