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Save Our Lake Organization of Lake Norman,NC
P.O. Box 394
Terrell, NC 28682
Phone: 704-458-1163
email contact for save our lake organization of lake norman north carolina

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Save Our Lake Organization of Lake Norman NC Articles

A TRIP TO HERON ISLAND
By Jerry Barrows- Volunteer Coordinator
Island Habitat Program
North Carolina Wildlife Federation

I recently had the opportunity to visit Lake Norman’s only current heron rookery as the guest of three scientists from Duke Power and Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation Department.  Known locally as Heron Island, the two acre wooded area is located near the entrance of Hager Creek and Reed Creek.  For many years, this island has been a favored nesting spot for great blue herons, those long legged graceful wading birds commonly seen in the Lake Norman area.

On the boat ride to Heron Island, Marek Smith, Conservation Science Specialist with Mecklenburg County’s Park & Recreation Department, filled me in on the characteristics of the birds we were going to see.  “Great blue herons (ardea herodias) range from 38” to 54” in length with an impressive wing span of up to 6 ft.  Adults typically weigh from 5 to 8 lbs.  Blue herons are blue gray in color with a black stripe above each eye extending to the back of the neck as a plume.  Black streaks also occur on their white forenecks.  The bill is long, large, and yellowish in color.  The legs are long, permitting it to wade in shallow water while seeking food.  Blue herons typically feed on small fish but also consume frogs, salamanders, snakes, small mammals, insects, and even birds.”

Gene Vaughan, Senior Scientist and Sherry Reid, Biologist with Duke Power’s Environmental Center at the McGuire Nuclear Station, provided additional information.  “Great blue herons nest together in colonies, also known as heronries or rookeries.  Nesting pairs of blue herons typically produce two young each year.  Only about 30 to 40 percent of fledglings survive their first year.  Typically, the total number of nesting pairs on Heron Island is 30 to 40.  With a survival rate of 35 percent, this heronry produces about 25 new birds each year.”

As we approached the island, we noticed several large signs identifying the area as a “Colonial Waterbird Sanctuary”.  The signs specifically state that the island is closed to all human trespass from April 1 through August 31.  Blue herons are particularly sensitive to human disturbance which can affect their breeding and fledging success.  Violators will be cited by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission which maintains regular patrols on Lake Norman.  Boaters are asked to please cooperate by staying a respectful distance offshore from April through August each year.

We slowly circled Heron Island to assess the approximate numbers of herons building nests, typically in the tops of the tallest trees.  It was interesting to note that the birds generally flew to a nearby island to gather sticks for their nests rather than using construction materials from Heron Island itself.  It seems reasonable to suspect that this is due to the distance it takes for the large birds to become airborne and land.  Marek Smith counted 26 nests under construction or repair.  Since high winds and area storms take their toll on the nests during the offseason, nests typically need major repairs or replacement each spring.

Shortly after our arrival, a pontoon boat with several members of SOLO (Save Our Lake Organization) from the west side of Lake Norman arrived to also inspect the island.  Over a year ago, SOLO adopted Heron Island and a nearby larger island under the NC Wildlife Federation (NCWF) and Duke Power’s Island Habitat Program.  This group has regularly cleaned trash from the area’s islands, provided bird nesting boxes for a variety of avian species on adjacent islands, and maintained a regular vigil to protect the islands from abuse.  On the day we met on the water, they decided to leave Heron Island undisturbed and proceeded to clean trash from adjacent islands.  SOLO has also adopted key blue heron island rookeries on Lake Wylie and are making plans to adopt additional islands on Lake Norman under the NCWF’s Island Habitat Program.

After assessing the nest building efforts of the blue herons at Heron Island, we proceeded back to the dock.  Gene made a slight detour to inspect the nest building efforts of two pairs of ospreys.  We found them actively building their stick nests on a buoy marker and a nearby shoal marker.  Several breeding pairs of ospreys have taken up residence on Lake Norman.  To the delight of boaters, ospreys are commonly seen diving into the lake’s waters after small fish.  During the spring, they construct their crude nests by simply dropping sticks onto their chosen nesting site.  To encourage more nesting pairs, the NC Wildlife Federation is working with area volunteers and contributors to provide nesting platforms for these fascinating birds of prey.

If you would like more information on becoming a volunteer or contributor to the wildlife habitat efforts of the NC Wildlife Federation and the Island Habitat Program, please contact Tim Gestwick at 704-332-5696 or email him at ncwf_charlotte@mindspring.com.  Be sure to check out the NCWF’s website at www.ncwf.org.

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Save Our Lake Organization    P.O. Box 394 Terrell, NC  28682   Phone:  704-458-1163    Email:   saveourlake @ charter.net
 
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