The new year brought with it a special guest in the form of a puffin spotted just off Victoria’s Ogden Point this week.
The sighting is a rare one for Vancouver Island, as horned puffins are usually seen further out in the ocean or much farther north than Victoria, according to avid birdwatcher Ann Nightingale.
“Mostly they’re birds that if you’re looking for one, you’d go to Alaska to see,” she said.
Nightingale attributed the sighting to recent windstorms but said the bird may have wandered closer to shore if it was unwell.
“Most puffins go out to the open ocean during the winter so there is the possibility it could have been blown into the strait,” she said. “Sometimes when birds are not feeling great, they head towards shore. This one looked fine, but it is an odd bird to have here so that is always a possibility as well.”
Nightingale said Andrew MacDonald, who first saw the puffin on Jan. 4, knew what he was looking for, despite the puffin’s average look.
MacDonald, who was working on the settings on his camera and taking photos of common birds and river otters while walking in the breakwater near Ogden Point, snapped a photo of the puffin.
Even as an eco-tour guide in Alaska, he’s not seen a horned puffin, so to find one in his own backyard was a surprise
He alerted a few people in the local birding community in order to confirm that it was indeed a puffin, but also wanted to be sure that those who study birds were aware.
“The folks that eventually make decisions about how we protect things, they can’t make those decisions without people like Ann,” he said. “It’s also about the citizen science piece, determining trends in birds. Does this mean that they had a good year north where they breed and we are seeing the results of that by a bird getting blown in here? What does that mean? The folks that are gathering data about this, it just helps them understand the trends of birds.”
MacDonald said one of the best things about being part of the birding community is being able to share what he sees with others, so they too can experience the joy of seeing something unexpected.
“People spend thousands of dollars trying to find birds like this up where they’re supposed to be,” he said. “It is just awesome to hear that people were getting out and getting a chance to see it. The best part about this one was seeing that so many other people got to see it.”