High Seas and Mystery Birds

There was a large sea running today with at least a one-meter swell surging up the ramp and over the smaller islets. This was in turn reflected by a dramatic sky constantly changing with everything from downpours to brilliant sunshine, rainbows and some rumbling thunder thrown in for good measure. The barometer tentatively climbed to above 1010h Pa and the forecast is calling for continuing drama tomorrow including lightning and a strong wind warning.

There were 18 visits by commercial whale watchers noted, within the Ecological Reserve . Again it was a pleasure watching the respectful operators move slowly with the currents in the Ecological Reserve, keeping a sharp lookout for the hundreds of animals in the water and giving their guests the best views of the wildlife. Most (94%) of the skippers were respectful of the guidelines that the industry itself came up with for sustainable use of the Ecological Reserve.  I took photos of the one that wasn’t.

Other than the usual cast of characters, Great Race was treated to a visit by a very swift Peregrine Falcon, which was hunting young gulls. I didn’t see it take one but found another of the “turtleneck” mystery mortalities first thing this morning. Still betting on the River Otters for that modus operandi.

I photographed a shorebird that I wasn’t sure of the identification today. I posted a photo here and one on twitter and received a tweet almost immediately. Dick Cannings of Bird Studies Canada knew right away that this is a Ruddy Turnstone. I have only seen them from below (in the boat), in breeding plumage, in mixed flocks with Black Turnstones at Baeria Rocks Ecological Reserve and never in the vegetation, from above here at Race Rocks. That is my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Of course it is a Ruddy Turnstone, what else could it be?

Name this bird (please).

Ruddy Turnstone looking for insects in the vegetation.

unidentified sandpiper

No visitors today and chores were either routine or fighting entropy.

September 1st Eco-guardian Log

It was a fairly quiet, dark and damp day at Race Rocks. The wind had still not done much by 18:00 but it rose out of the west later on blowing 20 – 25 knots. Although the ceiling was generally much higher than yesterday, solar radiation levels remained low, compared to the rest of the week, including stormy Saturday. The barometer dropped a little today, but remained above 1005 hPa and the forecast is for strong afternoon west winds to also bring much needed precipitation until Friday.

The weather pages on this racerocks.ca web site have lots of good data. If you like graphs or if you would like to learn to like graphs, check out the weekly solar radiation data graph to see how dark it has been lately.

It was another busy day for commercial whale watching activity in the Ecological Reserve with 17 visits observed. The main concerns were with a couple of vessel operators who are in a hurry and speed up before exiting the reserve. I really enjoy watching the better operators. They take their time; use the current to enhance their visit and make sure that their clients have a good experience, while assuring a sustainable future for their industry in the Ecological Reserve.

Four groups of Pearson College students visited the Ecological Reserve today as part of their orientation week activities. They were in the two vessels Haiku and Second Nature.

More sea lions appear to be arriving daily and I look forward to doing the census later this week. I have also documented a number of branded and tagged sea lions and data that will be shared with NOAA biologists. Today there were two Northern Elephant Seals on the island, the young male from the ramp yesterday moved up behind the boathouse and a similarly sized individual arrived on the ramp today with a crowd of California Sea Lions. Only one Elephant Seal was visible on Middle Rock, surrounded by Stellers Sea Lions.

Other less welcome arrivals were ~24 Canada Geese. I guess now that there are a few green shoots again; they are here to eat them. There is still a family of five, whose goslings were late to hatch, that looks like it hasn’t left yet.

I was busy with minor chores today, including the usual plus repairing the jetty fence twice, cleaning the camera, running the generator to bring the batteries back up and assessing generator use, de-salinator hours and various fuel quantities on hand for month end. I did make time to take a few photos and have included them in a gallery for your viewing pleasure.



Spot the Northern Elephant Seal amongst the Northern Sea Lions?

Spot the Northern Elephant Seal amongst the Northern Sea Lions?


Cool and Wet

The cool, wet weather these last couple of days at Race Rocks was a long time coming and the ceiling is still thick enough so that peak solar radiation levels are about half the norm for this month. The little bit of soil is sucking up the moisture and there is already some visible return of green, a colour almost defeated by the drought. The wind didn’t do much until late afternoon today and there was no wind most of the morning. By early afternoon it was up to 10 knots southeast, only to fall off again as it swung to a feeble southwest in the evening. The barometer continues to crawl out of the hole created by Saturday’s storm and it is almost back up to 1010hPa. From the forecast, it looks like periods of rain will continue as the cold front moves southward over the next few days and then we will be back into the summer pattern of westerly winds and possibly sunshine, if not fog.

