Ninth Annual Birdwalk and Tea

The Birdwalk and Tea event starts with a guided bird watching tour along the shores of the Saanich Peninsula, this year electing to follow the most frequently chosen route following the Scoter Trail on the west side of the Saanich Peninsula from the seaplane docks north to the Tsecum First Nation Reserve. Nineteen species of birds were observed this year, both waterfowl and land based. See list below:

Double Crested Cormorant, Horned Grebe, Glaucous-Winged Gull, other gull hybrids, Great Blue Heron, Pigeon, Bufflehead Duck, Mallard Duck, Golden Eye Duck, Common Merganser, White-Winged Scoter, Pacific Crow, Bald Eagle, Red-Tailed Hawk, Osprey, Black Vulture, White-Crowned Sparrow, Starling, Dark-Eyed Junco

St. John’s United Church (on West Saanich Road north of the Scoter Trail has regularly provided a meeting room as well as catering the refreshments.


Friends of Shoal Harbour (FOSH) Chair, Bob Peart welcomed the attendees and thanked the St. Johns refreshment crew (very fine cookies and such). His introductory remarks are reported here in note form:

  • FOSH is a citizen-driven advocacy group inspired by (1), a predecessor developed in the Great Lakes for Hamilton Harbour and (2) a local predecessor, the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary established in 1931.
  • In addition to public engagements such as the annual spring Birdwalk and the mid- October All Buffleheads Celebration, FOSH works closely with other similar environmental groups and with the three Peninsula municipalities (North Saanich, Central Saanich and the Town of Sidney (link to the Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition)
  • Other areas of engagement are the restoration of Roberts Bay, private moorage and its annoying consequence, abandoned boats . 


Jacques Sirois, Spokesperson for the Victoria Migratory Bird Sanctuary addresses attendees at the “Tea portion ” of the 2023 Birdwalk and Tea

From Jacques Sirois: Thanks to the Friends of Shoal Harbour Bird Sanctuary for inviting me at your ninth annual walk along Scoter Trail. Thanks for your commitment and energy, which inspired me to get involved with the revitalization of historic Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary a decade ago. 2023 will be a big year for us as we prepare to celebrate the sanctuary’s centennial (Oct. 27, 2023) with various initiatives. Stay tuned.

I enjoyed having another look at the restored beach (restored for spawning forage fish like Surf Smelt and Pacific Sandlance) in Patricia Beach, a great project of Peninsula Streams and Shorelines Society (PSSS). I am looking forward to see the Mermaid Creek area restored in Roberts Bay in the future. PSSS is also a great restoration partner in Victoria Harbour MBS with projects in Victoria Harbour (Lime Bay beach) and Portage Inlet (Hospital Creek estuary), for example

Jocelyn Gifford (also active with Friends of Roberts Bay) reports on the restoration of the Mermaid Creek estuary and efforts to create fireworks-safe zones to minimize the disturbance of birds, notably blue herons in the process of raising their chicks.

Photos courtesy of Rick Searle, drawings by Farrell Boyce

Communication from the Roberts Bay Residents Steering Commitee

Dear neighbours and friends,

The last time we wrote to you it was December 5th, 2022 and the Maud J was being raised and towed out of  Roberts Bay. It seems like a long time ago!  We hope you are all warm and dry, enjoying the winter resident birds, and noticing the signs that spring will be here soon. This email contains information about:

  • Styrofoam on our beaches
  • Forage fish spawning on our beaches
  • Fireworks and the Bird Sanctuary
  • Bamberton Quarry expansion and water lease in the Saanich Inlet

Styrofoam (Extruded Polystyrene plastic)

Around January 1st, storms and king tides brought an explosion of styrofoam washing up on local beaches, including ours. As we all know, the big pieces break up into tiny round balls that look like food to many marine creatures. Lasqueti Island residents are leaders in documenting the issue and advocating for banning or regulating the use of styrofoam in the ocean.

DSCF1707 CopyPaddle Roberts EPS on Ardwell beach.JPG

Many of us make a point of picking up bigger pieces whenever and wherever we see them to prevent further break down on the beach. Some of the Roberts Bay Paddlers were picking up chunks out on the water. On December 30, 2022, the afternoon the tide was right for several Steering Committee members and  family to meet at the Ardwell beach access and work our way north picking up what we could. We left 2 bags of styrofoam and other debris beside the full trash receptacle where Town staff are happy to pick it up on their rounds. 

