Tue, 9 Oct 2018
Tags: Stewardship

Bringing Back the Bluebird!

Fledgling Bluebird photo provided Barry Hetschko

Guest post by Genevieve Singleton, Project Manager of the Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society Bring Back the Bluebird Project

Imagine standing in a Garry Oak meadow in the Cowichan Valley. You hear a low chirp and look up and see a bright flash of blue fly by! You are seeing a Western Bluebird on Vancouver Island, a beautiful bird making a comeback after almost thirty years away.

In approximately 1990, long time Cowichan Naturalist and mountaineer extraordinaire Syd Watts, now deceased, saw what was likely one of the last bluebirds in the Cowichan Valley on a hike with rare species biologist Trudy Chatwin and her daughters. Syd worked hard to encourage the birds’ return by placing nest boxes on Mount Tzouhalem and Richards Mountain, but to no avail.

It was not until 2012 that Western Bluebirds returned to Vancouver Island when the Victoria based Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (GOERT) started moving Western Bluebirds, with permits, from Washington State to the Cowichan Valley. This was done under the supervision of avian ecologist and songbird recovery expert Gary Slater of Ecostudies Institute. Many nest boxes were placed in good Garry Oak habitat in advance of the Bluebirds arrival; fortunately, these first birds stayed to breed. In his final days of life, Syd was comforted by the knowledge that the birds were making a comeback.

This past summer, under the lead of Cowichan Valley Naturalists Society (CVNS) biologist/conservation technician Hannah Hall, fifteen volunteer nest box monitors cared for their Bluebird Trails. This involved cleaning, fixing nest boxes and carrying out regular observations of the birds using the boxes. Over seventy landowners in Quamichan and Somenos Lake areas support the project, allowing a total of about two hundred and twenty-five nest boxes on their properties. While only a few of these boxes were occupied by Bluebirds, others provided safe cozy homes for other small songbirds including Tree Swallows, Violet Green Swallows, House Wrens, Bewicks Wrens and Chestnut Backed Chickadees. Songbirds are in a catastrophic decline in North America, so it is a wonderful side benefit that the Return of the Bluebird Project is providing habitat for other birds.

Volunteers banding Bluebirds

Volunteers banding Bluebirds. Photo by Genevieve Singleton.

It is thought that Western Bluebird became extirpated (locally extinct) from Vancouver Island due to a variety of factors. The main reason was likely increased farming and urbanization. Removal of trees led to a lack of tree cavities for Bluebird habitat. Increased use of pesticides and the introduction of invasive species such as House Sparrows were other stresses. Although beautiful, House Sparrows are very aggressive to Bluebirds and have been known to kill both adults and fledglings. Unfortunately, Bluebirds and House Sparrows require the same size nest box hole. Former CVNS staff member Ryan Hetschko, perfected the art of deterring Sparrows with sparrow spookers, built by Naturalist member, John Wheatley. These consist of sparkling mylar ribbons attached to a small dowel placed on the top of the box. Bluebirds like to fly up into the nest box hole, whereas Sparrows like to fly down. Since Sparrows do not like the pieces of myler flying in their trajectory, they leave the box alone. That’s innovation!

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation supported this project from 2013-2018. For the past two years Cowichan Valley Naturalists have been the lead of the project, taking over on the strong foundation built by GOERT. CVNS was thrilled to have one hundred per cent nest success this year. This year, fifteen adults were seen on southern Vancouver Island producing forty-two fledglings. Over the past year, over sixty volunteers put in thousands of hours completing a wide variety of activities ranging from project management, fundraising, checking boxes, visiting land owners, providing technical expertise and education outreach, and much more.


How Can you Help the Bluebirds?

If you see Bluebirds on Vancouver Island over the winter, email your sightings to cowichanbluebird@gmail.com. Bluebirds typically migrate south, but recently a few have stayed around for at least part of the winter.

You can learn more about the project at www.cowichanbluebird.ca or attend the public CVNS talk at the WildWings Festival Oct. 27, 7 pm at Vancouver Island University, Duncan Campus.

A version of this article was previously published in the Cowichan Valley Voice. Photos provided by Barry Hetschko and Genevieve Singleton. Thank you to Hannah Hall for additional assistance.


