Visitors of the friend type

Weather

  • Visibility: 15 miles
  • Wind: 10-15 knots West
  • In the evening, 20-26 knots West
  • Sky: mostly clear
  • Water: calm

Ecological

  • Five elephant seals on Great Race today.
  • I spied a sea otter swimming through the South Channel!
  • Saw a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers, along with another mystery bird.
  • Alas, I had not the camera on me to document this bird; it may have been a Western Sandpiper though!
  • Also saw a swallow for the first time!

Maintenance

  • Cleaned the solar panels.
  • Ran the desalinator.

Boats

  • Kyle dropped off two of my friends in Second Nature.
  • Several eco-tours came by.

Visitors

  • Ian and Stephen came over for a one night visit.
  • They are friends with yours truly, Riley Strother.

R. Strother at work.

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.

 

Moulting is Itchy Business

Weather and Sea Conditions

After a hesitant start, with locally overcast skies and fog to the southeast, the sun was blazing by afternoon and it stayed that way into the evening. The UV index rose to almost 6 today, which is high. The wind started at 15 to 20 knots from the west, dropped and turned to the south and southeast and then returned to west15 to 20 knots by early evening. The barometric pressure stayed fairly steady between 1005 and 1010 hPa. The forecast calls for the westerly to increase to 15 to 20 early this evening and to 20 to 30 late this evening, then to drop to 5 to 15 knots late overnight. They expect a similar wind pattern tomorrow with more cloud.

Vessel Observations

Seven whale watching vessels were documented working in the protected area today and most followed the rules. One yellow zodiac exited past West Rock heading west, at high speed. Better communication is needed about boundaries, limits and a reminder about keeping at least 100 meters away from marine mammals might be helpful. I know these ecotourism operators want this good thing to last.

Ecological and General Observations

A nice low tide this morning exposed all the beautiful new seaweeds of the season. Bull kelp is growing fast and the Mazzaella splendens is a rich, iridescent burgundy colour. Fresh kelps like Alaria, Laminaria and Cymathere triplicata festoon the rocks in the lower intertidal areas. Up high, the more ephemeral species of nori and sea lettuce are starting to go reproductive and lose their ‘bloom’.

A high density of grazers, keeps the seaweeds in check and feeds the gulls and oystercatchers.

More elephant seals arrived today bringing the number moulting in the garden to eight. On land they are the epitome of lethargic. It is a real treat to watch them in the water, they are so graceful and languid as they chase and roll and spin in slow motion. I also see the River Otter and Sea Otter daily, which is always interesting. The Sea Otter hung out with the Harbour Seals today while they were hauled out on South Rocks. He just floated a couple of metres away as they slept on the rock. He dozed in the water, using the back eddies to stay close. Later he positioned himself in a back eddy that kept him almost stationary, while meters away the current that blasted past at almost six knots. Very savvy sea otter.

There were a lot of shorebirds today, about fifty Surfbirds, a few Rock Sandpipers and a couple of Dunlin. The Black Turnstone numbers are swelling too so I think the migration is happening. The turnstones I watched foraging seemed voracious.

See Otter

Last night the westerly rose to 40 knots with stronger gusts, after dark. In the morning, it settled to a steady 25 to 30 knots and maintained that early evening when it rose again. The west wind and sunshine dominated the weather here today. The barometer stayed high between 1017 and 1019 hPa until early evening when it started to fall. There is a strong wind warning in effect and westerlies of 20 to 30 knots are expected to diminish to west 5 to 15 late overnight then become light near noon Sunday. The UV index climbed over 4 (moderate) today and should drop with cloud cover and showers predicted for tomorrow.

There were no whale watching or sports fishing vessels observed in the protected area today. The blustery winds and choppy, rough seas were a deterrent and there were whales elsewhere. A tug called Service X, about 35 – 40 feet long, was observed travelling west through Race Passage. It was plunging and taking waves over the wheelhouse as it made headway towards the west coast. One float plane flying fairly low at ~250 to  300′ passed over the island from west to east.

In the Ecological Reserve many of the animals were seeking shelter from the winds. A lone male, Sea Otter came close enough to be photographed and he appears to be in fine form. It may the same individual who was here for the last couple of years. He was seen once in the early morning about a week ago and then yesterday during the census, I spotted him drifting near the few, old Bull Kelp that survived the winter near Turbine Rock.

