Buffleheads and All Buffleheads Day: The Wisdom of Birds

1. 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 and Alaska. Buffleheads are strictly dependent on a woodpecker, the Northern Flicker, for their nests, and have evolved their small size to fit the entrance to the nest cavity, most often in a Trembling Aspen. 

Buffleheads have a complex monogamous society with extended parental care, in order to teach survival skills to their young ones, in a highly-specialized, energetic life style.

Bufflehead populations are stable and strictly limited by the scarce resource of vacant nest cavities, in close proximity to small ponds and sloughs, with sufficient old Aspen trees to sustain the Northern Flicker. Buffleheads undertake long migrations at night from their freshwater ponds to the sea shores on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

2. Bufflehead Migration

Because of their small size, Buffleheads are physiologically constrained by weather and the timing of freeze-up and melt of their ponds, so the timing of their migration is critical.

Buffleheads begin migration at dusk, leaving only under certain weather conditions.

They migrate synchronously, precisely and overnight from coast to coast, with the continental migration divide around the apex of Palliser’s Triangle, at the confluence of the Great Western Flyway in western Saskatchewan.

Bufflehead migrations are precisely punctual, revealing that there is order behind the apparent chaos of weather. That order is thought to be in the rhythm of the Rossby waves.

3. All Buffleheads Day

All Buffleheads Day, the 297th day of the solar year (typically October 15th) is a constant based on 23 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 (+/- 4.14 days based on 23 years of constant observation).  This precision is a world record in timing; but, more importantly, the variation is nonrandom and predictable.

All Buffleheads Day is a national event because All Buffleheads migrate synchronously from coast to coast. It is an international, circumpolar phenomenon because weather and climate have no boundaries, and it’s universal because planetary waves are universal.The Science of All Buffleheads Day

Remarkably, Buffleheads have never appeared on the day before ABD, referred to as Null Bufflehead Day or NBD.  This is thought to represent a quasi-stationary resonance point of the planetary Rossby waves, influenced or ‘strummed’ by the lunar cycle. Long-wavelength (ca 2500 km) planetary waves travel slowly eastward, occurring in quasi-resonant frequencies, around the lunar cycle, increasing in amplitude after ABD.  Thus, Null Bufflehead Day represents a real date in a natural calendar, the constant, resonant, planetary phenomenon, that explains ABD, and the onset of winter.

After ABD, Buffleheads arrive in two waves associated with increasing amplitude of the planetary waves, in resonance with the lunar cycle, creating stormy weather. The Last Wave corresponds closely to the First Snow in Palliser’s Triangle.

The Great Bufflehead Crash of November 4th, 1940 was caused by a major weather event brought on by a major El Nino event and its interaction with the chemistry of Big Quill Lake, the largest saline playa in Canada.  This Crash presaged major weather catastrophes that followed – the collapse of the Tacoma Bridge and the Armistice Day Blizzard.

c@ kjfinley

Editor’s Note. This post is a summary of years of observations and research by biologist K.J. Finley. His home looks out over Roberts Bay and he keeps his binoculars handy.

Advocating for a Bioregional Plan to Protect our Natural Environment (Naturehood) on the Saanich Peninsula: Some Preliminary Steps

Dear readers of this post:

An earlier post on this site (Notes from the February 20, 2020 Public Engagement Evening…(March 26,2020)) reports on the February 20, 2020 formal launch of the Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition (referred to hereafter as the Coalition).  Participating groups are listed below.  Here are the Coalition’s general terms of reference as of September 2020:

The Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition (member organizations listed below) is a collection of independent groups who have come together to further the values, purposes and interests outlined below.  The Coalition acts as an informal, collaborative, advisory group.

We acknowledge that the territory of the Saanich Peninsula is unceded, and that the inherent rights and title of the WSANEC First Nation and people remain undefined.  We appreciate that the aboriginal-federal-provincial-municipal jurisdictional landscape is complex and fragmented and that there is insufficient collaboration among the governing agencies.

PURPOSE:  to promote ecological sustainability as a means to help ensure the future environmental health of the Saanich Peninsula.

GOAL:  Facilitate the development of a Bioregional Framework, in respectful collaboration with the WSANEC First Nations and the municipalities of North Saanich, Sidney and Central Saanich, that will serve as a set of common principles around conservation and ecological health on the Saanich Peninsula.  Support the use of these principles to, in turn, guide the process of updating the three Council’s various regulations, bylaws and commissions.

