Of the many harbingers of spring, herons returning to their colonies is my favorite! Before we embark on the 14th year of heron colony monitoring, let's first review results from the 2021 volunteer efforts.
Spring is here, and we are patiently waiting for our tagged herons to return from their wintering areas. Here's an update explaining why we haven't seen them yet.
Have you heard of Cornelia, an adult female great blue heron tagged with a GPS transmitter, who nests in Maine and migrates to the Bahamas for the winter? She is one of ten other herons who’ve been equipped with GPS transmitters by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) to learn more about heron movements, habits, and habitats in Maine and beyond. The project began with the help of a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant and many partnering schools, and is part of MDIFW’s ongoing efforts to understand the status of great blue herons in the state – especially along the coast where their population has declined by 89% since the 1980s.
IFW technician Brittany Currier holds tagged great blue heron just before release.
Despite the many challenges that 2020 placed on the world, the Heron Observation Network’s volunteers didn’t skip a beat. Thankfully, outside is the safest place to be during the pandemic, and thus our usual heron colony monitoring efforts carried on in a similar fashion as in past years. For the twelfth year in a row, volunteers trekked to great blue heron colonies in all corners of the state to collect nesting data that is providing a clearer picture of the population’s status. Sixty-eight volunteers and staff monitored 112 great blue heron colonies.
As a biologist, I know death is as much a part of the life cycle of all organisms as life itself, but it can still be difficult to contend with especially after you’ve “gotten to know” an individual animal by following its movements for nearly five years. That individual is Nokomis, a great blue heron we tagged with a GPS transmitter in 2016.
Harper, the GPS-tagged Great Blue Heron, has done it again! Last fall she impressed us with her 38-hour nonstop flight over the open ocean. This year, she has gone above and beyond, flying for 68 hours and 2,030 miles nonstop from Quebec to Georgia.
The following story was written by Mia, a fourth grade student at Friends School of Portland. Mia helped with the field work leading up to the capture and tagging of "Harper" the great blue heron, in Harpswell. She was also there the morning Harper was tagged with a GPS transmitter. Thank you, Mia, for sharing your perspective!
How about we forget about what’s going on in the crazy world for just a moment and think about the month of June 2019, which is when Heron Observation Network Volunteers conducted most of their colony visits last year.
Three years ago, MDIFW embarked on a heron tracking project, which has since redefined how many Mainers view great blue herons, understand their habitats and movements within the state as well as beyond our nation’s borders. Prior to this project, we knew little about where herons wintered, how many years they may nest in the same colony, how far they fly to forage. Additionally, we knew little about nesting, post-breeding, migration and wintering seasons.
Keep In Touch!
Enter your email or mobile number to receive the latest news from MDIFW.