Summer days


We have a really nice weather in this middle July weekend.Light west winds ,no fog, sea calm.


We found 3 dead birds (2 gulls ans 1 pigeon – Guillemot) and it looked like it was the result of the river otter ‘s work…Eagles are active and always ready perched on the adjacent Rocks but with so many birds they can’t be efficient…No geese anymore and the small seashore birds are gone too. The kelp is growing like crazy and Chris with 2nd nature had to cut it to give us a free passage DSC_0129DSC_0131


We had a contact with Amatuana going to Sooke on Thursday afternoon. On Friday we saw around the coast guard vessel and on Saturday a small fishing boat had some problems. It honked a few times and I realized that it was not a simple engine problem . At that moment the sea was like a mirror and no current (Slack time) .They were at around 200 meters from the jetty where I was drawing so I rushed to the house to inform Guy . As soon as possible  we put the boat out of the house and down in the railway but in the meantime a power boat arrived and a guy took the control and the two boats rushed to Pedder bay I guess. Half an hour later when I phoned to the marina they were not aware of a critical situation so I am still wondering what was exactly the matter.



Census Day


Elephant Seals: 5 ( on main )

Sea lions :0

Harbour Seals:104(same number than last week!)


Oystercatchers:3 couples +1 baby :7 ( maybe more )

Harlequin ducks:0

Eagles:1 (5 seen in the week)

Canada geese:0


Cormorants:0 (3 seen above this week)

Seashore birds:  -11 Western sandpipers or surfbirds

-1 Whimbrel

– Another specie :not very small black ones :2

On Sunday .The weather has been magnificent and hot with a light west wind. The seawater temperature got warmer than Yesterday.We got a few hours of fog last night with the horn on.

The rocks are not so busy those days …(no luck for the watchers).The kelp is growing like crazy. I found a fresh small herring on a solar panel! The eagle are pretty active in the morning.I saw for the first time this year some seashore birds and going for the water sampling from the jetty I quickly had a glimpse on one little oystercatcher,the one from “the”nest. It looks to me that we have only one baby.

Other: 2  planes above and a  kayak with 2 people went around the rocks at the end of the slag (beginning of the ebb tide :current :4 knots). No problem…

Maintenance : Another curtain for bedroom number 3 in the eco – guardians house, grass cut, solar panels done,water sample house cleaned.

Meeting with Peter Chandler : Exchange of instrument for Seawater sampling datas


Wind: At 5H00 coming from West 5 knots. Will be 15 to 25 knots late afternoon                  Sky: Cloudy; Visibility :!0 miles;Sea:calm and flat. After a pretty good day the sky clouded over and rains lashed against the windows


For the first time this year the eagles were steady around the Rocks today .We saw them 3 times and 2 at the same time once.So the gulls were pretty excited and maybe also because of the stormy and heavy weather. Yesterday for the census there were not so many pigeons-guillemots but today I could count at least 50 of them.Same thing for gulls Guy counted 120 gulls on North Rock in the evening

So we went to meet Peter Chandler from UVIC for an exchange of the instrument. We got exactly the same instrument but they need to be recalibrate once a year. Lately Peter found that the salinity record that we took were too high ( Probably because of the instrument).

He explained us that an important factor is if there is not enough wind for a season the water become saltier and the salt concentration stays on the surface.

Also actually the weather cycles are still there but we can’t predict them like we used to do it 40 years ago.

We spoke also about the amount of fish in an area :he explained that the phytoplankton grows better in the colder water so the fish follow .We could think because of the warming of the ocean that salmons have disappeared like in 1974 in the South of Vancouver Island but in fact they mainly have changed their migration path to get food and all the species  that get fed on them did too.

Race Rocks station is very important because of its unique situation not in a bay but in the open ocean with a lot of currents all the time . The datas we got (and have been for so many years) are really useful. They give informations that don’t concern a specific area only.


Marine Sciences Field Exam


  • Visibility: 15 miles
  • Wind: 5-10 knots West, in the evening up to 20.
  • Sky: clear
  • Water: calm


  • The 15 elephant seals were slower down to the water today, perhaps due to the influx of students.
  • One California Sea Lion spent most of the exam at the end of the jetty, unfazed by all the activity going on. Quite unusual for a sea lion!
  • All manner of barnacle, shell creatures, and algae plant things were examined today by the Pearson College students.


  • Approximately 30 folk from Pearson College made their way out to Race Rocks today.
  • This included Laura Verhegge who was running the Marine Sciences field exam, Johanna who was observing Pearson’s instruction techniques, one 2nd year student, one alumni, Chris, and 25 or so students.
  • The first group arrived at 8:15, the final group left at about 12:15.


  • Weed whacking.
  • Algicide application. Photo shows before scrubbing.
  • Safety observation and hosting of students during exam.
  • Ran the desalinator.

Algae before


  • The Ocean River Kayak Discovery Shuttle and Haiaku each took two trips of students to and from Race Rocks.
  • On the return voyage the tide was very low, and the sea lions were in the way, so the shuttle boat “docked” against the rocks on the NE part of Great Race.
  • At least 4 eco-tours came by the reserve today.
  • Saw a nice red sailed sailboat to the north of the reserve.
  • One boat spent much of the day fishing on the edge of the reserve.

