Northeast Winds Switching to Westerlies.

Northeast winds predominated from early morning until late afternoon when they switched around to west-southwest. There were only sprinkles of rain, until the switch and once the wind turned, you could see laden clouds scudding across the foothills and pouring in through the Strait. It started raining in earnest, early evening and is blowing 25 knots from the WSW as I write this blog. The barometer bottomed out today at just over 1000 hPa and is now steadily vacillating in that trough.

There were still hardy whale watchers out in spite of the weather and five whale watching boats were noted in the Ecological Reserve during the day. There was a surprising amount of sports fishing activity in the vicinity. Everyone was well behaved in the Reserve.

Steller Sea Lion numbers seem to be on the rise with over 110 individuals hauled out on Middle Rocks with the Elephant Seals and several hundred more on Great Race. Two more of the smaller (two year old) Elephant Seals and a bigger sub-adult scooted up the ramp, under the fence and off to their favourite Great Race haunts. It is surprising how fast they can move doing the wave. Later I watched two of them sparring, in practice for a fighting adulthood.

It is a treat to have the Harlequin Ducks back from their rushing mountain summer streams. They are such thoroughly white-water birds and seem to seek out exciting places to forage.

Other than the regular duties, I spent some time cleaning up the boat today after a wild landing in the northeast waves. There are a couple of improvements that would improve landing safety including auxillary bunks on the trailer. These could act as a tunnel and help centre the boat so that as a wave comes in and lifts the stern, the boat is not pushed off track. More weight would also be good and so would a bailer that is lashed on. Yes it was a good work-out.

Thanksgiving Edition (No Turkeys Here.)

The day started with a hazy, overcast sky and an ocean swell rolling in from the open Pacific. Although visibility was 10 to 15 nautical miles, the marine air gave everything a soft, muted look and both Port Angeles and Victoria looked further away than they actually are. In the morning, winds were light to gentle breezes starting in the southwest and swinging over to southeast. In the afternoon it shifted to north-northeast and became noticeably colder and wetter.
The ocean swell became dramatic by mid-afternoon, exploding over north rock and making a rolling break into the jetty bay, surging right over the jetty. Although the barometer was higher today than it has been all week, it is now slowly dropping and Monday ‘s forecast is for more clouds, wind and rain. Hmmm sounds like October.

Whale watching activity was fairly brisk today with seven boats in the Ecological Reserve. Everyone was fairly well behaved. Seaking Adventures was certainly giving a lot of throttle in the Reserve, crossing from Great Race over to North Rock but that may have been because he was bucking the tide. There were also a couple of sports-fishing boats passing through the Reserve in a hurry, Foghorn Charters was one of those two.

Some operators may not know that the speed limit is only 7 knots within the Reserve.

Some operators may not know that the speed limit is only 7 knots within the Reserve.

A large Humpback Whale passed through the Reserve westbound, late afternoon, there were no whale watching boats around.

A lot more gulls arrived with the cool wet weather and are roosting just about everywhere on Great Race now. I am curious what the numbers will be for this week’s census on Wednesday.
CaGu California Gulls resting and preening on Great Race.[/caption]

Western Gulls are a little north of their usual range here and hard to distinguish from Glaucous-winged X Western Gull hybrids.

Western Gulls are a little north of their usual range here and hard to distinguish from Glaucous-winged X Western Gull hybrids.

With the influx of California Gulls it is going to be tricky distinguishing and counting all the large gulls. A gull that is easy to distinguish and also a favorite of mine, is the Heerman’s Gull.

Heerman's Gulls are our most exotic looking gulls.

Heerman’s Gulls are our most exotic looking gulls.


