IBA K'ómoks
Comox, British Columbia
Site Summary
BC272 Latitude
49.624° N
124.873° W
0 - 200 m
560.73 km²
Arable land, Urban parks & gardens, Sea cliffs & rocky shores, Estuarine waters, Intertidal mud, sand & salt flats, Salt & brackish marshes, Temperate coniferous forest, Temperate deciduous forest, Open sea, Rivers, Streams
Land Use:
Agriculture, Fisheries/aquaculture, Rangeland/pastureland, Tourism/recreation, Urban/industrial/transport
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Housing and urban areas, Commercial and industrial development, Habitat effects - fishing and harvesting aquatic resources, Recreational activities
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Continentally Significant: Congregatory Species, Nationally Significant: Threatened Species
Conservation status: Ducks Unlimited Canada (owned by), IBA Conservation Plan written/being written, National Wildlife Area (federal), Provincial Park (including Marine), Provincial Wildlife Management Area, Regional Park (provincial)
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Site Description
The K’ómoks IBA, along the east-central coast of Vancouver Island near the city of Courtenay, lies within the K’ómoks First Nation unceded Traditional Territory. The IBA is an extensive network of marine waters, estuaries, backshore areas and associated lowland valley bottoms. Inland lowlands are a mixture of agricultural areas and forested land. Forests are predominately Coastal Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock while some dry Garry Oak/Douglas-fir forest occupies drier sites. An extensive estuary ecosystem extends from K’ómoks Estuary through Baynes Sound to Deep Bay and Mapleguard Point, approximately 30 km to the southeast. Baynes Sound is a shallow coastal channel fringed by protected bays, open foreshore, tidal estuaries and inshore marshes. The shoreline includes wide expanses of mud and sand flats, low gradient deltas and sand and gravel beaches. This area is the most important intertidal area in B.C. for oyster and shellfish aquaculture. Further offshore, Lambert Channel and the marine waters surrounding Hornby Island have mostly rocky shores and rocky headlands, that provide extensive feeding and resting areas for waterbirds, especially during herring spawn in late-winter and early-spring..

The K'ómoks IBA is an amalgamation of the former Comox Valley IBA, Baynes Sound IBA and Lambert Channel/Hornby Island Waters IBA. These three IBAs share common populations of waterbirds but were established as separate IBAs because they were nominated independently; follow the links to access the original site information.

Significant Species - This IBA supports six species at the global level: Trumpeter Swan, Surf Scoter, Western Grebe, Black Oystercatcher, Iceland Gull (Thayer's), Glaucous-winged Gull; and three species at the continental level: White-winged Scoter, Red-necked Grebe, and Mew Gull. Continentally significant numbers of Waterbirds occur each year and, in some years, continentally significant numbers for Brant and Long-tailed Duck.

Aggregations of 30,000-60,000 Waterbirds occur each year during herring spawn and over 100,000 were observed in March 2019. About a third to half of those waterbirds are waterfowl, including significant numbers of Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, and Long-tailed Duck in some years, and significant numbers gulls of Mew Gull, Iceland Gull (Thayer's) and Glaucous-winged Gull.

The Comox Valley is notable for the numbers of Trumpeter Swan that over-winter there. Following protection and recovery in the early 1900’s, the numbers of swans increased from the 1960s to an over-wintering population of about 2,100 birds but then declined to about 1,000 birds in recent years, which is still globally significant. The swans arrive in late October and have mostly departed by early April. They feed on various winter cover crops on farms as well as on native vegetation in the estuary.

Aggregations of Harlequin Duck gather at a few locations on the northeast side of Hornby Island during herring spawn. An estimated 3,400-5,500 birds were present in 1996-2001 but numbers have decreased to 1150-1250 birds in recent years. Historically, Western Grebe wintered here in globally significant numbers until the 1990s but then declined steeply. This significant decline has been noted throughout the Salish Sea (British Columbia and Washington); the reasons for the decline are not clear but may be related to a decrease in forage fish and a subsequent southerly shift in wintering areas. Recently numbers have increased again to globally significant numbers.

