It’s phenomenal. Phenology has been expunged from the Canadian language. It does not appear  in the Oxford Canadian Dictionary (2nd edition 2006).

Spell check insists on “phrenology” instead.

It’s an American term, now. You’ll find it in the Webster : n. (biol.) a study of periodic events, e.g. flowering, breeding, migration, in relation to climatic and other factors [ PHENOMENON +Gk  logos, word ]

Some say that it’s the oldest branch of natural history, but it’s more like a root. To survive, we have taken measure of celestial signals since time immemorial, in relation to the migrations of species that we depend on, and the habitats that sustain them.

The Americans are way ahead of us in recognizing the value of long-term monitoring of seasonal phenomena. They have a national phenological network  :

As we enter into a powerful El Nino event, citizens from around the globe will be monitoring their local flora and fauna for evidence of how they respond.

The chart du jour shows the environmental signatures of thirteen first migrants in Roberts Bay during September and October last year.  In practically all cases, migrants appeared as the pressure was rising or at peak, usually above the average.

Migrants and Pressure Shifts 2014

This suite of signals plays at frequencies related to the passage of the Rossby waves and resultant air pressure shifts. The earliest autumn migrants are the prairie “puddle” ducks, grebes and the common loon.

Buffleheads, the black signal on the chart from last October 16th, are the very last to arrive.

During strong El Ninos, peak anomalies in the South Pacific tend to occur in late October. Environment Canada’s top ten weather events of 1997 included “BC’s Big Wet”, Victoria’s Snowstorm of the century, and drought and fire on the prairies. It was a year that the insurance industry took a big hit.

The Great Bufflehead Crash of November 4th 1940, followed a record hot, dry summer in the West.

End of Summer 2:THREE PACIFIC SISTERS : Jimena, Kilo, and Ignacio

Hurricanes Kilo (left) and Ignacio veering off to the north of Hawaii on September 1st, as the first significant extra-tropical storm rolls over the west coast.

Hurricanes Kilo (left) and Ignacio veering off to the north of Hawaii on September 1st, as the first significant extra-tropical storm rolls over the west coast.

Last Sunday (August 30) there was a fine display of three Category 4 hurricanes, slowly marching their way across the tropical Pacific. Jimena was averaging a stately 12 km per hour. Kilo has been slowly bumping along for three full weeks, a rarity. Hurricane Ignacio has taken a path north of Hawaii leaving extreme surf in its wake. This path is unusual. It is now north of 30 and is veering off into the northeast where it will become a post-tropical storm carried into the west coast with the next big loop of the jet stream, around the Aleutian Eye.

Whistler made the news yesterday with a rare summer snowfall. This coincided with the tremendous downpours and thunderstorm experienced here yesterday.  It’s a wet initiation to this “super” El Nino autumn. The east is now basking in a heat wave. This is the type of stormy autumn that hard-core birders and migration phenologists relish.

I’m not a dedicated birder, but I can relate to the thrill of seeing a new species far from its usual haunts. I have the honour of being represented in the nearly-completed  ‘Birds of Saskatchewan’ for having observed and photographed the first Ross’s Gull, a handsome small gull, typically found in Siberia, and more recently found breeding sparsely in the Canadian arctic. I spotted it by chance on October 26th, 2002,  directly under the apex of Palliser’s Triangle, as a major weather system passed through, at the height of a major prairie drought, associated with the last big El Nino. The Ross’s Gull is rare and threatened, listed under Canada’s Species at Risk.

Today also marks an apparent wave of California Gulls from Palliser’s Triangle, passing through the sanctuary. At noon there were 82 gathered on Mermaid Delta, along with 34 Mew Gulls.

As the barometer begins its rise toward a peak on Monday, I expect Pintails and Grebes to appear.

J.K. Finley

September 2 storm: End of summer 2015?

Satellite imagery of cloud cover over the North Pacific on September 1, 2015

Satellite imagery of cloud cover over the North Pacific on September 1, 2015

Since the barometer bottomed out Saturday (August 29), and this massive system moves on, we catch the tail end with a thunderous display and torrential downpours, that, as usual, catches me unprepared with a hole in the roof and bad gutters.
Environment Canada’s site did not have any advisories posted. The station at Victoria airport, 2.6 km away, indicated rain showers and possible thunderstorms. It was nothing like what I experienced. A seething black wall of clouds advanced from the Cowichan Valley, sweeping over the Saanich Peninsula, with a series of deluges following. In the aftermath the storm sewer outlets blasted the beach like fire hoses.

After Saturday’s strong Sou’easter (making national news), Surfside Bay is jammed with windrows of seaweed. The storm coincided with the arrival of the first aggregation (26) of Heerman’s Gulls on their usual autumn roost, accompanied by a number of Black-bellied Plovers. I was caught out in the first deluge this morning, with binoculars, negotiating the slippery beach with my dog.

Yesterday’s satellite image from NASA shows this first major ‘comma-cloud’ formation, clearing the air over a vast area of the Gulf of Alaska. The National Centers for Environmental Prediction charts ( indicated that there was a heightened CAPE (Convective Available  Potential Energy), with a bullseye centre situated just off the coast of Vancouver Island. As with the last significant display of thunder, lightening and downpours in April, these localized features are difficult to forecast. In passing, they remind us how poorly prepared we are for real calamities.
So far the long term climatic forecast for the onset of a stormy autumn are proving true.

One of the longest, most glorious summers on the coast may have ended abruptly.

J. K. Finley