Buffleheads leave for breeding grounds

post contributed by Kerry Finley

bufflehead flock

Flock of feeding Buffleheads, Roberts Bay, December 31, 2014

SPRING SPRUNG : EDT1 – Day 190 at 90 % of the Winter Buffathon

It was apparent yesterday afternoon that departure was near as they gathered in “family groups” over the shallows. Pair bonds, usually not evident, were very close, with the females often soliciting sex. Unlike the last waves of transients, when courtship activities and mock-battles abounded, the resident pairs have settled down to sex and eating. As the mudflat community of tiny Green Tanaids warms up, the Buffleheads are stocking up their energy reserves for the long flight and, particularly for the females, the energy to start the next generation.

Bufflehead society is matriarchal and complex, certainly as complex as humans, and I don’t pretend to fully comprehend it. When I label this first wave as EDT1 – the departure of the breeding pairs, as opposed to the next wave EDT2 of the yearlings – it probably leaves a wrong impression of the family dynamics involved. Unlike most ducks or bird species, Buffleheads show an extended relationship with their young, both sons and daughters. Matriarchs on their home ponds are usually visited throughout the breeding season by females thought to be their daughters. The Matriarch shows the daughter how to fly through trees ( for the first time in their lives) and especially how to find a proper nest cavity, and make the tricky aerial maneuver to enter. The “daughters” regularly check in on the development of the next generation, and lay claim to an extremely limited piece of real estate. The yearling “sons” also check out their natal ponds, and maintain a relationship with their fathers. The Drake, in turn, maintains a close partnership with a “brother” throughout the winter. These “family units” were evident yesterday as they exchanged knowledge of whatever lay ahead.

Although yesterday morning’s systematic count gave a high of 174, a rapid evening count when they were resting, gave 143. This morning’s scan gives 81 of which only 22 (27%) are drakes, down from 50 %. There are still a few pairs remaining, but the bulk are gone.

This is a major milestone in the Buffathon providing the first forecast and test of this critical component (EDT1) of the population, using first the planetary wave – lunar model that predicted an earlier departure than normal, and then a weather model to refine it. It is apparent that their timing is more strongly controlled by the planetary waves than the moon, and that it is as precise and constant as ABD itself. In fact, with an sample size of 6, the standard deviation is only +/- 2.4 days. Therefore, EDT1 is a constant universal signal of the onset of real spring in the northern hemisphere, most closely tied to the retreat of the snowline in the Altai Krai region, and more constant than the various climatic variables of melt. As Owen Lange knew ( Living with Weather ) weather is just a manifestation of the uber-forces of planetary waves and lunar cycles that occurred at very precise moments.

At 190 days past ABD, EDT1 marks real spring with a proven precision of < 0.1 %, by far the most accurate natural phenological calendar on earth. As Owen Lange noted,  the meteorological calendar and the seasons are out of synchrony with the Gregorian Calendar, which is why “Easter” is a capricious ceremony. The artificial onset of the New Year, Leap Years, The Work Week and Daylight Savings are all constructs of economy.

The Song of the Sooty Sparrow says so.

bufflehead waves




Spring has arrived and with it a “new” bird species

Post contributed by Kerry Finley

song sparrow

Sooty (Pacific) Sparrow sighted in the Beaufort Grove

SPRING SPRUNG, 20 April 2019
( and a new species and song for Shoal Harbour Sanctuary)
Day 189 (89%) of the Winter Buffathon

At first glance, I was again certain that some Buffleheads had jumped the cue, but a recount gave 174. Last evening they gathered in the shadows of the southwest (Resthaven) corner, and because they were mostly resting and linearly distributed I was able to get a good rapid count of 186 with 94 drakes (50.5%). This proportion is a noteworthy benchmark that will rapidly decline, after tonight’s anticipated departure of the winter resident pairs (see the following post April 21).

The night was clear and this morning brought in real spring, with warblers foraging in the Big-Leaf Maple, flickers calling and a melodious, distinct song that I’ve never heard before, coming from deep in Beaufort Grove. Armed with binoculars and a camera, I was able to record the bird and the song. It was a very dusky large sparrow with reddish tinges, and it proved to be the Sooty (Pacific) – sub-species or species of the highly variable Fox Sparrow clan. Of which, I’m very familiar with as our reddish, ground scratching autumn migrants and winter residents. Aside from its obvious Sooty appearance, it’s song alone qualifies it as a species in itself, or, like Darwin found, a finch in rapid evolution. And though Sibley describes the Red Taiga “Species” as having the richest and most melodious song of all sparrows ( heard only in the boreal arctic), compared to the “buzzier, thinner” song of the Sooty Sparrow, I would dispute that and side with the old Birds of BC that accords it species status.

So that gives me a new species to add to the song list (biodiversity index) of Shoal Harbour Sanctuary and Beaufort Grove.

The Birds of BC states that “ The migration and winter distribution of the Pacific coast populations of the Pacific coast populations of the Fox Sparrow is generally considered to be the pattern that exemplifies leap frog migration.” whereby “later breeding, northern populations of coastal British Columbia minimize the cost of spring migration by wintering in California.” This doesn’t make sense to me since the southern most breeding range of the Sooty Sparrow is shown to be Vancouver Island, and its breeding grounds follow coastal Alaska far out into the Aleutian Islands. The point of this is that it is a rare privilege to hear this melodious song so far south, on this first day of spring, on the eve of the departure of the Bufflehead pairs.

The great migration is on.

Sunday, March 10, 2019: A Perfect Day for a Birdwalk


Bill Dancer with Sue and participants-5786

Bill Dancer from the Victoria Natural History Society sets up a spotting scope at Pat Bay Park. Bill volunteered to guide the party and his route included not only the Waterside Scoter Trail but also some of the roads farther inland where songbirds were active.

We couldn’t have hoped for better weather.  The walks on both the east (Sidney) and west (Patricia Bay) sides of the Peninsula were well attended. Bill Dancer (Thank you, Bill) guided the Pat Bay party and Kerry Finley (Thank, Kerry) guided the Sidney group.

Overwintering and resident shorebirds and waterfowl were well represented on both sides of the Peninsula. Signs of spring were evident to keen observers, notably the amorous behaviour of Bufflehead drakes. On the Patricia Bay side, the hedgerows on the east side of West Saanich Road were fond to be well-populated with songbirds. Noisy Red-Winged Blackbirds made sure that they were noticed.

Many of the attendees made their way to St. John’s United Church in the Deep Cove neighbourhood after the walk for tea, cookies, FOSH news and entertainment.

CU Sue at tea-5800

President, Sue Staniforth updates attendees regarding FOSH activities

Farrell and Sue have a good laugh-5825

“You Won’t Believe This” host, Sue Staniforth interviews Hank-the-Heron (aka Farrell Boyce)

Terry showing his images-5829

Terry Venables shows some of his outstanding photos of local birds.

We were pleased at the end of the day to find 25 new name on our sign-up sheet. FOSH now has over 100 identified supporters.  We sent a thank-you note to these good people and thought it useful to append a summary of the history, activities and ambitions of Friends of Shoal Harbour. This document is included below.

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