Blog On.

This blog covers three days, September 15, 16 and 17th; Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It will be replaced by a point form log for the rest of the stay.

Weather and Sea Conditions

Thursday was part of the last high pressure system with sunny afternoon westerlies of 10 – 15 knots. Friday was a transition day with heavy fog burning off by early afternoon and accompanied by westerlies of up to 25 knots. By dusk it had clouded over and showers continued overnight and into Saturday morning. This wet weather came with winds from the north. Morning fog patches continued Saturday and by early afternoon the wind switched from 10 – 15 knots north, to 25 -30 knots west partially cleared with sun between showers. The marine forecast for Central Juan de Fuca Strait includes a strong westerly wind warning. The wind is predicted to drop to westerly 10 to 15 early Sunday morning and showers are expected to end near midnight Saturday.

It appears that the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve weather station has not been operating since mid-June, so longer-term context is not possible other than anecdotal information recorded in recent logs.

Vessels in Ecological Reserve

Commercial whale-watching activity inside the Ecological Reserve boundaries is busy, with 20 commercial visits noted on the 16th and 14 visits on the 17th. The guidelines for vessel activity are not being observed by all operators and some of the commercial vessels are as close as 5 meters from the sea lions (and shore). Some very large vessels are going through shallow passages, making erratic turns in the current, travelling against the current and several vessels were seen speeding (> 7 knots within 400 m of Great Race). No other commercial activity was observed. Although several recreational vessels were seen passing through, there was no sports-fishing activity noted within the closed area.

Ecology

Seasonal shifts are apparent with the return of some ‘winter’ species and visits by fall migrants. There are only seven Glaucous-winged Gull chicks left on Great Race Island that are not fully fledged. The smallest, chick has a badly injured left leg. One other still has pinfeathers on its head and the rest are close to flying. There are notably fewer gull chick remains on the island this year perhaps indicating a lower mortality rate. There does not appear to be any data on the number of nests or their productivity this year so it may just reflect lower productivity. The logged death of the old River Otter may be related to the drop in chick carcass numbers.

Glaucous-winged Gulls are still the dominant gull species here on Great Race. California Gulls are abundant in the area but not roosting on Great Race yet. There are large (>1,000 birds), mixed species, feeding flocks adjacent to the Ecological Reserve in Race Passage and in the distance. California Gulls have been seen resting on thick mats of Bull Kelp in Middle Channel.

Black Turnstones and Surfbirds have returned from the Arctic where they nest in the summer. One Ruddy Turnstone was noted today feeding on flies, fuel for a migration that may extend as far south as South America. A single Sanderling was noted both Friday and Saturday and this is another species that nests in the Arctic and is widespread in the ‘winter’. Black Oystercatchers, which are much more site fidel, are roosting near the energy building in the evenings. At least one Kildeer was heard each evening just after dark.

Both Stellers (Northern) and California Sea Lions are moulting this time of year and are hauling out on Great Race, South Seal and South Islands as well as Middle Rocks and Turbine Rock. Photos were taken and processed, of branded, tagged and entangled sea lions.

Northern Elephant Seals are hauling on both Middle and Great Race and a total of six were noted Saturday. No big males. Harbour Seals are abundant and using these haul-out areas; West, Middle, Turbine, North and South Seal Rocks and South Islands.

A single Sea Otter was observed in the kelp just south of North Rocks Saturday morning.

One Humpback Whale was noted feeding near the Ecological Reserve.

Sustainability

Solar panels are maintaining power for the island in spite of intermittent cloud and showers. Without the weather station operational, sunlight levels are not being measured. The diesel generator is run for a couple of hours each evening to top up the batteries for the night.

Visitors

Kyle brought three visitors yesterday, two from Ocean Networks Canada and one from Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, for a site visit.

