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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Friends of Shoal Harbour 5th Annual Birdwalk & Tea: Sunday, March 10, 2:00 to 4:30 pm

birdwalk and tea 3 small

Come and join the Friends of Shoal Harbour (FOSH) in exploring the amazing bird life we enjoy here on the Saanich Peninsula! Many species of shorebirds and waterfowl choose to winter here, and some will be leaving soon for their preferred breeding areas. This is a great time of year to celebrate their presence among us this winter, and wish them a successful breeding season and a safe return to the Peninsula in October (watch for the All Buffleheads Celebration in mid-October).
Everyone is invited to participate in a guided bird-watching stroll along the shores of the Saanich Peninsula from 2:00 to 3:00 pm on Sunday, March 10, followed by refreshments, conversation and entertainment at St. John’s United Church (address below) from 3:15 to 4:30 pm. Last year we had a great turnout and were able to spot 24 different species, including buffleheads, wigeons, goldeneyes and a horned grebe.
Attendees may choose between two bird-watching parties, one on the east side of the Peninsula, starting from (1) the bandshell at the east end of Beacon Avenue in Sidney, and the other (2) starting from the parking lot of Patricia Bay Park (on West Saanich Road north of the seaplane ramp). Rendezvous at either site at 2:00 pm sharp for a guided walk.
The “Tea” portion of the event at St. John’s United Church (10990 West Saanich Road, opposite Deep Cove School) will start at approximately 3:15 pm. Light refreshments will be served and there will be opportunities to learn about FOSH activities, enjoy some light-hearted entertainment, and view a presentation of nature photographs by acclaimed photographer, Terry Venables. Hope to see you there!


The etymology of “predator” is interesting, as is the frequency of its use in the modern lexicon. Its use has mushroomed since the late 20th century ( 1970 on ) due to its social application to human behaviour including such things as the predatory practices of corporations and the most heinous crimes of sexual “predators”. It was a term that was adapted by biologists only in the 1920s and 1930s to describe an animal that kills and eats other animals. That includes Buffleheads which are ferocious predators of Green Tanaids, and then there is the iconic Bald Eagle, more a scavenger than a predator. In its original Latin meaning it was a term to describe humans, particularly from the 15th century when praedat meant “seized as plunder”, or the noun praedator – plunder. This has serious negative connotations for the “natural predators” and this may have been intended back in a time when biologists employed the term to justify their war on predators. That’s how I earned 5 cents for every crow egg or gopher tail I collected for Ducks UnLimited in the early 1960s on the prairies.

Nobody would generally think of a Bufflehead as a predator, but it is, and in turn, it is “predated” by three predators in its salt water habitat. These include the marine subspecies of the River Otter, the Peregrine Falcon and the Bald Eagle. Of these, the Bufflehead most fears the Otter and the Falcon, and it has developed particular anti-predation tactics such as the “star-burst” formation for Otters and the crash-dive tactic for Peregrines. In general Buffleheads show indifferent attitudes to the resident pair of the Beaufort Eagles, knowing that they are not really serious threats, but every once in a while, especially in December, they become highly vigilant and take evasive action when the eagles fly over the bay. They know what intent is and that the local eagles are hungry, though they reserve their highest level of alertness when juvenile eagles ( perhaps offspring ) pass through.

Though incidents of predation are uncommon, I’ve been fortunate to observe many over the years, and all are exciting to witness. Early this afternoon while showing my son Gavin the output from my Bufflehead charts, we were interupted by a fine example of predation between the Beaufort Eagle and a Drake Bufflehead. This was a poor match and the outcome was predictable because Drakes rarely fall prey. In this case, as always, the Eagle hazed the flock leaving only the drake over the relatively shallow water over the tidal flats, and though it attempted to hover and dive in order to tire the drake, it finally gave up and the drake surfaced and flew hard to join the flock on the other side of the bay. This is when the eagle’s most impressive potential as a predator took over and it zoomed low and powerfully across the entire bay into the center of the flock, hoping to surprise a weak or young bird. It didn’t work but the display impressed my son.

So as I resumed with the Bufflehead chart display, I was again disrupted as he blurted something about another act of predation taking place directly under the bay window. I was amazed to see a Coopers Hawk lying on the surface, its wings flayed out, and an indistinct form underwater beneath it. Its prey reamined held underwater even as I had time to grab the camera but it was frightened by my movement and released its prey which I was surprised to see was the resident female Kingfisher. She took off and moved rapidly across the bay. Had I been successful in capturing the moment, it would have made a remarkable picture, a remarkable event that no one has probably ever witnessed.

K. J. Finley  December 18, 2018

unnamed[2]Eagle spots lone Bufflehead drake

unnamed[1]Eagle homes in on drake.

unnamed[3]Eagle heads for the main flock hoping to create a better opportunity.