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May 2011
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A rookery on our home turf
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Florida & SE US, Birding "Patches"
Posted by: Ken @ 7:16 pm

Arriving back home in Florida this past week, we looked forward to visiting a small, newly-discovered Yellow-crowned Night-Heron rookery in our local birding patch. Scott, a non-birding neighbor, discovered it, tucked away in a corner where we simply never ventured on our daily walks.

We first met Scott walking his dog early one morning in the wetlands next to our home. He asked about the birds we were seeing, and was interested in my birding and photography equipment. He was curious about identifying the birds, though he did not own a field guide. Then, a couple of months ago he went out and purchased a huge pair of Porro prism binoculars. They were about 30 power, and hung down almost to his knees. Their field of view was so small that he could not tell where he was looking, and needed a tripod to keep them steady! Scott was quite proud of their bargain price, but after trying to use them, he decided to donate them to “Audubon.” I suggested that a shooting club might be able to use them for spotting the targets. Recently, he bought a manual focus 300 mm telephoto lens for his point-and-shoot camera, and has captured some nice images.

While we were in Illinois, Scott provided us with daily briefings on events and sightings in our birding patch, e-mailing photos of his subjects. They included good shots of egrets and other herons, hawks, Bald Eagles and Black-necked Stilts. He asked about the identity of a bird with big red eyes. I did not have to look at his photo to know that it was probably a night-heron, and sure enough it was– a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Since finding a group of several heron nests beside a canal, my neighbor has become an even more avid birder. I met him at 7:20 PM on our second day back from Illinois, and he guided me to the small rookery. We braved the mosquitoes and stayed until it got too dark for photos.

The nests included that of a Green Heron, with three recently-fledged youngsters. Note that remnants of natal down among the feathers of the smallest of the trio:

Green Heron fledgling 20110528

The adult Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are beautiful subjects, and I shared Scott’s enthusiasm as they peered out at us through the branches:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 5-20110526

Their red eyes are conspicuous, indeed:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 4-20110526

Five or six pairs were roosting in the trees…

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons 20110526

…or sitting on eggs in their nests:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron on nest 20110526

Mary Lou wanted to see them, and she and I returned to the rookery early the next morning. The sun was rising directly behind the nest trees, making photography difficult, but I obtained a few more portraits:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 7-20110526

our way back from the one mile walk to the rookery, we saw that the
immature Reddish Egret, first found on March 4th, was still present on
the Harbour Lakes impoundment:

Reddish Egret 20110526

It was joined by a sub-adult Little Blue Heron that was about half way in its change from white to blue:

Little Blue Heron 20110526

Its wing coverts, tail and five primary feathers on each wing were already dark:

Little Blue Heron 3-20110526

A couple of days later, the mud flats were almost dried up, and the Reddish Egret had disappeared. The Little Blue Heron was still there, and a Boat-tailed Grackle chased after it, revealing the symmetrical feather replacement pattern:

Grackle chasing Little Blue Heron 20110529

A Green Heron flew in and rested briefly on a boulder:

Green Heron 20110529

Migratory birds had departed, and there was almost an absence of song as the resident birds concentrated on raising their young. A male Northern Cardinal whistled feebly from a perch next to the lake:

 Northern Cardinal 20110529

The only other song was that of a Red-winged Blackbird, as it broadcast its territorial imperative*:

Red-winged Blackbird 20110529

Whenever birding quiets down, the butterflies become more interesting to me. This is my first photo of a Ruddy Daggerwing (click on image for more views):

Ruddy Daggerwing (Marpesia petreus)  3-20110528

Another new and unusual species for my butterfly image collection was this long-tailed Dorantes Skipper (awaiting confirmation of ID– click on image for more information):

Dorantes Longtail skipper possible 20110529

When we arrived home from our walk, a Tricolored Heron was waiting for us in our back yard, as if to remind us that, indeed, we were back in Florida:

Tricolored Heron in yard (uncropped) 20110526

* See: Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations, 1966.
“Of Men and Mockingbirds”

“…We may also say that in all territorial species, without exception,
possession of a territory lends enhanced energy to the proprietor.
Students of animal behavior cannot agree as to why this should be, but
the challenger is almost invariably defeated, the intruder expelled. In
part, there, seems some mysterious flow of energy and resolve which
invests a proprietor on his home grounds. But likewise, so marked is
the inhibition lying on the intruder, so evident his sense of trespass,
we may be permitted to wonder if in all territorial species there does
not exist, more profound than simple learning, some universal
recognition of territorial rights…”