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 Interested? Contact us at

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.





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