Mon, 24 Sep 2018
Tags: Education

Going wild with GO Grants: Over $83,000 awarded to get BC students learning outside

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has awarded over $83,000 in GO Grants to help create outdoor learning opportunities for elementary and high school students across BC.

“We received an unprecedented number of applications for our Fall grant intake, and we are delighted that we were able to fund so many great field trips and outdoor learning projects,” says HCTF Education Programs Manager Kerrie Mortin. “These grants will enable over 6200 students to get learning outdoors.”

Thanks to an exciting new collaboration with BC Parks, HCTF was able to approve a much higher number of proposals compared to previous Fall intakes. BC Parks provided over $30,000 in funding towards field trips and outdoor learning opportunities taking place in provincial parks. This contribution is just one component of a multi-faceted partnership between BC Parks and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, which will also include new resources and experiential learning opportunities that will be rolled out in the months to come.

This round of grants will be directed towards field trips scheduled between September 15 and March 31. There will be another intake in the spring for field trips planned for April 1-June 30, 2019. Interested future applicants can visit the HCTF Education website to learn about future opportunities, and to access a wide range of resources for outdoor learning.


Mon, 17 Sep 2018

Now Accepting Enhancement & Restoration Grant Proposals

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation is now accepting applications for Enhancement & Restoration grants. Applications must be submitted through HCTF’s online application system by 4:30pm on November 2nd, 2018.

Before beginning your application, please review the updated guides and resources on the Enhancement and Restoration Grant Overview webpage. New applicants can request a User ID and current grant recipients can log into the HCTF Online application portal using your existing ID. Please contact Courtney Sieben at Courtney.Sieben@hctf.ca or 250.940.9781 for support with preparing your applications.

Each year, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation provides approximately $6 million dollars in Enhancement and Restoration grants to help fund projects that support the conservation of British Columbia’s native freshwater fish, wildlife and their habitats. Since the inception of our work in 1981, the Foundation and its predecessors have invested over $170 million in more than 2000 projects across BC.

Tue, 11 Sep 2018

Welcome New and Returning Team Members

We are happy to announce some new and returning team members here at Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.

Alan Martin has returned to the board as one of two representatives appointed by the BC Wildlife Federation. Al has extensive knowledge of British Columbia’s resource management issues from 30 years of experience in the BC Public Service. Learn more about his background here. Al takes over the BCWF board position previously held by George Wilson. We are deeply grateful for George’s generous contributions to the board.

Heather Forbes has joined HCTF as our new Communications Officer. Heather has extensive experience in the charitable communications sector, most recently with Salmon Coast Field Station Society, an off-grid ecological research facility in the Broughton Archipelago.

Welcome Al and Heather!


Mon, 10 Sep 2018
Tags: Education

Get Learning Outdoors: GO Grant Applications due September 15th

Kids at June GO Grants Announcement with BC Parks

Teachers: there are only a few days left to prepare your applications for HCTF Education’s GO Grants.

GO Grants provide BC schools and classrooms with up to $600/class or $3500/school to pay for bus transportation, project materials, and leader/program fees for outdoor environmental learning experiences. Applications are due September 15th for field trips scheduled between September 15, 2018 – March 15, 2019. Applicants will be notified of results by the first week of October.

Thanks to a generous partnership with BC Parks, HCTF Education is happy to announce that more funding is available to help meet demand for this popular program. In total, BC Parks has committed up to $85,000 towards enabling young British Columbians to connect to parks and experience the benefits of spending time in nature.

Since 2012, GO Grants have helped over 35,000 BC students get outdoors to learn about their local environment. Full grant criteria and links to application forms are available here. For more information, contact HCTF Education at 250-940-9786 or email gogrants@hctf.ca

Thu, 30 Aug 2018

We’re on the Move!

After eight fantastic years at our Dallas Road location, we’ve outgrown our office space and are making the move to Jutland Road in Victoria. This week will be very busy as we finish packing for our official move date of September 4th. Our administrative staff have been working hard to ensure as little disruption to service as possible, but we do anticipate losing access to phones and email from the afternoon of Friday, August 31st until the afternoon of Wednesday, September 5th. We strongly suggest contacting us this week if there’s anything you need to discuss with HCTF prior to Thursday, September 6th.

Our new mailing address is:
PO Box 9354
Unit 102 – 2957 Jutland Road,
Victoria, BC
V8T 5J9
Thanks in advance for your patience!