With our time winding down on Vancouver Island, we’ve been hoping to catch a glimpse of the annual spring Pacific herring spawn before we leave. While not as famed as the autumn salmon run, the tons of herring that make their way to the coast from offshore and saturate the water with eggs provide an important food source for creatures of all shapes and sizes. We’ve been regularly walking the beaches around Qualicum Beach and have not seen any signs. However, after waking up to see the sun for the first time in a while, we decided to head north up the coast to see if our fortunes might change.
Our first stop was Fanny Bay, where a colony of stellar sea lions caught our eye (and ear) as we were driving by. Dozens were hauled out on several boats, and stopped to have lunch and listen to the raucous conversations going on all around us in the harbor. While our sea lion-ese is a bit rusty, they seemed to be grunting, “You’re almost there.”
We didn’t have a set destination in mind when we stopped in Courtenay after lunch, but after consulting a map we decided to check out Seal Bay Regional Nature Park. As we headed out on the trail through the temperate rain forest, along coastal bluffs and eventually descending to a secluded cove, we knew we had found someplace special. The beauty of the rocky shore set against the snow-capped mountains on the mainland was breathtaking, but it didn’t keep our attention for long. The cries of hundreds of gulls along the shore and hundreds of other seabirds in the water piqued our curiosity, and we eagerly made out way to the water’s edge to investigate.
Five of Hearts was the first to exclaim, “Herring eggs!” The piece of seaweed in her hand dotted with herring eggs was only the beginning. The eggs were literally covering every surface, from the rocks and seaweed to clouding the tranquil pools along the shoreline. We soon gave up on trying to walk around the eggs covering the beach, almost a foot thick in places, and marveled at the unexpected places the eggs had reached, such as pieces of driftwood four feet above the sand.
As the first minutes of wonder drifted into several leisurely hours of exploring the cove, the surprises never ceased. Mallards, mergansers, blue herons, and Pacific loons plied the waters just offshore, and stellar sea lions and harbor seals started appearing around low tide to haul out and sun themselves on the just-emerged boulders. It took a lot of effort to tear ourselves away at sunset, but we could only feel thrilled to have been in the right place at the right time!