Maintenance and Operations

Regular chores included the 06:15 daily weather report for Pedder Bay Marina, daily solar panel maintenance, walkway cleaning, repairing and electrifying fences. The outside of the fuel barrel (eco-four) house was scrubbed, tops of fuel barrels stored outside were drained of water, and windows in the energy building were washed. The “science” house was inspected, an open window closed in the basement, exterior electrical box was noted broken from wall and conduit open at bottom (photo). Science house furnace was full on and the upstairs temperature was 22.0o C. Thermostat turned down. It was noted that diesel had been spilled in basement. Spill pads on the fuel drum are saturated and there was diesel on the entry bootscrubber/doormat. Looked at derrick dock woodpile and noted creosoted and pressure treated wood in woodpile, probably a health hazard to burn. Inspected chainsaw chain…just needs filing. Took VHF, charger and manual to top of tower to replace the one missing from there. Wheelbarrows were deployed for rainwater catchment. The conductivity meter’s line was marked with yellow electrical tape so that seawater sampling could be done at measured depth. In the energy building an attempt was made to align the indicator lights on the three Xantrax controllers with the holes. Two out of three can now be seen and the middle one can be seen plainly with the lights out. The flashing rate of these lights indicate the controller’s stage of operation and approximate battery voltage which is helpful to knowing how long to run the generator. Weather station troubleshooting will continue tomorrow.

 

Wild Goose Chase

Weather & Sea Conditions

At dawn, the west wind was already blowing 30 knots and gusting. Although it dropped to 20 – 25 knots at times, the west wind continued to bring dramatic clouds and showers along with brief glimpses of sunshine and rainbows, throughout the day. The marine forecasters call for the wind to back to southwest and they estimate that the SW wind will diminish to 10 -15 knots, late overnight and drop to light, early Tuesday morning. Showers and the mix of sun and cloud are predicted to continue. Seas were rough today to the west and out in the Strait, while the entrance to Pedder Bay and the eastern horizon remained a little calmer in the lee.

Vessels

No vessels were observed in the protected area or passing nearby, today.

Ecological and General Observations

Canada Geese are more and more insistent that they belong on Great Race and two pairs are actively nesting now. Even if the eco-guardian were to spend 24/7 chasing off geese, it would be ineffective as they are incredibly persistent, very strong and have a certain goose cunning that harkens back beyond the etymology of ‘wild goose chase’. Without the large numbers of geese that were present last year and the crushing effects of dozens elephant seal dozers, the grass does appear to remain a little longer, but then it has been a wet spring.

Beulah, the large female Norther Elephant Seal staying in the garden, went for a dip this morning and on her return she seemed to enjoy ‘frolicking’ in the long grass, head down undulating through the greenery. She also found a clean place to sleep, next to an old, lighthouse heritage, rockery bed. After watching the elephant seals purposefully destroy the tulips last year, I picked a bouquet when she moved into that part of the garden and they are brightening my world on the little desk in the house.

More and more adult male California Sea Lions are hauling out on Great Race, This afternoon there were ~50 on the south side and a dozen more on the west side. Younger animals and Steller’s continue to haul on South Rocks. Yesterday evening, I discovered a new (to me) den for the old, male River Otter. I knew that there was an otter spot nearby due to the telltale ‘calling cards’ left outside the den area but it took a while to find it. He is barely visible and very protected, sleeping under one of the big boulders just northeast of the compost.

The Bald Eagles continue to spend the day in the Ecological Reserve; most active early and late, chasing gulls. There is a lot of evidence of piscivory on the island, but some of the remnants are hard to pin on any particular predator. The gulls here eat a lot of small forage fish like herring and marine invertebrates like chitons but there are also remains that look more like either River Otter or Bald Eagle leftovers (see images).

A Turkey Vulture stopped and rested near camera 5 today. I was hooked up to a staff meeting by conference call or I would have gone outside to photograph it. I did get a photo through the window, before it was swept away by the west wind. Black Turnstones continue to be present in high numbers, resting and fattening up before their northward migration.

Chores & Visitors

Chores today were routine and there were no visitors.

