Land Trust Protects Critical Heron Habitat
The Whidbey Camano Land Trust has acquired a conservation easement on 36 acres of critical Great Blue Heron nesting habitat at the Davis Slough Heronry on Camano Island.
The property is next to land protected earlier by the Land Trust in 2003, so the easement more than doubles the size of the area preserved for heron nesting at Davis Slough. The voluntary, legally binding easement was donated by a generous landowner who wishes to remain anonymous. It reduces the number of homes that can be built on the 36 acres from eight to only one. The owner will continue to live on the land and the herons’ nesting area will be protected forever.
The donor’s father purchased the property in the 1960s and she watched the herons come and go each year. “My folks used to love to sit in the kitchen or living room and watch the herons fly up from the Skagit Flats, over the house, and into the heronry, sometimes dozens at a time,” she says. “To see the herons sitting up there on their nests in the spring is an awesome sight.”
The property has sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains and Skagit Flats, making the land potentially valuable for home sites. But the owner realized development would be detrimental to the thriving heronry.
“I’m so pleased that the property will never be developed,” she says. “I knew that I could protect it during my lifetime, but now I know that it will remain undeveloped and preserved for future generations to enjoy.”
Each year more than 600 herons nest at Davis Slough. It’s the largest heronry in Island County and one of the four largest in Puget Sound. In 2003, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust worked quickly to acquire 31 acres threatened by development. That property has since been donated to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, with Island County holding a conservation easement. The 36-acre addition will remain private property and the Land Trust will hold the conservation easement.
“We’re pleased to protect additional habitat on Camano Island for heron nesting,” said Ivan Miller, Land Trust Board President and a Camano resident. “It is especially important as this colony of Great Blue Herons is easily disturbed by noise and human activities and there just aren’t many other suitable places left where they can find refuge.”
Herons are particularly sensitive to disturbance from humans and need secure forests to breed successfully and raise their young. Successful heronries are typically located in specific forest habitats, away from homes but close to fertile feeding grounds. Nests near forest edges are vulnerable to predation, especially by Bald Eagles. Without adequate protection, Great Blue Herons will move on to find a better location for their nests. Over time, they have fewer and fewer choices because, unfortunately, herons and humans like to build their homes in similar places.
The Land Trust is continuing to partner with the Department of Fish and Wildlife at the Davis Slough Heronry, where they are working together to remove blackberries and restore pastures back to forest.
“This new conservation easement provides additional forest for the colony to expand,” said Ruth Milner, WDFW regional wildlife biologist. “The additional buffer area ensures that the birds feel protected and secure. We are thrilled that this donor is so supportive of the heronry’s survival. As development continues to encroach upon wildlife habitat, we rely on private owners like her to help us with statewide conservation efforts.”
Photo of The Great Blue Heron: each year more than 600 of these majestic birds nest that the Davis Slough Heronry on Camano Island, Washington. Photo by Craig Johnson