Herons etc.

Black-crowned Night Heron (sub-adult)

During the August long weekend I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds a couple of times to check out the shorebird habitat – the southern pond is starting to dry up, leaving a huge swath of the smelly, muddy pond bottom exposed. The usual Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeer were present, but at least four Lesser Yellowlegs, one Greater Yellowlegs, and five Least Sandpipers had joined them. It’s still early in shorebird migration, so I expect the diversity will increase as the season progresses.

The number of herons hunting at the ponds has also increased lately, which is typical this time of year as the birds disperse from their breeding grounds to look for good feeding areas. At least two Great Blue Herons, two Great Egrets, and three Black-crowned Night Herons are around; I haven’t seen any Green Herons yet so far, but expect they will show up shortly. Because there are so many herons here, and because they perch and feed out in the open, they make excellent targets of study; I shouldn’t be surprised that they are starting to draw the attention of local photographers. I ran into one this weekend specifically to photograph the egrets and herons; doubtless there are others.

Songbird diversity is also increasing as birds are beginning to move out of their nesting areas in preparation for fall migration, a process known as post-breeding dispersal. I found a couple of Warbling Vireos squabbling in a tree (though I am not completely sure whether they were actually present all summer), and noticed a brown wren (likely a House Wren) flitting among the leaves of the same tree! Wrens are not common visitors here; the only other one I’ve seen here was one that spent two days in a cedar hedge last year during spring migration.

When I visited the ponds this morning, only two Black-crowned Night Herons were present. I found one on the concrete wall that separates the circular pond from the main pond, while the second was perching on the rocks just above the water inside the circular pond.

The first was a young bird in sub-adult plumage. They typically achieve this plumage around two years of age, when they lose the heavily streaked brown feathers and instead attain a pattern similar to that of the adults. However, their bellies are dingy and faintly streaked while their backs are brownish gray.

Black-crowned Night Heron (sub-adult)

This bird was wary when I approached it for a photo; it later flew behind the berm where I located it later on my walk. I wondered if it was one of the juveniles that often hunted here for fish last summer.

Black-crowned Night Heron (sub-adult)

This bird is a juvenile and looks nothing like the adult it will become. It spent a long time staring intently down at the water, and didn’t react when a muskrat carrying a small leafy branch swam right beneath it.

Black-crowned Night Heron (juvenile)

When I returned later in the day, I found a third heron, an adult, crouching among the rocks of the southern pond. Adults tend to be more wary than juveniles, and it flew up into a large tree when it realized I was watching it – even though I was on the other side of the water. It was neat to see the three herons in different plumages, and made it easier to keep track of how many were present.

Black-crowned Night Heron (adult)

The usual Cabbage Whites and Clouded Sulphurs were present, and I saw one Wild Indigo Duskywing which didn’t linger long enough for a photo. A Black Swallowtail nectaring on a purple thistle flower was the best butterfly of the day; I see them almost every weekend, which means it must be a good year for them.

Black Swallowtail

Most of the southern pond near Hopeside Road has dried up, and I found most of the shorebirds there. This Lesser Yellowlegs was working its way toward me

Lesser Yellowlegs

A juvenile Spotted Sandpiper was much further out, and I wondered if it had hatched here at the ponds. Every year I see juveniles late in the summer, though I never see the newly hatched birds earlier in the season. That changed a few weeks ago when I finally spotted a very young bird working its way around the edges of the pond in one of the more secluded areas. Its small size and the remnants of fluffy down on its head confirmed it as a recent hatch.

Spotted Sandpiper

One of my more interesting finds was a Red-belted Bumble Bee feeding on the Purple Loosestrife at the southern pond. I first came across this insect at the Bruce Pit in August 2016 (and got a much better photo). I didn’t recognize this bee as one, and thought it was a small Tricolored Bumble Bee which also has orange on the abdomen. However, the Tricolored Bumble Bee has a yellow band after the orange band, and does not have small black bands separating the orange segments.

Red-belted Bumble Bee

Here’s a better look at the red and black segments on the abdomen. This is a small species, so getting good, clear photos while it was busy exploring the Purple Loosestrife flowers was much more difficult than getting a photo of one sitting still on a leaf at Bruce Pit! I quite like these bees, and hope to see them more often.

Red-belted Bumble Bee

One reason why I still love visiting the ponds is that I keep making new discoveries and finding new species there. While my chief interests are birds and odonates, I find beauty in even the smaller insects, too!

One thought on “Herons etc.

  1. Nice shots, as usual! I’m behind on weeding my garden, so I have a lot of Queen Anne’s lace still in my main bed. I saw a black swallowtail laying eggs on several of them at the end of July, so I’m happy to let them stay.

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