Conservation Message

If you are a commercial boater or if you use docks and harbours, you may be interested in two really excellent booklets on Green Boating and Displacement Hull Fuel Efficiency put together by the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. Their Green Boating Guide covers good marine practices in seven main areas: wildlife protection, habitat protection, waste discharge, fluid handling, solid waste, fuel efficiency, and cleaners. The Fuel Efficiency Guide covers ways to reduce fuel consumption through both operational and design measures. Another way to look at savings on fuel is that it also reduces carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere. CO2 is not only a greenhouse gas, ~ 40% of it ends up in the ocean causing the shift in basic chemistry which is called ocean acidification, global warming’s evil twin.

There is a real shift in attitude happening amongst boaters of all types, as more and more people realize that we have to profoundly change our basic routines and behaviours in order to have a sustainable ‘blue’ future. I call it investing in green and keeping it clean for a blue economy. If you use social media please use the hashtag #green4blue to connect with other people going green for a blue future. Check out the booklets here for great ideas on how you can make a positive difference on the water.

http://www.bucksuzuki.org/images/uploads/docs/GBGweb2012.pdf

http://www.bucksuzuki.org/images/uploads/docs/FEGweb2012.pdf

Aussi disponible en français http://www.bucksuzuki.org/publications/

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Eagles Use Foghorn Daily

 

The morning started with either low cloud or high cloud. The sun shone under the fog on the Victoria side and on the Sooke side it thickened and the ceiling lowered to become more fog-like. Port Angeles was obscured early. The fog lifted from east to west and resulted in a beautiful clear day with a west wind of 20 – 25 knots, constant throughout the day. Barometric pressure held fairly steady as well, at 1016 -1017 hPa. The marine forecast for the central Strait has a strong wind warning in effect, calling for west winds of 20 to 30 knots and there are showers in forecast.

No whale watching vessels were observed today. One ‘sports’ fishing vessel was observed inside the boundary today but no fishing activity was observed in the protected area.

Second Nature visited briefly with Kyle at the helm and a second person that was supposed to be measuring things.

Today was census day and the results are below. It should be noted that the Bald Eagles were hunting gulls all day on Great Race Island. Although no takes were seen, the gull population thinned significantly during the day and the gull numbers today may not reflect a representative sample of the true numbers seen this week.

Animal Census

2016 01-Apr
River Otter 1
Northern Elephant Seal 8
Harbour Seal 176
Northern Sea Lion (Steller’s) 28
California Sea Lion 103
Canada Goose 5
Brandt (flying through) 75
Harlequin Duck 11
Surf Scoter 0
Common Merganser 2
Brandt’s Cormorant 2
Double-crested Cormorant 3
Pelagic Cormorant 3
Cormorant (not ID’d to species) 0
Bald Eagle (juvenile) 4
Bald Eagle (adult) 2
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Killdeer 4
Black Oystercatcher 12
Black Turnstone 70
Surfbird 0
Rock Sandpiper 0
Dunlin 2
Mew Gull 0
Glaucous-winged Gull (+ Xs in nesting area) 210
Glaucous-winged Gull (+ Xs outside of nesting area) 98
Thayers Gulls 0
Calfiornia Gulls 3
Western Gull 1
Common Murres 12
Rhinoceros Auklets 2
Pigeon Guillemot 40
Common Raven 2
Northwestern Crow 2
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1

 

 

 

Eagle Food

There was nothing remarkable about the leaden morning with light and languid, north-northeast winds. Partially overcast skies cast a silvery pall over the Strait but bits of blue sky held promise for better things to come. The barometer held overnight at just above 1010 hPA and by mid-afternoon had dropped to 1008 As evening falls the barometer is holding at 1007. In the afternoon there was some sunshine but it was really a day dominated by cloud.

Five commercial whale-watching vessels were observed working in the Ecological Reserve today. Three were seen working in behind (south side) South Rocks and they were travelling very slowly and cautiously. Sea conditions were calm. The sea lions did not appear too disturbed by their presence. A few younger animals close to the water went in but it would be difficult to determine cause. On that note, military blasting continued as planned, from late morning to mid afternoon. Interceptor vessels and red flags warned boaters off. The sea lions and birds did not seem to react.

