IBA Sidney Channel
Saanich Peninsula, British Columbia
Site Summary
BC047 Latitude
48.626° N
123.358° W
0 m
87.10 km²
Land Use:
Nature conservation and research, Fisheries/aquaculture, Tourism/recreation
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Disturbance, Industrial pollution, Oil slicks, Recreation/tourism
IBA Criteria: Globally Significant: Congregatory Species, Continentally Significant: Congregatory Species, Nationally Significant: Congregatory Species
Conservation status: IBA Conservation Plan written/being written, Provincial Park (including Marine)
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Site Description
Sidney Channel is a 4 km wide body of water that lies along the extreme southeast shore of Vancouver Island between James Island (and the larger Saanich Peninsula) and Sidney Island. Along with Haro Strait, it connects the Juan de Fuca and Georgia Straits. Both Sidney and James Island are overlain by unconsolidated glacio-marine and outwast sand deposits. Large schools of a smelt, known as sandlance, reproduce in the sand, and subsequently attract large flocks of seabirds in spring and summer. The eroded sand has also formed a lagoon at the northwestern end of Sidney Island, which attracts hundreds of sandpipers in the spring and summer.
Sidney Channel is noted for the variety of marine birds that occur at the site throughout the year. Although most places along the south coast of the Strait of Georgia have relatively few birds in summer, the channel and lagoon on Sidney Island are well known for the presence of murrelets, auklets, cormorants, gulls and shorebirds. During winter, seaducks are spread throughout the channel, and during the spring they are joined by migrating grebes, loons, brant, and shorebirds.

Of particular significance at this site are the large concentrations of Brandt's Cormorants during fall migration (just over 1% of the worlds estimated population), and Mew Gulls and Brant during spring migration (about 1% of the northeastern Pacific Mew Gull population, and 1-2% of estimated Pacific Brant population). During fall, winter, and spring, large number of Pigeon Guillemots are also present (almost 3% of the estimated national population) and about 300 Brant over-wintered in 1996-1997. In addition, about 20 pairs of nesting Black Oystercatchers (about 2% of the estimated national population) nest on islets located in the area.

About 50 Marbled Murrelets (listed as nationally threatened) are also regularly reported at this site. Although breeding sites for these birds have not been found, these observations may represent a remnant local breeding population. (Many of the southern Georgia Strait breeding populations have been extirpated as result of the cutting of old growth forest). In addition to the Marbled Murrelets, about 50 Great Blue Herons (ssp. fannini nationally vulnerable) are also regularly recorded feeding at this site. In 1988, 100 pairs were reported to nest on Sidney Island, but since then the colony has been abandoned.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Black Oystercatcher 2019 FA 77
Brant 1995 SP 3,000
Great Blue Heron 1990 - 2018 FA 35 - 55
Great Blue Heron 1995 OT 50
Great Blue Heron 1993 - 1996 SP 40 - 74
Great Blue Heron 1988 - 2019 SU 34 - 200
Heermann's Gull 1990 - 2019 FA 24 - 200
Heermann's Gull 1990 - 2020 SU 24 - 450
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 2015 FA 80
Iceland Gull (Thayer's) 2005 WI 79
Marbled Murrelet 1995 SU 50
Pelagic Cormorant 2018 SP 816
Pelagic Cormorant 2015 WI 600
Red-necked Grebe 1996 SP 350
Rhinoceros Auklet 2019 SU 8,000
Yellow-breasted Chat 2015 WI 1
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Sidney Channel is located in an area that is affected by a multitude of land uses. For example: sewage from towns on the Saanich Peninsula is deposited into the channel; tanker traffic to and from a large ARCO oil refinery at Cherry Point, Washington passes about 5 km to the north and east along Haro Strait; a crab fishery operates in the strait; thousands of recreational boaters from marinas in both the U.S. and Canada utilize the channel (Sidney is the first Canadian Customs Point); and sea-kayakers travel along the shore. The northern end of Sidney Island including Sidney Spit became part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in 2003. It was formerly the Sidney Spit Marine Park under provincial jurisdiction. The park area comprises about 400 acres at the north end of the island. The southern end of Sidney Island, and all of James Island, is privately owned.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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