Mega-fauna Draw

It was another north-northeasterly day on Race Rocks. There was even some sunshine during the late morning and early afternoon but it clouded over for the latter part of the day. The barometer is dropping again and the forecast is for windy, cloudy and wet.

The weather did not deter the hardy whale watchers and nine tour vessels were observed in the Ecological Reserve.

Meno and WW

Killer Whales, Humpback Whales, Steller and California Sealions, Northern Elephant Seals and Harbour Seals were also observed from the Ecological Reserve creating the draw for tourists.

Sealions lounging

Most of my day was tied up with supporting the water technician’s visit to repair the desalinator, briefing fending off Elephant Seals, stowing fire hoses and entering/organizing data. During my tower trip I was able to see all of these species and noted three new brands on Steller’s Sealions on MiddleRock.

Mian boat ramp

The barometer climbed right out of its 996 hole today and there was glorious sunshine mixed with dark and nasty, west to southwest squalls. Some of the gloomier squalls also brought thunder and lightening. Band after band of bright and dark passed from the southwest. There was also a substantial groundswell. All of the weather drama made for a spectacular sunset.

Oct24 sky

Six brave whale watching boats were observed in the Ecological Reserve today and the folks in open boats must have had an interesting time during the big, mid-afternoon windstorm with a sudden and sodden downpour. I was out in the middle of it too, standing by, on the end of the jetty, waiting for a landing, but was too rough. It was gusting ~ 25 knots when I left the lighthouse to meet the boat and there were about 300 sealions hauled out in front of the science house.

There were also five adult Brown Pelicans on South Rock in the middle of this tempest’s blast. They can huddle down into a very low aerodynamic, face into the wind, posture and they didn’t get blown away.

The sealions retreated to the water during the deluge and have only now hauled out again en masse, three hours later. Many of the Stellers are in full molt now and some of them are looking quite scruffy. ‘Flake’ is the only Northern Elephant Sea of the ten blocking the jetty this morning that looks like he is still moulting. He may have a skin condition, as it is quite pink and raw looking.

The biggest of this crew is starting to “sprout” the big proboscis for which the adult males are famous. It looked to me like it was quite uncomfortable and kept awaking and thrashing around and garbling. They must feel really heavy on land after being at sea so much of their life.

Flake, (top left) and other Northern Elephant Seals have taken over the entrance to the boat shed and jetty.

Flake, (top left) and other Northern Elephant Seals have taken over the entrance to the boat shed and jetty.

 

The seal on the left kept awaking from sleep disturbed and the one on the right would grip him each time it happened. I wonder if it hurts having your nose grow that fast?

The seal on the left kept awaking from sleep disturbed and the one on the right would grip him each time it happened. I wonder if it hurts having your nose grow that fast?

Today was census day and the results are listed below. I missed the Harbour Seals due to the ferocity of oncoming squalls but will try to catch them tomorrow.

Steller Sealion 318

California Sealion 381

Northern Elephant Seal 10

Canada Goose 22

Greater White-fronted Goose 1

Harlequin Duck 5

Double-crested Cormorant 118

Pelagic Cormorant 19

Brown Pelican 5

Black Turnstone 9

Surfbird 5

Sanderling 3

Western Sandpiper 2

Dunlin 2

Black Oystercatcher 12

Killdeer 2

Glaucous-winged Gull 150

Thayer’s Gull 1200

California Gull 2

Western Gull 7

Heerman’s Gull 4

Gull sp. 50

Common Murre 3

Fox Sparrow 2

Dark-eyed Junco 1

Savannah Sparrow 15

 

 

 

Whistling House

There was a big blow last night and I learned that this house can whistle; with three distinct tones, synchronously, very musical. This morning there was a swell from the southeaster and an even bigger groundswell coming in from open sea to the west. Add the tidal race to the mix and you can imagine that the wave patterns created were mesmerizing.

It seemed like the day was in recovery from the storm, with gentle winds from the north-northeast, light rain and overcast. The pattern of barometric pressure change was not so reassuring, falling since noon it is now back below 998 hPa. That is where it was for last night’s big blow. It looks like the forecast is for more of the same.

There were six whale-watching boats observed in the Ecological Reserve today; five Canadian and the almost daily visitor from Port Angeles, called Island Explorer. The big draw, other than Race Rocks itself, were abundant Humpback Whales in the area. It certainly wasn’t the weather. At least two of the Humpback Whales were in the Ecological Reserve .

