Chilliwack’s herons make homecoming trip early

Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve hosts monthly interpretive walks to understand large birds and their local habits

The herons are back.

And just like the balmy spring weather in the Fraser Valley, their return was a little bit earlier than usual.

“They arrived two weeks early this year,” Janet Hutchinson said, while leading the first interpretive walk at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve on a recent Saturday morning.

“When they come back, it’s because there is lots of food for them,” she explained. And they haven’t come from very far off. Unlike the Fraser Valley’s other popular aviator, the bald eagle, great blue herons don’t migrate. Instead, they disperse to nearby areas within the region for the winter. But they always return to their mating nests in the spring.

Last year, there were 165 active nests at the reserve, which is considered a large colony by most standards. But many of the nests were damaged or lost completely in January during the winter storm that toppled trees with high winds and frigid temperatures.

This year, the number is closer to 125, Hutchinson said.

“Every year they come back to their nests and rebuild, or construct new ones,” she said, looking up into the morning sun as it filtered through the cottonwoods. Part of rebuilding those nests also serves as an important mating ritual. Herons take on a new partner every mating season. The male herons find sticks to build up the nests, and carry them into the colony to their female mates.

“We’ll see some stick-carrying behaviour today,” she said.

Sure enough, high above Hutchinson and the group gathered on the Vedder trail, a heron navigates his way through the branches. A long, skinny stick hangs from his beak as he lands close to the nest, and his mate takes it from him.

But this process doesn’t always go according to plan. Moments later there’s much squawking at another nest, resulting in one heron flying off to another tree.

“That happens. And there’s the occasional bird with no partner,” Hutchinson said, as the numbers don’t always match up. There are also juvenile herons among the group who aren’t ready to mate.

Hutchinson and other volunteers at the reserve hold these walks once a month, explaining the birds’ behaviour while educating the public on how to behave while interacting with nature.

The birds are here early because their food supply was ready for them early, she said.

While coast great blue herons are almost solely fishermen, the Fraser Valley herons have a much more varied diet.

“They’ll eat voles, fish, amphibians, snakes, gophers, dragonflies,” she said. “Fishing is their main occupation at the coast, but here they’ll eat anything they can catch.”

There are other differences, too. The B.C. subspecies of great blue heron are “just a bit smaller and darker” than herons in other regions.

One of the most interesting facts to learn along the heron walk is how the eagles and herons co-habitate the area, even though the eagle predates on the heron.

An eagle’s nest sits almost in the centre of the colony. It’s identifiable by its large mass, built up in the crook off a large tree. Heron nests, on the other hand, are scattered throughout the trees, with many to a tree. They drip with sticks and seem as if a light breeze could send them flying.

Eagles prey on the eggs and the young herons. But eagles also keep other predators at bay and will naturally defend their territory. So while the herons may sacrifice a few of their young each year to their resident pair of eagles, the overall loss is lower than when the eagles leave, Hutchinson explained.

Just a few weeks ago, bobcats were spotted in the area, with a young cat climbing a tree. Raccoons will climb the trees and scoop out eggs from unattended nests, too.

The herons will be nesting until July, and there are three more interpretive walks planned, on April 4, May 2 and June 6, at 10 a.m.

To see the herons on any other day, park at the Great Blue Heron Reserve at 5200 Sumas Prairie Road and walk along the dike to the west of the parking lot. The heron colony is high in the cottonwoods on the left, and it’s about a 15 minute walk roundtrip. The walk is wheelchair and stroller friendly, and dogs are required to be on leash.

For more information, phone 604-823-6603 or visit chilliwackblueheron.com.

jpeters@theprogress.com

Just Posted

Ben Holwerda of the Chilliwack Spartan Swim Club competes in a swim meet at the Landing Leisure Centre on Feb. 12, 2011. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack Landing Leisure Centre to close temporarily for scheduled maintenance

Pools, steam room, and sauna at Landing Leisure Centre closing for maintenance July 19 to Sep. 4

Folks look through some of the items for sale during the Voice of Hope giant garage sale at 7350 Barrow Rd. in Chilliwack on Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Giant garage sale today in Chilliwack supports Kenyan widows, orphans

Funds go to Chilliwack-based Voice of Hope charity to improve quality of life for impoverished Kenyans

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack woman’s 100-km birthday marathon to benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Volunteers will gather at South Gate Shopping Centre on Fathers Day before fanning out to help clean up downtown Chilliwack. (Facebook photo)
Kindness Chain Chilliwack Association organizes Fathers Day cleanup

Volunteers will spend 90 minutes fanning out to gather trash in downtown Chilliwack

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Most Read