The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Winged Messengers

by Tricia Dower

The herons have returned to the magnificent Beacon Hill Park a mere two blocks from our city home.

On Saturday, Colin and I made a rainy pilgrimage to the heronry, navigating soggy daffodil-strewn fields and circling a lake animated with noisy ducks and geese. We crossed over Emily Carr’s little stone bridge toward a copse of Douglas firs and — ah, there was one…and another…and another — nesting in the tops of the tall firs. I had to bend my neck so far back to see them, rain splashed into my eyes. Their bulky nests swayed with the branches in the breeze like rock-a-bye cradles of sticks. A few other herons sat in regal silence on other trees a short distance away. Plumes hung below their long necks like beards.

The four-foot tall Great Blue Heron, with a wing span of six feet, is the largest heron in Canada. It weighs less than six pounds, however, and is fragile. On Vancouver Island, there are twenty-three known heronries with approximately 450 active nests. Beacon Hill Park has hosted the largest of these heronries for twenty years.

It’s extraordinary that the birds return each year. They are reportedly sensitive to air pollution and noise and the heronry is located next to busy Douglas Street. It’s even more extraordinary they returned this year: the Victoria Times Colonist reports that at least ten of their nests were lost in last winter's windstorms. For the first time ever, dogs are not allowed in the vicinity. People are urged to keep their distance, as well. But we’re not the only hazard. High winds can fell a fledgling, and root disease has killed a number of mature western red cedars and Lawson cypress trees in the area. While these aren’t the herons’ nesting trees, they provide shelter from bald eagles with an appetite for baby herons.

On Sunday I went back by myself. The sun was out and so were the worshippers with cameras on tripods and binoculars in hand. Parents shushed their children and pointed up to the trees. I didn’t see as many herons as Colin and I had the day before. They’re reputedly not big on crowds. But I enjoyed sharing in the awe of the others who had come to see these birds the ancients considered messengers from the gods. With all we’re doing to destroy our environment and that of so many other species, I could weep with gratitude that the herons have not given up on us yet.

Photos: Darren Stone, Victoria Times Colonist.


Blogger tamara said...

Oh, yes. Spring has sprung. Lovely post, Tricia.

Years ago, I lived in a house overlooking Swan Lake off Saanich Road in Victoria. The kitchen sink faced the Nature Sanctuary there, and one of the most spectacular things to see, while washing dishes, was the impressive Great Blue Heron swoop past the window towards the lake.

Tue Mar 27, 12:31:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Thank you for this glimpse Tricia. You are fortunate to be near such natural beauty.

Tue Mar 27, 03:09:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks Tamara. Thanks, Jen. We shall have to take a trip to Swan Lake.

Tue Mar 27, 09:53:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Larry said...


How synchronistic that you should post this. Just yesterday I was jogging at Crissy Field (The park/preserve that spans the water right where the ocean meets the bay.) in the vicinity of the restored tidal basin/marsh. It was liberally spotted (yes, like a dalmatian) with enormous egrets and their young, not to mention one, lone blue heron. (Who, apparently, couldn't find his way back to you in Vancouver.)

The egrets had all but disappeared prior to the restoration project. It's amazing what even a small amount of habitat can provoke in nature.

Wed Mar 28, 10:01:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for reading, Larry. Yes, even a tiny backyard garden will attract wildlife. Glad to hear about the restoration project near you.

Wed Mar 28, 01:09:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wed Mar 28, 09:27:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

beautiful, yes, let us all weep with gratitude. Lovely post Tricia. xoxoxoox

Thu Mar 29, 01:46:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Larry said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thu Mar 29, 11:28:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

We have Blue Herons that frequent the tiny river that dissects our town in Ontario. I love watching them fly - it's like going back to prehistoric times.

Fri Mar 30, 07:39:00 pm GMT-4  

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