There were four Elephant Seals on the marine railway today, Gat (#5850-6967) , Flake and two larger animals. They ‘played’ together and then slept together for most of the day. More sealions than have hauled out since about a week ago, were also sleeping soundly throughout the day today, perhaps recovering from last night.

Euju ringneck south2 Oct 22

The three entangled Stellers sealions that are proposed candidates for disentanglement were all attending, two of them hauling out close to the living-room window of the science house.

 

Euju ringneck west 2 Oct 22

Euju ringneck west Oct22 Euju hi-top ringneck Oct22

When I was doing the seawater sample I noticed a couple of Harlequin Ducks foraging on the north side of the island. I would like to see them on the underwater camera.

Hadu M & F

More shorebirds were observed foraging on the abandoned sealion haul-out today; Dunlin, Western Sandpipers and Sanderlings were foraging with the Black Turnstones. The smaller birds were kneading the substrate with their feet and probing. That area is completely covered in a mat of sealion hair from their moult.

sand tapping

Even though it was a dark and gloomy day, the solar panels managed to keep up with operational, electrical use. The generator is just cooling now after topping up the batteries for the night.

Sealions from west of 140W at Race Rocks.

It was another day of mixed weather at Race Rocks. Gentle breezes less than five knots, tended north to northeast all day. While the sea surface appeared calm, there was a big sea running that caused spectacular waves on the west side of the islands. The barometer rose until noon and then started to slip back down. Although it looks like rain coming on the horizon now, it was a fairly dry day while apparently pouring down over on the American side.

In spite of many Humpback Whales in sight from Great Race, the season must be winding down, as there were only five whale-watching boats observed within the Ecological Reserve and only one sports fisher stopped by for a look at the seals and sealions.

The interesting, new (to me), Steller’s Sealion brand of the day comes from almost as far away as yesterday’s George Island animal whose branding location was indicated by the ‘Y.’ Today’s ‘T’ stands for Marmot Island which is just off the southeast end of Kodiak Island. So both of these animals are from the western Alaskan Stellers Sealion population, west of 140 degrees west. The western population is considered to be endangered due to its inexplicably, declining numbers. How interesting that these guys are hanging out here, where there is a lots of food right now, far from home.

This branded Stellers Sealion was born on Marmot Island just off Kodiak Island, Alaska. He was branded as a pup, July 4, 2010.

This branded Stellers Sealion was born on Marmot Island just off Kodiak Island, Alaska. He was branded as a pup, July 4, 2010.

Second Nature, with Courtney at the helm, brought out the chimney specialists who cleaned and inspected the chimneys in both houses. A young Frenchman from Lille who is volunteering at Pearson College came along as well. I did some more trouble-shooting with the desalinator and called an expert for help. I strung the fire-hoses and fired up the Briggs & Stratton and pumped seawater into the cistern. The hoses are getting a nice fresh water rinse over-night.

Spot the Mian.

Weather was happening all around Race Rocks today but it was pretty nice here. There was a significant swell, which is nice to watch, unless you want to launch a boat. Across the Strait, on the American side, it was really pouring on the Olympic Peninsula especially in the Elwah Valley. Here, clouds came and went, it rained a little, it shone a bit and the barometer was actually up and steady after yesterday’s low. Forecast is for more of the same.

There were only two whale-watching boats observed in the Ecological Reserve today and one was a “new” catamaran vessel that I have not seen before, called “4-Ever Wild”.

Juan de Fuca Warrior spent the day with a crew diving in the Ecological Reserve most of the day again today. I forgot to mention that yesterday there were three happy kayakers enjoying a paddle in the Ecological Reserve and unwittingly getting a little too close to the sealions.

happy kayakers
Kayakers disturb sealions too

Some of the photos of sealions taken from the tower actually show Elephant Seals too. Can you spot the Elephant Seals in these two photos?
spot the Mian
spot the Mian2

I spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting web-cams, “watertight boxes”, power and ethernet lines, not very successfully, but maybe tomorrow. I changed both of the cartridge filters on the desalinator today. I worked on further organization of the brand, tag and entanglement data for both species of sealion and got some new photos of brands.
Zaca U255 Oct 20

The Steller Sealion in the background Euju 299Y was I believe, tagged on St. George Island in the Bering Sea. The Y refers to that location which is close to 5,000 kilometers away from Race Rocks. Looking for confirmation of this amazing voyage.

The Steller Sealion in the background Euju 299Y was I believe, tagged on St. George Island in the Bering Sea. The Y refers to that location which is close to 5,000 kilometers away from Race Rocks. Looking for confirmation of this amazing voyage.

