Sunday, November 7, 2010

Surfin' Safari

When most Canadians are starting to think about making plans for heading south in the winter, including the Canadian geese whose flying V formations around the city are a reminder that cold weather is on the way, there is one group that shows up every year with the intention of making this spot their winter getaway.  They aren't the Australian youngsters who come to work the ski slopes or the ski tourists themselves, and they aren't refugees either, they are the Surf Scoters, a black and white seaduck with a boldly coloured head that descend on English Bay by the hundreds.  As far as they are concerned, winter conditions here are quite balmy.

Surf Scoter
Content to breed in the freshwater lakes and boreal forests of northern Canada and Alaska in summer, they  make their way to both the east and west coasts for the winter where they make life tough on the mussels, clams, crabs and other invertibrates inhabiting the shallows.  More of a diving bird than a surfing bird, they can dive up to depths of 30 feet in search of food, and they require quite a lot it seems.  In fact it's been estimated that a flock of a thousand Scoters consumes more than 400 pounds of mussel meat a day.

Breeding Area & Migration Routes
Indifferent to human activity along the seawall or out on the water, they go about their business in that strangely collective manner of all birds that congregate in large numbers.  One minute sitting prettily in the water allowing themselves to be photographed, the next minute taking off in a state of chaotic panic, because one of them happened to get spooked by something.  There are so many of them that, by the time the first one touches down again, just a few hundred feet away, most of them haven't even had a chance to react.  It's like a slow motion chain reaction with the whole moving process taking quite awhile to complete.  Of course once they are all settled again it's only a matter of time before everything gets repeated.

Surf Scoters photo by Junie Quiroga
It's quite amusing to watch these characters as they come in to land, with their feet splayed and wings flapping.  Kind of like how I would look if I tried to stand on a surf board, but then again I don't call myself a surfer.  I guess the type of waves they are looking for are the small breaking ones along the shoreline, a surfin' safari that's more about looking for food than riding any waves.

Surf Scoter landing


  1. Great information - I loved this one. And it appealed to me especially because I've always contended that even in the winter, Vancouver is so incredibly beautiful and still has so much to offer. These little creatures get it!

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