Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Great Blue Heron Rookery

Great Blue Heron Rookery near Guelph Ontario

Donna, at KGMom Mumblings wrote an interesting post yesterday about the loss of wild life habitat related to development. Our local paper is seldom without a story of some battle between environmentalists and developers. Right now there are ongoing fights to save the home of the Jefferson salamanders from a new highway, and resistance to paving over a moraine to the north that is important for recharging ground water.

Last year I hoped to find a Great Blue Heron rookery. I finally found one (with help from some birding friends) and was surprised at the location of the many nests high in the trees in a marsh area near the Grand River. I saw one bird in a nest already even though it seems a little cool to be laying eggs. This story regarding the destruction of GBH nests was in today's paper.

Migratory bird act opposed by N.B. forestry giant
The Canadian Press


New Brunswick forestry company, J.D. Irving Ltd., is challenging Canada's laws protecting migratory birds at a time when experts warn that some bird populations are in free fall. Arguments began yesterday in New Brunswick provincial court on an application by Irving to have the Migratory Birds Convention Act declared unconstitutional.
The company filed the application after it was charged under the federal act as a result of the destruction of several great blue heron nests during a logging operation in Cambridge Narrows, N.B., in 2006. Irving has pleaded not guilty to the charge, but in advance of the trial, it introduced a motion challenging the constitutionality of the act, which has been on the books since 1917. Irving is claiming that the Migratory Birds Act violates the Charter of Rights.

"As well, we say it is unconstitutional because it really is provincial jurisdiction, not federal jurisdiction,'' said Irving lawyer Christopher Wayland of Toronto.

Prosecution witness Steve Wendt, a former director with the Canadian Wildlife Service, told court that protection of migratory birds is just as important now as it was 90 years ago, when the convention was enacted by the United States and Britain on behalf of Canada.

"When the migratory bird convention came into being, people had observed several extinctions,'' Wendt told the court, using the disappearance of the passenger pigeon as an example. "There was a lot of concern then and we have similar concerns now.''

Wendt says a number of migratory birds -- including such insect-eating species as the common nighthawk and the swallow -- are vanishing from the Canadian landscape. That's making the protection of remaining habitat critical. The Audubon Society recently published a list of songbirds that are disappearing at alarming rates from North America, including such once-common species as the evening grosbeak and the field sparrow.

Roland Chiasson of Nature New Brunswick, who attended court proceedings, asked, "If this act is struck down, what is going to happen the day after?''

A large forestry company is looking for lumber, not nests, and while Great Blue Herons are not endangered (yet), invoking the Canadian Charter of Rights is an extreme action for their defense.

Mennonite women selling maple syrup at the roadside

The rookery I saw is in the heart of Mennonite country and there is nothing but farmland, bush and swamp for miles around. But fifty years from now that could be very different. Laws like the Migratory Birds Convention Act are necessary now and later to protect vulnerable species that cannot adapt to the rapid change in their environment brought on by human activity.


  1. There is a heron rookery here at the coast ... in the Chilliwack area known as Sardis. We use to visit it regularly and now they have turned it into a sanctuary with interpretation centre, trails ... the whole 9 yards. Some trails are closed off during breeding times.

  2. I've never seen a heron rookery. I'll bet you'll return to enjoy the goings-on.

    It's so painful to mentally review the tracts of wilderness, wetlands and good farmland I've seen go under the bulldozers.

  3. Anonymous7:11 pm GMT-4

    Hope you see lots of herons.
    Thanks for bringing this environmental subject forward.

  4. Ruth--thanks for the plug about my post.
    I have visions of a future where humans have crowded out, over-taking wild places everywhere--all in the name of progress.
    One commenter on my blog noted the silencing of spring peepers. Every creature's voice that is silenced is our loss.
    At least it appears that some governmental entities in parts of Canada are trying to preserve wild places. But your post shows that the battle goes on. . .and on. . .and on.

  5. It would be a shame not to protect these areas.

  6. CS- I have been told the birds will abandon the nest if there is too much human activity. I may or may not go back as the nests are on private property. Once the leaves are out, the nests will not be visible.

    Cathy- I am happy to have seen where they nest but the swamp they are in is fairly inaccessible by foot.

    April- There are lots of GBHs around here. I saw 11 at one time near our house in a swamp. But their nesting habits are quite unique.

    KGMom- I have heard that amphibians are the biggest losers in the modern landscape. I haven't seen a Spring Peeper myself. Laws are good, but enforcement can be a challenge.

    Jayne- It is good to protect, but much better to educate people. So many people don't care about much other than making money.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.