The eagles continue to chase the gulls and keep them flighty. I didn’t get a good count, but estimated early in the day that there were at least, twice the numbers of gulls counted in yesterday’s census. I will try to get a high count at some point during the week. Two of the juvenile eagles were also observed battling several times today, knocking each other out of the air and tussling on the ground. Chasing off geese is starting to be a losing effort. There are at least two nests now.

Chores were focussed on cleaning and the ever constant battle of the fly today. There were no visitors.

 

 

 

A Quiet Day (Except for the Explosions)

As predicted, winds were light today, starting in the southwest, then switching to west, 5 – 15 knots. Although it was sunny, there was a real nip in the air first thing. The barometric pressure continued its slow rise today, reaching 1025.5 before steadying. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for more sunshine and a low of 2o C, while and winds to switch to east, 20 – 25 knots.

Several whale watching boats visited the Ecological Reserve today, stopping by South Rocks to see the sea lions and eagles. It was a beautiful day to be out on the water. A few sports fishing boats passed close by and fished outside the Protected Area. There were more explosions from across Race Passage today and it was unusual that they continued after dark.

Images of sea lions sleeping on South Rock before and after an explosion can be seen below. Three branded sea lions were photographed today; two California Sea Lions #U68 (brand on posterior) and #8240 (brand on left side) and one Steller’s Sea Lion #42DY.I remember #8240 from last fall but had not noticed him until today during this shift. There appear to be more sea lions daily.Tomorrow is census day. At dawn this morning, Alex noticed a small seal, possibly a Northern Elephant Seal and a Sea Otter on the ramp.

Forage fish were active at the surface again today; guessing that they are herring are on their way back out to offshore habitat after spawning. The fish attract the fishers and by late morning there were three adults and 12 juvenile Bald Eagles in the Protected Area. They favour sitting in large groups on South and West Rocks but they also use Great Race in a more solitary way. The Canada Geese seem to be staying away and the large number of eagles may be deterring them from feeling comfortable on Great Race.

Harlequins continue to astound and inspire with their gorgeous plumage and amazing diving abilities. All three species of cormorant Pelagic, Brandt’s and Double Crested were busy in the Ecological Reserve today. It appears that they like to forage where there are convergences and upwelling. They dry their feathers, roosting in the wind and sun on the west end of Great Race, Turbine and Middle Rocks.

Chores were routine today.

 

Marine Mammals Hauled out on Race Rocks Jan 2014-Feb 2016

 

This graph represents the 6 marine mammal species which haul out on Great Race Rocks in the Race Rocks Ecological reserve.  providing the population numbers and the time of year  CLICK to enlarge. The data was obtained from the Posts on census done by the Ecoguardians at Race Rocks.mammalcraph

The graph below represents the Elephant seal population at Race Rocks Ecological reserve with data taken from the Ecoguardian logs for January 2014 to January 2016. Click to enlarge.

elephantseal2014-2015

Marine Mammals Small and Large

Early fog crept over from the American side, obliterating visibility for a few hours this morning but then it was cleared by west winds of 10 – 20 knots. The wind was constant, as was the sunshine for the rest of the day. The barometer started rising last night and peaked at 1014 hPa before starting to drop again this afternoon. Tomorrow’s forecast includes strong wind warnings for afternoon westerlies of 15 – 25 knots, it is supposed to be mainly sunny while Friday has a 60% chance of showers.

There was a near-miss boating incident this morning just after the fog cleared. During the full ebb current, of close to six knots, a small rough looking commercial fishing vessel with lots of bumpers out and a ‘scotchman’ astern went flying through Middle Channel. Just as it arrived at the roughest section where the standing waves were standing high, it turned abruptly at right angles to the current. It rolled and seemed to take a long time to right itself. Then as I watched from the roof of the energy building, it lurched around,  finally straightening out like a drunken sailor making its way westward. Six whale watching vessels were noted, working in the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve today, all very professional, heeding sustainability methods and best practices except for one orange zodiac that was in a hurry to leave when the Navy arrived on scene just west of the reserve.

A Humpback Whale was feeding just to the west of the reserve all afternoon and the students were able to observe it through the spotting scope and time the dives. Some of them managed to sketch the blow shape in their field journals and a few even caught glimpses of the flukes. They also had a chance to observe the sea otter and that was a highlight amidst the roar and din of the ubiquitous sea lions and their stinky ways. Two young male Northern Elephant Seals took advantage of the chaos when the students were coming ashore to sneak up the ramp and they put on a good demonstration of elephant seal wrestling and jousting in between their sudden naps.