Red Sky in the Morning, Sailors Take Warning.

Today was a transitional day that started with a spectacular sunrise of backlit clouds with lots of pinks and reds. That was a warning of things to come. It didn’t blow much until just before sunset and then switched from the dithering north and northeast winds of the daytime to a steady westerly of 20 knots, gusting to over 25 knots. The rain was not far behind.

This warm blow feels and smells like a pineapple express, even above the essence of sea lion. The barometer track from last night to this one was a diagonal drop but the forecast shows some hope for sunshine tomorrow and then back to southeast.

There were ten commercial whale watching boat visits to the Ecological Reserve today and even more activity in Race Passage. There were multiple Humpback Whales in the neighbourhood again today. It was also a busy day for sports-fishing boats and people racing around in speedboats. There were several speeders in the Ecological Reserve including a young family who had rented at Pedder Bay marina.
Pedder Bay Rental speeding in ER
speedboat Oct 19 ER

A Harbour Seal hauls out in the Jetty bay most afternoons now. It is very photogenic with its little pink tongue and great stretches. Check-out those not so cute, formidable looking nails (aka claws).
Phvt pink tongue
Phvt stretch

Another favorite resident here is the Black Oystercatcher.
BLOY headshot

I did the usual chores today, clean-up, wash solar panels, sample seawater and run the generator for a couple of hours to top up the batteries. I tried unsuccessfully (again) to fix the wind direction input on the weather station and to get the weed-eater going.

Underwater camera and California sea lion

pbo192014ct

 

 

Pam Birley from England just sent this great image which she took this afternoon on underwater camera 2.

 

 

 

Link to other observations by visitors on the webcam by clicking on the Webcam Visitor observations link in the line below.

Pelicans again at Race Rocks

Thanks to Rick Page, a Board Member of Friends of Ecological Reserves for forwarding  these images of Brown Pelicans taken at Race Rocks today. He says ” I was in the bow of the boat and noticed the profile of the pelicans from a long way out as they stood on the peak of West Rocks.”

rickpage191014pelican_1668

 

 

Gentle Breezes

There were gentle breezes from the north and northeast with mostly sunny skies today, a nice reprieve from yesterday. There was no groundswell and the barometer continued its 20 degree climb until late afternoon. As the sun set, the breeze swung over to the southwest and now that is night, it is back to northwest. The outlook is a switch back to southeast winds as another low approaches.

There was quite a bit of fishing activity in the distance around Race Rocks but nothing observed in the Ecological Reserve itself. Cedar, a sailboat registered in Victoria cut right across the kelp beds north and east of Turbine Rock, under power and managed to come out the other side without stalling or snagging a rock.

No problem cutting right through kelp beds, heading for the haul-out.

No problem cutting right through kelp beds, heading for the haul-out.

A few sports-fishers passed through, doing the speed limit with two exceptions.

Perhaps speed limit signs need to be installed or the DFO notice needs to be recirculated?

Perhaps speed limit signs need to be installed or DFO notice needs to be recirculated?


Ogden Point Dive boat, JdF Warrior spent the day, as is usual on Saturdays, diving in the Ecological Reserve.
This boat brings divers to the Ecological Reserve every Saturday, for multiple dives.

This boat brings divers to the Ecological Reserve every Saturday, for multiple dives.


Up to three o’clock, just one whale watching boat was observed in the Reserve. After three-thirty a dozen boats went through on their way, to and from the whales.

It was a quiet day until mid afternoon, in terms of ecological observations. I finally got a photo of one of the Killdeer that I hear calling just about every night. Until today I have just had glimpses of it in the dark.

I finally saw one of the mysterious Killdeer that usually arrive after dark and leave before dawn. The distinctive call drew me to the bird.

I finally saw one of the mysterious Killdeer that usually arrive after dark and leave before dawn. The distinctive call drew me to the bird.

There didn’t seem to be much happening so I had a look at the underwater camera and in a few minutes had seen three species of rockfish, Sebastes melanops, s. maliger and S. nebulosus, large, adult male and large female greenlings and then of course the lavendar carpet of coralline algae, orange cup-corals Balanophyllia elegans, the ubiquitous red urchins, Stronglyocentrotus fransiscanus and the beautiful white plumose anemones Metridium farcimen. Wow, that is a window on the underwater world.

Marine protected areas can grow big healthy, rockfish like this one that will then disperse young to adjacent fishing areas.

