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Birders delight in unusual fall flock in Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Four trumpeter swans spotted chilling in Oak Bay
Juvenile lesser snow goose, possibly from Russian Arctic, is one of three spotted at the Victoria Golf Course Nov. 17. (Photo by Jacques Sirois)

Four birds calling on Oak Bay may herald a healthy herring population this fall, suggests one resident.

Jacques Sirois, chair of the Friends of the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, says several unusual birds appeared off Oak Bay shores in September and November.

The rarities included a black-legged kittiwake spotted at Cattle Point, unusual trumpeters swans at Kitty Islet and four species of geese at Gonzales Point and the Victoria Golf Club.

The kittiwake comes from the Arctic and usually winter off shore in the north pacific.

“We don’t see them very much near the shore,” Sirois said. “This is a rare occasion to see them in shore and near shore and right there at Cattle Point.”

While fairly common in other areas of the Capital Region, such as the popular Peninsula birding area the Martindale Flats, it’s unusual to see four trumpeter swans chilling on the Oak Bay seafront.

The birds were once heavily hunted but the population has recovered well, Sirois explained.

“Now we see them in fair numbers in the winter all the time.”

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There was also a huge influx of of short tail shearwaters in the Juan de Fuca Strait this fall. They’re usual seabirds that stay off shore in the North Pacific, breeding in Australia and then making their way across the Pacific, Sirois said.

What’s unusual is how for they came in, close enough to be spotted at McMicking point, McNeill Bay and Clover Point.

“They were seen by many many birdwatchers. They were reported constantly,” he said.

They’ve all gone now, he added, attributing many of the unusual sightings were drawn by a decent herring run this fall.

Three or four greater white-fronted geese and about 20 cackling geese (which look like small Canada geese) were the talk of the golf course near McMicking Point this fall.

A massive decline in goose population more than a century ago was among the reasons for creating the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary that stretches across much of the region.

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The resident geese have also re-established themselves well.

“There are arguably too many of them. They degrade our public spaces, our parks, the even degrade our habitat in the bird sanctuary,” Sirois said.

However, he figures they maybe serving as decoys, drawing the more unusual species now coming here to winter hanging out at the Victoria Golf Club.

“You would think they mind the human presence – they don’t at all.”

Sirois hopes the positive health trend of the shoreline ecosystem continues as the Friends of Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary plan to celebrate the sanctuary’s centenary in October 2023.

The spotlight of unusual birds in the area comes against the dim backdrop of concerns over avian flu, even among wildlife. Sick or dead wild birds can be reported to the provincial Wild Bird Mortality Investigation Program at 1-866-431-BIRD (2473).

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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