The field trip was the third marine science class to visit in a week and it was really a treat to work with such wonderful young people from all over the world.

Chores were routine in addition to end of the month routines.

Vibrissae to Vibrissae They Faced Each Other.

Sunrise saw the big moon ‘dropping’ in the west this morning and clear sunny skies reigned supreme all day. The falling barometer continued its descent today but the forecast looks good with today’s light easterly winds continuing tomorrow.

Fifteen whale watching vessel visits to the protected area, were observed today. Speed on arrival and departure continues to be an issue with a few operators however the large majority of operators are driving at a slow, respectful and careful speed. A couple of the larger vessels with shallow draught are acting more and more as though they are little speed boats weaving in and out of the rocky islets, in areas which are, by agreement with the industry, off-limits. The agreement was established by consensus, to ensure sustainable whale watching operations within the protected area. Just in case institutional (or other) memory has been lost: travel is supposed to be confined to Middle Channel, going with the current. All of the companies using the Ecological Reserve for profit should be thinking about the example they are setting for pleasure craft and the sustainability image of their company (not to mention their marine insurers who would probably not be too happy about the risks being taken by the few).

Minke, Humpback and Biggs Killer Whales brought the whale watchers to the area today and the seals, sea lions and sea otter brought them into the Ecological Reserve. At low tide the sea otter can be seen in the kelp bed on the southeast corner of the reserve but I am not sure where he goes at high tide. He has moved back there after merciless whale watching traffic as close as was physically possible. While it did not appear to ‘bother” him having large powered vessels lurching over him, decks crowded with people gawking and taking photos, I can certainly understand the move.  The Bigg’s Killer Whales travelled west past Race Rocks today again using the shallow Eemdyk Passage behind Bentinck Island, which is directly across Race Passage from Race Rocks. Quite a few Harbour Seals haul out in there. There was a Humpback Whale feeding next to Church Rock in the morning and a Minke Whale travelling to the east was observed just east of North Rocks. There were Southern Resident Killer Whales in the area according to the VHF radio but I did not have a chance to spot them.

I did have the opportunity to observe some Stellers Sea Lions and take a few photos of two younger ones playing together and an older “couple” that seemed quite wise. I know that may sound anthropomorphic but what I observed was the animal on the left licking the neck of the big old bull and then the two muzzling each other gently lip to lip. It was the gaze of the big old male that seemed to tell a story about a long life. I can’t really explain it so here is a quote from Carl Safina who is very articulate about animal’s inner lives.

“We have no trouble saying that an animal who’s vigorously eating is hungry, and one resting after exertion is tired; yet we can hardly force ourselves to acknowledge that when they’re playing they’re having fun, or that when they’re acting affectionate they’re feeling the bond,” Safina said. “Why? Because denying them all experience reinforces our favorite story: that we are so very special.”

From Beyond Words: What Animals Feel and Think by Carl Safina, 2015

On the sustainability front, today was a great day for solar power and I made lots of fresh water with solar power using the desalinator. Chores were routine and there were no visitors.

 

Count Day

The sky was partially overcast early but cleared a bit in late morning. Then it clouded over and finally started to rain as it socked in just before dark. The wind started out east-northeast then turned to west late morning before backing all the way around to southwest. The barometric pressure is rising as I write this log and the forecast calls for clearing in the morning and sunshine. Winds will turn to westerly 10 – 15 knots Friday afternoon.

Commercial whale watching vessels made fifteen observed visits to the Ecological Reserve today. One vessel regularly comes in fast and not slowing until well inside the go slow boundary and then consistently speeds up early. The same vessel can be seen hop-scotching ahead of endangered southern resident killer whales as the pass by and in the reserve, sitting almost on top of the sea otter. It is a large, noisy vessel that reliably pushes the limits of respectful whale watching and will end up by hitting an animal or worse. Most of the operators realize that this sort of behaviour is not sustainable.

Biggs Killer Whales were already being followed by the whale-watching fleet before they came into the Ecological Reserve from the east and milled in and around South Seal Rocks and the breaking rock just off the energy building. There were many sea lions in the water, some craning their necks to see better and others just trying to maintain as much time as possible in the air, by repeatedly leaping airborne. I am not sure if the killer whales made a kill or not but sense that they did. There was some fancy criss-cross swimming by the first three whales, then a little one accompanied by a bigger one arrived on scene. This was followed by a few minutes with all the whales underwater and gull action above, which made me think food leftovers. After that they left, heading south and then southeast, dogged by the fleet. Two vessels came into the reserve while the whales were already inside. It is possible that they were not aware on entering but they did not leave once they were aware of the whales’ presence.

