Sea lion Stampeed

Juvenile Bald Eagle in flight

Juvenile Bald Eagle in flight

Ecological Happenings

  • A calm bright day with light winds and clear sky.
  • The female Elephant seal has been spotted on Middle Rocks. The two males and smaller Elephant seal remain on the main island.
  • Surf Scooters and Pigeon Guillemots observed to the north of the main island.
  • Whale spouts seen to the East of the rocks about 5nm out. Likely Humpbacks.

Marine Vessels

  • Two whale watching boats. Though they both respected the speed restrictions in the reserve one came too close to the rocks and caused the Sea lions to stamped into the water.
  • Several fishing vessels just outside the reserve.


  • Photo voltaics and windows to main house cleaned.
  • Rain-washed driftwood chainsawed into lengths for further rain-washing, splitting and drying.
Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle at camera 5

Juvenile Bald Eagle1

Juvenile Bald Eagle2

Whale watching boat comes too close and causes Sea lions to stamped

Whale watching boat comes too close and disturbs the Sea lions causing them to stamped into the water

Brandt's and Double-crested Cormorants

Brandt’s and Double-crested Cormorants

Sea lions looking shabby, but just molting

Sea lions looking shabby, but just molting

Storms and Surf Scoters

Baby Harbour seal -Around 2 ft long

Baby Harbour seal -around 2 ft long

Ecological Happenings

  • Storm warning with high winds overnight and gale force in the morning. Overcast with lashing rain at points.
  • Small Harbour seal pup seen on the boat ramp first thing.
  • Surf Scooters seen to the south of the main island in the afternoon.
  • The Bald Eagles were seen buzzing flocks of gulls and cormorants on the rocks, driving the gulls into the air and the cormorants to sea. The gulls retaliated by mobbing the Eagles in the air and driving them off.
  • The female Elephant seal was absent this morning and did not return all day. The smaller Elephant seal seemed like it was looking for her through the day. The males barely moved and snoozed through the storm.
  • Sea lions rafted together and played in the surf jumping clear out the water at times.

Marine Vessels

  • None


  • Jetty cleared of driftwood from yesterday’s storm.
  • Logs at the student house re-stacked as they had been blown over in the high winds last night.
  • Pressure washer pump lubricated and reassembled.
Surf Scoter

Surf Scoters

Small Elephant seal looking for female

Small Elephant seal

Sealion raft

Sea lions rafting

Sea lions playing in the surf

Sea lions playing in the surf

Black Oystercatchers preening and hiding from the wind

Black Oystercatchers preening and hiding from the wind

Adult (left) and immature (right) Thayer's Gulls

Adult (left) and immature (right) Thayer’s Gulls

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.


Sun and Calm Seas

The wind blew from the north between 13-15 knots, until 10:00 this morning.  Then the wind shifted towards to northeast and calmed down to between 2-9 knots.  The sea was very calm, with no swells or whitecaps.  The barometer rose from 1020 hPa to 1024 hPa. The temperature increased slowly throughout the day from 1-4oC.

There were no boats seen in the reserve today.

If solar panels could be happy, they would have been happy today.  The sun shone brightly, juicing up the photovoltaic cells.  It wasn’t enough to melt all of the snow and ice, which remains in patches around the islands.  Some of the plants have begun to wilt from the prolonged cold weather.

I made a trip into Pedder Bay this afternoon.  Having been solo for the past two weeks at Race Rocks, it was great to catch up with some students and staff at Pearson.  I also dropped off garbage and picked up gas.  The northern half of Pedder Bay was frozen over with ice that was 2-3cm thick.  It made boat travel tricky.  Luckily there was a lane of broken ice just wide enough for the Boston Whaler to travel from the Pearson dock to the Pedder Bay Marina, where the gas was filled.  Unlike driving a car on ice, a boat stops when you hit ice, so it’s much easier to handle.  On the return trip to Race Rocks, I saw a large group of surf scoters between the mouth of the Pedder Bay and Race Rocks.

Melanitta perspicillata: Surf Scoter–Race Rocks Taxonomy


Surf scoter,  Melanitta perspicillata at Race Rocks photo by Nick Townley


Surf scoter, Melanitta perspicillata in flight

surfscoterSurf Scoters are often sighted off the shores of Taylor beach in the fall (see ) but only show up at Race Rocks occasionally .. see the Christmas Bird Count records: The first photographic record we have was taken in November, 2014 by Ecoguardian Nick Townley.


This photo was taken by Ecoguardian Ryan Murphy in 2009 but was probably in outer Pedder Bay where they are frequently found.


Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Merginae
Genus: Melanitta
Species: M. perspicillata

Surf Scoter range

Winter and Summer range of surf scoter: from seaduck ventures page

An excellent reference on the surf scoter with an image of the range can be found on the seaduck ventures page





taxonomyicon Return 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. Dec 2014, Nick Townley


Surf and Surf Scoters

The wind blew at 10 knots from the north for the morning.  In the afternoon, the wind increased to 25 knots as the direction swung around to the southwest.  The barometer dropped from 1011 hPa to 990 hPa as the sun set at 16:28.  The sea was rippled, then a big swell rolled in from the southeast during the afternoon.  A gale warning is in effect with winds possibly topping out at 47 knots.  The sky was mostly overcast with some breaks of sun and occasional rain showers.  The rain water cistern is filling itself up again after the dry spell.

There were no boats seen in the reserve today.

A single surf scoter, Melanitta perspicillata was spotted in the reserve this morning, before it took off towards the west.  The waves crashing into rocky shore produced some spectacular splashes.  Sea lions were surfing the waves and leaping out the top.  The low light and rain made photography difficult.