The wild goose chase continued and progress is happening. By early afternoon, most of the geese had retreated to the military zone to graze on the large lawn there. One pair staking out an area by camera 5 were more persistent, but eventually left for greener pastures. A couple of pairs of gulls were seen doing some of the broody things they do when nest building but as it is early yet, they are probably just practicing for the big day when they actually start to build a nest. The Pigeon Guillemots continue to flock here in the morning and leave in the afternoon as noted by Riley. Many were practicing walking on land today and in the water they worked the ebb flow through the rocks taking a ride and then flyew back upstream for another one.

A partially decomposed Northern Elephant Seal pup and part of its skull was located not far from the octopus in the boulders beach east of the Ecoguardian’s house. From the size, it appeared to have been a very young pup, if not premature, at death. The octopus was bigger. The plentiful, rich food sources are starting to explain the large number of eagles here daily.

A branded Stellers Sea Lions was photographed today 319Y and 4332 was observed. A California Sea Lion with a number on its rump and an X anterior to that was observed but the number was not verified nor was a successful photo taken.

 

There were no visitors and chores were routine today.

 

 

Powerful DND Blasting and Bald Eagle

Weather

  • Visibility: 15 miles
  • Wind: 20-25 knots NE
  • Water: 2′ chop
  • Sky: overcast

Ecological

  • The newest female elephant seal was gone this morning.
  • Chunk mated with the current mother on Great Race today. Unlike the other times I have seen him initiate mating, the female did not fight back or try to get away. She seemed okay with it, and her pup lay beside her as it happened.
  • Chuckles spent the day on the south-east corner of Great Race.
  • Status quo on Middle Rock with the mum and pup.
  • Lady left the island at 3:30, just after the 5th and 6th DND blasts.
  • Watched a bald eagle tear away at weaner’s head for over half an hour at dusk. This was the first time I had seen an eagle approach the corpse. Fascinating.

Maintenance

  • Mopped up the remaining water in the Energy Building.
  • Stacked more firewood in the water shed.
  • Cleared logs and debris off the ramp three times.

Other

  • There were 6 very powerful DND blasts today coming from Bentinck Island. They came in three pairs, each pair spaced out from the other. I was outside for the first two and they hurt my ears. I was inside for the final four, and they shook the house considerably.
  • After when I walked around the island, I noticed that nearly all the birds and sea lions had disappeared. There was only 1 sea lion on Great Race, and he appeared to be injured, which would explain why he was the only one who stayed. There were about 10 sea lions left on South Island, and 20 Harbour Seals. No cormorants. The blasting must have scared the rest off.
Smoke from blasting

Smoke from blasting.

Storm Recovery

Ecological Happenings

  • Juvenile Bald Eagle seen feeding on its prey
  • Small birds (including gulls) have been quite flighty given the number of eagles around.
  • Animals have settled into their pre-storm positions.
  • Steller with infected eyes seen again today high up on the rocks near camera 5. This is the only Steller we’ve seen come so far – up island.
  • Seagull with a broken wing feeding on a dead seagull.
  • Much calmer seas and winds today.

Marine Vessels

Two tour boats and one pleasure vessel.

Maintenance

  • Repairing some of the storm damage, e.g. electric fence, ceiling leaks into the energy building (albeit temporary).
  • Checking the water supply to the student house.
  • Taken the opportunity of the break in the swell to fill the cistern.

No visitors today.

Visit from a Predator

Ecological Happenings

  • Barred Owl in the reserve today. Its’ prey were found (one small bird near the lighthouse and a gull near the student house). Gulls and smaller birds were much fewer today.
  • Juvenile elephant seal and accompanying adult seal returned today.
  • South Seal Rocks is particularly crowded with the Stellers that have moved from other surrounding rocks.
  • California Sea lion brand 8456 spotted

Marine Vessels

  • Two tour boats
  • One pleasure vessel
  • 10 Canoers
  • A helicopter flying in good range of RR

Maintenance

  • Continuing to experience challenges with the water system. Next steps are to check the pumps and piping.
  • Boat maintenance and clean out.

