Christmas Bird Count at Race Rocks- Dec 28, 2017

This year is our 20th year in assisting the local birders with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory in doing a count at Race Rocks. Given the time of year this has to occur, it is often thwarted by bad weather, but in the past counts, some very interesting species and population numbers have shown up.  See this index of past years Bird Counts.

Kim Beardmore same along to record the birds for the 2017 Christmas bird count. Here Kim on the left and the Ecoguardian Mikey Muscat check on one of the 5 male elephant seals.

Although we went to count birds, I found that the most impressive thing was that there were 5 large male elephant seals on the island and two juvenile females. When compared with other years this was quite unusual, and it could be interesting when the females come back in January to have pups. I predict there will be a lot of male aggression going on in mid-January.

These four species other than several gull species and bald eagles were part of the count  which we will add below .

Other observations around the island:

Romanzoffia tracyi

I took advantage of the few hours there to check on other aspects of the island from the ecological reserve warden point of view.  Especially noticeable this year were the massive fields of mud over most parts of the island where the california sea lions hauled out over the past few months. I was concerned about the erosion and rock disturbance that this has caused.   Most of the plants in many parts of the island have been obliterated. I did however find this one healthy patch of Romanzoffia tracyi behind the boathouse. Protected because of its location among  the rocks. I checked some of the other known locations of this rare plant but didn’t see any.

Black oystercatcher midden


One feature that was very evident with the lack of vegetation was the extensive beds of chiton shells which are evidence of black oystercatcher middens from last season.




Two immature or juvenile female elephant seals were on the island, one tagged C887

The five males:

I have been watching the vegetation cover made up of the introduced species of Sedum or stonecrop which was on the top of the reservoir.. In my September photo the bed was quite dried and cracked. Now it  has partially recovered.. This is one place the sealions seem to avoid.


Because Pearson College could not provide boat transportation this year, and because I was determined to continue the 20 year tradition of this valuable baseline collection of bird population data, we rented a boat from Pedder Bay marina for the trip to Race Rocks.  A list of the birds observed by Kim Beardmore is  attached here.


Race Rocks,
Dec 28, 2017 9:05 AM – 11:37 AM
Protocol: Traveling
7.5 kilometer(s)
Comments:     CBC, Race Rocks
16 species (+1 other taxa)Harlequin Duck  10  (North and west Race Rocks)
Surf Scoter  55  (outer pedder bay)
Red-breasted Merganser  18 (mostly outer Pedder bay)
Common Loon  2
Horned Grebe  1
Brandt’s Cormorant  14
Pelagic Cormorant  18
Double-crested Cormorant  10
Bald Eagle  4
Black Oystercatcher  42
Black Turnstone  59
Common Murre  1  ( in outer Pedder bay)
Pigeon Guillemot  10
Mew Gull  14
Iceland Gull (Thayer’s)  8
Glaucous-winged Gull  69
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid)  2

Very low tides and getting ready for the invasion


Every days are a little bit the same; on Monday the 15th ,we had 20 knots at 5:00AM with a visibility over 15 miles and a choppy sea and this stayed the same to late in the afternoon where we got 33 knots and later around 30 to midnight. On Tuesday it was foggy almost all the morning,17knots at 5:00 AM, with a good visibility to 6:30AM; Air temperature 14 degrees Celsius and water around 13. Barometric pressure:101.8KPA

Ecological news

Nothing really new except that we found 2more chicken bodies for a total of 15. No elephant seals around. With those very low tides it is very interesting to discover the treasures of theDSC_0261 intertidal zone .DSC_0210DSC_0262DSC_0248DSC_0263DSC_0267


Guy chopped more wood ,pile almost gone. The wheelbarrow is …dead at least the wheel. The electrical fence on the jetty is settled.We will see its efficiency . This year no line on boat side ,it’s too risky for us.DSC_0299


No visitor but Kyle went around with a group of marine biologists.(meeting this week at the college)


Plane above.Watchers in the morning mainly

Strong Westerlies

It was a westerly kind of a day, gusting 25 – 30 knots all morning under partially clear skies. In the afternoon gusts were stronger, churning the sea into a white froth. The wind speed dropped to 20 knots in the evening and was closer to 15 by the time the sun went down. Although the fog was threatening early, it stayed off to the west and the haze that has hanging around was cleared by the wind and replaced with building clouds. The strong wind warning continues and the forecast for Monday is mainly cloudy. The barometer continues its step-wise descent.

