October 19, 2019 All Buffleheads Celebration (but no buffleheads in sight)

Bob Peart and participants looking-03859

Bob Peart and other keen-eyed observers scan Roberts Bay for Bufflehead ducks (to no avail).


On Wednesday, October 9 Kerry Finley (our eyes on Roberts Bay) reported:

HAIL TO THE BUFFLEHEAD : They’re back early
I’m pleased to announce that the BuffGoRhythm was accurate to within 99.99 percent. The first Buffleheads, a flock of seven with two drakes appeared on Roberts Bay by 07:15 Pacific Standard Time.
This is the largest flock to have appeared this early and it ties with last years earliest arrival.
Buffleheads bring on Jack Frost.
Over 50 cheerful people dressed for the weather turned out for the annual Buffleheads Celebration organized by the Friends of Shoal Harbour (FOSH). The observational power of the group was significantly augmented by visitors from the Victoria Natural History Society. Mallards and mergansers were observed, albeit no buffleheads. A distant whimbrel was spotted, an infrequent visitor here.

Whimbrel – image from “Birds of Coastal British Columbia” by Baron & Acorn

Farrell Boyce (Vice Chair, Friends of Shoal Harbour) served as MC of the gathering, acknowledging that the gathering took place on the traditional territory of the WASANEC First Nations, welcoming attendees and special guests.
The first order of business was to send out the children present to scour the beach and return with at least 3 items that did not belong on the beach. Fulfillment of this task qualified the person for a draw for a Naturehood Stuffie (a colourful collection of stuffed critters that fit into a stuffed canoe -very Canadian).
MLA Adam Olsen, a steadfast supporter of our activities,  offered words of encouragement.
Patricia Pearson, acting Mayor of the District of North Saanich, reported that the District had recently met to review their strategic priorities for 2019, one of which is the role for the District in the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary Integrated Management Plan. This work is underway and council looks forward to deliberating on it in the near future. Staff recognizes the complexity of the area and are attempting to complete a holistic review of what is required. This was good news as was the District’s decision to rebuild the northern section of the Scoter Trail along Patricia Bay, a trail that affords some of the best winter birdwatching on the Saanich Peninsula.
FOSH Chair Bob Peart reported on the Society’s activities planned for the coming year:
  • With financial support from Nature Canada and the involvement of Camosun College, engaging students to explore the ways and means of arriving at a pan-Peninsula integrated foreshore management plan
  • An interactive panel discussion on quality of life opportunities and issues on the Saanich Peninsula  with particular regard to the Naturehood concept and climate change (January/February 2020)
  • the now traditional FOSH Spring Birdwalk and Tea event (March 2020

Roberts Bay Residents Association Spokesperson, Jocelyn Gifford reported a growing list of supporters. Roberts Bay Residents and Friends of Shoal Harbour are close allies in urging protection of the foreshore from careless development.

Tsehum Harbour Task Force representative, Diane Falconer spoke about the Task Force’s advocacy for fair, responsible and enforced  regulation of mooring buoys in local harbours. We agree.

The children, dispatched earlier to comb the beach for “foreign” objects, returned with a haul that satisfied the contest criterion, bits of plastic and surprisingly, an unwrapped toffee. We proceeded with the formalities of the draw but there being two contestants and two stuffies to distribute, everybody was happy.

The formal part of the gathering closed with a “call and response” ceremony intended to affirm the purpose of the event and to locate it in the evolving history of this beautiful place.

CALL:  For many years people have gathered on this beach as the season turns to winter, welcoming those who return to share this place and the hard months with us.
RESPONSE: As do the birds and other creatures, we people also require a place to call our home. Not a place for all time but a place to share across time, from past to future.
CALL: Thus we acknowledge the long tenure of the WASANEC people, wise in the ways of this place, its web of deep relationship. We offer them our respect.
RESPONSE: Those of us who have come here lately have much to learn. We understand that now.
CALL: And so we say “Hello, buffleheads! We are glad that you have returned to be with us, as we are glad for all the other creatures for whom this place is home. You enrich our lives and in return we must care for you.
RESPONSE: Yes, this is our home together. Welcome, Buffleheads!