After the Autumnal Equinox.

The day started clear with clouds distant, to the east. A steady north by northeast wind of between 5 and 10 knots seemed to gradually bring the clouds around but Race Rocks remained in the donut hole as it often does, with sun dominating until late afternoon. The barometer is holding steady, if averaged over the last two days at ~ 1014 hPA, but the tendency now, is falling again, at the end of the day. There was no colour for sunset as the clouds built and the forecast calls for showers for the next few days, with easterly winds turning to westerly and fog patches dissipating near noon tomorrow.

It was a quiet day on the whale-watching front with only four visits to Race Rocks Ecological Reserve by commercial operators. There was an equal number of “pleasure” craft but they were not all as well behaved, with one of the Pedder Bay Marina rentals fishing in reserve. The marina is now able to track their rentals using GPS. They are really good about contacting their renters, when called and persuading them to move out of the Rockfish Conservation Area which is closed to sports fishing, for finfish in the Ecological Reserve.

There were repeated explosions across the way. A good ending for explosives I suppose, if you consider the alternatives. It seems to make the sea lions jittery and by that I mean more likely to stampede and go into the water. The Stellers seem more sensitive to disturbance in general.

Ecologically, the sea lion moult continues, elephant seals are trying to get up onto Great Race but there are a lot of sea lions in the way. Northern Elephant Seal # 5850 was back again this morning but didn’t make it up the ramp due to sea lion congestion. Later I saw him doing the ‘wave’ up the rocks in front of the Science House. Another individual seal joined the sea lion mosh pit east of the Eco-guardian’s House and others still hold their own on the top of Middle Rocks completely surrounded and outnumbered by Stellers Sea Lions but not bothered. The Sea Otter has been absent for a couple of days.

Bull kelp stipes are becoming more and more covered with epiphytes and their blades are loaded with spore patches increasing chances of a good settlement for the next generation. Cross jellies and barnacle moults continue to dominate the large zooplankton visible to the naked eye and the phytoplankton bloom has cleared which probably means either a crash or more likely lots of grazers like copepods and euphausids (aka krill). What ever cleared the phytoplankton certainly improved visibility into the water considerably. It is pretty cool to watch the big Steller’s Sea Lions ghosting through the kelp forest.

Black Oystercatchers are back, congregating on Great Race after an absence. More gulls and cormorants arrive in the area daily. There continues to be large, mixed-species feeding flocks including gulls and divers and multi-species gull feeding flocks associated with sea lion salmon kills. Salmon and halibut continue to swim past and around Race Rocks as evidence by the predators in the area, including human fishers talking about their catches on the radio. The Canada Geese are attempting a come back and it is difficult to keep them off as they just sit on the water waiting for the coast to clear. Every night the Killdeer return to Great Race as night falls.

Sea Lion brand and entanglement photography continues as do the daily chores to keep this place running sustainably. There were no visitors today.




Troglodytes Return to the Rock

The mostly overcast sky of early morning gave way to sunshine and clear skies for a beautiful transition day from summer to fall. The wind didn’t do much all day. The barometer rose to over 1016 hPa continuing yesterday’s rise but has now faltered and is starting to drop again. Forecasters are calling for winds to continue from the west tomorrow and then switch to east with increasing cloudiness, showers and dropping temperatures as the week progresses.

There were Humpback Whales just south and then east of Race Rocks most of the day. Some of the whale watching fleet visited them and the Ecological Reserve. A total of 15 visits were observed by commercial operators today and there may have been more mid-day when I went ashore briefly. By evening, there were four Humpbacks in the same area.

Ecologically, a change of season continues to be in the air. Flocks of Surf Scoters are passing through Race Rocks heading east. Cormorants are amassing in roosting areas on North Rocks, South Islands and Great Race and all three species are using the reserve to roost. More gulls arrive daily and huge multi-species feeding flocks are forming in conjunction with forage fish being driven up by diving birds like cormorants, Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres. These two species of alcids are often diving just outside Race Rocks but this morning on slack tide I saw a string of Common Murres in reserve, on the water. The adult males still have chicks with them.

There are also multi-species gull feeding flocks associated with sea lions’ salmon kills as observed earlier in the season. This morning I watched a California Sea Lion thrash what looked like a coho at the surface and then swallow it, head first, using a little air-born, porpoise-like action to get the tail down the gullet.

The bull kelp seems to still be growing and the beds are much more extensive than I remember them being this time last year. There is always lots of inter-annual variability in kelp cover as many factors affect its productivity and biomass including seawater temperature and salinity, light levels, nutrients like nitrogen, storm action and of course grazing. In the reserve, sea urchins and abalone are important grazers of kelp and they are also on the top of the menu when it comes to favorite food items for Sea Otters.

On land, Dark Eyed Juncos are flitting about with Fox Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows. There is a also a visitor back, that I haven’t seen here since last year. A small, but powerful presence in the form of one of my favourite little birds, a Pacific Wren has taken up cave-like residence in the old stone wall under the tower and can be seen going from cave to cave in the wall.