FOCUS:  Maintain ecosystem integrity, increase jurisdictional collaboration and harmonization, and support community perspectives, within the context of the climate change urgency that we face.

From mid-May to late August, 2020, the Coalition engaged Jerram Gawley, a student of biology and political science at the University of Victoria, as a coop research student to talk to Mayors, Councillors, municipal staff, First Nations representatives and other involved persons about the roughly- defined ideas flowing from the February 20 meeting. In this challenging assignment Jerram was guided by Bob Peart and other members of the Coalition. From his research Jerram developed (through several drafts and conversations with Coalition members) an over-arching or guiding plan entitled A Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula.  We hope that this framework, further refined, will be helpful in achieving the inter-municipal coordination alluded to in our statement of principles above, a coordination that will help to protect our shared natural environment. 

The concept of a bioregion provides a rational way of dividing the earth into a finite number of regions defined by approximate uniformity of significant characteristics such as landforms, climate, flora and fauna etc. While each bioregion contains all the necessary elements to function independently, it is coupled to adjacent bioregions and the rest of the world by flows of air and water at planetary scales (global climate). Viewing the natural components of the Saanich Peninsula as a functioning bioregion and wishing for them to prosper calls for a bioregional approach to managing human activities within the Saanich Peninsula and the adjoining ocean. A link to a more complete definition of a bioregion is included here  definition of bioregion.

The complete (September 2020) draft version of A Bioregional Framework for the Saanich Peninsula (35 pages, illustrated) may be downloaded in PDF format from this link bioregional framework complete . A condensed version of the Framework in which we have quoted enough of the full document to provide you, dear readers, with a brief and accessible overview of the Bioregional Framework may be downloaded from  bioregional framework abbreviated  .

A successful final result might not resemble the scheme we have outlined and that would be just fine as long as the core values stated here find their full expression. We also take this opportunity to encourage you to take active interests in the upcoming review of the Official Community Plan in your municipalities, and we would be delighted if you were to support the Bioregional Framework we are promoting.


The Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition

Member Groups of the Saanich Peninsula Environmental coalition are:

  • Friends of Shoal Harbour (FOSH)
  • Sea Change Marine Conservation Society
  • Peninsula Streams Society
  • World Wildlife Fund Canada
  • Roberts Bay Residents
  • Tsehum Harbour Task Force
  • WSANEC Leadership Council
  • Friends of North Saanich Parks
  • North Saanich Property Responsibility on the Waterfront (PROW)
  • Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea
  • Climate Justice Advocacy
  • Saanich Inlet Protection Society

Appendix: An incomplete list of issues/concerns that call for a common bioregional approach.

  • Careful cross-Peninsula management of treed areas that shelter indigenous bird species, provide corridors for wildlife movements, and green respite for people
  • Making allowances for the now inevitable sea-level rise while maintaining the capacity of the foreshore to support forage fish and other sea life.
  • Fair, safe and ecologically sound management of moored boats
  • Working together to find ways out of the current impasse that prevents “protected” agricultural land from being used to grow food (and support farmers) .
  • Expanding our citizens’ sense of home beyond that of “house and yard” to include our pubic parks, our farms and forests and our fellow residents.

All photo credits: Terry Venables, Natural Images Canada: http://www.naturalimagescanada.ca

January 16, 2020 workshop on how to manage moored boats in Tsehum Harbour

Moored boats in Tsehum Harbour looking south from entrance fairway, October 2017

January 21 2018: Two derelict boats torn loose from their moorings and blown ashore near Nymph Point Park in Tsehum Harbour

The January 16, 2020 meeting was organized by Diane and Malcom Falconer of the Tsehum Harbour Stakeholder Group and chaired by Diane Falconer. This productive meeting is a welcome change from previous efforts. A report of the proceedings in the form of a letter is attached below.


Mayor and Council February 29, 2020
The District of North Saanich
1620 Mills Road
North Saanich B.C.
V8L 5S9

Dear Sirs and Mesdames;

On January 16, 2020 a group representing stakeholders in Tsehum
Harbour, met regarding the uncontrolled proliferation of private mooring
buoys in the harbour, and the resulting problems created. These
stakeholders were tasked to determine a few key recommendations that all
could agree on, despite the different priorities of the individuals, business,
or organization involved. The stakeholders included private citizens of
North Saanich and Sidney, as well as marina owners and managers, yacht
club executives, and representatives from local environmental
organizations. The meeting was also attended by Mayor Geoff Orr of the district of North Saanich and by Mayor Clive McNeil-Smith of the Town of Sidney. The group reresented an impressive 200+ years of experience in marine or related business.

