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Great Blue Herons - Up a Tree

This prehistoric-looking bird that nests in colonies is easily identified and common in most freshwater marshes and marine foreshore habitats. The Great Blue Heron is one of about 60 heron species world-wide, including egrets, bitterns and night-herons.

Up-to-date information on this bird is contained in the book The Great Blue Heron by Robert W. Butler. The following information is taken primarily from this source.

Male herons begin to arrive at the colony in March, choosing a nest site and establishing a territory. Females arrive shortly after and the process of choosing a mate begins.

Nests are built in trees, including alder, cedar, hemlock, Douglas-fir, spruce, hawthorn and cottonwood. Of these, alder woodlots are used most often.

Once a heron selects a colony and chooses a mate, it builds a new nest or refurbishes an existing one. A nest represents a large investment in time and effort, so nests from previous years are quickly occupied and diligently defended early in the breeding season.

For all their size and long legs and necks, herons are surprisingly nimble. They collect twigs from nearby trees and on the ground near the colony. Most of the twigs are brought to the nest one at a time by the male, and then placed in position by the female. Nests from previous years are refurbished with new twigs each year, and nests left unattended are dismantled by neighbouring herons.

There are many opportunities to view heron colonies, including at DeBouville Slough (northeast Coquitlam), in the Coquitlam River Wildlife Management Area (access from Colony Farm Regional Park) and at McFadden Creek (off North Beach Road on Salt Spring Island).

The largest colony is located just over the border in Point Roberts, Washington. This colony has over 400 active nests.

While Great Blue Heron are a common sight, the coastal subspecies is on the British Columbia "blue" list, and is nationally listed as "vulnerable".

Like most breeding birds, herons are easily disturbed. When viewing at a colony, keep your distance (at least 100 m) and use binoculars or scopes. Do not venture under the nesting trees or into surrounding habitats.


Spring into Action - Festivals and Special Events

Spring has always been a special time of year, and this also holds true for wildlife. Wherever you go, even in the city, birds and other forms of wildlife are busy setting up house and raising young.

While some wildlife species reside near us year round, other species, especially birds, are making long flights back from their winter homes.

Many groups, organizations and agencies are involved in hosting festivals and special events that celebrate wildlife and the coming of spring. This volume of the British Columbia Wildlife Watch newsletter contains information on some of the known festivals and special events. While the focus of many of these is birds, several involve the release of young fish into urban streams, as well as highlighting special habitats and plant communities. Experience!


Creston Valley's Osprey - 4th Annual Festival

The Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area is located about 11 km west of Creston in the beautiful Kootenays of southeast British Columbia. The fourth annual Osprey Festival, April 23 to 25, is your opportunity to celebrate and experience Canada's densest Osprey population. In 1998 there were 58 breeding pairs in the management area's 6882 ha (17,000 ac) of wetlands.

Organized as a family event, there is lots to see and do. Take part in the nature talks and walks, early morning bird-a-thon, wildlife art show and sale, wildlife detective drive, binocular and spotting scope demonstrations, hands on displays at the Interpretation Centre, and, of course, lots of Osprey viewing.

There is also a spaghetti dinner and wildlife presentation, Kiwanis pancake breakfast and lunch, and banquet and auction.

For more information on this festival or to receive a copy of the event schedule contact the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area Osprey Festival by phone (250) 428-3260, fax at (250) 428-3276, snail mail (Box 640, Creston, B.C. V0B 1G0) or e-mail. Information is also available at their web site.


Fanny Bay - New Tower and Brochure

Through the generous assistance of BC Hydro and Canada Trust's Friends of the Environment Foundation, two new projects have been completed at the Fanny Bay Conservation Unit. A new tower now provides better views of the bay and mudflats, and a revised brochure contains site information. These projects were coordinated by local resident Dan Bernard.

The Fanny Bay Conservation Unit is located 23 km south of Courtenay. It consists of Crown Land reserves and Nature Trust of British Columbia lands, totalling 160 ha in size. While this site is accessible from a number of trails, the easiest access is off the end of Tozer Road.

From Island Highway (Highway 19) about mid way between Qualicum Beach and Courtenay turn onto Ships Point Road. At Tozer Road turn left and continue to the end of the road. There is a small parking area and the Cowie Trail leads to the viewing tower.

This site is made up of a number of important wildlife habitats, including sheltered bay, mudflat, intertidal and freshwater marshes, grassland, forest and woodland swamp. A wide diversity of wildlife use the area, including deer, Elk, River Otter, Beaver, Mink and Muskrat.

About 140 bird species have been recorded at Fanny Bay. The tidal areas are visited by many waterfowl and shorebird species. The dyke and forests are home to many songbirds and woodpeckers.

Several small freshwater streams enter Fanny Bay. The creek near the viewing tower has Coho and Chum Salmon spawning from October through December.

For a copy of the brochure contact the Environment and Lands office in Nanaimo [(250) 751-3100; 2080 Labieux Road, Nanaimo, B.C. V9T 6E9].


Golden Birds and Bears - It's Bearable!

One of the newer festivals is the Golden Festival of Birds and Bears held in Golden. It is always held during the second week in May, usually beginning with Mother's Day. The 1999 dates are May 9 to 15.

This year the festival will feature birding excursions to the Columbia Valley Wetlands in addition to a variety of local habitats. Several of the very popular interpretive bear field trips are also scheduled.

Evening presentation topics include owls (and an owl prowl), the California Condor project, Glacier National Park birds by John Woods, an evening with Sid Marty combining poetry, stories and songs, and several presentations on bears. Many events are still to be confirmed.

For information on this festival phone (800) 622-GOLD (4653), write Golden Festival of Birds and Bears (P.O. Box 1320, Golden, B.C. Canada V0A 1H0) or e-mail. Details for the 1999 event will soon be available on the festival's web site.


