Western Grebes in the Salmon Arm bay of Shuswap Lake
Grebes in the bay
Arm bay on Lake Shuswap is the site for most of British
Columbia's breeding Western Grebes. Every spring the grebes return in April to
explore the bay. At that time the lake water levels are low. But
changes throughout May and by mid-June the water levels generally peak.
Courtship, involving preening, gift giving and dancing on the
water, begins in late April and may still be in progress well into
June. Young grebes begin to appear around the end of June or early
July, riding on the parents' backs and swimming with them. These
marvelous sights can be witnessed from shore using binoculars, from
Peter Jannink Nature Park, the walkway in front of the Prestige Inn,
or at Christmas Island.
Life for the grebes
Life is not always easy for the grebes. The water
levels in the bay increase dramatically and the grebes need to have nests
ready for eggs a few days before the lake levels begin to decline. If the nests,
which are floating and fixed only to grasses or other plants, are made too soon the rising water
may cause the nests to tip or submerge and eggs will be lost. Then the nesting
process must begin again. No doubt some grebe pairs replace their nest two or
three times before the flooding stops and the nests survive. Wind storms and
wave action from boat activities, etc. may also jeopardize nests, although
boaters are usually aware and respect the nesting areas.
Recorded history of Western Grebes in the bay
earliest recorded report of Western Grebes in the bay was in 1950 when
100 birds were counted. Nesting was first recorded here in
1962 with 9
Breeding counts have been maintained since that time, at first
sporadically but since 1990 in detail. This population has grown
and stabilized while
those in other areas have diminished or disappeared. The
Salmon Arm bay became a protected area in
1988 when the club presented a resolution to BC Nature at the AGM. It
was largely because the Western Grebe was nesting here that the
ministry handed over much of this area to Nature Trust.
Monitoring the nesting grebe population
Frank and Doris Kime monitored and recorded the population
of the Western Grebe colony on a regular basis from 1990 when they
began to do counts from designated places around Salmon Arm Bay using a
telescope. Previous counts from canoes disturbed the grebes more than
was considered acceptable. The Kimes also recorded changes in habitat,
weather and lake water levels that occurred, and how they may
have affected the grebes. A plaque honouring the Kimes was placed
on the foreshore near the Prestige Inn in 2008. Since the passing of the Kimes, other Shuswap Club members have continued the annual grebe counts.
The recording of events and grebe populations
continues from April to August with counts conducted every second week from
mid-May to mid-July when the nesting results are observed and tallied as well.
We now submit reports to the Breeding Bird Atlas for Bird Studies Canada.
Protecting the grebes
Natural factors such as
dropping water levels, wind storms and predators all take their toll on grebe nests. The increase in development and the
resulting human traffic cannot fail to affect the grebes and their
habitat. There are now usually fewer than 100 pairs nesting in BC, almost all in the Salmon Arm bay. The
shrinkage of wetlands throughout the province demands that the club
remains very vigilant in protecting this habitat. We need to do all we can to protect the Shuswap
Lake and the Salmon River to ensure that water quality of the bay continues to
support the grebes, and all the other wildlife we enjoy.