Archive for Heron

Great Blue Heron 4/18/18

This isn’t my first of year (FOY in birdspeak) Great Blue Heron, I’ve been spotting a few of them here and there for weeks now, but I saw this one disappear in a marsh channel and drove up to where it might eventually stalk out of, and after a short wait I was rewarded with some close-ups. It’s an adult in full breeding regalia, its spear of a bill so yellow it was singing. Breeding plumes dangling and unfortunately in this pick its 2 black head plumes are obscured behind its neck. They are the tallest of our herons, often called “cranes” by oldtimers, and typically also the first to arrive in the spring since the north end of their winter range isn’t all that far south of here. They are expert fishers, stalking their prey in the shallows, but also snack on mice, amphibians, and reptiles. They belong to the genus Ardea, which contains the world’s dozen or so great heron species.


Great and Snowy Egret 4/16/18

The Snowy is in the back with the dart-like black bill and yellow lores between bill and eyes, and if you could see its legs they’d be black but with bright yellow feet. The Great Egret with the small fish in its thicker and spear-like yellow bill has green lores and if I’m not mistaken that’s breeding color that will have faded by late summer. The Great is over 3 feet tall, not quite as big as a Great Blue Heron, but almost. The Snowy is about 2 feet tall. Despite the “egret” name, the Great Egret is more closely related to the Great Blue Heron (both belong to genus Ardea) than it is to the Snowy Egret.


American Bittern 1/19/18

This was a bird stalking, and like the ice it moved glacially. What it was stalking on the ice and in the dried grasses we never discovered but it was on the hunt. The more years I spend birdwatching the more it seems to me that just about every species has these intrepid individuals that wind up not migrating to brave the winter, when all their peers are enjoying warmer winter digs. I’ve always thought of these birds as flukes, outliers, when really they are something of a norm. With some species like the Carolina Wren or the Turkey Vulture, there are many who push the boundary and every winter there seem to be a few more, while others like the American Bittern, are few and far between. But all quite possibly participating in the same process, just at different speeds.


Great Blue Heron 12/13/17

Even in the middle of December it’s not unusual to find a few Great Blue Herons in tidal habitats along the coast. When it gets thick with snow and frozen with ice, they may disappear for awhile (probably to Cape Cod) but with a warm spell of just a few days they’ll be back stalking the marshes and any ice free waters for fish and other prey. Great Blues belong to the genus Ardea, comprising the Great Herons of the world. The one above is a juvenile, which you can tell by the gray cap which is black in adults.


Great Blue Heron juvenile 9/27/16


Juvenile Great Blues, like other herons and egrets, roam far and wide in all directions after fledging. In coastal New Hampshire and Maine most have migrated farther south by November, but not very far, after a warming spell of only a few days or in milder winters with little ice, it’s not unusual to see Great Blues in any of the winter months. Juvenile plumage is dingier and less bold than adults, for example the crowns of juveniles are slaty gray instead of the sharply defined black and white of adults.  Great Blues belong to the genus Ardea, one of about a dozen species of large stalking herons that together fill much the same wetland niches around the world.


Black-crowned Night Heron juvenile, 9/29/15


Black-crowned Night Herons start out as brown spotted juveniles, then spend a year as drab gray immatures, before taking on the dapper grays and blacks of adults with their long white head plumes and red eyes. During the day, they hang out in trees edging swamps usually more hidden than this one, and at dusk they begin hunting. Like the great herons they hold perfectly still to ambush prey with a sudden strike. There are 8 night herons worldwide, but this is the only cosmopolitan one, found throughout the Americas, Africa, and Eurasia.


American Bittern 9/15/15


Bitterns are most peculiar herons. In the spring they make a strange pumping gurgling “oong-ka-choonk” sound that booms across the freshwater swamps and reed beds where they live. When startled, they hold perfectly still with their bills pointing upward, blending into the reeds. They are more common across their range than you’d expect but keep themselves well-camouflaged and hidden.  They are crepuscular birds, most active at dusk and dawn, found from British Columbia to Newfoundland. In the winter they migrate to the ice free waters of Mexico and the southern tier of US states.

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