Meadowlark Carols in Spring - 2nd Annual Festival

When the colourful Western Meadowlark returns and its carolling song rings over the grasslands and sagebrush, spring has truly arrived. During the May long weekend, May 21 to 24, celebrate spring and experience the unique landscapes of the south Okanagan and lower Similkameen Valleys during the second annual Meadowlark Festival.

The Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance hosts this festival to encourage people of all ages to experience, discover and explore our natural environment. The Okanagan-Similkameen hosts a rare mosaic of natural habitats. Among them is one of Canada's most endangered ecosystems - the hot, dry shrub-grasslands. A springtime look at these shrub-grasslands, known as "pocket desert", reveals a riot of colour flourishing in this seemingly harsh environment.

The four day festival is a celebration of the unique wildlife and habitats found in Penticton and surrounding areas. More than 100 distinct types of wildlife habitat are home to some of the most diverse and rare plant and animal species in British Columbia. Events range from lively slide shows and discussions on nature and conservation topics, to canoe trips, horseback riding, photography workshops and a wide range of bird and wildflower explorations. In the evenings, people can discover rare and spectacular flying mammals, experience an owl prowl or explore the wonders of the night time sky. Avid photographers can enter the popular Meadowlark photography competition.

For the true birding enthusiasts, there is the fourteenth annual Okanagan Big Day Challenge, held each year on the Sunday of the Victoria Day weekend. Teams of birders come from all over Canada and Washington State to participate. It is a friendly competition to see which team can observe and hear the most species of birds in one day - midnight to midnight - in the Okanagan Valley. For those who appreciate sleep, there is the Little Big Day that starts at 4 a.m. and ends at noon. Winning teams usually tally about 160 species, with 174 being the all time record!

Festival activities occur in a wide variety of locations throughout the Okanagan-Similkameen and involve many expert and highly-experienced naturalists, biologists, historians, geologists, astronomers and Okanagan indigenous people. The price for taking part in the festival is kept low to encourage broad public involvement, but pre-registration is required as space for many events is limited, primarily to protect the fragile areas visited.

The aim is for people to have a wonderful weekend outdoors, to learn about our diversity of wildlife and to work to conserve our valuable wildlife habitat. For more information phone the festival office at (250) 492-LARK (5275), write Meadowlark Festival (P.O. Box 20133, Penticton, B.C. Canada V2A 8K3), e-mail or visit their home page.


Sea Lions Abound at Sand Heads - April and May

Many people are surprised to discover that a large concentration of sea lions is found at Sand Heads, just offshore from Steveston, Richmond's historic fishing community. Each spring, hundreds of California Sea Lion arrive to feast on oolichans entering the Fraser River. There are also a few of the much bigger Northern Sea Lion.

A 7 km rock training dyke ends at the Sand Heads lighthouse. Most of the sea lions are found near the end of the dyke. The months of April and May are best for viewing - rain or shine!

Access to the area is by boat only, but commercial tours are available from the dock in Steveston. For information on tours contact the Richmond Tourism Association at (604) 271-8280.

California Sea Lion average almost 2.5 m in length and weigh 227 to 271 kg (600-600 lbs). Females are smaller, 1.8 m and 45 to 90 kg (100 - 200 lbs). By comparison, the Steller sea lion, also called the Northern sea lion, is more massive. A mature male bull will average 3 m in length (about 12 ft) and weigh up to 1 ton. Females average 2 m in length and 275 to 365 kg (600-600 lbs).

When visiting Sand Heads, keep your distance from the rocks and be sure to take lots of film for your camera!


Celebrate Wildlife in Person - Upcoming Dates in BC

No matter where you live, there is probably a festival or special event near you that celebrates wildlife. The following ten festivals and special events are planned for the two month period beginning at the end of March.

There is detailed information for three of these festivals contained on other pages of this newsletter. For more information contact the festival or event organizers directly at the phone number listed or visit the British Columbia Wildlife Watch Home Page (including web site, snail mail and e-mail addresses in the festivals section).

A list of Fall festival and event dates will be printed in a future newsletter.


Eagles Soar! - 3rd Year Success

Participant comments indicate that the 1998 Harrison Chehalis Bald Eagle Festival was a great success! The rain and wind held off for two days, and the Bald Eagle were numerous, with over 700 visible. There were also many Trumpeter Swan. The new site at Tapadera Estates overlooking Chehalis Flats provided wonderful views of the main concentration of eagles. More than 100 volunteers helped to make the festival run.


Bird Tracks

Parksville-Qualicum Beach Wildlife Management Area

    This 873 ha management area stretches over 17 km of coastal foreshore adjacent to the communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach. While containing habitats important for many wildlife species, this is the best place to view Brant, with peak numbers in early April. Maximum daily numbers of Brant can exceed 5,000 birds. March offers large numbers of gulls, scoters and other waterfowl that arrive to feed on the annual herring spawn that takes place along the foreshore.

Hedley and Keremeos Cliffs

    About 150 Mountain Goat, the white beasts, call the hillsides between the small communities of Hedley and Keremeos home. Located along Highway 3 on the south-facing slopes, goats may be seen year round. However, during the spring and early summer months they are often observed lower down on the slopes. Viewing is greatly enhanced with a pair of binoculars, and a careful observer may spot many family groups of moms and their young.

Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area

    Located in the Fraser River estuary, this 11,000 ha management area is of international importance to many species of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, as well as wintering raptor populations. During spring migration this is a fascinating place to visit, with tens of thousands of individual birds. There are many points of access, including Boundary Bay Regional Park (off 12th Avenue in South Delta), the end of 72nd Street (off Highway 10 in East Delta) and Blackie Spit (at Crescent Beach in Surrey).