Another avian visitor spotted today was the small to medium sized sandpiper pictured below, I think it is a Western Sandpiper but would like confirmation.
WeSa
There were two young Elephant Seals on Great Race today and one of them was “tagged as a weiner in 2012” at Ano Nuevo Island in California “and hasn’t been seen since, so this is an important data point” according to Dr. Patrick Robinson, Año Nuevo Island Reserve Director.
Mian 6967
The second Elephant Seal was sleeping on the marine railway in the morning.
mian jetty

Race Rocks has become Canada’s main Elephant Seal colony. It is important as a fall haul-out location for sub-adults, as well as a winter birthing and mating site and spring moulting site.
Race Rocks is an ecological treasure located at a key location next to busy shipping lanes and popular sport-fishing grounds. I am thankful to those who had the vision to protect this amazing area and thankful to be able to experience it.
roro close to RR
roro & maersk

Weather Day

A series of squalls and thunder showers turned Race Rocks into an emerald isle today.

A series of squalls and thunder showers turned Race Rocks into an emerald isle today.

Today was a weather day; we had all kinds. The morning fog was thick but lifted early and a westerly wind blew in squall after squall with dramatic downpours interspersed with glorious sunshine. The island had several good fresh water rinses, much needed after a long dry season.

Gulls lifted after the heavy rain and flew above the Davis Weather station drying their wings.

Gulls lifted after the heavy rain and flew above the Davis Weather station drying their wings.

There were dramatic cloud towers with thunder rumbles in the distance. Late afternoon the west wind simmered down to a steady 20 knots and the sky cleared. The barometer rose all day as it became nicer and nicer. A strong wind warning remains in effect for central Juan de Fuca and the outlook is for west winds, showers and increasing cloudiness Sunday and then a shift to southeasterly winds and rain on Monday.

Some of the whale watching boats seemed to be in a hurry today. The speed limit within 400 meters of the islets is 7 knots.

Some of the whale watching boats seemed to be in a hurry today. The speed limit within 400 meters of the islets is 7 knots.

It was a busy day for whale watching boats visiting the Ecological Reserve. A total of eleven boats were noted watching pinnipeds and more passed just outside the boundaries following the lags and watching Humpbacks just to the south and east of Race Rocks. Several of whale watching boats were pushing the boundaries of speeding in the reserve.

In a hurry? King Salmon of Great Pacific Adventures rushing through the Ecological Reserve at Race Rocks.

In a hurry? King Salmon of Great Pacific Adventures rushing through the Ecological Reserve at Race Rocks.

The usual dive boat spent most of the day in the Ecological Reserve doing multiple dives to the north of Great Race and finishing their last dive just off the jetty.

The Steller's Sea Lion would be a good candidate for disentanglement. He is robust and the strapping is not cutting into the back of his neck, yet.

The Steller’s Sea Lion would be a good candidate for disentanglement. He is robust and the strapping is not cutting into the back of his neck, yet.

Ecological observations were made throughout the day as opportunities arose.
I spotted a new (to me), entangled, Steller’s Sea Lion. It looked as though the culprit was plastic strapping again and there is a tiny glimmer of hope for the animal because, although the plastic had cut into the flesh of its throat, there was a bit of it unraveling and maybe there will be more. Again this would be a good candidate for disentangling because the plastic strap could easily be cut on the back where it was not embedded and because the individual is (for now) otherwise healthy-looking and robust enough to get into several scraps just finding a place to sleep.

If it wasn't so anthropomorphic, I might be tempted to suggest that these two are both saying do something, please.

If it wasn’t so anthropomorphic, I might be tempted to suggest that these two are both saying, ‘do something, please’.

 

You can see the extent of the injury being caused by the plastic cutting into this animals' neck.

You can see the extent of the injury being caused by the plastic cutting into this animals’ neck.

Alex and I took advantage of the downpours to collect rainwater in the wheelbarrow and wash outside windows. Alex made a sturdy, long handle for the squeegee and we worked as a team to clean and squeegee the exterior of the windows on both houses. The science house windows were still covered from gull breeding season, dive bombings and will benefit from a few more downpours which are on the horizon now. We tried to trouble-shoot the wind direction problems (again) with the Davis Weather system. Holding the vane at ninety degrees did not affect the reading on the console display. The usual chores regarding power, water and seawater sampling were also completed.