Adam Olsen with Stuffy toys-03914

MLA Adam Olsen approves of the Naturehood Stuffie prize. Adam is a strong supporter of local initiatives such as ours.

North Saanich Councilor speaks-03928 copy

North Saanich Acting Mayor Patricia Pearson

Jocelyn Gifford Roberts Bay rep speaks-03955

Jocelyn Gifford, representing the Roberts Bay Residents Association.

Diane and Malcom Falconer-03974

Diane Falconer (Malcom standing by) representing the Tsehum Harbour Task Force.

Farrell handing out stuffies to kids-03986

And the Naturehood stuffie winners are Sophia Adam (blue parka) and Emma Pearson (pink parka). Congratulations to both!

Glassing the whimbrel

Glassing the whimbrel


All Buffleheads Celebration: 10 am, Saturday, October 19 at the Ardwell Beach Access on Roberts Bay, Sidney BC

Oct 19 poster copyThe Buffleheads arrived early this year. They were first sighted on Roberts Bay by Kerry Finley  at 7:15 am on Wednesday, October 9, a party of seven with two drakes.

The annual Buffleheads celebration wil take place at 10:00 am on Saturday, October 19. Everybody is welcome. The gathering place is in Sidney BC at the Ardwell Road beach acess  to Roberts Bay. Roberts Bay is part of the 1931 Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The activities will include guided birdwatching and a childrens’ scavenger hunt. There will be maps and other displays, words of encouragement from members of local municipal councils, the Provincial Government, a progress report from the Chair of  Friends of Shoal Harbour and more.. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions. Since Bufflehead ducks will have been in the area for ten days, thre is a very good chance that some will be in the vicinity to receive our encouragements.

A Bufflehead Primer courtesy of Naturalist K. J. Finley:


1.0 What are Buffleheads?
Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) are a small, black and white sea duck, with splendid iridescent colours.  In summer, they inhabit the aspen parkland belt of Western Canada into Alaska. Buffleheads are strictly dependent on a woodpecker, the Northern Flicker, and have evolved their small size to fit the entrance to its nest cavity, usually in a
Trembling Aspen.

Buffleheads have a complex social structure and highly evolved society in which parental care is extended to both sexes.

2.0 Bufflehead Migration
Buffleheads migrate in family units headed by monogamous matriarchs and patriarchs.  Because of their small size and specialized life, Buffleheads are physiologically
constrained by weather and the timing of freeze-up and melt of their ponds.

Buffleheads begin migration at dusk, leaving only under certain weather
conditions.  Buffleheads migrate synchronously, precisely and overnight from coast to
coast, with the continental migration divide around the apex of Palliser’s Triangle, near the 110th Meridian (Alberta-Saskatchewan border) at the congruence of the Great Western Flyway.

Bufflehead migrations are not merely punctual, they are precisely so, revealing
order behind the apparent “veil of chaos” of weather.  Although Buffleheads are renowned as Nocturnal Storm Riders, they are, more particularly, Surfers of Planetary Waves.  Large-scale multivariate weather models of bird migration can, at best,
explain about 76% of timing and volume. The “Buffgorhythm”, based on planetary waves, lunar cycles and weather variables, explains more than 99.5% of Bufflehead migration phenology.

3.0 All Buffleheads Day.
All Buffleheads Day, the 297th day of the solar year (typically October 15th) is a scientific constant based on 22 years of observation in Shoal Harbour Migratory Sanctuary, in Sidney BC on southeastern Vancouver Island in the Salish Sea.

The variation around All Buffleheads Day (ABD) is very small (+/- 3.8 days).  This precision may be a world record in timing; but, more importantly, the variation is nonrandom and predictable.

The prediction for 2019 ABD is an early appearance, favouring October 13th; with a late first wave of October 29th, and a normal last wave around November 7-8th.

Although celebrated only here in the Capital Region District, ABD is a national event because all Buffleheads migrate synchronously from coast to coast. Their migration is an international, circumpolar phenomenon because weather and climate have no boundaries, and it’s universal because planetary waves are just that.

