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Exploring Creston Valley's Rich Biodiversity: A Guide to Wildlife Viewing

Great blue herons in Creston Valley. Lindsay Donald photo
The great blue heron is one of the most striking birds visitors can see in the Creston Valley. Lindsay Donald photo

By Brian Lawrence

Spring weather is near at hand, which means that our long winter hibernation (OK, my hibernation) can finally come to an end — just as it does for much of the wildlife in the Creston Valley. Soon our furred, feathered, winged, scaled and other forest friends will be bustling about, seemingly desperate to be glimpsed by a passing hiker or bird watcher. With that in mind we thought it be a great opportunity to note some of the amazing and unique creatures that call this place home and some hot spots in the area to find them!

The Fertile Habitat of the Creston Valley

An aerial view of the Creston Valley floor in 1929, once entirely floodplain.

Bordered by the endless Purcell mountain range to the east and the high snowy Selkirks to the west and Kootenay Lake in the north, cutoff from much of the outside world, the Creston Valley was originally a large Kootenay River floodplain beginning from to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, in the south before emptying into the lake. As a result the area's deep forests, floodplains and waterways were a fertile habitat for many unique species of fish and amphibians, the birds that hunted them, as well as mammals that lived in and around these wetlands. The area is the ancestral territory of the Yaqan Nukiy people, who plied the waterways and wetlands in their sleek birch bark Yaksumit canoes, fishing and hunting an array of these species in this naturally abundant area.

Twentieth-century settlement and agricultural development dramatically changed this wetland and forest landscape, impacting many natural habitats and unique species. However, persistent efforts over the last several decades resulted in the protection of these habitats through the establishment of the CVWMA (1968), Darkwoods Forest Conservation Area (2008) and the Frog Bear Conservation Corridor (2012), helping ensure the long-term survival of these natural spaces and the wildlife within them.

Seven Wildlife Species to Watch For in Creston

There’s no doubt that every species in the area is significant, but seven are quite unique and ones to keep an eye out for while adventuring or exploring the rivers, lakes, forest and wetlands in the Creston Valley.

A western painted turtle basking in the sun.
A western painted turtle basking in the sun.

Western Painted Turtle: A blue-listed rare species, the western painted turtle is the only native fresh-water turtle left in B.C. easily identified by distinct yellow stripes on their legs and neck and red/orange marks on their shells. They’re often found basking in the sun on logs or rocks on warm days in the wetlands, rivers and lakes of the Creston Valley.

Great Blue Heron: The great blue heron is a migratory bird that lives in the rivers, wetlands and lakes, with large nests, high in the trees. These tall, elegant birds are striking with their long legs, broad wings and outstretched necks, and are often spotted near the water’s edge, stoically resting on one foot while hunting fish. Kayakers have a leg up (pun intended) on hikers — gliding through the water is much less likely to be disruptive, and may allow a much closer look!

The very rare northern leopard frog.
The very rare northern leopard frog.

Northern Leopard Frog: Once widespread, the northern leopard frog has become an endangered species, restricted to two breeding areas in B.C., including the CVWMA. They live in and around the shallow ponds and wetlands in spring and summer, but return to deeper waters to hibernate through the winter. They are a medium-sized amphibian, with long legs and dark spots on rich green skin. It is uncommon to spot them, so consider yourself lucky if you do!

White Sturgeon: This endangered species has been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and is the largest and longest living freshwater fish in Canada, reaching up to six metres, 1,400 pounds and 100 years in age. The grey and white fish can be identified by their broad flat heads, wide toothless mouths, and bony scutes that run along their bodies. Their habitat includes the Kootenay River, where they spawn before returning to Kootenay Lake to spend most of their lives. While white sturgeon are unlikely to be seen and it is prohibited to fish them, keep your eyes out for Naⱡmuqȼin, a giant ancient sturgeon whom Yaqan Nukiy legend says lives in and travels along Kootenay Lake to this day! (For more on Ktunaxa legends, a visit to the Yaqan Nukiy Heritage Centre is a must!)

An osprey diving for fish! Lindsay Donald
It's a rare and thrilling treat to see an osprey diving for fish! Lindsay Donald

Osprey: These large predators return in impressive numbers to the Creston wetlands, Kootenay River and Kootenay Lake each spring, often to the same nest to breed annually. Also called “fish-hawk,” osprey use their sharp eyesight to peer into any body of water to hunt for fish. It is a thrill to watch them dive talons-first into the water to catch fish and then carry them away into the sky.

Kokanee Salmon: Another endangered species, the iconic kokanee salmon are the landlocked version of sockeye salmon but smaller in size. They spend their adult lives on Kootenay Lake before returning to the creeks each fall to spawn upstream before they die. During this time, their backs and sides become bright red, which is quite magical to witness. You may see kokanee salmon along Kokanee Creek near Balfour between August and October during spawning season.

