Facilitating the protection and restoration of species and ecosystems at risk on BC’s South Coast
The Herons of Moody Inlet
Contributed by Judy Taylor-Atkinson, Port Moody BC.
My husband, Jim, discovered the first 3 Great Blue Heron nests here in Port Moody in 2015. At the time the nests seemed to be fragile and not nearly as substantial as we thought a nest should be for such a large bird. How wrong we were. The worries about the strength of the nests disappeared after each storm event through the next 3 years.
We have been watching, transfixed, as each year more birds arrive to build nests and raise their young. In 2016 there were 9 nests and the final count for 2017 is 20 nests.
Jim and I live close to the colony, about a 10 minute walk or a 4 minute bike ride. We have become friends with many people who live on the street right alongside the colony and we can quickly exchange information if we need to; like on the night of the first big thunder and wind event in the middle of May, 2017. I was watching the tree tops in our backyard whip back and forth that evening when calls began to come in from our friends next to the colony. They could see the herons circling overhead in the flashes of lightning. I worried all night and we got to the colony as quickly as we could the following morning to find them peacefully perched in the nests, grooming and feeding.
My favourite memory (so far) of these large, ungainly looking birds came in early 2015, when the nests were being built. A female was standing in the nest, rearranging various sticks and twigs when her mate arrived, landing softly on the supporting branch. All he had was a small twig with two leaves on it, not even 6 inches long. She came to the side of the nest and I imagined her thinking "What good do you think that is going to do?" But, instead, she reached out and gently took his offered twig, turned back and tucked it into the nest. I thought this was the loveliest ritual between 2 birds preparing a place to raise a family.
The colony is alongside a walking trail and so many people here have the privilege of watching and learning about Great Blue Herons. I couldn't even venture a guess how many people we have been able to talk to about these birds, their importance and their vulnerable status.
Our friends helped last fall when a fledgling broke a wing. We took turns watching until the young bird was in a spot where we could call the Wildlife Rescue Association to come and capture her. The rescue volunteer arrived within 20 minutes and the capture was easily accomplished when the bird simply crouched down and allowed a sheet to be placed over her head. We were all heartbroken to find, later, that the break was too severe and she had to be euthanized.
We spotted the first two herons of 2018 sitting in the colony this past January 13th and by early February there were regular sightings of 2-4 birds. Each time one or more birds were sitting on various nests. Two days before the cold weather and snow (about February 16th) all the herons from the colony and around the inlet disappeared. I was getting worried because it was so abrupt and emailed Ross Vennesland (a Parks Canada biologist who is heading up the BC Heron Working Group), who responded it was likely due to the cold snap. He said if they didn’t show up by mid-March then it was time to get concerned. So it was a relief to see 4 of them on February 25, the day the temperatures started to increase.
By March 8 the numbers started to increase (8 herons) around the colony, increasing each day. By March 12 the females were re-arranging the nests and the males started flying in with materials. Our herons are very active now. Early yesterday morning (March 15th) there were 20 on the nests!
Everything appears to be going well so far. On occasion there have been some eagles (2 or 3 at a time) flying overhead. We are very much looking forward to another season of Great Blue Herons in our neighbourhood!
Read the Management Plan for the Great Blue Heron fannini ssp. here
Image Credits: Gil Biderman and Judy Taylor Atkinson