Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Three Little Blue Heron Chicks at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge (Near Hilton Head Island, SC)

Birding on Hilton Head Island and Pinckney Island NWF…continued from Sunday's post on the Little Blue Heron.
These Little Blue Heron chicks held me spellbound. They were so small they could barely keep their thunky heads upright on their spindly little necks, much less clamber around on the branches, but that’s exactly what they were doing. Climbing and stumbling over each other, they were not content to stay safely tucked away in their nest.

I might be hungry. I might want food.

I'm definitely hungry. I want food NOW!!!

These little chicks will remain white through their first year of life. Immature Little Blue Herons are unique in the heron world because of this first-year color morph. If you look closely you can see a dark blue-grey tipped primary feather on his wing. It's sometimes hard to see.

...can you see that blue-grey tipped feather here? It's a little harder to see in this photo.

Bock! I'm hungry!

Bock! Now I'm doing my rooster imitation. Time to get up!

Dude, can you ever just chill? Enough with the rooster imitation.

Quit pushing me. I want to see if these things work yet!

Beak Bit
Why do the chicks remain white during their first year? Click here to go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" site. In their Cool Facts section, they explain Little Blue Herons often nest near Snowy Egrets and the Snowies tolerate the young more if they are white, plus the immature white-morphed Little Blues seem to catch more fish when they are with Snowy Egrets than when they are fishing alone. It just so happens that the neighbors of these three Little Blue Heron chicks were Snowy Egrets. In addition, the white Little Blue Herons can more easily blend in with larger mixed-species flocks of white herons, which offers them a little more protection from ever-present predators!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Little Blue Heron at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Preserve (near Hilton Head Island, SC)

Birding on Hilton Head Island and Pinckney Island NWF…continued from Saturday’s post on the Green Heron.
I decided to stay and watch the Green Heron fish. Any bird who lays out bait to lure in his dinner deserves a little more attention, and I really wanted to watch him spear a fish, but my resolve was short lived as a dark blue bird gently glided over my head and clumsily landed in a tree halfway between Mr. Green Jeans and the Snowy Egret. It could only be one bird…a Little Blue Heron, and a Little Blue Heron was a life bird for me. With adrenalin surging all over the place, I scrambled over to where he landed. Holy Moly! Tucked in among the leaves was another Little Blue Heron, but this bird wasn’t alone. He was on a nest with three babies! Wow! That really focused me, and I started firing away right and left at the new species, so lovely and dark blue against the green leaves…

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Adult Green Heron at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Reserve (near Hilton Head Island, SC)

Birding Hilton Head Island and Pinckney Island NWR…continued from Friday's post on Wood Storks
The Wood Storks continued to pant as the temps rose higher. They would make strange noises every now and then and walk from branch to branch, but mostly they stayed put and rested and panted high in the pines. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking about that Green Heron, wondering if he had speared anything. Finally my curiosity won out and I abandoned the Wood Storks for the Green Heron. I couldn't find him at first. He was once again in statue mode and his coloring camouflaged him very well, but then I saw him. He had moved about 3 feet away from his original location and was standing on a little clump of mud.

He walked slowly and cautiously around his tiny 
island. Always watching the green, green water.

Slowly he shifted his gaze to the left...

...and wham! He picked up something....

...but then let it fall back down. He then spent a little time 
moving this little green thing around. I know Green Herons 
put out bait to attract fish. It seemed that was what 
he was doing...arranging his bait, setting a trap.

After a while, he shifted his gaze out. I did too and immediately 
saw a beautiful Snowy Egret about 15 feet to the right. 

I looked back and forth between the Snowy Egret and the Green Heron, trying to decide what to do. Should I wait and watch the Greenie fish, or walk a little further and study the dainty Snowy Egret, or go back and watch the Wood Storks a bit more? What a dilemma!  I can tell you...I'm never faced with these sorts of decisions in Cincinnati (except maybe during spring migration, but the warblers usually abandon me before I ever have to decide to abandon them!).  Can you guess what I did? I'm sure you know...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wood Storks at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge (near Hilton Head Island, SC)

Birding Hilton Head Island and Pinckney Island NWR…continued from Tuesday’s Great Egret Post

The heat was really starting to build, so I walked closer to the salt marsh and deeper under the live oaks to escape the sun for a bit. As I walked, I was looking down at the ground. It was so different from what I was used to. White sand had swept in from the salt marsh, and individual blades of grass had poked through the sand and were growing thick and green. Dappled shade thrown from the live oak’s leaves cast bluish shadows on the white sand, while in patches where the sun seeped through, the sand was snowy white. I stopped and wrote about it in my journal because I knew it was something exquisite that I would forget with my next step, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t do that.