In spite of blustery conditions and because of all the marine mammal action there were 18 visits observed by commercial tour operators today. Whale watching was good in the area today and the sea lost some salt to exhilarated looking tourists who had their hoods on and exposure suits battened down in the smaller open boats. No other vessels were observed in reserve.

It was another exciting day on the mammal front with Humpbacks all around, Killer Whales in Race Passage, an increased number of sea lions and return of at least one elephant seal to Great Race Island. Salmon continue to be an important part of gull diet in the area and that is mostly due to scavenging off kills by sea lions.

One of the California sea lions that hauled out with a big new flasher last week, has managed to get rid of it. I am not sure if the hook is inside but today he just had a little broken piece of the flasher hanging out of his mouth when I went to do the seawater sampling and when I came back it was lying on the walkway with its bead chain still looking shiny. There are several ‘necklaced’ sea lions here right now. They all seem to have white plastic strapping around their necks and it looks deadly.

There are only a few Glaucous-winged Gulls left on Great Race and not many more that are still being fed by parents. I photographed one juvenile eat salmon caviar brought back and deposited with special serving and plating effects by its parent. Lots of people think that gull is just a four- letter word associated with human garbage and super abundant. Glaucous-winged Gulls are the only species (of ten species seen here) that actually nest in the Salish Sea and their numbers have been declining for a few years now. Known in birder code as GwGu this four letter word represents an important species in the local ecosystem that is a risk due to human activity. In many areas plastic pollution poses a serious threat to young gulls that do not know better than to eat it. From the evidence so far far at Race Rocks, GwGu have been fairly plastics-free. Lets keep it that way.

Although most of the bull kelp is still very strong and beautiful, many of the stipes have epiphytic green or red algae growing on them now as they start to senesce. Bull kelp is an annual species and it grows very fast during the spring and summer. Soon the storms will be dispersing these incredible carbon sinks and some will end up on the bottom entombed in mud. Sinking plankton takes the most carbon to the bottom, helping make the ocean the world’s biggest carbon sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Thank you ocean, for being such a complex regulator of climate.

Ashore, the Calendula is still blooming giving new meaning to the term perennial. This plant flowers all year round here, looking as fresh in September as it does in March. It closes up when it is cold and wilts in frost but survives as a remnant of a long-gone lighthouse keeper’s garden. Native to the Mediterranean, Calendula’s bright, cheery blooms are incredibly resilient and it is one of the few plants the Canada Geese don’t eat. Although it probably shouldn’t be flourishing in an Ecological Reserve here, I am glad it is here and it reminds me that people are part of the ecosystem.

Again chores were routine and there were no visitors.

Small Seal Hauls On Bull Kelp

The wind blew steadily 25 to 30 knots from the west today, all day. The morning was relatively calm on the lee side but by early evening it was really rough all around Race Rocks. Cloudy morning skies gave way to a sun-dominated mix, of sun and clouds in the afternoon. There was no precipitation in spite of the clouds. Remarkably, the total annual rainfall here to date is ~22 cm, not much. The barometer climbed back up to 1016 hPA., before starting another little slide. The forecast is calling for sunshine with increasing cloud and continuing strong westerlies.

No vessels were observed in the Ecological Reserve during the day today. One whale watching vessel was observed working in the Reserve just at sunset.

