Richmond resident Melissa Hafting enjoys taking trips to the Pitt-Addington Marsh in Grant Narrows Park for its beauty and the birds that she sees.
As a birder, she takes the trip out at least once a month to look for birds.
“It’s a great place to look for grey catbirds, American redstart.
One of the few places that you can see them breeding in the Lower Mainland is at Grant Narrows. So it’s a very specialized place for that,” said Hafting.
On June 15, she also saw a rare yellow-breasted chat while visiting the area with friends.
But she also saw something else that day.
Hafting discovered around 10 pairs of cliff swallows clinging to what was left of their nests on the north observation tower, just north along a gravel walking path of the park’s boat launch.
“They were really frantic, flying on and off and clinging as if there was a nest,” said Hafting.
“They were in a lot of distress,” added the birder.
Hafting immediately reported the incident to the federal wildlife agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada, part of whose mandate is to apply environmental and wildlife protection laws, and to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.
She believes the destruction of the swallow’s nests was a deliberate act because there were no remnants of the nests on the tower at all.
Hafting said the swallows began rebuilding their nests around June 21 and she had seen eggs and babies in them.
But when fellow birder Carlo Giovanella visited the site on Aug. 4, the nests had been destroyed once again.
“I looked up and they were gone,” said the Cloverdale resident who visits Pitt Meadows once a week during the early spring and summer to look for birds.
To Giovanella, it appeared that this time the nests had been gone “for quite some time.”
“Because when they knock them down, the mud hits the steps and when we were there in August the mud had been ground off,” he explained.
This is not the first time either that swallows nests have been destroyed in the park.
Giovanella said that there used to be a thriving colony on the south observation tower but that it was destroyed in 2009. Swallows showed up again on the north tower in 2013 and again they were cleaned right off. They didn’t re-nest again at the tower until this year.
What Hafting and Giovanella find devastating is that swallows are in decline and now for this colony it is too late for them to rebuild again and breed. They will have to wait until May of next year when breeding season begins for the birds.
Sgt. Todd Hunter with the B.C. Conservation Service said a conservation officer had been assigned to the case but at this time they don’t have a conclusion to release.
He said that they are working with their federal counterparts at Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Hafting would like to see the stairs to the observation towers blocked off during nesting season.
Giovanella, though, doesn’t believe that to be the problem.
Local birder Larry Cowan said that whoever destroyed the nests would have needed a ladder or a lift to reach the nests.
“How this is being done is beyond me,” said the Pitt Meadows resident.
“When you look at where the nests are being made, somebody isn’t standing on the side of this tower and scraping them off,” he said, adding that you also need access to the dike which is gated.
Environment and Climate Change Canada will not provide details or updates, saying on Thursday that an investigation is ongoing.
“Under the law, it is unlawful to kill a migratory bird without a permit or to destroy a migratory bird nest. This is particularly important during the breeding season when species are most vulnerable,” the ministry said by e-mail.