RBR styrofoam cleanup 2 -30-12-2022 group.jpeg
The province of BC has recently opened a consultation process for a Provincial Coastal Strategy. We encourage everyone to let the government know your concerns.

Forage Fish spawning on our beach

Isn’t it surprising that tiny surf smelt and sand lance spawn on our beaches in the winter? A recent survey of beach sediments near the Ardwell beach access found eggs for both of these species of forage fish which form a vital link in the food chain that feeds many larger creatures including salmon and orcas.  For more information, check out Peninsula Streams Beach Program

Fireworks and the Bird Sanctuary

In the fall of 2022, our emails included information about the new Fireworks Prohibition Zones for the Roberts Bay and Kelset/Reay Creek Environmentally Sensitive Areas in Sidney.  On Halloween evening, after the excited trick or treaters went home, the Roberts Bay shoreline was quiet except for some explosions on and near the Fifth Street beach access which disturbed Great Blue Herons, other birds and pets. Outside the Prohibition zone, some nearby areas, especially in and around Resthaven Park were very noisy with explosions. The problem with this is that Resthaven Park and Resthaven Island shoreline are part of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary just like Roberts Bay.  We have asked the Mayor and Councillors to include all Environmentally Sensitive Areas, especially the new one that includes Bird Sanctuary shoreline, in the Prohibition Zone. We are also working on a public education program.with Friends of Shoal Harbour to inform our community about  the bird sanctuary and why fireworks are not appropriate nearby. 

Bamberton Proposed Quarry expansion and water lease in the Saanich Inlet

You may have read in the Times Colonist or the Peninsula News Review about these 2 controversial applications. Roberts Bay Residents is part of the Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition. Fellow Coalition member, the Saanich Inlet Protection Society (SIPS) has been taking the lead in an attempt to get BC Environment to order an Environmental Assessment of the various projects underway at Bamberton. Michael Simmons of SIPS writes: 

“We need the help of everyone interested in Saanich Inlet. Please read on.

Malahat Investment Corporation, working with Coast Mountain Resources, is seeking to significantly expand the rock quarry. They are also seeking to extend the water lease for the dock extensively and obtain permission to trans-ship hydro-carbons, contaminated soils, scrap metal and creosote poles.
The planned volume of rock is almost 500,000 tons annually. That is twice the volume that would automatically trigger an environmental assessment for a new mine. Because the permit requests from Coast Mountain Resources have been requested and approved sequentially over the years with each being under the threshold, no environmental assessment has been required. The quarry will be deeper and more extensive than previously permitted. It will extend more than 1.5km from north to south. The intended use of the dock for importing contaminated soil potentially exposes the Inlet to heavy metals, PCBs, hydrocarbons and other substances that could cause damage to the environment.
SIPS made a formal request to the Provincial Environment Assessment Office (EAO) in November to conduct an Environment Assessment (EA) of these proposals. A draft report for Environment Minister Heyman released last week recommends there is no need for an EA. We are not giving up!
SIPS request for an Environmental Assessment has been overwhelmingly supported by our local governments, including the Tsartlip First Nation, Tsawout First Nation, MLA Adam Olsen, MLA Sonia Furstenau, Islands Trust, the Districts of Central Saanich, North Saanich, and Highlands. Over 180 letters were received by the government requesting an EA.
This is a call for your help. Please tell the government that an environmental assessment is a reasonable request, will support reconciliation, and is urgently needed.” 

If you think an environmental assessment is required, submit your comments at the EAO Public Comments website page which will be open until February 14th 2023. click here.

There is lots more information in the following links:  Saanich Inlet Protection Society (SIPS),MLA Adam OlsenWillis Point Residents.  

Thank you for reading this far. Next time we write, we should have a lot of information for you about the work planned for Mermaid Creek marsh and estuary this spring and summer!

