Punctual birds spark symposium

All Buffleheads Day leads to a local forum on habitat preservation

Dave and Toni Bird look for wildlife during last year’s All Buffleheads Day at Lililan Hoffar Park. This year’s celebration takes place Oct. 15 at the interpretive kiosk on Roberts Bay at the end of Ardwell Avenue in Sidney.

Some of the most punctual of birds will arrive on the Saanich Peninsula at around the same time as they do every year — and the Friends of Shoal Harbour Society will be there to greet them.

Tuesday, Oct. 15 is All Buffleheads Day, marking the annual return of the small sea duck. Buffleheads come to Roberts Bay and the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary on their journey south from Alaska for the winter.

Observations over the last 16 years by Friends of Shoal Harbour member Kerry Finley shows the Buffleheads arrive around the 298th day of the year. Their appearance signals the onset of winter and this punctuality is celebrated locally as as example of the value of the bird sanctuary.

The Society celebrates this year at a welcoming ceremony at 11 a.m. on Oct. 15, gathering at the interpretive kiosk on Roberts Bay at the intersection of Resthaven Drive and Ardwell Avenue. Dignitaries will be on hand to mark the occasion, which kicks off another event on the following Saturday.

Society member Farrell Boyce says there will be a symposium on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Mary Winspear Centre from 9 a.m. to noon. It will bring together stakeholders from around the bird sanctuary to talk about finding a balance between protecting the habitat and other local interests.

A cross-section of the community — from environmentalists and habitat researchers to marine and tourism industry representatives and advocacy groups — have been invited to the symposium, called Sharing our Shores: Towards a Community-Based Vision for Tsehum Harbour and Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

“There will be short presentations from the stakeholder groups and then there will be a general discussion and advice to our fledgling organization,” Boyce said.

He added there are plans to include an art display and poetry inspired by the region’s beautiful surroundings.

The Friends of Shoal Harbour is a relatively new organization seeking ways to build community support for the continued preservation of the bird sanctuary, which was established by federal statute in 1931 to protect the variety of visiting and resident birds.

Boyce said the event is open to anyone and will include a panel discussion.

“We are hoping to raise interest,” Boyce said. “We’re introducing ourselves and taking the temperature of the various stakeholders.”

The purpose of the symposium, he continued, is to advocate for the value of the bird sanctuary and to find consensus in the community over the protection of the habitat.

“If this thing goes well,” we might be able to do it again and the society can act as an agent of the group of stakeholders and get something done.”

Boyce added the society will consider the events a success if they can attract some new followers who are not necessarily stakeholders but  who nevertheless enjoy watching birds and visiting the local beaches.

“If we gain the some trust and confidence among the major stakeholders, Friends of Shoal Harbour can play a role in getting the community to imagine and eventually embrace a shared vision for Tsehum Harbour and the Migratory Bird Sanctuary. We have to keep reminding each other that there is some truth in all points of view but no single view encompasses the whole truth and that we are all in this together as dwellers in a beautiful place.”