Last year an American Bittern showed up at the Eagleson storm water ponds on August 21, 2019. This is the last place I expected to see this species, since the ponds are mostly open water and this is a species that prefers dense cattail marches. It was hunting for fish along the west side of the shore of the central pond, tucked up against a patch of smartweed but completely visible to any who cared to look. It was a one-day wonder, and as no one reported seeing it after that date I figured that would be the last time I would see one at the ponds. Then, on August 12th, my friend Sophie – who first messaged me about the bittern last year – messaged me again after dinner to say that another bittern was at the pond – in the same area as the one last year! Is it a coincidence? Although I have not proof, I do think it is the same one, as many birds show a strong degree of fidelity to their summer breeding sites and a lesser degree of fidelity to their wintering areas. Perhaps they also keep track of particular stopover sites where the food is abundant to help ensure their survival.Continue reading
New Birds at the Ponds
The American Bittern is a relatively common inhabitant of cattail marshes, but you would never guess it from its secretive nature and remarkably cryptic camouflage. Streaked in various shades of brown ranging from chestnut to cinnamon, with patches of white and beige on its underside, this bird blends into the dry, dead reeds and grasses of early spring. It is less flamboyant than the grayish-blue and white of the Great Blue Heron or the dazzling white of the Great Egret, and does not hunt out in the open the way these two relatives do. If I’m lucky I might catch a glimpse of one flying over a marsh, or – rarely – see one in the reeds at the edge of the open water. Most of the time I find them in the spring when they give their characteristic throaty, gulping “oonk-ka-choonk” calls from deep within the cattails. These iconic calls have led to the bittern receiving some unusual nicknames including “stake-driver,” “thunder-pumper,” and “water-belcher.”Continue reading
The Rarest Heron
Revisiting Petrie Island
Last weekend I decided to revisit Petrie Island to see how the Blue Dasher colony was doing and to look for other odonates. I had meant to go back earlier in the summer but never got around to it; any chance of re-finding the Unicorn Clubtail was long gone, but I still hoped to find some other dragonflies of interest.
As usual, I stopped by the marsh along the causeway first. Red-winged Blackbirds, Belted Kingfishers, a Great Blue Heron, a Green Heron, several Wood Ducks, and several Mallards were all present. There was no sign of any swallows, and I felt a bit sad to realize that they would soon be heading south.