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Celebrating the Return of the Bufflehead

We're super-excited to be launching our new Greater Victoria Naturehood blog in conjunction with our annual All Buffleheads Day Celebration and the release our very first video: “Celebrating the Return of the Bufflehead,” all on October 15th, 2020.

The video features an interview with Kerry Finley, a biologist who has studied the Bufflehead for more than 20 years. It is intended to provide an overview of what makes this migratory bird unique and why it’s important to celebrate their annual return to the near-shore waters surrounding the Greater Victoria region. As a teaser, the Bufflehead’s uniqueness has a lot to do with its uncanny navigation precision which sees them arriving almost always on the 297day of the solar year, typically Oct. 15th.

For those of you wanting to learn more about the Bufflehead and All Buffleheads Day, Kerry has given us permission to share the following primer he has prepared.

The Bufflehead and All Buffleheads Day

October 15th, 2020

1.0 What are Buffleheads?

Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) are a small, black and white sea duck, with splendid iridescent colours. In summer, they inhabit the aspen parkland belt of Western Canada and Alaska. Buffleheads are strictly dependent on a woodpecker, the Northern Flicker, for their nests, and have evolved their small size to fit the entrance to the nest cavity, most often in a Trembling Aspen.

Buffleheads have a complex monogamous society with extended parental care, in order to teach survival skills to their young ones, in a highly-specialized, energetic life style.

Bufflehead populations are stable and strictly limited by the scarce resource of vacant nest cavities, in close proximity to small ponds and sloughs, with sufficient old Aspen trees to sustain the Northern Flicker. Buffleheads undertake long migrations at night from their freshwater ponds to the sea shores on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

2.0 Bufflehead Migration

Because of their small size, Buffleheads are physiologically constrained by weather and the timing of freeze-up and melt of their ponds, so the timing of their migration is critical.

Buffleheads begin migration at dusk, leaving only under certain weather

conditions. They migrate synchronously, precisely and overnight from coast to

coast, with the continental migration divide around the apex of Palliser’s Triangle, at the confluence of the Great Western Flyway in western Saskatchewan.

Bufflehead migrations are precisely punctual, revealing that there is order behind the apparent chaos of weather. That order is thought to be in the rhythm of the Rossby waves.

All Buffleheads Day

All Buffleheads Day, the 297th day of the solar year (typically October 15th) is a constant based on 22 years of observation in Shoal Harbour Migratory Sanctuary, in Sidney BC on southeastern Vancouver Island in the Salish Sea.

The variation around All Buffleheads Day (ABD) is very small (+/- 4.14 days based on 23 years of constant observation). This precision is a world record in timing; but, more importantly, the variation is nonrandom and predictable.

All Buffleheads Day is a national event because All Buffleheads migrate synchronously from coast to coast. It is an international, circumpolar phenomenon because weather and climate have no boundaries, and it’s universal because planetary waves are universal.

3.0 The Science of All Buffleheads Day

Remarkably, Buffleheads have never appeared on the day before ABD, referred to as Null Bufflehead Day or NBD. This is thought to represent a quasi-stationary resonance point of the planetary Rossby waves, influenced or ‘strummed’ by the lunar cycle. Long-wavelength (ca 2500 km) planetary waves travel slowly eastward, occurring in quasi-resonant frequencies, around the lunar cycle, increasing in amplitude after ABD. Thus, Null Bufflehead Day represents a real date in a natural calendar, the constant, resonant, planetary phenomenon, that explains ABD, and the onset of winter.

After ABD, Buffleheads arrive in two waves associated with increasing amplitude of the planetary waves, in resonance with the lunar cycle, creating stormy weather. The Last Wave corresponds closely to the First Snow in Palliser’s Triangle.

The Great Bufflehead Crash of November 4th, 1940 was caused by a major weather event brought on by a major El Nino event and its interaction with the chemistry of Big Quill Lake, the largest saline playa in Canada. This Crash presaged major weather catastrophes that followed - the collapse of the Tacoma Bridge and the Armistice Day Blizzard.

c@ kjfinley


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