Marine protected areas can grow big healthy, rockfish like this one that will then disperse young to populate adjacent fishing areas.

After 3PM there was an explosion of cetacean activity and mixed species feeding aggregations all around Race Rocks. I didn’t see any whales right in the Ecological Reserve but they had the place surrounded. There were at least four Humpback Whales and three separate pods of Killer Whales.

Multiple pods of Killer Whales were feeding in the vicinity of Race Rocks today.

Multiple pods of Killer Whales were feeding in the vicinity of Race Rocks today.


The Humpbacks were breaching and fin slapping as well as exhibiting their more dignified behaviours of blowing and diving. A whale watching boat skipper said on the VHF radio, that he had seen seven Humpbacks between Secretary and Race Rocks and there were at least another two to the east of Race Rocks. The Killer Whales were slowly heading to the west and again the whale watchers said that there were both Southern Residents (J & K) and transient or Bigg’s Killer Whales to the east of Race. The Sea Lions were also off foraging today and groups of Steller Sealions could be seen working feed together in Race Passage and beyond. There were many thousands of birds forming some really huge, mixed species, feeding flocks to the southeast. Race Rocks really is an amazing location for both biodiversity and productivity.

Now to the more mundane: for an unknown maintenance experience, I tackled the grease gun today and greased the nipples on the desalinator and the winch. I continued to clean the roof of the energy building but its low centre and dam forming aluminum struts are starting to frustrate my efforts.

It was so nice in the afternoon, I thought I would make more hay for the compost but was sorely defeated by the weed-eater, which refused to start. This was the beginning of my mechanical problems. Next, I went to run the desalinator and the high-pressure pump wouldn’t start. My faith in engineering was restored by the trusty Lister generator. At the turn of the switch, it whined and roared into life and topped up the solar powered batteries for the island. With another turn of the switch it shuddered and stopped and silently cools as I write this blog.
ZaCa U:W cam oct 17

Wild and Wet.

It was a wild and wet day at Race Rocks with waves breaking over the jetty and the feeling of the first storm of the season. Even though it rained fairly hard in the morning, there were only sprinkles in the afternoon, as the wind switched from northeast to southeast and then back to north. The barometer kept on its downward slide, started yesterday afternoon until mid-afternoon when it started to climb again. The climb may be short-lived though as the forecast is for more of the same.

There were no vessels noted in the Ecological Reserve today, but at least one came fairly close.

Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is on the edge of a busy shipping lane.

Race Rocks Ecological Reserve is on the edge of a busy shipping lane.

Great Race and the other islets that are not awash in the heavy seas, are almost completely covered with birds and mammals right now. It really is a natural haven.

Mixed species flocks of gull dominated by Thayer's rest and preen on the east end of Great Race.

Mixed species flocks of gull dominated by Thayer’s rest and preen on the east end of Great Race.

With close to 900 seals and sea lions, thousands of gulls, and hundreds of other seabirds, it is surprising that there are still some unoccupied bits of terra firma around the house.

Double-crested Cormorants have significantly increased in number over the last two months.

Double-crested Cormorants have significantly increased in number over the last two months.

The tagged Northern Elephant Seal 5850_6967 which I am going to call Gat (the noise he makes and Tag backwards) and his little buddy Flake spent the whole day asleep, pressed up against each other and the back of the boat house.

The animal on the right, Gat will be three years old in January. How old do you think Flake (on the left) is?

The animal on the right, Gat will be three years old in January. How old do you think Flake is?

Something that most, but not all of the Elephant Seals have here, is extremely white mucous coming out of their noses. They are such amazing divers and spend so much of their life diving, that the default position for their nostrils is closed. Many truly marine birds and even marine iguanas have ways of conserving water and secreting salt through nasal glands and I am curious if Northern Elephant Seals can secrete salt that way? Will report back on my findings about the mystery of the white snot.

White mucus can be seen on the noses of many of the hauled out Elephant Seals.

White mucus can be seen on the noses of many of the hauled out Elephant Seals.

I had no visitors today and could not go anywhere due to sea conditions but thanks to conference calling, I was able to attend a wonderful meeting at Government House in Victoria. The meeting was about a new initiative to empower youth stewardship in British Columbia, a legacy project of the Lieutenant Governor. Very exciting news will be shared in November. Yes, you will have to wait.

For outdoor adventure I swept walkways and cleared the marine railway of woody debris and seaweed, adding to the woodpile and enhancing the compost pile with some lovely bull kelp. Otherwise I did the regular maintenance to keep things going.