Ecologically, the transition from summer into fall continues. Salmon migration is still strong and birds, pinnipeds and cetaceans abundant. The size of the multi-species feeding flocks on the water, is increasing daily with some aggregations (outside the protected area) appearing to have thousands of gulls.

Thursday is animal census day so here are the numbers for charismatic mega-fauna.

Steller Sea Lion 303

California Sea Lion 578

Harbour Seal 187

Northern Elephant Seal 11

Sea Otter 1

Southern Resident Killer Whale (2 in ER during count week, additional 18 in Race Passage during count week)

Biggs Killer Whale (Transients) 6 today (3 more during count week)

Humpback Whale (3 during count week)

Canada Goose 0 full time (flock of ~25 chased off almost daily)

Harlequin Duck 0

Double-crested Cormorant 25

Brandt’s Cormorants 22

Pelagic Cormorant 6

Unidentified cormorants 17

Black Oystercatcher 5

Black Turnstone 11

Kildeer 3

Glaucous-winged Gull total 453 (325 – adults; 128 – juveniles)

California Gull 847

Thayer’s Gull 180

Mew Gull 24

Herring Gull 0

Ring-billed Gull 2

Western Gull 2

Heerman’s Gull 36

Adult Gull spp (Unidentified) 242

Juvenile Gull spp (Unidentified) 223

Savannah Sparrow 9

Fox Sparrow 1

Unidentified Sparrow 1

Junco 3

Horned Lark (2 in count week)

Pacific Wren 1

Routine chores continue. There were six visitors today. Two very self contained Environment Canada technical service officers came out to do annual maintenance on their weather station up on the tower. If you were looking on camera # 1 you may have had a close-up view of them at work, calibrating, replacing and maintaining their instruments in full climbing gear. Thanks go out to them as well for the help they gave us before leaving the island. Two national geographic photographers came out to get a sense of the diversity of wildlife and of course take photos. Two young people who may potentially become eco-guardians also visited. Thanks go out to Don for helping move fuel, a heavy job. Well done. Courtney drove Second Nature to get them all out here and back safely and she was accompanied by Jasper, volunteer extraordinaire.

 

 

Watching the Watchers

Morning broke revealing thick fog at Race Rocks. Pushed around by light east by southeast winds along the Vancouver Island shore, the fog came and went. Across the strait in Washington it cleared first and stayed bright. The fog was gone by mid-morning and change was in the air. Over the course of the morning and early afternoon, the wind backed through northeast all the way to west. A dark line on the western horizon told of a storm coming and it hit quickly rising from 10 knots to 35 with higher gusts, in short order. Rain followed and there was a good wet blow autumn-like blow until it cleared with spectacular quadruple rainbows just before sunset. The barometer started to rise an hour before it started to clear in the early evening and the forecast is for winds to diminish to light overnight and 10 -15 west Monday afternoon. The clear skies are supposed to hold.

While the fog was receding and there was just a thin strip left along the north side of Race Passage, we were able to witness the moving sight of Southern Resident Killer Whales heading eastward. There were at least twenty animals and possibly more and they were moving at about four knots. There were a couple of really large bulls, lots of mid-size animals, one fairly small and one tiny one swimming with another little one. Several of the big bulls passed close to North Rocks and there was some tail slapping just to the east of the reserve. These animals are very endangered and yet very resilient. These are the surviving members of family groups that were hunted for live capture and sale to aquariums where they were (are) shown for the price of admission. Now that they are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act as Endangered animals, they are accompanied daily by a great parade of commercial whale watching vessels. The first vessel to spot them alerts the others and they hopscotch them, lay in wait for them and pass them off to others so they won’t be “lost”.

The parade came to Race Rocks again today with 28 visits observed in the Ecological Reserve by commercial whale watching vessels. At one point there were six vessels right in front of the jetty. Most of the vessels paid a close visit to the Sea Otter. Sea otters are one species we can celebrate as a conservation success story, in some places maybe even too much of a success. This is a species that was extirpated, reintroduced, listed successively as endangered, threatened and now is down-listed to special concern. People and policies do make a difference when it comes to recovery of species at risk and there are simple things we can all do to help make a positive difference.

Chores today were routine and we had no visitors.