Sea Spray and Flying Foam

Update at 17:40

Since writing the log the wind turned to west, southwest and came up even stronger. We have sustained gusts up to 62.7 knots. Seas are coming over the helipad and the tank-shed and boat shed roofs are being stripped off and are flying past the house. Yikes.

Sustained east, southeast winds of 30 to 40 knots, gusting to over 50, pushed seas up into breaking whitecaps this morning. Large breakers rolled down the jetty and rose up around the derrick base making seawater sampling impossible. Under heavy skies, waves crashed against the eastern face of Great Race and flying sheets of salt spray dominated the small landscape here. There was even a pocket of sea foam building up on the boulder beach and foam was flying right across the island.

Barometric pressure dropped overnight and kept going down in the morning, reaching 982 HPa by early afternoon. The highest gusts were observed late morning 53.4 knots on the Lighthouse system which we can monitor in the kitchen. Gale warnings continue and the forecast is calling for a turn to strong westerlies in the afternoon, diminishing to southwest 15 to 20 overnight. As this log is posted at ~15:00, there is no sign of it letting up and the rain has started.

It was not a day for small vessels to be out and none were seen. Pan pans on the VHF radio included an overturned Junior Flyer with a father and son (a child), clinging to the hull of the overturned vessel. Their call originated in Puget Sound and the US Coast Guard rescued them. What was that man thinking?

There is obviously a great deal of mixing going on in the sea, with all the wind and wave energy churning things. That means spring phytoplankton blooms are still some time away and early herring spawns may produce larvae that go hungry. Stratification (stable layering of the water) becomes possible when less dense surface waters (warmer, less salty, or both), float on top of denser seawater (saltier, colder or both). That layering in surface waters gives some stability for growth of photosynthetic plankton that drive the food chain and rely on light. Light levels are returning, there are lots of nutrients, so as soon as it calms down for a while there should be a plankton ‘bloom’.

On the bottom, microscopic Bull Kelp ‘plants’ are starting to grow now. They will be full size by July after phenomenal  growth fuelled by sunlight and nutrients. A few ‘old growth’ Bull Kelp were visible today, silhouetted through the waves on breaking reefs; for brief seconds as the waves crested, they stretched out fully vertical. Bull Kelp clings with tenuous holdfasts anchored through storms and calm. They are considered to be an annual species and don’t generally last much more than a year so the ones still here are very hardy.

The wild goose chase continued today as if the weather wasn’t enough to ward them off. It was too windy for the eagles and the gulls were hunkered down in nooks and hollows head into the wind in order to stand their ground against the wind. A few of the larger sea lions managed to haul out mid day. It looked too difficult (and dangerous) for the smaller animals that were seen cavorting in the waves. Again there was no sign of seals or guillemots.

Landing would have been impossible today. Even at low tide, big breakers were sweeping the jetty. Chores were routine as wind and spray permitted.

Like the farm of the same name 'Wind Whipped'.

Like the farm of the same name ‘Wind Whipped’.




Wild Easterlies

The ferocity of 40-knot easterly winds and heavy seas made for a spectacular storm day. The barometer, deflected by a big low-pressure system (965 hPa) passing by offshore, started to drop at about 08:00 this morning from the overnight high of 1008. As this piece was posted at 17:00, the pressure is 994 hPa and still falling.

A gale warning is in effect and the Environment Canada marine forecast calls for winds to veer to the south 25 to 35 tonight. The wind is supposed to drop to southwest 15 to 25 knots by Thursday morning and to light by evening. Although there was a brief period without rain in the morning, sea spray and rain mixed in the afternoon. Rain is forecast on and off for the rest of the week.

Not surprising, there were no vessels seen in or around the Ecological Reserve today. The neighbourhood explosions continued mid-day and I did not envy those standing by in the two little boats, on watch, as the winds and sea rose.

Ecologically, it almost feels like a step back into winter except for warm temperatures and longer days. The flowers are taking a beating and facing west away from the wind. Even the sea lions retreated to the sea and the young ones spent the day surfing and catching airtime. Some gulls seemed to savour the chance interact with high winds, doing skilled flying with high speed turns and tucks, while others hunkered down, facing into the wind and occasionally blown off their roosts. Geese were easily persuaded to flock off early.

Ocean surface temperature dropped from the last few days’ readings, by 0.1 degrees to 8.9o C. The mixing caused by the storm was palpable as large breakers’ tops blew off and the circular motion of the waves was exaggerated by opposing tidal currents.

