I have been following the Great Blue Heron Rookery at Holland Ponds Park, in Shelby Twp., for over 8 years now. I have watched as some 80-100 Herons return each spring in March, to pair up, mate and produce offspring for each years nesting season.
It is an amazing process to observe, and I never tire of what happens in the colony at the park each year. You can read this years report on the Hiking Michigan Blog at: 2012 HERONS REPORT
This year, while finishing up my counts and observations at the two heronries that comprise the Colony at Holland Ponds park, I was sitting under the rear heronries main empty nests (all the Herons have left for the season, after rearing and fledging this years youngsters) and I realized just how delicate of a balance in nature was in play here at this rare place in Southeastern Michigan.
For instance……..in March, as the Herons where returning from their wintering grounds in Florida and South America, and waiting to pair up with a mate, a Wind-storm rolled through the lowland valley that encompasses the heronries, and took down a full nest tree in the front heronry, and a main nest branch from a nesting tree, in the rear heronry. In both cases, 3 nests where destroyed.
Since each Heron nest produces 2-4 youngsters, this was a loss of up to 24 new chicks for the Colony. This is a substantial loss to a species who do not do well in human populated areas when it comes to reproducing there. They like their privacy, and do not react well to disturbances, high levels of human activities or constant human movements. But an unlucky break, of a common Wind-storm could have done even more damage then it did.
Luckily the heronry still increased it total nests from 39 mating pairs in nests in 2011, to 44 solid nesting Herons in 2012. Even with the loss of the 6 nests to a common weather condition for this area, the colony still thrived for this year. But what if more had happened???
What if there was more Wind-storms then usual? What if the weather had been even more strange then it has been for the last year or so, and we got a late Spring freeze, which would have destroyed many of the freshly layed eggs?
I sat under the nests for quite some time contemplating these possibilities and pondered just how delicate the balance in nature is, to produce a successful and unique place, like the Heronry here at Holland Ponds park. Not only is it amazing that this nesting site even exists in a populated place like Shelby Twp., but the fact that there is enough food sources to supply a growing colony of ravenously hungry Herons, raising 2-4 intensely hungry youngsters each year, and being successful enough to be expanding their nesting site with more nests, is just an extraordinary event.
It is not very often that Mother Nature needs our help as humans. Mom has it down pretty well, and takes good care of life, when left to herself to do so. But here in a populated area, where all the odds are against the Herons for producing a successful colony of increasingly expanding nests, under all the worst conditions that go against this happening, is something we humans should be nurturing and assisting to the best of our abilities.
So far……Shelby Twp. has posted signs along most of the perimeter of the heronry, to keep humans at a distance that would not cause the Herons to abandon their nests. The expanding nests need additional signage along the river to continue to keep fisherman and forest wanderers, at a safe distance from the nests. Keeping the local ponds, that produce the small fish and frogs the Herons need to feed their new youngsters each year, is another things we human can do to help out these Herons in continuing to reproduce in this unique setting.
There has been talk, and even a proposal from Parks & Recreation personal at Shelby Twp., to install a BIKE Pathway, down the center of Holland Ponds park, in the near future. This is a pressure the heronry could not handle. The constant moving human traffic, that close to the nesting site, would most definitely cause the Herons to leave this place. Would it be worth it? Of course not. What could possibly be worth the destruction of such a wonderful, productive and unique place like the heronry at the park? This would be an added pressure that on-top of the normal odds, would surely tip the balance against the Herons.
I am sure this was just a moments silly thought by Parks & Recreation, and nothing that would be pursued as reality. Parks & Recreation surely would not want to remove this natural wonder from the sight of future generations, would they? They certainly would want Natural Resources to be a higher focus of theirs, then the entertainment of a few thrill seeking Bikers. And I am sure our state DNR (Department of Natural Resources) would NEVER put an inanimate object like a BIKE, over such a unique and productive site like this growing Great Blue Heron Rookery. Their main job is to take care of the Natural Resources in the state of Michigan, for the people of Michigan. I am sure that if Shelby Twp. checked with our DNR on the facts here at this nesting sight, that our DNR would advise them to pursue other alternatives.
I am sure that after some thought and the comparisons to the same situation that took place at another smaller Heronry in West Bloomfield Michigan, a few years ago, that all parties would just drop these ideas of a Bike Path through the park. When the same thing was attempted a few years back in West Bloomfield…..ALL the Herons there left, and the Heronry there no longer exists. Some people want to say that it is no lo ger there because of a ice storm that took some of the nests there one winter. But many of the nests still exist. The only missing piece are the Herons. This explanation does not make sense and was used loosely to explain the great errors in even installing their Bike Pathway to begin with.
Shelby Twp. should not gamble in the same manner. Truly……what is to gain, that is better then this very unique Great Blue Heron nesting site? Money? Convenience? Both can be replaced……but the Heronry cannot. It is really that simple. Anything else would be criminal.
We have reached a point in our overpopulated world, that us humans need to choose between what is important to us. Natural things that cannot be replaced at any cost? or more money for a select few? More power, success or Career building for a small group of self promoters who do not have the true people’s best interests in mind. We have the abilities to help Mother Nature when we can, or tip the balance beam towards a point that she cannot return from or battle. What will it be fellow humans?
I got up from my seat on the log beneath the Heron nests, feeling that no one would jeopardize such a natural wonder like this Heronry, for any reasons what so ever. The beauty, the unique magnificence of such a place being right here in Shelby Twp. and thriving there, would always be reason enough to help it grow and not assist in it’s death.