Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way. —John Muir
We’re finally getting drenched with some much-needed rains in South Florida — the swamps and Everglades are thrilled, I’m sure of it. Last Monday alone, we received ten inches from the sky… TEN INCHES. That kind of downpour creates flash flooding, and the accompanying high winds (and lovely lightning) can wreak havoc on birds’ nests.
During a quick visit to the wetlands between the raindrops, it was obvious that there was much repair to the nests being done throughout the preserve. As I was blankly staring at a turtle (I love our turtles), I caught some commotion deep within a Pond apple tree, one that’s been an annual home to nesting Green herons. Mom had just returned with branches to repair the nest, and her little ones were obviously expecting food — and visibly unhappy about the sticks over the food.
On the lookout for mom
All babies are sweet, but Green heron babies are little cantankerous puffs of adorable.
She’s not that way, either…
And back she flew to the wetlands, to high commotion, for more nest-building materials. So much work to be done; babies still needed their food….
[For all you locals: If you’re as fascinated by the area’s water cycle and flow as I am, check out Go Hydrology in my “Florida Nature Blogs” to the right — fantastic daily updates and general information!]
A Tricolored (or Louisiana) Heron in breeding plumage shakes it all off, with the start of a new week, in undisguised fabulousness in our protected wetlands. While I say “Monday Morning Hair,” this is definitely a daily occurrence for me.
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. —Mary Oliver
Always a welcoming sight in our wetlands, the Black-crowned Night Heron appears at dusk, ready for a night of marauding. I encountered this juvenile taking flight from deep within the wetland’s waters — I barely saw him, just his movement, since his camouflage was so perfect against the wetland’s vegetation in the setting sun. There’s so much that can be missed, if you’re not looking….
Perfect camouflage in the Florida Wetlands
Usually our Green herons are very shy and difficult to spot, patient and motionless as they are in our wetlands — their signature kuk or kyow calls are heard more often. [Click here to listen to their calls!] But when I do hear them, I search in the pond apple trees and cypress for their moppy crowns, in the hopes of catching their fascinating hunting process.
Green heron close-up, pre-hunt
These guys have always been one of my favorites in our wetlands — perched high in the beautiful cypress trees during the approaching dusk. And the smarts on these little herons! Green herons will often drop bait onto the water’s surface — including live insects, berries, twigs, or feathers — to attract fish. The more curious the fish…the more likely they’ll end up as dinner at the quick thrust of the heron’s sharp bill. I’ve often seen them snap off twigs and leaves for bait, carrying it to secretive hunting areas.
I will find you….
This hunting technique, and their use of tools, has earned the Green heron the well-deserved distinction as one of the world’s smartest birds.
A moment of rest
I am so lovely, yes?
Preparing for the hunt
It’s nesting time now in our protected wetlands, and a really fun time — the biggest and smallest waders are settled into their annual nests (some of them, including the Great Blue Herons, return to the same nests each year). I’m running a bit behind on the nest-building activities, always a fascinating process to watch. But in the meantime, I couldn’t resist this episode that caught me unawares the other evening. I heard a GBH’s croaking cacophony (select the last option in this list — croaking calls, wing noise — for the best example) in one of the usually quiet rookeries. He or she was obviously not very happy.
And the tantrum begins… Echoing through the wetlands
At the time, I couldn’t see the source of torment for the heron, who was probably chasing something away from a newly-created nest. The previous night, a group of GBHs was screaming in another rookery, because an alligator swam too close for comfort to their nests. I didn’t see the gator actually nab anything, but the collective croaking, screaming noise could be heard throughout the wetlands.
As it turns out, an anhinga had the gumption to impede on this heron’s space.
Flushing out the enemy anhinga
The look on the poor anhinga’s face as it’s being flushed out of the rookery is priceless…. Of course I was worried for the poor anhinga: Did he have a nest too, or was he just looking for a comfy spot for the night? Either way, I wish I wasn’t walking onto the scene so suddenly, and had some time to properly prepare for the shot, to include his appalled mug.
Respect the wingspan
And for the Great Blue Heron? Unabashed triumph.
I am queen