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The following article was originally written for the October 2012 issue of “SWOAM News”, the newsletter of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine

Great blue heron nests are often found in snags located in beaver flowages. Photo by Michael Merchant.

Great blue heron nests are often found in snags located in beaver flowages. Photo by Michael Merchant.

Mention the great blue heron and most envision a large bird with long legs and neck knee-deep in water slowly stalking its prey. These wetland icons also rely on trees, both live and dead, for nesting. These magnificent birds build large platform stick nests 8-100 ft up in trees and nest in groups, or colonies. In Maine, colonies occur on coastal and freshwater islands, in beaver flowages, and in upland settings. Their nests are built in mature hardwoods and softwoods and can be in live, dead, or dying trees. Chances are, your property is potential nesting habitat for these prehistoric looking and sounding birds.

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Logan Labree, Dalton McCaughlin and Rachel Bates measure and record the diameter of a great blue heron nest tree while Skip Walsh (in background) searches for another nest.

On a brisk fall afternoon after most students have headed home from Sebasticook Valley Middle School, 10 students remain.  They each don a hunter orange cap supplied by the school and head outside.  Today’s meeting of the Maine Outdoors Club is a unique one.  They have two guests: Brad Allen and I, both biologists with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W).

Though it is hunting season, the students are not going to learn about hunting laws or ethics.  Instead, they will assist with monitoring a great blue heron colony located literally in their back yard, right on school property.

The school district’s great blue heron colony was originally reported to MDIFW by local residents in 2009.  The initial ground visit by biologists last April revealed only six nests, but the breeding season had just begun and the colony was likely not yet fully occupied.  An aerial survey of the site in late June revealed an estimated 30 nests, most containing nestlings.

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Two black-crowned night-herons on Damariscove Island.

(From a 3/11/2010 News Release)

Historic Damariscove Island has yet another story to tell. On Sunday, March 21, at 2 p.m. at the Southport Town Hall, Boothbay Region Land Trust (BRLT) will host Brad Allen and Danielle D’Auria, wildlife biologists, who will detail the 2008 report to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife concerning the 19 pairs of Black-Crowned Night-Herons nesting on the island. The island’s Eider population will also be discussed.

While the program is open to the public free of charge, the land trust asks those wishing to attend to call the office at 633-4818 or email brlt@bbrlt.org for advance reservations.   

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I accompanied Bridie McGreavy, of the Lakes Environmental Association, to one of our largest inland great blue heron colonies.  Featuring 34 nests, this colony is even impressive in late winter before the birds have returned to breed.  Don Perkins, a freelance writer, was also on the hike and wrote a story for the Portland Press Herald.  View a pdf of the story here:  Wetland_Features_Rookery

Read the story online (this link may expire).

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