Exploring Hornby Year Round
Nature Viewing Tips
Practice the Three L’s: Look, Learn and Leave for future generations to enjoy.
Plan your visit according to season, tides & time of day. Best wildlife viewing is at dawn and dusk.
Explore a variety of habitats.
Learn more by using field guides.
Avoid sensitive habitats and nest sites.
Be patient. Move slowly and quietly.
Watch wildlife from a distance, using binoculars or camera with zoom lens.
Do not disturb baby seals. Watch and wait for the mother to return, and keep pets away.
Keep dogs leashed or under tight control.
Protect the Environment
Stay on designated roads and trails.
Avoid rubbing petroglyphs or trying to make your own.
Do not touch organisms in tide pools.
Do not have fires on the sandstone; use the fire rings provided on most beaches.
Keep the environment clean: Pack out what you pack in. Pick up after pets. Put garbage in on-site bins, or take garbage with you.
Do not remove any natural materials from provincial parks.
While driving, watch out for wildlife crossing roads, especially deer near dawn and dusk.
Be aware of local hunting season information.
Exercise caution when walking on rocks.
Do not enter private property without owner’s permission. Leave gates as found.
Be considerate of other visitors.
Adapted from the Comox Valley Naturalists Nature Viewing Guide and BC Nature.
SPRING: March, April, May
EARLY: Sea Animals: Herring spawn occurs, the crucial beginning of the year for much of our marine ecosystem. Many rockfish spawn.
Land Animals: Tree frogs sing in the ponds.
Plants: Early wildflowers grow on south exposed areas; wild plum and cherry bloom; early stinging nettles are ready to be picked.
Birds: Eagles lay their eggs shortly after the herring spawn; pigeon guillemots arrive at their nest sites; first warblers arrive; flocks of brant and Canada geese and ducks are seen and heard heading north; early hummingbirds seek out pink currant and salmonberry flowers.
MID: Sea Animals: Sea lions leave for the summer; newly hatched herring can be seen at Ford Cove and in bays; short-lived jellyfish and sea cucumbers appear; river otters mate.
Land Animals: Mason bees emerge from cocoons and begin collecting pollen.
Plants: Wildflowers in full splendour: trillium, chocolate lily, bleeding hearts, Easter lily, Indian paintbrush, spring gold, gold stars, camas, blue-eyed Mary, calypso orchid, orange honeysuckle and sea blush; alders and maples turn green again; pollen is shed from the maple, alder and other trees; salmonberry and red flowering currant bloom; thimbleberry, Saskatoon berry and mahonia in flower.
Birds: Purple martins return from South America; swallows return; harlequin ducks, mergansers and common loons leave for their interior nesting sites; male rufous hummingbirds do spectacular dives to impress the females (who are busy collecting cattail fluff and spiders’ web for nests); scoters, long-tailed ducks and scaups gather in huge flocks prior to migration; other seabirds and shorebirds moult to breeding plumage and assemble in larger flocks than usual; mergansers do their courtship dances; unusual migrating birds may make a rest stop in the area.
LATE: Sea Animals: Harbour seals move back onto Norris Rocks and Flora Islet after being pushed away by the sea lions; blueback coho feed on herring and grow a pound a month; eelgrass meadows become a nursery for baby fish and invertebrates.
Land Animals: The huge silk moth takes flight.
Plants: Wildflowers in full bloom; oyster mushrooms appear with the first warmer rains.
Birds: Eagles feed their voracious young; most seabirds and shorebirds leave for their nesting grounds; some non-breeding harlequin ducks stay for the summer; oystercatchers, Canada geese and pigeon guillemots are nesting; first Swainson’s thrushes are singing; juvenile purple martins arrive.
FALL: September, October, November
EARLY: Sea Animals: The ocean’s “Second Springtime” with many short-lived jellyfish and other invertebrates reappearing briefly; main arrival of winter seabirds and shorebirds.
Plants: Chanterelle mushrooms appear with the first rains.
Birds: Large flocks of mergansers, horned grebes, rednecked grebes, greater yellowlegs and black-bellied plovers stay for a few days before they scatter to their winter feeding grounds; unusual migrants such as Heermann’s gulls, red-necked phalaropes, wandering tattlers and rhinoceros auklets are sometimes seen; common murres and Pacific loons return and are mainly visible offshore; oystercatchers assemble in flocks on rocky points; adult eagles return from the salmon rivers and reclaim their territories.
MID: Birds: Juvenile and non-resident eagles drift in gradually going wherever food is available; lots of winter resident seabirds and shorebirds.
Plants: Wild mushroom season continues until the first hard frosts; maples in fall colour.
LATE: Sea Animals: Chum salmon spawn in Beulah Creek; sea lions return to Norris Rocks and Flora Islet; lots of winter resident seabirds and shorebirds.
