by EVAN MATTHEWS
With its subtle blue-gray feathers, long pointed bill and piercing yellow eyes, the Great Blue Heron is a beautiful sight, however rare.
Though often motionless while scanning for prey, the bird can strike quickly.
Marlene Machmer of Pandion Ecological Research Ltd. wants to know if you’ve seen any Great Blue Herons – specifically any breeding sites.
Machmer, an ecological researcher, last led a Great Blue Heron breeding colony expedition in the North Columbia in 2004, and only found one active site.
“North of Revelstoke and Golden, the only breeding site we found was near Valemount, although additional heron observations were submitted for Revelstoke Reservoir and Burges James Gadsden Provincial Park,” says Machmer.
“We really need the public’s help to identify more breeding sites. We are asking the public to report any heron nest sites, active breeding colonies, or large groups of herons feeding in areas throughout the basin, and especially from McBride to Valemount… since we have so little information for this northern region,” she says.
Heron breeding activity has continued to decline in the southern portion of the Columbia Basin based on 2016 monitoring results, according to Machmer.
“We really need the public’s help to identify more breeding sites. We are asking the public to report any heron nest sites, active breeding colonies, or large groups of herons feeding in areas throughout the basin, and especially from McBride to Valemount… since we have so little information for this northern region,” – Marlene Machmer, Pandion Ecological Research Ltd.
At three rookeries south of Golden, breeding sites with 21, 15 and seven active nests were abandoned in 2016 due to crow, raven and/or bald eagle harassment and predation, she says.
A rookery is a breeding colony of rooks, typically seen as a collection of nests high in a clump of trees.
Low rates of reproductive success were recorded at several additional sites, according to Machmer, while similar abandonments and low productivity outcomes have become more frequent in recent monitoring years.
A variety of human-related activities including extensive land development, construction and operation of dams, other human disturbances, as well as eagle and corvid predation has impacted Heron habitat in the Basin significantly, according to Machmer.
The project is sponsored by the West Kootenay Naturalists’ Association, and is funded by Columbia Basin Trust and the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP).
“This work, together with follow-up stewardship efforts to protect important habitat, is a major step forward toward ensuring this iconic, and provincially Blue-listed species, continues to thrive here,” says FWCP Columbia Region Manager Crystal Klym.
The heron inventory and stewardship work started in 2016 and is continuing this year. A total of 48 projects — 17 fish and 31 wildlife projects — have been approved for funding in 2017-2018, for more than $5.5-million by the FWCP in the Columbia Region.
The FWCP is a partnership between B.C. Hydro, the Province of B.C., Fisheries and Oceans Canada, First Nations and Public Stakeholders to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife impacted by B.C. Hydro dams.