With all the natural beauty surrounding Castlegar, it’s easy to look past the special places within the city limits. One such place is the Waldie Island Heron Reserve. The island is situated in the Columbia River at the north end of town, between the Brilliant and the CPR bridges. As one of the only tree covered islands in the area, Waldie provides valuable habitat for nearly 150 wildlife species.
The two-acre island was purchased by the Nature Trust of British Columbia and partners in 1996. The island and surrounding area are a small but important wetland complex that provides important winter refuge, forage, and potential breeding grounds for many species.
There are at least 10 provincially listed wildlife species that use the area, species that require special conservation attention. In B.C., these wildlife species are classified as either endangered or of special concern.
The Great Blue Heron is one of those locally listed, and identified as of special concern (blue listed).
The heron is easily recognizable when in flight by its long s-shaped neck, blue grey plumage and deep slow wing beat. They can be found along most local rivers feeding in shallow water where they patiently stalk fish and other small aquatic prey.
Waldie Island is an important habitat in the winter for these birds. Herons are mostly migratory and fly as far as South America for the winter. Some herons don’t migrate as long as they can access the necessary resources locally.
With the Columbia and Kootenay rivers remaining ice free through the winter, herons can continue to feed. The trees on Waldie Island have traditionally provided a roosting site for herons during the winter, but a worrying trend has been observed.
The Waldie Island Trail, constructed by the Castlegar Friends of Parks and Trails Society, is a popular dog walking area. The trail is mostly an earthy path and some raised boardwalk sections that follows the mainland shoreline providing viewpoints of the island from a non-intrusive distance.
The trail at times is underwater depending on the river level of the Columbia.
During the cool winter months, the channel between Waldie and the main shoreline dries up. This allows access to the island for off-leash dogs who are a potential problem. Although signage instructs users to keep their dogs leashed, some trail users do not comply. When the water is low and the island is “available,” both people and dogs can be seen off of the designated trails and wading across the narrow channel to access Waldie island.
Herons are a very sensitive species. Even a seemingly harmless walk along the shoreline beaches, too close to their roosts, often cause them enough distress to leave the island in an attempt to find another secluded habitat.
For the heron, this can be a difficult task in the winter. Finding a new roost site will expend an important amount of energy in herons, energy they can ill afford to waste.
Castlegar is home to a special niche habitat which can be respectfully utilized and enjoyed by both our feathered, two legged, and four legged friends. Walking the Waldie Island trail is a great way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, the trail was built to allow us limited access to this sensitive place in order to maintain and appreciate it.
We can be respectful by keeping ourselves and our pets on the trails provided.
— Pixie Hamre and Mark Lozer are second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College.