Camera 2 Reconnected

The weather changed many times today. It started out foggy with no wind, then cleared with a light north wind. Then it clouded over and blew a little more from the southeast. By late after noon there was light rain, which continued into the evening while the wind shifted back to the northeast. The barometer remained fairly steady until this evening when it started to fall. The forecast for the weekend is cloudy with showers and a strong wind warning for central Juan de Fuca Strait.

Only one whale watching boat was noted in the Ecological Reserve today and it arrived in front of the jetty at the exact time that Second Nature arrived with students from Pearson. Second nature tied up to the jetty and conducted a working dive installing the underwater camera (Webcam #2). Half the team dealt with mounting and connecting the camera while the rest of the crew ran the cable out and secured it along the way. Everyone was well-briefed top-side and it was probably a thrilling dive with the many sea lions in the water all around the divers. Students Stuart, Alex and Sean were in the water with Chris and Courtney led Joliene, Sarah and Yam. Riikka was dive marshal and had a crew of three who made sure that everything went according to plan. The camera is installed and connected and we should be able to view it again shortly.

I didn’t spend much time on ecological observations today but as I was wheel barrowing gear around in the morning, I looked up and saw a big flock of Turkey Vultures. They seemed to be coming from Rocky Point and heading across the Strait to Washington State. They seemed to be using the light tower as a navigation aid. I counted and the group included 102 birds. Five of them turned around just after Race Rocks, maybe they had forgotten their passports.

Today was a clean-up and re-group day here. I tidied up after the electricians and moved and packaged up the waste and debris from the oil change on the Lister generator. The solar panels were washed, fresh water made and electricity generated. Just before the dive was over I launched the boat and went to pick up Alex.

Pea Soup

It was socked in with fog as thick as pea soup today. It cleared off this evening just before six and well in time for a fantastic sunset and my realization that it was probably a beautiful day, just about everywhere else in the region.

California Sea Lions silhouetted by setting sun.

California Sea Lions silhouetted by setting sun.

There was not much wind today, the high was 5 knots out of the east-northeast and everything is damp almost as if it had rained. Most of the day the flag hung limp and a bit sodden. The barometer continued yesterday’s gradual rise until about noon when it started to slowly decline, ending up at about the same place it started. The forecast looks like rain for at least a week but it probably just means showers. I keep forgetting that rain here and rain in Bamfield are just not the same thing.

There were no whale-watching boats observed although one commercial sports fishing boat stopped by to have a look at the sea lions.

The results of this weeks’ large animal census follows:

Steller’s Sea Lion 173
California Sea Lion 412
Harbour Seal 136
Elephant Seal 12
River Otter 1
Canada Goose 20
Greater White-fronted Goose 5
Harlequin Ducks 8
Double-crested Cormorant46
Pelagic Cormorant 5
Black Oystercatchers 20
Black Turnstones 6
Killdeer 4
Glaucous-winged Gull 88
Glaucous-winged x Western Gull Hybrid
Thayer’s Gull 303
Heerman’s Gull 17
California Gull 12
Western Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 2
Gull sp, 260
Bald Eagle (adult) 1
Fox Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 17

Most of the sea lions have moved over to the west side of the island and are hauling out on Middle Island and some of the smaller rocks. They are seem to be spending much more time in the water instead of sleeping on land and salmon kills are visible all over the Ecological Reserve when the visibility is good enough to see.

Wall-to-wall California Sea Lions catch a nap in a pile.

Wall-to-wall California Sea Lions catch a nap in a pile.

Thayer’s Gulls are the dominant gull now in terms of numbers and they seem to spend a lot of their day resting and grooming. All the gulls seem to take advantage of the sea lion feeding events as bits of salmon are flying. I double-checked my Thayer’s Gull identification with Dick Cannings and his super-birder son, Russell and they concur that this is a Thayer’s Gull.

Race Rocks is an important resting, roosting and feeding place for Thayer's Gulls recovering from a busy summer in the Arctic.

Race Rocks is an important resting, roosting and feeding place for Thayer’s Gulls recovering from a busy summer in the high Arctic.

