Punctual Duck Returns to Sidney, BC: The Celebration of All Buffleheads Day – and NatureHood on the Saanich Peninsula!
“There’s a female, over there in the shade!” exclaims my friend. We were standing on the edge of Roberts Bay in Sidney, British Columbia awaiting the arrival from the north of the first Buffleheads. It’s in small, protected shelters like Roberts Bay on the Saanich Peninsula where many of these delightful little ducks spend the winter. These energetic ‘butter ball of a duck’ return with clockwork regularity to the Sidney region on October 15th – the 298th day of the solar cycle.
Buffleheads are the smallest of our diving ducks. During nesting season they are found in woodlands along the lakes, ponds and rivers of the boreal forest and in the higher elevation rangelands of British Columbia’s interior. They nest in the cavities of living and dead trees, usually excavated and left over by the Northern Flicker. For the winter many Buffleheads migrate to the sheltered salt bays of the Pacific coast.
Their regular return at the same time every year is quite remarkable and it seems this timeliness has no match in the bird world – I’ve been told that they are even better the swallows of San Juan Capistrano! For over ten years now the Friends of Shoal Harbour have been building the public awareness of this amazing duck by celebrating their punctual return and highlighting the importance of conserving the habitat they need to feed and overwinter.
Roberts Bay, where we are standing, is within the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Shoal Harbour is part of the ancestral home of the Salish (Wsikem) people, and was legally set aside as a federal bird sanctuary in 1931 to protect the foreshore and marine habitat for the numerous migratory birds – up to sixty species – that overwinter in the Shoal Harbour region of Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula. In addition, the broader Shoal Harbour region has been recognized as critical bird habitat through its designation as the Sidney Channel Important Bird Area.
Beyond the fascination and enjoyment that we found in their regular return, the Friends of Shoal Harbour began celebrating All Buffleheads Day for a number of reasons. First, was to use the celebration as a way of reaching out to the two local Councils of Sidney and North Saanich to ensure that Shoal Harbour received official designation within their Official Community Plans. Second, was to bring together all levels of government with First Nations, local businesses, community organizations and interested people to work cooperatively to develop an integrated management plan for the land and surrounding waters of the Saanich Peninsula. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, was to encourage children and families to get outside to enjoy nature – in their naturehood – and learn about such a fascinating duck as the Bufflehead and the web-of-life they exist within.
To this end, Nature Canada has designated Shoal Harbour and the Saanich Peninsula as one of its official ‘NatureHoods’. The NatureHoods are a series of seven communities across Canada (and growing!) where Nature Canada is partnering with local organizations to help children and families learn about the importance of their urban green spaces and the wildlife that we have within their communities, their city and their region. NatureHood is about helping to set the scene so that people can learn about wildlife and their habitat right where they live, work and play.
We were very fortunate to celebrate All Buffleheads Day and NatureHood on the Saanich Peninsula with a very special guest before an audience of 250 students at Sidney’s Parkland Secondary School: Her Honour Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Prior to her appointment, Her Honour was a rancher and Holistic Management practitioner in BC’s Interior and worked on a variety of regional agricultural and environmental matters that demonstrate her strong interest in community and nature. Her Honour’s speech at Parkland underscored the importance of young people engaging and participating in enhancing their environment and community.
After the celebrations we returned to Roberts Bay at the end of the day just to check on our female, and we found that one male and eight other females had now joined her. It was wonderful to stand there and watch them swim around and feed and think about the grandeur of nature and the timeliness of this one little duck.
To read more about All Buffleheads Day and the NatureHood initiative, click here to read the Peninsula News article.