4.0 The Science of All Buffleheads Day
Remarkably, Buffleheads have never appeared on the day before ABD,
hereafter referred to as Null Bufflehead Day or NBD.  NBD represents the invisible planetary signal that Buffleheads are responding to.  Long-wavelength (ca 2500 km) planetary waves travel slowly eastward, occurring in quasi-resonant frequencies, around the lunar cycle, increasing in amplitude after NBD.  Thus, Null Bufflehead Day represents a real date in a natural calendar, the constant, resonant, planetary phenomenon, that explains ABD.

All Buffleheads Day is the first day after NBD in a natural, planetary calendar.

After ABD, Buffleheads arrive in two waves associated with increasing amplitude of the planetary waves, in resonance with the lunar cycle, creating stormy weather.  One of the codes behind “Buffgorhythm” is: early bird = late first wave.

The Great Bufflehead Crash of November 4th, 1940 was caused by a major El Nino event and its interaction with the hydrology and chemistry of Big Quill Lake, a saline sea in Saskatchewan.  This Crash presaged major weather catastrophes that followed: for example, the collapse of the Tacoma Bridge and the Armistice Day Blizzard.


Not Just Buffleheads

There has been a summer lull in postings for which we apologize. Actually, we (Friends of Shoal Harbour) would welcome additional editorial help.  If you, dear reader, live near Victoria BC, have some writing and editing skills plus an interest in natural history you  could become an adjunct editor of http://www.shoalharbour.com. Interested? Contact us at bufflegabmail@gmail.com.

Bufflehead ducks are often mentioned in this blog. They are interesting birds for many reasons. This summer provided a close look at another equally interesting and beautiful  species, the Heerman’s Gull. Smoky grey plumage, bright read bills, agile fliers,  Herrman’s Gulls show up here in summer. From Birds of Costal British Columbia:

“The Heerman’s  is one of the few true ‘sea gulls’, found over salt water whenever it isn’t on land to breed. This is not a gull that you will find at city parks and garbage dumps. For us, this species is a fall bird, and it is most often seen along the  outer coast. Oddly enough, its breeding grounds are south of hre (Near Baja California) rather than north. Th birds disperse both north and south after nesting is over.”

Naturalist Kerry Finley contributes these local observations of Heerman’s Gulls:

“HEEG-ogram 2019
Sidney Channel – Isla Rasa IBBA report, 22 Sept, 2019

Attached please find latest graph of Heermann’s Gulls (HEEG) from the Surfside Reefs.

Despite their early appearance, their numbers have remained stable, and well below the El Nino peaks of 2016 and 2017, until now.  Today they have shifted their roost for the first time to Surfside Reef (southern most), and their numbers have peaked for the first time.

At the midpoint of their residence, this peak coincides with the first school of juvenile herring (9-10cm) which appeared below the lookout. However the turbidity and intense red tide make them difficult to enumerate.  Offshore in Sidney Channel , the Common Murre  moult migration with their chicks, appears to have passed its peak. The first Horned Grebes appeared yesterday, and the Double-crested Cormorants have moved close inshore in packs, along with Harbour Seals.

The Red Tide began on 4 Sept, and is one of the most intense that I recall.

At the most northerly roost on the Salish Sea, the Surfside Reefs in Sidney provide a unique opportunity to monitor the health of  not only this IBBA but our “ Mother” sanctuary in Isla Rasa. The peak of the HEEG-ogram corresponds phenologically* with Common Murre  and Horned Grebe and the appearance of  juvenile Pacific Herring. Their initial appearance corresponds to Rhinoceros Auklet – Sandlance feeding frenzies.”

I met a birder from Idaho by accident the other day on Surfside Drive. Said he had seen a symbol of binoculars on a brochure, so he made his way there by guessing. He was astounded at the  beauty of the location and its diverse bird life. He had something like 565 species, and he rapidly increased it by ten. He was amazed to find these marine species so close at hand with such a stunning panorama.

K.J. Finley, Caretaker

* Phenology is the study of timing of natural phenomena in relation to environmental factors.


Estimates of numbers of Heerman’s Gulls observed at The Surfside Reefs just offshore from Sideny BC. Observations extend from July 1 to Mid November.