There were no visitors and chores were routine. Photos were only taken through the window to save the camera from salt spray.

This photo doesn't really capture the mighty waves, but it gives you an idea.

This photo doesn’t really capture the mighty waves, but it gives you an idea.


Rissa tridactyla: Black legged kittiwake

PB-Black-legged -Kittiwake2

Black-legged -Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla In the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve

We received an e-mail today from Pam Birley of Leicester England with the photos of this Kittiwake she had taken using the remote controlled camera 5. This is a new photo record for Race Rocks Ecological Reserve.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae
Genus: Rissa (Stephens, 1826)
Species: tridactyla
Rissa tridactyla
Other Members of the Class Aves at Race Rocks.

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.


New Eco-guardians.

Sea lions visit Pearson College Divers Photo by Jasper Rea.

Sea lions visit Pearson College Divers Photo by Jasper Rea.

It was a beautiful day at Race Rocks, with light southeast winds and a mostly clear sky. The barometer fell a little today to ~1013hPA and the forecast for tomorrow is for sunny skies. There is a strong wind warning in effect for overnight with diminishing southeast winds Friday. Rain is forecast for Saturday.

Only four whale-watching vessels were noted in the protected area today and three pleasure craft passed through going slowly. The people on one of those vessels, the Kaos were observed feeding rockfish to sea lions in the Ecological Reserve. It is illegal to feed wildlife and if it happens they will be reported.

Today was animal census day and here are the results.

Animal Census

Steller Sea Lion 321

California Sea Lion 637

Harbour Seal 77

Northern Elephant Seal 9

Sea Otter 0

Humpback Whale (1 observed within one mile of ER southeast of

Great Race)

Canada Goose 23

Harlequin Duck 5

Surf Scoters 11 (flying through to east)

Common Murre 5

Rhinoceros Auklet 4

Double-crested Cormorant 73

Brandt’s Cormorants 25

Pelagic Cormorant 9

Unidentified Cormorants 20

Bald Eagle 1 adult

Black Oystercatcher 11

Black Turnstone 7

Kildeer 2

Glaucous-winged Gull 248

California Gull 3

Thayer’s Gulls 707

Herring Gull 0

Ring-billed Gull 1

Western Gull 2

Heerman’s Gull 14

Mew Gull 0

Unidentified gulls 53

Total gull count 1028

Common Raven 2

Red-winged Blackbird 7 (during count week)

Savannah Sparrow 12

Song Sparrow 2

American Goldfinch 1

American Pipet 1

Don and Nina, the new eco-guardians in-training arrived today. They worked hard all day, after getting up very early to catch the morning slack and are progressing really well in learning some of the idiosyncrasies of Race Rocks operations.

Twofold Foggy: Friday – Saturday

Friday started with fog again and light southeast winds, from 5 to 10 knots. By late morning there were glimmers of clearing and by mid-day the sun was shining. The wind stayed calm and it stayed fairly clear, with clouds rolling by as the wind turned to west, in the late afternoon. By evening it was still and the sky mostly clear but that must have changed as the was fresh rainwater in the morning. The barometer bottomed out Friday morning at 1007 hPA before rising briefly. It started to drop again mid-day falling until mid-Saturday. The gale warning for Saturday, came true after another very foggy morning and light easterly winds. The turn to westerly was rapid, the fog was blown off and ominous clouds with a black line on the water to the west, foretold of what was to come. It blew up fast, reaching 40 knots and then settled back down to the up and down of 20 – 35 knots. There is gale warning is still in effect and the wind is forecast to lighten overnight, then become easterly 5 to 15 near noon Sunday. (I am collecting rainwater for laundry, bonus.)

Only two whale watching vessels were observed in the protected area Friday. Two sports fishing vessels also passed through. Saturday was a little busier with five whale watching vessels noted in reserve but there were no pleasure craft, they were probably seeking shelter. It is quite possible that I missed traffic both days due to thick fog reducing visibility.

Thursday was too foggy to do the animal census so it is cobbled together from the brief time slots when visibility permitted on Friday. It is interesting to note that the gull population plummeted after the arrival of the first Bald Eagle to be seen here, since I arrived at the end of August. Not sure if that is coincidental or not.