I will start by reiterating our objectives, as it pertains to private mooring

A. To identify a new vision for Tsehum Harbour, that meets the needs
of stakeholders and the community, while acknowledging the preservation
required for the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the ecosystem
and the environment.

B. To use our collective knowledge and experience in supporting the
Town of Sidney and the District of North Saanich staff and council, by
drafting recommendations to support by-laws and resource allocation for
the new vision of Tsehum Harbour.

C. Although not discussed at the workshop, it was understood that in
as much as the Tsehum Harbour boundaries straddle both the District of
North Saanich and the Town of Sidney, that both the Town and the District
would work in tandem to address the issues.

In this letter, I have recapped the recommendations that we as a group of
stakeholders agree capture our desire for local governments to address.

Recommendation #1
-Determine a path to MANAGE the harbour as it pertains to private
mooring buoys/systems through;
i) Contract of a private management company (i.e. existing local
marina, entrepreneur, First Nations etc.) or
ii) Support management by a public entity (ie. Parks Canada,
Municipal/Town administrative staff).
-Issues requiring management;
-numbers, location and spacing of private mooring buoys
-type of tackle permitted (recommend “Helix” model,
which allows for seabed preservation)
-ground tackle maintenance and repair regulations
-allowance for upland riparian rights to be observed
-allowance for designated transient anchorage
-numbers, size, type, and condition of attached vessels(s)
-requirements for vessel insurance and registry
-length of term for vessels permitted to remain in the harbour
-access to land and sanitation facilities for
moored vessel occupants
-decision to allow (or prohibit) live aboard vessels (Town
of Sidney by-laws currently permit this activity only in marinas)
-mandatory enforcement of regulations (i.e type of use, live
aboard, rentals, holding tank discharge)

Recommendation #2
-Remove accumulated debris on the seabed in Tsehum Harbour to
allow for mooring buoy redistribution, and allow future space for safe
anchorage. (This in fact, would be required in order to facilitate
recommendation #1).

Recommendation #3: Determine the boundaries within Harbour where moorings
could occur allowing for observances required for channels, riparian rights,
transient anchorage, and legislated swing radius.
Mark Lindholm of Westbay Marine Group volunteered to put together
a rough draft of these boundaries, for the Town of Sidney and District of
North Saanich, for information purposes. The draft is in design stages and
will be forwarded shortly in a follow-up letter.

Recommendation #4 (Town of Sidney)
-Amend Town of Sidney by-laws, to prohibit private mooring buoys in
Roberts Bay, other than those allowed by virtue of riparian rights. This
action would preserve the pristine state of the ecosystem and environment
that currently exists in that portion of the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird
The stakeholders have been able to document only a few of the most
obvious issues in this initial workshop. We are anxious to support local
government in their decision on the best course of action as well as the
implementation of a path forward. Collectively the stakeholder group is able
to provide an immense depth of knowledge and experience and they are
happy to share. For example, we would be happy to provide a powerpoint
presentation to outline the issues, the damage to the environment, current
legislation, recent case law in court challenges and much more.
We would also be delighted to take staff and council on a boat tour of the
harbour. This would demonstrate where the few laws that are in place to
govern mooring systems, are being ignored and contravention tolerated
in spite of federal and provincial laws to the contrary.

Private mooring buoy/systems in BC Coastal waters have been allowed to
proliferate over the last 15 years due to many factors, including complexity
of jurisdictions, budgets, and other priorities. Public awareness of
abandoned boats and sea debris, have helped to bring focus to the
resulting community issues. Case law has determined that local
governments have the power to control the land under the water in local
harbours such as Tsehum Harbour and Roberts Bay.
There is now a sense of urgency to address this issue.
We appreciate the District of North Saanich and the Town of Sidney taking
the initiative in determining a new vision for the Shoal Harbour Migratory
Bird Sanctuary. We appreciate your thoughtful deliberations and
commitment to action.

Thank you,
Diane and Malcolm Falconer
for the Tsehum Harbour Stakeholder Group

Sidney BC

cc: Mayor and Council, Town of Sidney