Hello Spring

This long-distance couple is using Stanley Park's live Heron Cam to stay connected

'If you've seen a woman smiling and waving and blowing kisses at the Heron Cam, that's me!'

'If you've seen a woman smiling and waving and blowing kisses at the Heron Cam, that's me!'

Beverley Sinclair and John Ogen (Courtesy Beverley Sinclair)

For people in long-distance relationships, COVID-19 quarantine has been especially heartbreaking. But for one couple, separated by continents, a shared love of birds — particularly herons — has helped them to keep in touch.

Five years ago, while visiting friends in France, Vancouverite Beverley Sinclair was introduced to John Ogen. The two began visiting back and forth, fell in love, and eventually got engaged. During Ogen's last visit, Sinclair took him to her favourite spot in the city: the heron nests in Stanley Park. Sinclair lives close to the park and has visited the herons regularly for years. The pair also started watching the park's live stream of the nesting heron colony together, dubbed the Heron Cam.

A pair of herons and their newly hatched chicks in the Cedar Nest within the Stanley Park colony. (Courtesy Frank Lin)

Then COVID-19 happened, causing many countries to close their borders, putting Sinclair and Ogen's visits on hold indefinitely.

Instead, they had to settle for calls and text messages. They watched the Heron Cam every day, talking excitedly over the phone about the avian drama unfolding in front of them. They watched the birds build their nests. They watched them mate with each other. They watched as the eggs were laid and they watched, together, as baby herons hatched from those eggs. 

It has become an incredibly important part of their connection. 

At some point, Sinclair noticed that she could see people walking behind the heron nests. That gave them an idea: they could use the Heron Cam to "meet" at the park.

Separated by COVID-19's travel restrictions, Beverley Sinclair and John Ogen discovered a unique way to stay connected: getting into the shot of a nearby wildlife camera that streams live online. 0:20

"If you've seen a woman smiling and waving and blowing kisses at the Heron Cam, that's me!" she says.  "We've figured out the best place for me to stand while the camera is on the cedar nest, and I head there while talking with John and he can see me through the foliage… It's wonderful."

Her behaviour also got the attention of the people who run the Heron Cam. Dannie Piezas is the urban wildlife programs coordinator for the Stanley Park Ecology Society. She says she first noticed Sinclair when she was going through the footage, looking for new hatchlings. 

"We'd often glimpse members of the public pointing up at and taking pictures of the nests, but the angle made it seem like she was looking straight at the cam and was waving," says Piezas. "I figured at the time that she was an affectionate heron fan greeting the birds. We meet a lot of people who are wonderfully attached to them and make a yearly practice of visiting the colony. [A volunteer] sent me these screen shots of her saying she blew kisses at them as well!"

Over the last few weeks, the foliage has gotten thicker in the trees, and Sinclair has had to be more precise with where she stands. She's marked the spot with an X but she admits that she knows it off by heart at this point.

"It has provided us with so much pleasure and enjoyment," she says. "This has been so hard for us."

I have my plane ticket for France. I'm hopeful.- Beverley Sinclair

That said, she hopes she and her financé will be able to see each other again in the not-too-distant future. They'd originally planned their wedding for August in their small French village but they now intend to get married as soon as possible in case this kind of thing happens again.

"I have my plane ticket for France," she says. "I'm hopeful."