My biggest task today was attempting to muck out the roof of the energy building where the solar panels are installed. It reminded me of a stable job I had when I was a kid. I actually used a snow shovel to scoop out the organic crud that had built up under the last of the panels to be raised by the electrician yesterday. The rest of the day’s maintenance-type activities were the regular jobs entailed in living here; making fresh water, topping up the batteries with the generator (even the solar panels had a hard time keeping up in the thick fog), doing the seawater sampling and sweeping a few walkways.

Battery Power

The fog came and went again today but overall there was enough sunshine to keep the solar panels producing power. There was very little wind, always less than ten knots and often less than five. The direction was quite variable: in the morning it came from the north, then switched around to south and was blowing westerly at sunset. Now in the late evening it has turned back to a three-knot north wind. The barometer rose gradually most of the day so we are back up where we were a couple of days ago. The forecast is for increasing clouds with some sunshine tomorrow.

Today, I was not able to monitor vessel traffic in the Ecological Reserve as well as I usually do, nevertheless, 23 whale watching boats were observed in the Reserve, several visiting multiple times.

I did a large animal census, today and will report on it tomorrow as it is late now.

The middle of the day was taken up with battery room maintenance. Courtney showed me how to do it by doing 24 batteries and then I did the rest while the electrician and his apprentice were there. They checked on me to make sure that I was okay, working in that dangerous environment. All 96 batteries were checked and topped up with distilled water. Other chores included the usual daily tasks, seawater sampling, generation of electricity with the Lister and launching the boat. Once the electricians were finished, I gave them a ride into Pedder Bay. In spite of fog, there was a bit of a sunset. Here’s the shot.

As the tide ebbs, the sun sets through the fog reflected in the boils and rips.

As the tide ebbs, the sun sets through the fog reflected in the boils and rips.

Fogimatrix.

The weather here was dominated by fog today. It lifted in an interesting way this morning so that you could see out and under the fog for several miles yet there was thick fog above, at very low elevation. The rising sun shone through this clear layer, creating a weird and wonderful lighting effect from below. By mid-day the fog had burned off and sunshine prevailed at sea level. There was still fog in the shipping lane and the tops of the Olympic mountains were visible. The fog flowed back in by mid-afternoon and thickened steadily after that, pushed in by a westerly fog wind. During the day there wasn’t much wind until late afternoon/early evening when it picked up to 15 to 20 knots from the west. The barometer continued its slow trend downward that started a few days ago and the forecast looks relatively good until rain on Friday.

There was a fairly steady parade of whale watching boats in the Ecological Reserve today. They were looking at Humpback Whales, Harbour Porpoise and of course the Sea Lions. Sixteen tour boats were noted although I may have missed some in the fog. One of the tour operators had the chance to see a really big (tyee) spring salmon swimming through the kelp forest.

There were sports fishers catching Coho, Spring and Chum Salmon to the south and west of Race Rocks and many sea lions were also busy catching salmon while at the same time helping to feed the gulls with their scraps, not out of any benevolence, just because they are messy eaters.

There are many gulls here now including Glaucous-winged, Glaucous-winged hybrids and Thayer’s gull which are challenging to distinguish. I look forward to doing the census first thing tomorrow to try and figure out how many of which species. The Heerman’s Gulls continue to benefit from sea lion salmon treats which they certainly can’t do where they breed in Mexico. I like watching them. They are very beautiful and have a interesting feeding behaviours that they may have learned from birds like skimmers where they live rest of the year. They fly with their lower bill hanging down just above the water and occasional skim the water with it, catching small prey.
There are many sea lions on the west side of the island now and the westerly wind carries the dusty grime from them onto everything in its path. The Savannah Sparrows feed in and around the sea lions.

These little Savannah Sparrows forage through the sea lion waste picking up morsels and probably a few parasites.

These little Savannah Sparrows forage through the sea lion waste picking up morsels and probably a few parasites.

Elephant Seals have been hauling out on Middle Rock for over a month and now some are back on Great Race again. There was a small one hauled out on the northeastern side and a bigger one on the railway with the sea lions.

This Elephant Seal is napping with California Sea Lions on the marine railway.