Soon I reached the “back” part of the rookery. On the right, the salt marsh had slowly morphed into a pine forest. I continued to walk and watched a Great Egret land in the boughs ahead, only for a second or two, then take off again for a better perch. I knew the Wood Storks were roosting somewhere in the pines, so I was watching carefully, but didn’t see anything. Coming up on the next section of the rookery, the bird density was picking back up, and as I scanned an expansive reed bed, an adult Green Heron materialized right before my eyes. He was frozen among the stalks, bill pointed toward the water, so I locked in on him, hoping to watch him lurch forward to stab a fish, but then out of the corner of my eye I saw movement in the pines to my right, and when I looked up, there they were! A small flock of Wood Storks were resting in the branches. Another life bird for me. As I watched them through the camera lens, I knew they wouldn’t register high on the “classic” beauty scale, but just like the Turkey Vultures, they have their own unique, prehistoric beauty. I couldn’t take my eyes off them (and temporarily forgot about the Green Heron).

Although not "classic" beauty, a dignified, 
peaceful demeanor makes these birds irresistible. 

...that is until they start joking around! It looks like I told 
this guy a funny joke (and he really liked the punch line), 
but really he's just panting in the heat to cool down. 

"I'm in a tree, and I think I'll try to do Tree. 
I love yoga. I am Yoga-Stork!"

"Haha...you're a Goofball-Stork!"

...again...more thermoregulation---panting, panting 
(which is really cool to watch), but I prefer to think they 
are discussing last night's skit on "Late Night with 
Jimmy Fallon," which was very funny.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Great Egret at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge (near Hilton Head Island, SC)

Birding Hilton Head Island and Pinckney Island NWR…continued from Sunday's White Ibis post
I could have stayed in that sheltered little cove all day long just watching those leggy wading birds hunting and squabbling with each other. I also was becoming accustomed to the unique smell of that part of the rookery. You can't smell it up on high land, but down by the water, only feet from the island, a unique odor hangs in the air. After all, when over a thousand birds are nesting together and are eating a mix of fish and aquatic animal remains, you can expect something, but the odor wasn’t really that offensive—just unique. I kind of liked it because it was a totally new smell. At the heronry back home, I am so, so far away, probably at least a half mile, that I can’t smell anything. I had read about the unique fishy rookery smell, now I knew what they were talking about!

Just as I decided it was time to move on, a brother and sister climbed down to my little hideaway, so I left them there to enjoy the view and walked back up the small hillside. As I was walking, two older gentlemen came up and with huge smiles on their faces and said, "If you like it so far, wait until you get to the other side. There are easily a thousand birds on this little island." They also let me know Wood Storks were roosting on the other side of the pond in the pines. I was so excited. I came to Pinckney Island NWR looking for two life birds, Painted Buntings and Wood Storks. I couldn’t believe I was going to be able to see both on the same day. As I set off to find those Wood Storks, however, I quickly got sidetracked. There, not more than 25 feet away, was a beautiful Great Egret displaying his showy white plumes. The Wood Storks would have to wait. Who can resist a lime green eye mask (which will be fading soon as the breeding season ends) and spectacular fluffy white feathers...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

White Ibises at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge (near Hilton Head Island, SC)

Birding Hilton Head Island and Pinckney Island NWR…continued from Friday's Green Heron post.
This muddy little alcove offered fantastic views of the Ibises, and I was amazed at their beauty. I’m sure if you live in this area, these guys are a dime a dozen, but for a Midwestern Yankee, they were exotic and new! I was shocked at how blue their eyes were. The shutter on my camera was definitely getting a work out…

Click here for more Pinckney Island posts.

Happy Father's Day!

It looks like this little guy is shouting 
"Happy Father's Day!" to all of his friends.

I saw this bird in Ohio, but I could not positively ID him. I couldn't see a white eyebrow stripe of a Marsh Wren or even hear his song. I just had an impression of a silhouette against the sky for a brief second and quickly sketched it out.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Baby Green Herons at Pinckney Island Rookery

Birding Hilton Head Island, SC and Pinckney Island NWR 
I don’t know how long I just stood there listening to all the sounds and trying to take in the sheer volume of birds in this small area, but it was a while. Eventually I walked down a small hill to a well-worn path under a willow tree that lead to the water's edge. The water was sooooo green there and covered in what looked like the duckweed. I don’t know much about alligators, but it seemed like the perfect place to hide (and that scene from Crocodile Dundee where the heroine is leaning over to refill her canteen popped in my mind…Yikes! I quickly scanned the shallows looking for hidden nostrils and non-blinking eyes, but all was clear). About 10 feet away in the roots of a tree half in and half out of the water, I noticed movement, and there among the knobby protuberances were two juvenile Green Herons climbing up and down and around, practicing their hunting postures, and when they felt sure-footed, searching for food in the mucky green water. I don’t know how old these two Green Herons are, but they still have baby fuzz on their heads, and I don't know if they could look any cuter!

The Rookery at Pinckney Island NWR

Birding Hilton Head Island, SC and Pinckney Island NWR (...continued from Wednesday's post on the Black-Crowned Night-Heron)
The Black-Crowned Night-Herons continued to laze in the trees, so I moved on. Up ahead I could see a bench. My foot hurt a little after that walk, so I thought I’d sit down and rest and write about what I’d seen so far, but that didn’t happen…because as soon as I turned the bend I saw this…

…and this….