We are always happy to hear from you. Jus write to

From the Roberts Bay Residents Steering Committee

Jocelyn Gifford, Patricia Shapka, Thierry Bodson, Mary Chu, Curtis Evans, Jane Hunte

“Our vision is to build a future in which our community lives in harmony with the living wonders of Roberts Bay and where the natural beauty and  functionality of the ecosystems of the bay are preserved and enhanced to ensure that this very special place remains a safe refuge for wildlife and a source of inspiration for its present and future residents and visitors.”

Just how punctual are the Buffleheads anyway?

First Migrants Shoal Harbour Sanctuary (Submitted by K.J. Finley)

11 October, 2017

Its charting season again so I’m pleased to present the latest phenogram of first arrivals to Shoal Harbour Sanctuary.

First, a word about the methodology. Although the scientific constant of All Buffleheads Day is said to be merely the product of “citizen science”, its methods are exacting, and the results testable and repeatable. It looks simple, and is, but does not follow the typical protocol of stratified, randomized measurements from several observers and locations. In part this is because science is agenda-driven with limited horizons, while my retirement “hobby” is not, until death at least. So this is my second lifetime study, after the Bowhead, and Roberts Bay is my stage, with a spectacular 180 degree panorama of a discrete pocket bay and the offshore waters of Sidney Channel.

This is my laboratory and microscope. Its like having a Hubble view through a dense cloud of random observations. One position, same observer, focused on the Bufflehead.

Arrival Phenology Shoal Harbour copy

Figure 1

Figure 1 illustrates the average arrival time of fourteen other species, for the last seven years, including this season. To date all except the Bufflehead and Greater Scaup have made their appearance. Note the Bufflehead’s position ( Large RED dot), second to last, ahead of the Red-breasted Merganser.

Beginning in late July with the arrival of boreal and prairie gulls, hooded mergansers and mallards, and the crush of migrants in late September from the prairies, the Bufflehead stands out as a solitary figure in mid-October.

Variation in Arrival Date copy

Figure 2


Figure 2, the histogram, tells the story of the Punctual Bufflehead. It is five times more precise than the average of all other species.

Today, (October 11) the first White-winged Scoters (2) and a single Red-breasted Merganser appeared. We are now in the narrow window around ABD.

Editor’s Note: Finley’s personal observations from his vantage point on Roberts Bay offer convincing evidence that Bufflehead ducks are indeed more “punctual”  than other species as to arrival times at their over-wintering sites. On October 14 (Bufflehead Welcoming Ceremony on Roberts Bay) and on October 15 (boat tour from Victoria to Sidney and back) with many observers on hand, no buffleheads were sighted. According to Finley’s observations, these are prime days for observing the first arrivals of Bufflehead ducks to this area.

On October 18, with no Buffleheads in view on Roberts Bay, K.J. Finley pointed out that “punctuality” notwithstanding, migrations are weather-dependent (Figure 3).

Microsoft Word - Day 300 of Vigil.docx

Figure 3

A local resident reports sighting one male and two female Buffleheads off Lands End Road in North Saanich on October 23, a date that would not significantly distort the synthesis of Figure 2 were these birds to be the first of their species to arrive.  In any event, we are reassured that the Buffleheads are back.


Editor’s Note continued:

This just in from K.J. Finley. It fits nicely with the previous discussion.

CONGRATULATIONS AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR SISTER SANCTUARY (Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary). We are synchronous with ABD, though a tad late. To celebrate, I bring the first spaghetti chart to the seasonal banquet.

“If you would become familiar with a bird, you must live with it, day by day through the seasons, following the activities that fill its life and add up to the picture conjured by its name. So it is with the Bufflehead. Where they linger around a residential area, as in Victoria, British Columbia, and Boston, Massachusetts, this is easily done. People fortunate enough to live on the water’s edge may watch Buffleheads from their tables, and others can do so from a parked car on the streets that wind along the shore.” Dr. Anthony Erskine, “Buffleheads” Canadian Wildlife Service 1971


Spaghetti Chart 1 : First Influx October 26th, 2017. Horizontal axis : dates in October. Vertical axis: estimates of the number of Buffleheads in the area

As expected, the first significant influx of Buffleheads has appeared on this crisp, clear, calm day, as a ridge of high pressure sets up over the Pacific Coast, and a record setting storm October threatens the Atlantic Coast.

The RED line illustrates the Bufflehead’s tardiness this season, compared to last year’s rapid early, mass influx, and the average rate of influx.