Bird conservation effort earns award

Kaaren Lewis, of the B.C. Ministry of Environment, left, present Bruce Cousens and Charlene Lee with an appreciation award for their work with the B.C. Purple Martin Recovery Program. - Photo contributed
Kaaren Lewis, of the B.C. Ministry of Environment, left, present Bruce Cousens and Charlene Lee with an appreciation award for their work with the B.C. Purple Martin Recovery Program.
— image credit: Photo contributed

A Nanaimo couple’s conservation work with the at-risk western purple martins recently earned recognition from the province.

Bruce Cousens and Charlene Lee received the B.C. Ministry of Environment’s Appreciation Award.

The couple has provided overall co-ordination and scientific direction for the B.C. Purple Martin Recovery Program through the Georgia Basin Ecological Assessment and Restoration Society since 2002.

Their leadership in monitoring and managing the recovery and stewardship efforts led directly to an expansion of marine and freshwater nest box sites around the Georgia Strait and the collection of critical new knowledge about purple martin biology.

Each year Cousens and Lee co-ordinate a group of dedicated volunteers and participate in nest box checks at almost all active colonies to determine the number of breeding pairs, number of eggs laid, number of young produced and number of young raised successfully.

They also expanded the banding program, started in 1996, to include annual banding of up to 2,000 nestlings each year, reading bands on previously banded birds and collating and analysing data from thousands of records.

In 2009, the couple started a three-year purple martin migration study using new state-of-the-art, miniature data logger geolocators. Prior to this study, migration routes for western purple martins to and from South America were unknown and they were thought to overwinter with eastern martins in central Brazil.

They have also provided education and extension programs through presentations, open houses and interpretive signs like the one at Newcastle Island, as well as publications in conservation magazines, newsletters and scientific journals. They also provided employment opportunities and mentoring to high school, college and university students interested in conservation, environment and biology.

They are currently compiling a revision and update of the B.C. Purple Martin Status Report for the Ministry of Environment, which is used to determine the conservation status of the species in B.C.

“Throughout all this time, [they] have been leaders who managed to keep groups of volunteers, private landowners, government biologists and other partners enthused and involved in the recovery of this species in B.C.,” said Kaaren Lewis, director of the Ecosystems Protection and Sustainability Branch of the B.C. Ministry of Environment. “In doing so, [they] have helped establish one of B.C.’s best stewardship programs.”


Program growing

The Purple Martin Nest Box program has been expanded significantly in the last nine years.

In 2002 there were about 750 nest boxes distributed among 28 (17 active) marine sites and a total of 175 breeding pairs.

With the assistance and dedication of more than 100 volunteers, there are now about 1,500 nest boxes found at 70 marine sites and 20 freshwater sites that are monitored and maintained each year.

The sites are located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, the Lower Mainland and lower Fraser River valley as far east as Cheam Lake near Bridal Falls.

In 2010, there were 585 purple martin breeding pairs occupying 51 of the 70 marine sites.

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