Grizzly encounters. Lindsay Donald photo
Plan ahead for potential grizzly encounters. Lindsay Donald photo

Grizzly Bear: While grizzlies spend most of their lives in the mountains, they often come into the Creston Valley wetlands in spring and summer — an important hunting corridor between the Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges. These omnivorous bears eat plants, insects, fish, and animals, depending on the time of the year. While it is rare to see one, if you do, please give them lots of space and leave the area, as they may become territorial in order to protect their cubs or food.

Of course these are just a few examples of some of the amazing critters that call our Valley home and there are many more you are likely to see, from river otters to rainbow trout to the endless species of birds that migrate through the valley each Spring! Have your binos ready!

Where to Get a Good Look

The wetlands of the Creston Valley are a lush habitat teeming with life of all kinds, and so no surprise the protected Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA) is the hub for that incredible selection, with an area of over 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) that is home to 300 bird, 60 mammal, 17 fish, six reptile and six amphibian species!

Kootenay-Columbia Discovery Centre led canoe tours.

While much of this vast protected area is inaccessible, the Corn Creek Marsh and Summit Creek areas of the CVWMA in West Creston just off Highway 3 are home to 30 kilometres of boardwalks, bird-watching towers and trails that meander along the top of dikes that create the marshlands, waterways and other habitats. This is a peaceful place to see many kinds of wildlife and especially birds, with walking times of 20 minutes to four hours.

To learn more about what you might see, why not visit the Kootenay-Columbia Discovery Centre? Located in the same area of the CVWMA, the centre features educational displays and information, hands-on activities and trail information. During the summer, naturalists also deliver guided canoe and walking tours, and a variety of special events and programs for all ages.

Those with their own canoes or kayaks may also want to consider exploring other parts of the CVWMA such as the Kootenay River and perhaps Duck Lake, depending on the time of year. There are various launch spots along the river and one on Duck Lake available to the public, which you can read about here.

Wildlife viewing isn't limited to strolling the water, of course, with some great Provincial Parks in the area to explore such as Stagleap & Kianuko Provincial Parks as well as the many trails in the area. Be sure to check out the parks and hiking guide on our Wildlife Viewing page too!

Birds of A Feather Flock Together

Due to the CVWMA's significant protected wetlands, the Creston area is also one of the top bird corridors in Western North America! With all that ornithological awesomeness — over 100,000 birds during migration periods — it’s no wonder that the Creston Valley Bird Festival was launched in 2013.

A group Birding tour during the Creston Valley Bird Festival
A group Birding tour during the Creston Valley Bird Festival

Run for over 20 years now The Creston Valley Bird Festival is an an unforgettable celebration of feathered friends and the vital wetlands they call home during their annual migration north, taking place every second weekend in May. Here participants get the chance to rub shoulders with world-class experts, explore the great outdoors with hikes, field trips, and tours by canoe or kayak.

If you consider yourself a birding enthusiast or would like to deep dive into learning more about the area's amazing wildlife from local experts and other wildlife enthusiasts, be sure to learn more about the festival here. Better yet, visit the Bird Festival's webpage directly and book your tickets before they completely run out of their limited spaces!

Be Respectful of Animals' Home

While it can be exciting to see any wildlife freely roaming in the wild, it is important to remember that humans are visitors in their home. How would you feel about someone peeking over your fence? Observe quietly, keep your distance, refrain from feeding them and if you have a dog, please keep it on a leash to avoid stressful encounters — and to keep Fido from snuffling around in ground-based bird and turtle nests!

Also, be sure to plan ahead for wildlife encounters. Although many species are harmless, grizzlies and black bears, cougars and other predators may not be, particularly in the Spring as some come out of hibernation and are often quite "hangry". Knowing what to expect is an important part of reducing unwanted interaction! For more information on how to be safely enjoy these wildlife areas, visit

Finally, keep in mind that these species and their habitats are also very fragile and sensitive to the affects of change. Visitors to our wildplaces should also "leave no trace" by packing out all items that you pack. Equally important all visitors should properly clean their watercraft, outdoor equipment, clothing and footwear before travelling the area to avoid introducing invasive plant and animal species.

The Fun Continues

While spotting wildlife in the Creston Valley could take an entire trip, we also encourage you to enjoy some other great things to see and do while you are here. After being wowed by the wildlife in the Creston Valley’s forests and wetlands, why not grab a bite at one of our incredible local restaurants? Or you might want to keep going with some shopping, or relax and take in some entertainment in the evening? And if you need any other ideas for things to do while you are here there are even more activity suggestions in our Get Inspired blog section!

I hope the article inspires you to get out and see some the amazing wildlife of the Creston Valley. You won’t regret it!

Brian Lawrence

Freelance writer Brian Lawrence is a former editor and publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and trail running, and acting in and directing productions with Creston's Footlighters Theatre Society.


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