I only noticed the eagle because of the hundreds and hundreds of gulls moving en masse, from North Rock over to Great Race. When I peeked through the spotting scope, all the cormorants were in the water, the gulls were gone and there sat an adult Bald Eagle. Only the Harbour Seals seemed to ignore its presence.

There was no sign of the eagle today and the gull numbers are perhaps even lower. Glaucous-winged juveniles and adults continue to mill around summer territories. Some young ones are still practising picking things up, flying up and dropping them. Most of the adults are fully into their alternate plumage now. Their faces recovering from the physical aspects of feeding young.

The sea lions are spending more time in the water now that their favourite haul-out spots are worse than pig pens. Some of them have turned to rock climbing and I saw the first scouts up on the heli-pad today.

Animal Census

Steller Sea Lion 317

California Sea Lion 428

Harbour Seal             156

Northern Elephant Seal 6

Sea Otter 1

Southern Resident Killer Whale ( observed within one mile of ER during count week, (Race Passage, east, west and south of RR)

Biggs Killer Whale (Transients) ( during count week Race Passage & southwest)

Humpback Whale 2 (1 observed within ER west side during count week)

Minke Whale 1 ( observed within one mile of ER during count week just east of North Rock)

Canada Goose 4

Harlequin Duck 7

Surf Scoters 73 (flying through to east)

Double-crested Cormorant 35

Brandt’s Cormorants 29

Pelagic Cormorant 9

Bald Eagle 1 adult

Black Oystercatcher 23

Black Turnstone 6

Kildeer 2

Glaucous-winged Gull 258

California Gull 41

Thayer’s Gulls 874

Herring Gull 0

Ring-billed Gull 0

Western Gull 2

Heerman’s Gull 20

Mew Gull 18

Unidentified gulls 361

Total gull count 1574

Common Raven 2

Savannah Sparrow 19

Fox Sparrow 1

Junco 1

Golden-crown Kinglet 1

American Pipet 1


Starting the countdown on my last week on the rock for this shift. I may be back for a bit at the end of October, if extra training is needed for the new folks.

Drizzle, Fog and Steaming Sea Lions

It was a wet, drizzly, foggy day at Race Rocks but very calm. For most of the morning, the wind varied little from  east northeast at less than 5 knots. It only picked up to 10 – 15 knots as it swung around to north northeast in the evening. The forecast for Thursday is similar and while winds are expected to rise to 25- 35 knots southeast on Friday. Periods of rain, cloud and showers are on the horizon in spite of the barometer rising (overall trend) since late Monday.

It was a quiet day on the vessel observation front and only three whale watching vessels were noted in reserve. One ‘sports’ fishing vessel came through at very low speed, well positioned away from the animals.

There was some cetacean activity noted during the day as visibility increased to over 5 nautical miles. This included two Humpback Whales feeding near Rosedale Reef just outside reserve to the south, a Minke Whale just east of North Rock and Dall’s Porpoise to the southwest.

On Great Race, the Sea Lions were steaming today as air temperature hovered around 12 degrees C. and the cooling rain was evaporated off. Part of their haul-out at this time of year is a physiological need to warm their skin during the moulting process, thus the tidy rows of animals pressed against each other and the piling on top of each other to share their body heat. Some California Sea Lions have taken to rock climbing these last few days. They are well established above the boathouse now and at the base of the cliff under camera 5, so the logical (to them) extension was to move further up and there were three of them up by the helicopter pad today. I suspect that they will really like the heli-pad, if they make it that far.

There were six Northern Elephant Seals hanging out in the water around the jetty today.

Adult Glaucous-winged Gulls and this years young, continue to frequent their nesting territories much to my surprise. I have seen them chase off Thayers Gulls. The “visiting” gulls roost in peripheral areas away from the nest sites. A family of four Canada Geese continue to make the island their home.

Chores were as usual and there were no visitors.

Gathering of the Gulls

Today started fairly clear, then clouded over. In the afternoon it was sunny for a few hours and eventually the sky darkened and at dusk the rain started. The barometer rose to almost 1019 hPA mid-day and then fell. The forecast is for clearing and light east winds with sunshine on the horizon.

Twelve commercial whale-watching vessels were observed working in the Ecological Reserve. They were in the area watching a Humpback feeding very close to the western reserve boundary, transient orcas to the southwest and southern resident killer whales to the northeast.

Today was census day due to thick fog yesterday.

