Quick work helps Lino Lakes save blue herons
- Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELLSpecial to the Star Tribune
- Updated: April 17, 2012 – 11:00 PM
The revival of a colony that was declining a decade ago is a living legacy to Art Hawkins, who sounded the alarm.
In northeast Lino Lakes, there’s a piece of land that could be right out of “Jurassic Park.”
“Just north of 35W, look over to your right, and you can see an island and a lake,” said Marty Asleson, environmental coordinator for the city. “That’s where the blue herons are living. When they fly over, they look like a pterodactyl. Their species dates back to the dinosaur age. They’ve been around a long time.”
Not so long ago, however, the Peltier Island colony appeared to be going the way of the dinosaur.
In the early 2000s, Lino Lakes resident Art Hawkins, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, noticed that the blue herons were disbanding.
“Art was the one that rang the alarm on the colony,” said biologist Andy Von Duyke, “and the Peltier Lake Heron Task Force was organized; it was a coalition of stakeholders as well as DNR [the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources], Anoka County Parks, and the city of Lino Lakes and Centerville.”
Hawkins died in 2006, but his warning already was bearing fruit. The project received some funding, and with the help of DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, steps were being taken as early as 2004 to reverse the trend.
“I was a new graduate student at the time,” Von Duyke said. “That season I started studying the colony. In the previous season, there were 250 nests in this colony early in the season. We went and installed cameras. … That colony had a 100 percent failed [birth] rate that year. Based on my camera evidence, I had a pretty good idea what it was.”
Predation, mainly raccoons, seemed to be the main culprit, Von Duyke said.
Asleson also suspected boating activity in the shallow waters around the island and 35W road construction, as well as low-flying seaplanes, as possible factors.
Said Von Duyke: “I had an experimental design to test my hypothesis on the remaining couple hundred nests. But in 2005, there were only 25 active nests. [The number] dropped 90 percent in one year. So I immediately went into crisis mode. We had to keep this colony going.”
He and volunteers started by installing predator guards and monitoring the nests. Asleson said a no-wake zone around the island also was enforced.
Three blue heron chicks survived that year, and there’s been a steady increase since then, Von Duyke said. The following year, 50 chicks survived.
Observers estimate there are now more than 100 active blue heron nests on Peltier Lake. The coalition volunteers have confirmed great egrets nesting on the island, as well.
“It’s very exciting,” said Von Duyke. “A colony that’s on the brink in 2005 now seven years later is graduated into a big colony — not the huge one that it used to be, but bigger than the average colony in Minnesota.”
Von Duyke, a volunteer on the project now, said blue herons not only are magnificent creatures, but also are important to the ecology of the region.
Asleson agrees and notes that the bird is ingrained into the Lino Lakes culture:
“The Blue Heron is our city logo. It’s on our water tower. We have a Blue Heron Elementary, and it’s on our coffee cups. If you live in Lino Lakes, you know about the blue heron.”