Other than the constantly changing and incredible natural scene outside, work was routine and there were no visitors today.


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.

Chunk ‘nd the Trunk

It was a glorious day at Race Rocks with westerly winds continuing from yesterday but with more moderate speeds of 15 – 25 knots and even lighter winds of 10 – 15 early in the morning. The sky was clear above although there was a ‘marine haze’, which reduced visibility early to less than ten nautical miles. As the winds picked up so did air quality leading one to wonder if the ‘marine air’ actually has an onshore and anthropogenic source.  Solar radiation intensity was high today peaking at over 900 W/m2. It is 19:00 hours as I write this, with more sunshine to come and the accumulated solar radiation for the day is already close to 700 Langleys. The forecast includes a westerly gale warning for tomorrow afternoon and evening with clear skies and a high UV index of seven.

Only one whale watching boat (from Sooke) was observed in the Ecological Reserve today.

There were more large and startling (at least to me)  explosions today, which did not result in even a visible flinch by the Northern Elephant Seals. The Harbour Seals got into the water and were looking around at the surface and the Pigeon Guillemots flew but quickly returned and recovered. Two vessels with containment booms, one travelling at a fairly urgent-looking speed towing some of the booms were observed in the vicinity of Race Passage today. It may have just been an exercise, as they didn’t stay long.

Ecologically, things are continuing to grow at a tremendous rate as spring accelerates for the shift into summer, in less than two weeks. The goslings have graduated from short paddles to longer endurance swims crossing Middle Channel. Their grazing pressure on the island continues but doesn’t seem to exceed the productivity of the grasses that they graze on.

In the water, the productivity of Bull Kelp or Nereocystis lutkeana continues unabated and large, well formed kelp beds fringe all of the islets and reefs, producing tremendous amounts of food for a broad array of direct grazers and both peripheral and out-lying detritovores that eat the sloughing bits and pieces that drift down from the canopy and out of the kelp beds.

We are supposed to stay on the walkways when moving around the island. Not always possible when there are traffic jams like this one in this morning's commute.

We are supposed to stay on the walkways when moving around the island. Not always possible when there are traffic jams like this one in this morning’s commute.

The Northern Elephant Seals spend time in the water draped in the kelp and playing with it with their mouths. What is not clear is whether this is intentional or just there (in the way). The big males are taking several swims a day right now thanks to the marine railway, which makes access so much easier for them. Chunk’s moult is just visibly starting today, on his nose and just below his mouth and on what would be a chin if he had one. Floyd’s moult is progressing visibly as wound sites and patches where he can scratch are coming off. There were some interactions between the two big guys today but hostilities were averted through strategic maneuvering by Floyd, basically avoidance behavior. Above, he is making a slow get-away which of course requires a tremendous amount of energy and much resting.


Chunk stretched out, having a nap. His large proboscis is prominent and the scars that run along his back are just visible.

Chunk stretched out, having a nap. His large proboscis is prominent and the scars that run along his back are just visible.

More gulls are sitting on eggs each day and their nests are beautifully made by pulling up grass by the roots and carefully packing it into just the right shape by pushing down with their sternums, tails in the air. Level is of course important. All of the nests observed today had three eggs.


There were no visitors today and chores were routine.

Great Tide at Great Race.

Fog in the morning, fog in the evening, sunshine in the afternoon: this is the weather pattern right now. Strong westerly winds from 20 to 33 knots blow all day and all night. It is really all about equilibrium with that huge mass of cold Pacific water and cool air temperatures rushing in to cool a rapidly warming ‘interior’. Yesterday afternoon there was a ten-degree air temperature difference between here (in fog and wind) and the Victoria airport (in brilliant sunshine). Off in the far distance to the east, thunderheads are visibly forming as that warm air rises and takes moisture with it.

Today, as yesterday, the barometer climbed until about noon and then fell by about the same amount, ending up at ~ 1014 hPa., in the late afternoon. The forecast is for continued strong wind warnings and patches of fog.

There were no vessels observed in the Ecological Reserve today.

Excellent daytime low tides continue and a few more species of algae have been added to my list. Pleurophycus gardneri, the broad-ribbed kelp was growing at 0.2m as was Saccharina groenlandica, the split kelp, which used to be known as a Laminaria. A couple of reds included Endocladia muricata, an important species used as settling substrate for California Mussels and a branching coralline species in a tidal pool, possibly Corallina vancouverensis (jury still out on that id).

Lam groenPleurophycus

corallinaclimbing pup

On the elephant seal front, the small, tagged male 9807, decided to climb up a very steep hill and he had quite a time getting back down. Rock climbing is just not an strong point for elephant seals. It probably seemed like a good idea to go up in order to get away from the boisterous larger males but coming down a different and much more difficult route, he looked a little worried and wane, with his big eyes and his baggy skin.

Ten students, two teachers and a small child came out for an advisee group retreat overnight and they are well ensconced in the science house.

Chores and maintenance were routine today.