Land Animals: Black-tailed deer are in rut.
Plants: First big storm blows leaves off the deciduous trees.
Birds: Five species of seagulls winter around Hornby; harlequin ducks and mergansers back at Ford Cove, trumpeter swans and Northern shovelers in Strachan Lake.
WINTER: December, January, February
EARLY: Sea Animals: An elephant seal resides at Flora Islet.
Plants: Wild mushroom season continues until the first hard frosts.
Birds: Lots of winter resident seabirds and shorebirds; oystercatchers in courtship displays; Anna’s hummingbirds seek out feeders.
MID: Sea Animals: Lingcod spawn and males guard egg masses; first herring balls are seen surfacing.
Plants: First nettles grow in sunny spots.
Birds: Chickadees, fox, golden-crowned and song sparrows, purple finches, house finches, towhees and juncos return to bird feeders; juvenile and non-resident eagles drift in gradually going wherever food is available; greater numbers of non-resident eagles, gulls and seabirds assemble to wait for herring.
LATE: Sea Animals: Schools of herring surface; lingcod continue to spawn; lots of winter resident seabirds and shorebirds.
Birds: Eagles start rebuilding nests; trumpeter swans and Northern shovelers in Strachan Lake; greater yellowlegs, buffleheads and other seabirds in courtship display; smaller birds start singing their courtship songs.
A special thanks to Paula Courteau sharing her knowledge of Hornby Island wildlife and wilderness. See Paula’s wildlife photography here.
The waters around Hornby Island are designated as an Important Bird Area, and along with Comox Valley and Baynes Sound have the second largest concentration of wintering waterfowl in BC. During the winter, every kilometer around the island you can see a “basic kit” of overwintering birds: a pair of common loons, a pair of horned grebes, a pair of red-necked grebes, a great blue heron and a kingfisher! Bald eagles also frequent the shores.
The herring spawn in March attracts tens of thousands of birds, as well as large numbers of eagles and sea lions. This is the crucial beginning of the year for much of our marine ecosystem. Helliwell Park, looking at Flora Islet, is an excellent viewing spot. Norris Rocks is a major hangout for wildlife; a boat is required to see the area. Eagles lay their eggs shortly after the herring spawn.
Intertidal life is rich with sea stars, sea cucumbers, seaweed, sand dollars, crabs and other creatures. Occasionally orcas, sea lions, seals and otters are spotted from shore, along with flocks of seabirds and shorebirds.
Grassy Point is known for gorgeous sunsets and has an alluring display of wild camas flowers. Sandpiper Beach provides a panoramic south-facing outlook and is a wonderful place to watch the moonrise on clear nights and the sunrise on any day. Tribune Bay and Whaling Station Bay offer inviting sandy beaches, while Ford Cove and Helliwell Park reveal interesting sandstone formations.
On Shingle Spit, a shifting gravel bar that changes from year to year, there is a large shell midden exposed by erosion. The upland habitats adjacent to Lambert Channel (the body of water between Hornby and Denman)are part of the dry Garry oak/Douglas fir forests that are restricted in British Columbia to the Strait of Georgia. Helliwell Provincial Park is at the northern edge of Garry Oak distribution, which occurs at drier sites and is home to the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly (currently the subject of a habitat restoration project).
Many native plants cover the island, including trillium, chocolate lily, bleeding heart, Indian paintbrush, spring gold, gold stars, blue-eyed Mary, calypso orchid, orange honeysuckle and sea blush.
Black-tailed deer are observed year-round in the fields, forests and crossing the roads.
Peregrine falcons and merlins are seen hunting with their young in mid-summer. The forests are filled with the chorus of songbirds and frogs sing loudly from ponds in the spring.
Chum salmon return to spawn in Beulah Greek from mid-November to December depending on water levels in the creek. The fish can often be glimpsed in the pool to the south side of Central Rd. where the creek passes through a culvert under the road west of the Co-op.
The warm water and shorter days of the end of summer make it a great time to experience the glow and glitter of bioluminescence in the ocean.
Hornby Island provides perfect opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, sailing, swimming, snorkelling, paddle boarding, recreational boating and diving. Follow a rainforest trail on foot or bicycle through Mount Geoffrey Regional Park. Dive, paddle or sail in the ocean from the Ford Cove Marina. During the hot summer days, swim in the crystal clear waters of Tribune Bay Provincial Park or another of the numerous beaches. For a delightful sightseeing walk, follow the trail loop through old growth forest and along the stunning bluffs of Helliwell Provincial Park.
The island also offers special activities throughout the year, including full moon walks, biking events, dance workshops, and both outdoor and indoor yoga and Pilates. Bicycle, boat, skim board and kayak rentals are available. Trail guides by the Hornby Island Mountain Bike Association are sold at the bike shop and gas bar.
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