There was quite a bit of whale watching activity in the area today. There were 18 visits made by commercial boats operating inside the Ecological Reserve and more outside. All but two vessels abided by the rules, taking it slow, being respectful and courteous to each other and mindful of the large concentration of animals in this protected area. From the radio chat and observations, I was able to ascertain that there were both Biggs’ and Southern Resident Killer Whales in the vicinity. Both pods passed just outside the reserve heading west about a half mile to the south. There was also a humpback feeding just east towards Victoria.

One, large, whale watching speeder may have taken his cue from the only “sports”-fishing boat that came into the reserve today. A Grady-White-type boat with halibut gear, came inside behind a line-up of whale watchers and then roared off from inside Middle Channel as if his urgency trumped the wildlife values in this congested area. Later one of the well respected companies had a large vessel observed taking off at speed after a visit to the sea lions, closer than 100m. I hope the animals in the water were able to get out of his way.

There were a number of sea lions with major wounds noted today and I will try to photo-document them on a drier day. Of note were fresh, severe gashes on at least three Steller Sea Lions and what appeared to be propeller marks on two Californians. Most of the sea lions spend their time sleeping when they are not off foraging or tussling with each other. The Californians that are awake though, are always barking.

I tried to document three branded California Sea Lions today but only succeeded in recording one full number without question, # 8228 on the left side. I got one partial # U_05 on the rump and another partial #U14__. I didn’t see any branded Steller’s yet.

The pre-summer cast of avian characters, is back and it is really a privilege to be here again to witness Race Rocks as the change to autumn happens. I saw at least 95 Black Turnstones busy foraging all over the island today. They roost together on the south shore in the evening, making it easier to get a good count . They are back from a summer away at nesting sites along the western Alaskan shores of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. Cormorants probably didn’t go far but the Double-Crested Cormorants I saw today definitely do not nest in the reserve.

Most of the Glaucous-winged Gull chicks have fledged and left the island but there are still a few slow pokes who are busy begging from worn-out looking parents for food. Amazingly some adults are feeding three big chicks that appear larger than the adult. There is evidence of fresh predation on these young gulls and River Otter is the prime suspect as it seems to be nocturnal or crepuscular activity and one of the remains was dragged right in to the otter den entranceway. As was noted last year, it appears that the head of the gull is enveloped in its neck skin as if the skin was torn and pulled up like a turtle-necked sweater coming off inside out.

A newly fledged Glaucous-winged Gull with handsome new feathers.

A newly fledged Glaucous-winged Gull still not confident enough to fly away on a new adventure.

The Northern Elephant Seals surprised me. I knew there was one here on the marine railway ramp on Great Race because Guy and Christine had mentioned it and it hauled out just before they left yesterday. It is a really well fed young one, completely plumped out since I last saw them after their horrendous moulting fasts of the late spring. Another five Northern Elephant Seals are visible with the scope from the top of the tower, on Middle Rocks amidst the sea lions. Of the five, one appeared to be very small, perhaps young of the year and the other four were larger juveniles perhaps including a small adult female. I will try to get a better handle on this in the days to come.

There were no visitors today as I got back into routine chores and was constantly reminded of the incredible natural setting that makes this place so special.

Christine and Guy end the summer term at Race Rocks

Our thanks to Christine and Guy Ouradou for serving as Ecoguardians at Race Rocks Ecological Reserve through July and August.  They have worked at many aspects of keeping the island system up and running and leading on maintenance  and repairs. We would like to send a few of their favourite barking sea lions with them as they leave for home in France, but luggage restrictions are getting tough these days.



Problems with some links on the website

On Aug 29 we are having problems with the website.. currently only parts of it will work… come back again in a few hours.–8:00 PM -still working on it—-

Aug 30 UPDATE: The service provider has updated the database and has unfortunately made it so that I have to remove wp/ from every picture,page and post link.. this may take some time to work down through the various levels of the website, so thanks for your patience.

Aug 31 update:  Most of the links are working right now after I finally got a support person of the service provider who figured it out.


Families of past lightkeepers visit Race Rocks

Courtney providing the transportation, along with Garry Fletcher took two sets of  lighthouse keeper’s family members,  the Robert Lundy Family and a branch of the (first lighkeeper) George N.Davies family for a pre-arranged visit to Race Rocks today. They left archival documents and photos  and are sending more to add to the web pages;

A new yellow railing


The 21st has been a beautiful and perfect sunny day. We got many watchers coming to see the place and entertained by the sea lion’s show on the rocks. That day was dedicated to the repainting of the yellow railing on the jetty. It took the 4 of us 5 hours of work but the result was stunning. We were happy! Guy folded for good the blue hose and did some fiberglass work on the Whaler. The jetty area where we spent the day was pretty stinky and noisy, our dear neighbors being so closed even some staying at the end of the jetty. They get used to us but I am not sure if we got used to them!  2 boats with fishing gear in the water came close today. One of them understood quickly that he could stay and left …