Animal Census

Cloudy with scattered showers. Light to Moderate North-East wind. 1-2 ft East wind waves.

Animal Census
Stellar Sea lion: 28
California Sea lion:5
Harbour seal: 59
Elephant seal: 24
Gull: 224
Canada Goose:25
Pigeon Guillemot:126
Oyster catcher:12
Harlequin Duck:6
Black Turnstone:4
Snow Goose:1
Barn Swallow:4
Winter wren:1

An animal census is really an all-day event, one that involves a trip up the tower and a tour-de-rock. It is important to recognize that because of our methods, the animal census is usually under-counted because it is not possible to see any species that are on the far side of the islands.

I usually start by heading up the tower at a low tide with the spotting scope. From up there I can get a pretty good count of the Sea lions and Elephant seals. You can only count the Harbour seals at low tide since that’s when they are lying out on the rocks and reefs. I also count the Gulls and Cormorants from the tower, and use the scope to get anything I can from the outer rocks and reefs. From the tower you can get a general idea of what’s in the reserve, and where. After the tower I grab my camera and binoculars and walk the edge of Great Race. On the tour-de-rock I keep my eyes out for the shorebirds and songbirds, and any groups of mammals that might have been missed. This is also when I can check out whether there is more than one species of Gulls within the groups. Gulls are notoriously difficult to identify since some species interbreed and hybridize, and the juveniles have pretty subtle differences, which is why I usually just default to calling them “Gulls” unless there are some that I am certain I can identify. There are a lot of Pigeon Guillemots in the reserve right now and they are super hard to count because they are so busy; They are always coming and going, diving or taking off, and they shift between groups in the water an favourite spots on land. A lot of the shorebirds are really cryptic and hard to spot with their mottled colours among the rocks. It’s a good idea to do another tour-de-rock when the tide is higher because that is when the Shorebirds are easier to spot since they have to be up higher on the rocks and many of them come to Great Race from the outer islands. After that’s done, I tally my counts and post them in the log. When I’m trying to figure out what species I have I usually start by looking at the Race Rocks taxonomy page, and after that I check out field guides, both online and on my bookshelf.