IBA Little Qualicum Estuary to Nanoose Bay
Parksville, British Columbia
Site Summary
BC056 Latitude
49.311° N
124.284° W
0 m
169.61 km²
tidal rivers/estuaries, mud or sand flats (saline), inlets/coastal features (marine)
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Fisheries/aquaculture, Military, Tourism/recreation, Urban/industrial/transport
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Disturbance, Industrial pollution, Other decline in habitat quality, Recreation/tourism
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Colonial Waterbirds/Seabird Concentrations, Nationally Significant: Congregatory Species
Conservation status: National Wildlife Area (federal), Provincial Park (including Marine)
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Site Description
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.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Black Oystercatcher 2011 WI 84
Black Swift 2018 SU 700
Bonaparte's Gull 2017 - 2019 FA 3,000 - 12,500
Bonaparte's Gull 1985 - 2006 WI 3,000 - 7,250
Brant 1947 - 2018 SP 2,900 - 8,050
California Gull 2005 - 2014 SP 5,000 - 5,208
Common Murre 2012 WI 32,000 - 50,000
Glaucous-winged Gull 2001 - 2018 SP 4,500 - 10,000
Glaucous-winged Gull 1991 - 2012 WI 4,995 - 5,630
Great Blue Heron 2002 - 2018 SP 35 - 112
Great Blue Heron 1994 - 2015 WI 34 - 56
Greater Scaup 2017 - 2020 SP 4,250 - 8,000
Heermann's Gull 2002 - 2014 FA 24 - 55
Herring Gull 2013 SP 5,076
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 2002 - 2019 FA 76 - 500
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 2000 - 2019 SP 80 - 2,911
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 1977 - 2017 WI 77 - 2,117
Marbled Murrelet 1976 SP 214
Short-billed Gull 2013 FA 2,743
Short-billed Gull 1985 - 2019 SP 2,391 - 10,000
Short-billed Gull 2006 - 2017 WI 2,857 - 12,327
Surf Scoter 2000 - 2020 SP 5,650 - 35,000
Surf Scoter 2005 WI 6,700
Tropical Kingbird 2020 FA 5
Trumpeter Swan 2007 - 2017 WI 275 - 860
Western Grebe 1972 - 1977 FA 1,600 - 5,000
Western Grebe 1931 - 1976 SP 3,500 - 4,800
Western Grebe 1991 WI 1,245
Western Screech-Owl 1996 - 2006 SP 1 - 3
Western Screech-Owl 2005 - 2013 WI 1 - 2
White-winged Scoter 1985 - 2018 SP 5,000 - 10,000
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
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.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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