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.





July 17 2019: More than 30 Herons observed on Roberts Bay!


16 herons in the foreground of this old picture. Imagine what 35+ herons might look like!

In our post of June 9 we reported initially on a successful breeding season for the herons roosting on the Roberts Bay “heron trees” only to report later that eagles had raided the nests and carried off all the heron chicks. Disappointing but not a disaster as today’s post reveals with a sighting by Jocelyn Gifford (Friends of Shoal Harbour) and a friend of 35 herons fishing together on Roberts Bay.

Naturalist Kerry Finley who keeps a close eye on the Bay from his home on the edge of the Beaufort Grove ventured the following:

“Many thanks, Jocelyn. In fact at 9:09 STANDARD BUFFLEHEAD TIME, I counted 38. A record for the year, and in fact going way back to the early years when I recall that the maximum was 42 or 44.

This speaks well of the productivity of the mudflats, and the abundance of small forage fish. You’ll note perhaps an increase also in the number of Double-crested Cormorants moving into shallow waters. The herons sometimes follow their movements and benefit from herding of fish schools.

So I think this is positive news. For many years I was getting maximum numbers of 17 – 21 or so, and they were dwindling.

This is a very positive indication of how THIS migratory bird sanctuary in an urban setting and embracing “Naturehood” can hold its own, as Neil Dawe suggested in 1978.




Herons are enjoying a productive 2019 nesting season on Roberts Bay

bob orchard photo

An encouraging message from Jocelyn Gifford, spokesperson for Roberts Bay Residents:

“Currently, Roberts Bay Residents are watching a tree just north of the Ardwell beach access that contains three nests occupied by active heron families with chicks. They are easily visible, and audible, from the beach and from Allbay Road at 10379.

Roberts Bay Residents can be reached at”

The 2018 redevelopment of a large property that contained the three “heron nesting trees” raised concerns with Friends of Shoal Harbour and Roberts Bay Residents regarding the continued viability of this well-used nesting site. The intrusion of noisy construction did not seem to bother the herons; these birds seem well-adapted to the human-nature interface. Whether the nesting trees will withstand the changes to soil composition and drainage caused by the redevelopment remains to be seen.  Meantime, heron life goes on to the delight of us onlookers.

Update to June 9:

Heron life does go on with ups and downs. The “up” was a successful nesting and chick-rearing season. The “down” was a series of raids from eagles that wiped out the chicks. It’s hard not to feel sad but perhaps we should feel privileged to witness nature playing itself out on the edge of our urban environment.  Hang in there, herons; better luck next year!