Ecological happenings are all in motion and continue on the path that has been described over the last few days. The bull kelp growth may be slowing as evidenced by some epiphytic growth showing on a very small percentage of the “plants”. These algae are super carbon fixers and not only crank out food, they also grow so thickly that they shelter the Sea Otter and today I saw a small Harbour Seal actually climbing out of the water onto the bull kelp. It is slippery stuff so I was surprised when I looked a few hours later: it was still there and had managed to dry off the upper part of its body while hauling on bull kelp.


Bull kelp is still actively growing.

Bull kelp is still actively growing.

I realized today that the Harbour Seals, of which there are a lot more (225 to 250) than Northern Elephant Seals (maximum count 35), may have had the short end of the stick when it comes to mentions in the Log entries. Maybe it is because the elephant seals are up close and personal and not bothered by our presence. Maybe it is because it has been such an priviledge to get to know the elephant seals and their diverse personalities and behaviours. The Harbour Seals are further away and hard to tell apart as individuals. An adult Bald Eagle was very interested in the Harbour Seals today and although it is early for inside waters, I thought that there might be some pupping activity soon.

Adult Bald Eagle on watch near hauled out Harbour Seals on Turbine Rock.

Adult Bald Eagle on watch near Harbour Seals  hauled out on Turbine Rock.

Chunk and Floyd often sleep together behind the science house. Floyd’s moult is more than two thirds done while Chunk has not even reached a third yet.

Chunk (closest) and Floyd stretched out behind the science house. Chunk is stretching his right fore flipper.

Chunk (closest) and Floyd stretched out behind the science house. Chunk is stretching his right fore flipper.

Chunk and Floyd also have their battles and tonight they chose to fight in amongst the nesting gulls, crushing at least one nest and killing an adult that was trying to defend its nest.

Chunk and Floyd go at each other in among the nesting gulls.

Chunk and Floyd go at each other in among the nesting gulls.

Gull versus adult bull elephant seal: seal 1; gull 0.

Gull versus adult bull elephant seal: seal 1; gull 0.

My favorite bird here continues to be the Black Oystercatcher, there is something about their very spartan nests and their willingness to take on adult Bald Eagles and Ravens that makes me cheer them on. Their looks are pretty great too. The newly hatched chicks are very precocious and can follow parental commands almost immediately. They are so good at remaining perfectly still when “told to” that they are almost impossible to see. Thank goodness for telephoto lenses. I will try to get a photo of the chicks from a distance tomorrow.

Black Oystercatchers are fiercely brave little birds and willing to chase off Ravens and even Bald Eagles. Their nests are entirely comfortless with only pebbles and shells for decoration.

Black Oystercatchers are fiercely brave little birds and willing to chase off Ravens and even Bald Eagles. Their nests are entirely comfortless with only pebbles and shells for decoration.

There were no visitors today and chores were routine as I wrap up the last few days of my shift.

April 10


Light airs from the southwest and a light overcast sky, dominated the first part of the day. At about 16:00, an abrupt directional switch to west by northwest saw winds rise to 20 to 30 knots within a few minutes. Those winds were accompanied by moderate rain and a darkened, overcast sky. The wind direction remained the same but velocity dropped to 5 – 10 knots after the storm passed through leaving sunshine and outrageous double rainbows in its wake. The barometer continued to fall slowly today and the forecast calls for west winds and a 40% chance of showers.

There were five whale-watching boats observed in the Ecological Reserve today all during the downpour. One sports fisher was observed speeding in the go-slow area.

A sea otter was spotted in the Ecological Reserve again today, after being either absent or well hidden for almost a month. Thanks go out to the operator of the Prince of Whales vessel in the area, for radioing the location and description to me.

On land, there are many flowers blooming on Great Race right now. Many of the flowers are heritage plants, part of the legacy left by light keepers from 155 years ago and on.


Flowers lined the original route to the tower and keeper's house.

Flowers lined the original route to the tower and keeper’s house.