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.

 

Killer Whales at Dawn

Although the wind didn’t do much during the day, it came up strong from the west in the early evening with cold fog in its wake. By nighttime it was blowing 25 – 30 knots. The strong wind warning remains in effect and the forecast expects fog to dissipate in the late morning. The barometer made another step down in its week long descent and ended at 1011 hPa. Tomorrow is supposed to cloud over and showers will follow next week.

There were relatively few commercial operators noted in reserve today, only eleven vessels including a dive boat, and two tour boats who are not part of the ‘regular’ whale watching fleet. There were almost as many sporty boats with several speeders noted, including a Pedder Bay rental.

The sea lion numbers seem to be at their greatest early in the morning so I went up the tower first thing to photograph them and while up there noticed three small killer whales in the southwest corner of the reserve and a group of about six milling around in the middle of the Ecological Reserve. The larger animals seemed to be feeding in a back eddy just off Middle Channel between Middle Rocks and West Rocks. Gulls were attracted to where they were which I assumed meant there was food. They slowly traversed the reserve on the same general track as the Humpbacks and L-pod did on Thursday, heading off towards the southeast. The two groups rejoined on the outside of South Islands. It was a pleasure to watch these animals unaccompanied and unimpeded by the usual parade of boats.

Work was routine (interspersed with incredible nature observations) and there were no bipedal visitors.

Fresh Flag Flies

The day started with fog to the south and west and it soon crept onto Race Rocks. Sun quickly prevailed over fog and it was a beautiful day with high overcast forming late in the day. The wind didn’t do much more than 5 – 10 knots from the WSW in the morning and then turned blew gently from the south before dying off altogether mid-afternoon. It rose again from the southwest as I wrote the blog. The barometer remains over 1020 hPA after climbing slowly for a week. The forecast is calling for showers beginning late this evening, but the larger picture is much sunnier after tomorrow and there is a strong wind warning for westerlies which often bring good weather.

It was much quieter here today with only four whale watching tour vessels visiting the reserve while I was here. Five sports fishing boats transited. All stopped to look at the sea lions and no one was observed speeding in the Rockfish Conservation Area today. There were two vessels that appeared to be fishing in reserve and observations, photographs and data were collected for the enforcement team. Race Rocks is closed to fishing and is part of a DFO-enforced Rockfish Conservation Area. The islets and the sea-floor are protected by the province of BC through BC Parks.

The sea lion moult continues to be the big ecological event on shore but the timing of their visit and choice of haul-out location is no coincidence to what is going on at sea. Most of sea lions are also off foraging for part of the day and the Race Rocks haul-out is in a biological hot spot, which becomes a fish funnel for incoming migratory fish at this time of year. All six species of Pacific Salmon pass right by the front door right and there is a plethora of other species to choose from the rest of the year. Race Rocks is not a breeding haul-out nor is it a true winter haul-out as the sea lions start to arrive in earnest in July and stay into winter and early spring. There are actually some animals here all year but late summer and autumn is the busiest leading up to the peak during the chum salmon run at end of October.

GwGu juv FTThere are still some Glaucous-winged Gulls that have not left the roost but most of them are flying now and there are fewer here every day. That is probably a good thing for them as the predator that is picking them off is taking at least one per day. They are out foraging in groups trying to figure out how to feed themselves.

I went ashore for a couple of hours today and was otherwise busy with routine tasks. There are a lot of chores here and one of the challenges of living at Race Rocks is living sustainably and minimizing our ecological footprint. To do that we are very frugal with electricity and water, compost all organics, even using a composting toilet because when you make your own water by desalination it doesn’t make sense to just flush it away. Both have their chores too. Most of the electricity is generated with solar panels, which brings another set of activities to keep things going. We also pack everything out and are slowly removing unsustainable legacy items left by the light keepers over the years. A favorite chore is putting up a fresh new flag and there is one flying today.

Fresh flag today.

Fresh flag today.