…and this…

Hundreds and hundreds of Ibises were crowded together, squawking and chattering, moving from branch to branch, sometimes bickering, but mostly just living and nesting together. As I looked closer I saw more and more Ibises hunkered down in nests hidden deep in the shadows, doubling and tripling their numbers. I also saw other birds. A Great Egret was hidden in the branches, and Tri-colored Herons and Little Blue Herons were flying over. I caught a Snowy Egret out of the corner of my eye flying low then winging higher as he headed out toward the salt marsh. The rookery was on an island in the middle of Ibis Pond. Where I stood the birds were about 20 feet away. Just a three or four foot strip of water separated the island from the land, and I could see the blue of their eyes without the camera lens.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Black-Crowned Night-Heron at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Birding Hilton Head Island, SC and Pinckney Island NWR (...continued from Monday's post on the Painted Bunting)
Up until now I haven’t been able to write much about Pinckney Island. Twice I’ve sat at the computer to record a few thoughts, but nothing comes out. Actually, too much comes out, and it gets all jumbled and clogged in the process, and I don’t like that. It makes me feel antsy and almost panicky, so tonight I took a few breaths, slowed down and realized I’d just have to wait until the words decided they were ready to seep out of my brain, not rushing or forcing them, just going with the flow and seeing where it led.

The beginning…
Each trip to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge starts with happy anticipation and excitement as you drive down the long, narrow road that leads to the parking lot. Flanked by tidal marsh, the grasses and reeds on either side of the road usually give you your first glimpses of Ibises and other water birds. Several times I pulled over and got out of the car because something interesting caught my eye. One time six Snowy Egrets were playing in a mudflat, tossing their plumes around and chasing after a swarm of little fiddler crabs, obviously eating their fill. When you see something like that, something so subtle and unique that it takes your breath away, happiness flows right through you. At that point I remember thinking the road should be called “Happiness Way," because that's how you feel when you're on it, and I’m sure any other bird lover who drives on it would agree.

After you park, don’t rush out. You can spend a decent amount of time birding in the surrounding woodland. I saw Painted Buntings, a male and female Red-headed Woodpecker, Downies, Great-crested Flycatchers (and their nesting cavity), a Yellow-throated Warbler, and many other birds, but I’m going to save those stories for another post. A little later, an older gentleman with binocs around his neck (the universal signal for “Hey, it’s okay I’m a birder!”) came up and asked me if I’d been to Ibis Pond yet. When I told him it was my first time to the park, and I didn’t know where Ibis Pond was, he said, “follow the gravel path for about a half mile and be amazed.” So that’s what I did.

The gravel path to Ibis Pond is a fairly wide land bridge. It can accommodate a car, but only maintenance vehicles are allowed. Regular folk like you and me have to walk or ride bikes. The walk seemed long at first (only because I had a torn Plantar Fascia ligament and had no idea where I was going), but I loved it anyway. Patches of woodland and salt marsh surround the path, so you get to see many types of birds along the way, including, of course, more Painted Buntings. Two times I saw them up ahead pecking around in the gravel…three and four together at the side of the road. Hinting at what’s to come, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and innumerable Ibises fly back and forth over your head a lot—graceful, beautiful, and oblivious to anyone below. 

When I reached a grassy area, I still didn’t know where I was, so I just stood and looked around. That fabulous southern sun was soaking into my skin…warm and wonderful, and a cooling ocean breeze was sweeping through the trees and grasses. We just don’t get breezes like that in Cincinnati on hot, humid days, and it really hit home that I was on vacation…at the ocean…in the south…, but before I could finish that thought, a Black-Crowned Night-Heron flew by me and landed in a tree about 25 feet away. I couldn’t believe it. I rushed over holding my breath, still not believing my luck, and trying to be quiet (and cool, but that was probably not possible because I’m sure I looked like a dork trying to set up my camera and cover ground at the same time). It took me a few seconds to spot him, but there he was…in a tree…about 10 feet above me. I could see his blood-red eye so clearly through the lens I stopped snapping and just watched. Eventually he turned his head and looked directly at me. Then he looked away with indifference, slowly walking down a branch. Finally I lowered my camera and noticed there were other Black-Crowned Night-Herons scattered in the tree, all resting in the heat of the morning, roosting, and sleeping.

I see you camera-lady, and I'm not impressed.

I have really long toes. All the better to climb in trees with...

Yes, I know. I have a gorgeous red eye. Go ahead, snap away...

It's morning and I'd rather be sleeping. 
I'm a night owl...I mean Night-Heron.

Because I've reduced these files down so much and saved them for the Web, which reduces the file size even more, but also reduces the quality, the deep red of the eye has been lost on most of the photos. Rick suggested just cropping out an eye shot. I did, but have to say the quality is still missing, but you do get a better idea of the deep red. I need to get get a Flickr account or something like that so I can post the higher quality images. My blog loads slow enough as it is! Does anyone have any suggestions on how to maintain quality yet keep the file size small?