More heritage flowers.

More heritage flowers.

An exception to the imported non-native plants, are the Mist Maidens blooming right now. There are several patches but the most vigorous one is in the scree above the Pigeon Guillemot nesting area, just uphill from the boat-house. Mist Maidens or Romanzoffia tracyi are considered to be a rare plant and I will take some photos to share with you tomorrow if the light is better.

A group of visitors were here today using the science house and Great Race for a retreat. Courtney brought them out on Second Nature and stayed to help trouble-shoot a few issues with the generator and aggressive geese. Alex left with Courtney in the afternoon.



Sedum anglicum, English Stonecrop–The Race Rocks Taxonomy


Sedum anglicum,(in bloom in July,) English Stonecrop– invasive at Race Rocks



Sedum anglicum, English Stonecrop all photos by Garry Fletcher

This plant was introduced to Race Rocks by Assistant keepers in the 1980s. From a small flower bed near the assistant’s house It has spread over much of the Great Race Rock Island. Since it is a member of the Crassulacea family, it uses the crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) method for fixation of

The crevices of the rock outcrops where native grasses grew are being invaded by this stonecrop.

The crevices of the rock outcrops where native grasses grew are being invaded by this stonecrop.

Carbon Dioxide for photosynthesis. Since it can fix Carbon into a chemical when stomata are open only when its cool at night, it is very resistant to drought, and can survive with very little soil.


The mat of green is a monoculture of Sedum anglicum, English Stonecrop growing on the concrete surface of the large gound-level cistern.

It is of course not the only introduced species on Race Rocks but since it is not grazed by anything, it is rapidly replacing the sparse growth of native species such as thrift  and grasses in the rock crevices.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
Order: Saxifragales
Family: Crassulaceae
Genus: Sedum
Species: S. anglicum
English Stonecrop
Other Angiosperms (flowering plants) at Race Rock

taxonomyiconReturn to the Race Rocks Taxonomy
and Image File
pearsonlogo2_f2The Race Rocks taxonomy is a collaborative venture originally started with the Biology and Environmental Systems students of Lester Pearson College UWC. It now also has contributions added by Faculty, Staff, Volunteers and Observers on the remote control webcams.


Romanzoffia tracyi : Mist maidens–The Race Rocks Taxonomy

Romanzoffia tracyi

Scientific classification
Family: Boraginaceae (Borage)
Subfamily: Hydrophylloideae (Waterleaf)
Genus: Romanzoffia
Species: R. tracyi (Jepson)
Common name: Tracy’s mistmaiden

General: Perennial herb from well-developed, brown-woolly basal tubers; stems several, ascending, long glandular-hairy, 2-12 cm tall [1].

Continue reading

Animal Census

Mostly clear skies. Strong West wind all day.

The flag was set at half-mast today to mark the national day of remembrance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  According to the Canadian War Museum, the capture of Vimy was more than just an important battlefield victory, it became a symbol for the sacrifice of the young Dominion. Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, “in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”


Animal Census

Steller Sea lion: 41
California Sea lion: 8
Harbour Seal: 153
Elephant Seal: 16!
Gulls: 301
Canada Geese: 20
Black Turnstone: 6
Harlequin Duck: 4
Oystercatcher: 8

Continue reading

Introduced Ornamentals

Light North wind this morning. Strong Westerlies this afternoon. Rain with periods of sun.

1 tour boat

This morning was the first time this Spring that there have been a few California Sea lions resting on the end of the jetty.

With Spring mostly here, many of the introduced ornamental plants are flowering. This isn’t a complete plant inventory, just a selection of plants that I noticed on my photo walk. The terrestrial plants at Race Rocks are dominated by introduced and invasive species. This is something that occurs at most light stations. There is a long history of trying to make the light stations look “like home”; Which is usually done by introducing hardy ornamental plants that can survive (although only a few thrive) on remote, salt and wind blasted light stations. Continue reading