Op-Ed: Birdwatching in Parksville

Op-Ed: Birdwatching in Parksville
Irene Jackson
A Canada goose spotted in Parksville.

Recently, my husband and I took some time off and drove up to Parksville, just to get out of the house for a couple of days. The “housebound” effect because of COVID-19 had really been getting to us and we hadn’t been away since last February. We did have time off in the summer, but at that time we were a little hesitant to risk going anywhere else. So we stayed home and stared at each other instead. Yeah.

It wasn’t all that easy to find a place to stay in Parksville, which seemed odd, considering that it’s nearly winter. And this IS the “wet coast”. Not exactly appealing, weather-wise, this time of year. But eventually, we did find something nice with an ocean view.

Just as “wet coast” implies, it rained heavily on the entire drive up there. At times, the rain was torrential. Huge lakes of water collected in the middle of the highway. Sometimes we were hydroplaning. Big trucks sprayed the windshield so we could barely see to pass them. But even worse, cars coming toward us in the opposite direction would hit one of those highway lakes and completely swamp our car. We were literally on the edge of our seats all the way up there.

Somehow we arrived at our destination safe and sound and excited to be somewhere different for a change.

I was especially looking forward to seeing the snowbirds. I’ve been hearing stories about how they are migrating west instead of south this year. Birds are so smart, aren’t they? They actually know to stay away from their usual migration spots in places like Florida during all of this COVID-19 stuff. Nature is amazing.

Check-in time at the hotel was 5 p.m. instead of the usual 3 or 4 p.m., and check out time was adjusted to 10 a.m. These days, they try to allow for extra cleaning of the rooms, which is fine by me. The front desk was behind plexiglass and the staff were all wearing masks. At the desk, they had a box of “dirty” pens and then some “clean” pens for you to use to sign in. There is no housekeeping in your room for the duration of your stay, which is also fine by me. I mean, I don’t really need clean towels every day, or someone else making my bed and vacuuming. In fact, it felt nicer to know no one was going to enter our room while we were venturing out.

Guests are also encouraged to wear masks throughout the building, pretty much anywhere beyond your hotel room. There is a limit of two people in the elevator, but most of the time it was just the two of us anyway.

There is a pool, an exercise room and a hot tub as part of the facility, but use of any of those was pretty restricted. You had to book a swim, a workout or a soaking well in advance. The restaurant also had minimal capacity, and reservations were encouraged, but you could order room service at no extra charge. Nice. In fact, we did just that on our first night there.

It rained all night, but it was overcast and only spitting a little bit when we woke up the next morning. And by the time we headed out to take a walk along the boardwalk, the sun was breaking out. It was glorious. The tide was low and there were only a handful of people walking out on the beach itself, so we hopped over a few puddles and did the same.

I noticed lots of Canada geese and seagulls, but I was really keeping my eye out for the snowbirds. I wasn’t sure what to look for. Are they white? Like Trumpeter Swans? Or maybe they’re more duck like?

After lunch, we decided to head out towards Englishman River Falls for a little hike. There were maybe a half dozen cars in the parking area there, and only a handful of people out walking the trails. Because of the recent rains, the falls were big and loud and spectacular. The moss hung green and dripping from giant trees, their canopies dark and cool. It was right out of an Emily Carr painting. We took our time and soaked it in.

Refreshed and at peace with the world, we headed back towards Parksville, to a local pub to sit for a while. The pub had outdoor seating, but we chose to stay indoors where the tables were spread far apart. Staff wore masks and gloves and cleaned each table thoroughly when guests left. It all felt quite safe. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a grocery store and picked up a few things to munch on for dinner.

It had been a great day. We took one last little walk outside along the beach before heading to our room. Still no snowbirds. There were the usual array of geese and seagulls and even some shorebirds. I listened carefully. Do snowbirds have a special bird call? Like with an eastern Canada accent? You know, like “oot and aboot”?

Nothing sounded out of the ordinary to me.

We were up early enough the next morning to sit in our room and enjoy the view one last time. A huge bald eagle landed on the beach and stayed there for a while. My favourite bird. When he’d had enough and flew off, I finished my coffee, and we packed up and checked out. Heading back to Victoria on the highway, I spotted Mount Arrowsmith, and that’s when it hit me.

Snowbirds, Irene, SNOWbirds. They wouldn’t be down on the beach, they’d be up in the mountains, enjoying the snow, for Pete’s sake.

Sometimes I’m so STUPID.

(Note: Now that we are being told to avoid all non-essential travel, it could be quite a while before our next adventure. Back to sitting at home and staring at each other again…sigh.)

Irene Jackson is a guitar teacher, musician and general writer “wanna-be” living in the beautiful city of Victoria, B.C. Her website is at irenejackson.com.

Irene JacksonIrene Jackson

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