Western Grebes in the Salmon Arm bay of Shuswap Lake

Grebes in the bay
Pair of grebesSalmon 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 that 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
The 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 nests observed. 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 environment ministry handed over much of this area to Nature Trust.

Monitoring the nesting grebe population
Members Frank and Doris Kime monitored and recorded the population of the Western Grebe colony on a regular basis Frank & Doris Kimefrom 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.

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