A BIRD’S-EYE VIEW ON HISTORIC

VICTORIA HARBOUR MIGRATORY BIRD SANCTUARY

 “ A NEW NATUREHOOD ON THE SALISH SEA ”

 

The oldest Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS) in Pacific Canada, established on Oct. 27, 1923 (after the Migratory Bird Convention Act of 1917) to control hunting, including market hunting of waterfowl like Brant, then a favourite Christmas meal. Also established to assert federal jurisdiction over migratory birds and tidal waters in a bird sanctuary previously created by the Province of British Columbia in light of declining bird populations, which is still a concern today.

1 of 3 historic, federal MBSs on Vancouver Island, all in Greater Victoria, with Shoal Harbour MBS (April 10, 1931) and Esquimalt Lagoon MBS (Dec. 12, 1931). 1 of 92 MBSs in Canada.
 

Largely forgotten for decades and once considered for delisting by the Government of Canada. Now being revitalized through various initiatives.

30 km long, including 1840 hectares of coastal waters below the high-water mark, from Portage Inlet to Victoria Harbour, the Trial Islands, Oak Bay and Cadboro Bay.

Home to diverse, coastal and marine plants and animals, including many rare species (95+ species at risk), 270 sp. of birds and 29 sp. of mammals: e.g. Glaucous-winged Gull, Black Oystercatcher, Harlequin Duck, Black Brant, Pacific Great Blue Heron, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Western Purple Martin, Bald Eagle, Victoria’s Owl-clover, Golden Paintbrush, Macoun’s Meadowfoam, Bear’s-foot Sanicle, Seaside Birds-foot Lotus, Steller Sea Lion, Pacific Harbour Seal, Humpback Whale, Olympia Oyster, Northern Abalone, Coho Salmon, Cutthroat Trout, Quillback Rockfish, Pacific Herring, Pacific Sandlance, Surf Smelt.

Birds year-round with relatively high winter diversity and numbers. Wintering birds include Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Surf Scoter, American Wigeon, Ancient Murrelet, Common Murre, Red-necked Grebe, Pacific Loon, Brandt’s Cormorant, Mew Gull,  Black Turnstone, Surfbird.

Unusual “urban” wildlife for Canada including Killer Whale, Grey Whale, Northern Elephant Seal, California Sea Lion, marine River Otter (common), Sea Otter (rare), Rhinoceros Auklet, Heermann’s Gull, Brown Pelican, Wolf-eel, Pacific Giant Octopus.

Diverse habitat including vast beds of clams, eelgrass, surfgrass, kelp forests, sandy beaches, rocky shores, islands, tidal marshes,  a tidal, reversible fall (Tillicum Narrows), 2 salmon-bearing estuaries (Colquitz, Craigflower), other small estuaries (Hospital, Gorge, Cecelia, Bowker creeks), rare maritime meadows with Garry Oak associated ecosystems.

Special areas include Baynes Channel, Cattle Point, Entreprise Channel/Trial Islands, Clover Point, West Bay, the Gorge Waterway and Portage Inlet (essentially a large estuary). In Oak Bay, the MBS is  contiguous to the Chain Islets IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area).

Over 50 access and view points and 30 bird hotspots in 5 municipalities: Victoria, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Saanich and View Royal.  

Facing numerous challenges: e.g. habitat destruction and degradation, various forms of water pollution, overfished Pacific Herring, invasive Canada Geese and plants, human and pet disturbance. As a result, bird numbers are relatively low compared to the past.

Benefiting from the recovery of several species, decades of deindustrialization, restoration, cleanups, rewilding and multifaceted urban renewal.

Associated with 3 Ecological Reserves of British Columbia: Trial Islands, Ten Mile Point and Oak Bay Islands. 

Contains Critical Southern Resident Killer Whale Habitat, the Trial Island Rockfish Conservation Area, and a Closed Area for Harvesting While Diving at and near the Ogden Point Breakwater.

Surrounded by several municipal parks, historic sites and the Matson Lands Conservation Area (West Bay).

In Lekwungen traditional territory, “the place to smoke herring”. Includes special indigenous sites like the Spirit Rock of Camossung, the Island of the Dead and Harpoon Rock.

Located near the southern tip of Vancouver Island, an important, natural wildlife corridor. 

Newly recognized by Nature Canada as part of the Greater Victoria NatureHood (July 12, 2017) with biodiversity and natural beauty among the best in urban Canada. A perfect place to connect with nature and the Salish Sea in the city.

Jacques Sirois
Friends of Victoria Harbour MBS
Partner, Greater Victoria NatureHood
March 2020

More on Victoria Harbour MBS and MBS Regulations at:
https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/migratory-bird-sanctuaries/locations/victoria-harbour.html

https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/C.R.C.,_c._1036/page-1.html#docCont

In homage to J.Fenwick Lansdowne (1937-2008), renowned bird artist and former resident of Oak Bay who drew and painted several birds that occur in the sanctuary. Below: Marbled Murrelets (left) and Brant, in Birds of the West Coast, Vol. 1, J.F. Lansdowne, 1976, M.F. Feheley Pub. Ltd. Toronto