COLUMN: Going wild in Oak Bay

A marbled murrelet in winter plumage flies just above the water’s surface.

A marbled murrelet in winter plumage flies just above the water’s surface.

Murrelet magic off ‘auk’ bay

By Jacques Sirois

This can’t be true. I have, um, 25, 50, 75, 100, 110, yes, 110 marbled murrelets around my kayak, about 300 metres southeast of the golf course.

I have never seen so many of this threatened seabird together before; 10 would have been a bonus, but 110? But wait, there are many more on the water and in the air over Mayor Channel, towards the Chain Islets and beyond.

By the time I paddled to Discovery Island, the Chatham Islands, Ten Mile Point and Cadboro Bay – thanks to calm conditions and great visibility – I counted about 550 marbled murrelets, 200 ancient murrelets and 50 other auks (including 40 pigeon guillemots, 10 common murres and one rhinoceros auklet) on that late January afternoon. Was this normal? I had to talk to an expert.

Thankfully, there is at least one marbled murrelet guru in Victoria: Gary Kaiser, a former colleague. “Over 500, in Oak Bay, really? Not aware of this,” he said. “This is newsworthy. Lots of krill – euphausids – I guess; not surprised, winter flocks often go unreported. Nobody’s out there.”

I soon learned that since 1989, Gary had reported flocks of more than 500 marbled murrelets only nine times; his largest included 798 birds. And those flocks were never this far south along our coast.

As for abundant krill here in winter, sure enough, swarms were quite obvious recently near the surface in the Chain Islets. At Ten Mile Point, my diving friend Yung Yip also reported “lots of it, like 50 shrimps per litre in Smuggler’s Cove.”

Surveys and statistics tell us that the Canadian population of this secretive and hard-to-study seabird includes only about 55,000 to 78,000 birds, with more – hundreds of thousands – in Alaska and relatively few south of British Columbia.

This means that Oak Bay, with its strong tidal currents where murrelets love to feed, is a noteworthy southern staging site for these tree-nesting auks. It is also noteworthy because of its “urban” location.

These small auks, roughly the size of a California quail, are nearly invisible from shore. Their black-and-white, winter plumage is unremarkable. They fly extremely fast and dive constantly. On the other hand, most of the birds I saw were busy courting and calling; love was in the air. Who would have thought Oak Bay was a romantic, winter destination for libidinous murrelets …?

What about their future? Their vulnerability to oil spills, fishing nets and logging is food for thought. They love to nest on big branches of large, old trees, way up there. What an unexpected story, I kept thinking later while standing at Cattle Point without seeing a single murrelet. Maybe we should rename Oak Bay Auk Bay!

Jacques Sirois is a retired wildlife biologist. He lives in Oak Bay and frequently kayaks around the waterfront.

 

Just Posted

Police are looking for witnesses and video footage after a crash on June 18. (Photo courtesy of West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP looking for videos related to Corvette crash

Driver believed to have fled the scene of View Royal crash

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Greater Victoria with unusually high temperatures expected Monday and this coming weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria’s first week of summer will be a scorcher

Special weather statement issued Monday by Environment Canada

A health-care worker takes part in HeArt Therapy session conducted by Shirley artist Sheila Thomas. (Contributed - Lorrie Beauchamp)
A creative ‘thanks’ to Vancouver Island’s essential workers

Artist Sheila Thomas creates therapy art session for workers on pandemic’s frontlines

A rendering shows what the Doral Forest Park development would look like from the southwest. (Rendering via D’AMBROSIO Architecture & Urbanism)
Beaver Lake area project passes next hurdle in Saanich

Council approval for 242-unit parks edge development hinges on meeting of conditions

Victoria police are looking for the owner of a pink and white bike they recovered in North Park. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police searching for owner of child’s bike

Officers recovered the pink and white bike in North Park

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Most Read