Other Species of Conservation Interest - The IBA supports important numbers of three species determined to be Threatened or Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC; wildlife species that have been assessed as at risk by COSEWIC may qualify for legal protection and recovery under Canada's Species at Risk Act). Great Blue Heron (fannini subspecies) (Special Concern, COSEWIC) has several colonies in the IBA (up to 100 individuals). Marbled Murrelet (Threatened, COSEWIC; Endangered, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN) occurs regularly in the IBA most of the year (peak counts of at least 50-100 individuals). Heermann’s Gull (Near Threatened, IUCN) is regular and up to 100 individuals and Peregrine Falcon (Special Concern, COSEWIC; Near Threatened, IUCN) winters regularly in the IBA and 1-2 pairs nest.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Black Oystercatcher 2019 FA 86
Black Oystercatcher 1995 - 2017 WI 78 - 192
Black Turnstone 2002 - 2004 FA 1,000
Brant 2012 SP 15,501
California Gull 2016 SP 5,000
Glaucous-winged Gull 2010 FA 5,000 - 8,000
Glaucous-winged Gull 2001 - 2020 SP 4,300 - 45,000
Glaucous-winged Gull 1991 - 2012 WI 4,310 - 9,244
Great Blue Heron 2001 - 2020 FA 36 - 63
Great Blue Heron 2002 - 2020 SP 34 - 102
Great Blue Heron 2004 - 2020 SU 37 - 68
Great Blue Heron 1990 - 2015 WI 34 - 106
Greater Scaup 2010 SP 5,000
Harlequin Duck 2004 SP 1,587
Heermann's Gull 2014 FA 100
Heermann's Gull 2006 - 2009 SP 35 - 335
Heermann's Gull 2008 WI 61
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 2001 - 2019 FA 80 - 359
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 2000 - 2019 SP 80 - 2,000
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 1992 - 2019 WI 77 - 1,367
Marbled Murrelet 2002 FA 44
Marbled Murrelet 2003 - 2016 SP 43 - 510
Pacific Loon 2018 WI 7,000
Pelagic Cormorant 2017 WI 900
Red-necked Grebe 2004 - 2020 FA 358 - 822
Red-necked Grebe 2003 - 2005 SP 400 - 409
Short-billed Gull 2001 - 2017 SP 2,500 - 9,000
Surf Scoter 2003 - 2019 SP 5,931 - 25,000
Surf Scoter 2014 WI 5,966
Surfbird 2012 FA 600
Surfbird 2015 SP 530
Surfbird 2013 - 2014 WI 600
Trumpeter Swan 2006 - 2012 FA 360 - 650
Trumpeter Swan 2010 - 2018 SP 260 - 1,500
Trumpeter Swan 1990 - 2020 WI 260 - 2,939
Waterbirds 2002 - 2011 SP 21,812 - 60,537
Waterbirds 2002 - 2011 WI 20,604 - 26,232
Western Grebe 2003 - 2010 FA 1,000 - 1,132
Western Grebe 2003 SP 2,000
Western Grebe 1991 - 2005 WI 1,516 - 6,340
Western Screech-Owl 2001 FA 1
Western Screech-Owl 1998 - 2018 SP 1 - 2
Western Screech-Owl 2001 SU 1
Western Screech-Owl 1999 - 2019 WI 1
White-winged Scoter 2004 FA 5,167
White-winged Scoter 2003 - 2018 SP 5,000 - 10,000
White-winged Scoter 2003 - 2004 WI 5,033 - 5,994
Yellow-breasted Chat 2019 SP 1
Yellow-breasted Chat 2019 SU 1
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
The number of people living in the IBA has doubled over the past 25 years and is expected to continue to increase. Impacts associated with increased development, including discharges from sewage and suburban storm sewers, wetlands being filled in, and new housing developments and associated commercial/industrial areas reduces the amount, and degrades the quality, of habitat for Trumpeter Swan and other waterbirds. Loss of soil-based agriculture also reduces habitat available for swans. From 1992 to 2002, at least 5% of the sensitive ecosystems and over 29% of modified ecosystems such as older second growth forests and seasonally flooded agricultural fields were lost to other uses. Disturbance from increased recreational activities also poses a potential threat to bird populations using the area.

Many of the species using this IBA are dependent on the Pacific herring spawn. Any activity that negatively impacts the herring spawn could have significant impacts on the ability of this site to support a concentration of birds. There is increasing concern that the current commercial harvest is not sustainable and there are calls for a moratorium or closure.

There is limited legislated protection in place for the marine waters; the most significant is the marine extension to Helliwell Provincial Park. On the uplands, there is a National Wildlife Area and several Provincial and Regional Parks, mostly forested habitat. Several areas of upland habitat are owned or managed for wildlife conservation, especially for Trumpeter Swan and waterfowl, by Ducks Unlimited Canada and The Nature Trust of British Columbia. As well, the Comox Valley Waterfowl Management Project (Ducks Unlimited Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service) is a cooperative farm and wildlife extension program established to maintain wintering waterfowl populations in harmony with successful farming.

The IBA is recognised in the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy (Nature Without Borders) and in some Official Community Plans.

Within the IBA, members of Comox Valley Nature have been conducting standardised bird monitoring for five decades: Christmas Bird Counts since 1961, Spring Bird Counts since 1976, weekly Trumpeter Swan Counts since 1990, as well as other bird counts. Volunteers also have been collecting monthly counts for the British Columbia Coastal Waterbird Survey since 1999 and monthly surveys for the British Columbia Beached Bird Survey since 2002.

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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