Animal Census

Steller Sea Lion 338

California Sea Lion 908

Harbour Seal             178

Northern Elephant Seal 5

Sea Otter 1

Southern Resident Killer Whale (26 observed within one mile of ER during count week, (Race Passage, east, west and south of RR)

Biggs Killer Whale (Transients) (9 during count week Race Passage & southwest)

Humpback Whale (3 observed within one mile of ER during count week)

Minke Whale (1 observed within one mile of ER during count week just east of North Rock)

Canada Goose 20 attempting to be full time

Harlequin Duck 5

Surf Scoters 30 (flying through to east)

Double-crested Cormorant 12

Brandt’s Cormorants 27

Pelagic Cormorant 5

Black Oystercatcher 5

Black Turnstone 7

Surfbirds 13

Kildeer 2

Total gull count 2469

Estimated numbers

Glaucous-winged Gull 350

California Gull 50

Thayer’s Gulls 1500

Herring Gull 1

Ring-billed Gull 1

Western Gull 1

Heerman’s Gull 15

Mew Gull 20

~531 unidentified gulls

Common Raven 2

Savannah Sparrow 10

Fox Sparrow 2

Song Sparrow 2

Junco 3

Pacific Wren 1


Other chores were routine. There were no visitors.


Sisyphian Struggles with Sea Lions

It was another beautiful day at Race Rocks with light north-westerlies turning to west and the barometer climbing considerably higher than it has in a week. The forecast is for more of the same with light winds – easterly in the morning then switching to west.

A few commercial operators were working in the Ecological Reserve today including one boat that calls itself a party boat. It came in fast and then went back and forth through Middle Channel seven or eight times before leaving. They also sat right in the middle of the current running against it but staying stationary for long periods of time. Strange but true.

The usual Saturday morning dive charter was here with divers in the water right in front of the sea lion haul-out on north Great Race, also as usual. Total, there were five tourism vessels working in the protected area, including three whale watching vessels. Only a few pleasure craft went through today. Most of them slowed and followed the rules. The exception was a rental boat that went through the reserve at high speed, stopped, changed direction and then roared off at full throttle right through an area with lots of animals in the water.

The ecological trends described in the Log during the last week continue as do the difficulties of identifying gulls, especially large numbers of multiple species, with different ages and stages of plumage all stirred up with hybridization and lots of exceptions to the rules. Yes folks, gull is officially a four-letter word and the jury is still out on some identifications.

The sea lions continue to haul out and it seems that there are more Stellers Sea Lions hauling in the last few days, especially on Middle Rocks. Perhaps they are relaxed enough to haul out, after a day or two without explosions across the way. The extra sea lions on Middle Rocks may be why four young Northern Elephant Seals showed up at Great Race today; #5850 and three companions, all about the same size or smaller, two males and a female (the smallest).

Chores consisted of fighting entropy, not unlike Sisyphus, with similar results. There were no visitors.



Killdeer Calling in Daylight

The sun set behind Makah and Clallam territory on the American side of the Strait tonight meaning that autumn is the new reality. What a glorious end to a day that just kept improving. Serious clouds followed earlier heavy fog and the threat of rain was kept at bay by light and variable winds, most of the day. The wind finally turned to west 15 – 20 and the sky cleared. The barometer stayed above 1015 all day and the tendency now is rising, which bodes well for tomorrow. The forecast is calling for some clouds and a 30% chance of showers tomorrow followed by a mix of sun and cloud.

There wasn’t much vessel traffic in reserve today, just a couple of well behaved pleasure boats passing through and three whale watching vessels.

The young male Northern Elephant Seal #5850 returned to haul out up on the grass at Great Race Island today. He was tagged in Ana Nuevo Island as a weaner in 2012 and has now lost all but one of his tags. Today he had a male companion about the same size and they spent a little time sparring before falling into deep sleeps. The little female he was with last time spent most of the afternoon asleep underwater, on the bottom, just off the jetty.

Every night at Race Rocks just after dark I hear Killdeer calling and today I had a chance to see them in daylight, which is a rarity; beautiful birds with very large eyes.

I would love to know where they usually go during the day and why they fly out to Great Race for the night.

The number and diversity of gulls here right now is a little staggering and there are a few that I am having trouble identifying. There is one with yellow eyes like a Herring Gull but smaller in stature with a smaller less fierce looking head. Do Thayers and Herring Gulls hybridize now?

Other than re-stringing the jetty fence, chores were routine today and there were no visitors.


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.