By Brian Lawrence
With over 300 birds making their home — or at least a migratory stopover — at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA), it’s reasonably safe to guarantee that you’ll enjoy a number of sightings every time you set foot on the area’s trails or put your paddle in the water.
From osprey overhead to great blue herons in the water, or tundra swans and greater white-fronted geese making a pit stop on their north-south journey, there’s always some form of feathered friend to see. And if don’t see them, you may recognize them by their calls! (If so, you’re a step ahead of me — I’m still iffy with anything other than a chickadee.)
The Significance of the Creston Valley Wetlands to the Yaqan Nukiy
The wetlands and nearby areas that host such a diverse array of bird life have also been home for thousands of years to the Yaqan Nukiy people, who settled along the Kootenay River and at the south end of Kootenay Lake.
Originally these wetlands and floodplains that made up the valley floor were more than eight kilometres wide and stretched 70 kilometres south of Kootenay Lake and all the way to present day Bonners Ferry, Idaho!
The land was continually renewed as the river “overflowed its banks every spring, depositing a rich silt load over the valley floor, as well as replenishing the wetlands associated with it,” says the Lower Kootenay Band’s website, an excellent resource to learn more about the area’s history. This area was a fertile source of food for the Yaqan Nukiy with plentiful supplies of berries and plants, teams of fish, flocks of birds and herds of deer and elk.
Once white settlers discovered the potential for agriculture, numerous attempts were made to dike the land beginning in the mid-1800s. Sadly, the eventual success and damming of the Kootenay River both upstream and downstream also led to disruption of the natural state of the wetlands.
Preserving Bird Habitat: Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area's Success Story
In response to the impacts the draining of the floodplains had had on wildlife, in 1968 a management authority was delegated to manage the 7,000-hectare CVWMA, with the goal of creating productive wildlife and waterfowl habitat on the flood plain. Since then, its establishment has gained the wetlands significant national and international recognition. In 1994, the CVWMA was designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and in 2002 was named as a nationally Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
While there are still many important preservation projects going on today to protect the area's unique native habitat and creatures, the CVWMA is now a valuable sanctuary to innumerable species of migratory birds returning to the Creston Valley each spring.
Birds of a Feather...
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.
“There are so many amazing species in the Creston Valley to look for,” says co-ordinator Ulrike Sliworsky. “You learn something every single time you go out, whether it’s a call you haven’t heard before or plumage you haven't seen before.”
Organized by a volunteer committee, the May 12-14 festival coincides with World Migratory Bird Day this year, celebrating birds through guided tours (both on land and on the water) and presentations, as well as opportunities to socialize with other birders.
Ulrike was the driving force behind kayak tours, and there are three of those this year, offering a closeup look at water birds, perhaps even a few of her favourite finds, including the long-billed dowitcher, black-necked stilt and American avocet.
A Who's Who of Speakers and Special Guests
This year’s presenters include Rémi Torrenta and Kris Cu from Birds Canada, and field biologist Sachi Snively. Nineteen tours — the most ever — will be led by more than a dozen tour guides, including Gaelen Schnare, a birder from Nelson, B.C., who began leading Bird Festival tours as a preteen.
“It’s so neat to see a young person like that have such an interest,” says Ulrike. “On top of that, he’s super knowledgeable.”
Over 200 participants are expected to enjoy the festival, with about half visiting from around Western Canada and the U.S.
“It’s a great learning experience if you're interested in birds because we’ve got enthusiastic birders,” says Ulrike. “Most have been with the festival since the beginning.”
More to the Festival ThAn Birds!
And don't fret! The non-birders haven’t been forgotten either! There are also workshops for kids, dairy and honey tours, and a special Mother’s Day art workshop and bus tour. There’s also the Wobbly Warbler bus tour, which visits a winery, brewery and distillery on the Creston Valley Tour Co. bus.
Have you been thoroughly intrigued yet? Visit the festival’s website to get a look at the full event schedule, list of special guest speakers and of course to register for the weekend’s tours, activities, talks and more!
Beyond Birding: Things To Do After the Festival
After a day of birding, you may be a bit peckish (pun fully intended), and Creston has you covered with the pubs, coffee shops and restaurants you can find in the Eat section of our website. Or you might want to keep going with some shopping, or relax and take in some entertainment?
Whatever you do after, enjoy the day — there really is nothing like exploring the Creston Valley as the birds migrate home for the Spring and fill the air with their songs!
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.