This Elephant Seal is napping with California Sea Lions on the marine railway.

Washing the solar panels took a long time this morning. They were really dirty. I will do them after the census and it will probably take even longer, tomorrow as I want to shovel off the organic stuff that has accumulated before the electrician arrives to work on the panels. Today I readjusted to life on Race Rocks, finished the month-end report for September, did the seawater sample, made freshwater with the desalinator, ran the Lister generator and sorted photos as well as sea lion brand and entanglement data.

This entangled California Sea Lion has been spotted repeatedly since the end of August.

This entangled California Sea Lion has been spotted repeatedly since the end of August.

Out of the Fog

I returned to Race Rocks today after attending the Trans-Atlantic workshop on Ocean Literacy and the European Marine Science Educator’s conference last week, in Gothenburg, Sweden. I am refreshed and inspired to finish off my shift at Race Rocks.
It was warm and sunny when Courtney and I left Pearson College in Pedder Bay this morning but as we drove southeast towards Race Rocks, we were soon enveloped in the cool, damp fog. As the sunny peaks of the Olympic Mountains slid out of view, obscured by fog, the dark shape of North Islet emerged and behind it came Great Race and the light-tower, out of the fog. It is great to be back and was just as great for Jeff, who was filling in, to leave.
It was foggy on and off all day with a few periods of sunshine with visibility of over a nautical mile. Throughout the day, the foghorn blew and I could hear ships signaling as they navigated the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the fog. There was no wind for most of the day but it has been consistently blowing about ten knots out of the west for the past several hours and the fog is thickening.
The fog did not deter the whale watching boats as there were Humpback Whales feeding in the area today and the last cruise ship of the season in port. One smaller Humpback was diving and presumably feeding right in the Ecological Reserve diving against the flooding tide. I wonder if they can use the flow to their advantage in feeding more efficiently with less effort? Natural history speculation aside, the count of observed whale watching boats from 11:00 to 19:00 (dusk) was thirteen with some vessels visiting more than once.
The Chum Salmon run started in earnest while I was away and there appears to be fewer sea lions hauled out than there were before. There are many in the water however. Sea lions of both species are very busy eating Chum Salmon with most of the kills I observed, happening right in or at the edge of the tidal flows. They thrash the fish and rip it apart at the surface and swallow large chunks tail last at the surface as well. This source of scraps, of course attracts gulls. Several species of gull were seen in these sea lion driven feeding flocks today; Glaucous-winged, Hermann’s, Thayer’s and Ring-billed Gulls. There were three or four fairly hefty Elephant Seals hanging around the marine railway today. They have such huge eyes and such clean looking pink mouths. Many of the Sea Lions have serious tooth decay and oral disease.

While I was away there were several a visits to the island. The Victoria Natural History Society made it part of their birding trip on September 27, sixteen friends of the Royal BC Museum made a visit October 4th and a family visit was made by by Mike and Carol Slater, one of their daughters and several grand-children. Mike and Carol were the last light-keepers at Race Rocks and the first Eco-Guardians. They survived some epic storms and I am sure they have some great stories to tell. If you are interested in the “contemporary” history of Race Rocks, there is a lot of information on this web-site, including ancient videos, images and even historic weather events.

My main tasks today were to get moved back into the house, to do the seawater sampling, fix the pier fence and run the generator for a few hours in order to top up the batteries. There is new clean oil in the Lister gen-set and new filters etc. thanks to Jeff. The old Lister seems to run better than ever tonight a I finish my last task, posting this blog..

Field trip for VNHS

2014-09-27gfvnhstowers

 

Members of the Victoria Natural History Society accompanied ER warden Garry Fletcher on a field trip to Race Rocks this morning. Most of the members were avid birdwatchers so this time of year was ideal to view some of the many species that stopover at Race Rocks in their fall migration.

 

 

 

Some of the birds seen on the trip”

wtattlerAlso on a trip on a ecotourism vessel, Liam Singh took this image of this  wandering tattler which we had missed.

gfbrande calseal

One branded california sealion was hauled out near the docks. The number was not clear.