SNOWY EGRETS: A FUSS ABOUT (ALMOST) NOTHING…


Snowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)

SNOWY EGRETS: A FUSS ABOUT (ALMOST) NOTHING…

Well, what’s all the fuss about here? One snowy egret is striding confidently forward. The other has gone into full-scale feather-frenzy melt-down. Something is clearly up…

…something that seems on close inspection to be a very small fishSnowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)Snowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)

After pausing to check what’s going on, the cool, calm and collected snowy continues on his way. His friend however seems to have lost all sense of decorum as a result of a successful stalk and the catch of a light snack… Snowy Egrets fishing (Phil Lanoue)

Sensible part: the dishevelled bird is displaying so-called ‘bridal plumage’. And for ID enthusiasts, note the diagnostic yellow feet (header image), black legs, and black beak with a yellow / orange ‘bit’ (*technical word alert*) at the blunt end.

Credits: these fantastic photos are the work of Phil Lanoue who specialises in sequential photography, to whom many thanks for use permission; cartoon, Birdorable

TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO


Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 10 (Keith Salvesen)

TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO

We were at Gilpin Pond to watch for Herons and Egrets. Bahama Pintails were a given, Black-necked Stilts were likely – but one never quite knows what Ardeidae will turn up. There was a snowy egret fishing peacefully at the north end of the pond. We were a little way off, on a small wooden jetty. Slowly and rather deliberately a tri-colored wandered right through the Egret’s hunting area. It wasn’t looking for food, and it certainly wasn’t in a hurry. 

Heron wading through my fishing spot? Like I care? [Yes. You really do]Snowy Egret with Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

I regret to say that Snowy threw a bit of a strop. Having been hunched and intent on his hunting, he became distracted and palpably upset. It was just… the heron’s meander right past his beak was a bit to much for any self-respecting egret to tolerate. This is how it went, as the heron moved very slowly forwards…

A bad hair day – but gradually regaining composure…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 3 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

Then the heron got out of the water… out of the way. You’d think.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

Not to be outdone, the egret followed behind, no doubt muttering crossly…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 6 (Keith Salvesen)

…and hopped up onto a dead tree stump, where it stood rather forlornlySnowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 8 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 9 (Keith Salvesen)

At which point the heron flew off and perched high up on a dead branch. I swear I heard it laugh.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

All photos RH. All anthropomorphic interpretations, too.

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO TELL THEM APART


Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)12

Reddish Egret male in breeding plumage, Crossing Rocks, Abaco

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO TELL THEM APART

This weekend is Wader Conservation World Watch weekend, promoted by WADER QUEST. This is the perfect moment to help with the vexed question: “See that bird? Over there. No, THERE! Is it a seabird, shorebird or a wader?” 

Publication1

There is plenty of scope for confusion, since in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and even some variation between the various bird guides. And after all, shorebirds may wade. And wading birds may be found on the shore*. Here is a reminder of 30 infallible rules to sort out which is which, courtesy of the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST blog. 

*STOP PRESS Rick Simpson of Wader Quest has kindly added a comment pointing out the marked difference in the categorisation on either side of the Atlantic: “What you in the USA call shorebirds we here in the UK call waders (peeps, sandpipers, plovers oystercatchers etc – but not skimmers). Shorebirds to us can be any bird that lives on a shore, ie egret, herons, gulls. To add more confusion some seabirds such as Gulls, Skuas (Jaegers) Terns and Auks are also all in the group called Charadriiformes, not just the waders… er I mean shorebirds, or do I? [So] should any of you decide to participate in our world watch it is your shorebirds (but not skimmers) that we are interested in and we call them waders. Anyone want to know the rules of cricket? It is easier to explain!”

magnificent-frigatebird

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS 

Ring-billed gull, AbacoRing-billed Gull (Nina Henry : DCB)

Examples include frigatebirds, petrels, shearwaters, gulls, terns and tropicbirds

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for manoeuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.

piping-plover

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS 

Ruddy Turnstone, AbacoRuddy Turnstone Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

Examples include oystercatchers, turnstones, knots, plovers and sandpipers

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

roseate-spoonbill

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS 

Snowy Egret, Abaco
Snowy Egret ?NP_ACH1409 copy

Examples include egrets, herons, flamingos, ibis, rails, and spoonbills

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes (‘bridal plumage’) during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

Green Heron, AbacoGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

These lists were handily put together in useful chart formseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientist

Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – Nina Henry (RBG), Tom Sheley (RUTU), Tony Hepburn (SNEG), Keith Salvesen (REEG & GRHE) ; Cartoons – Birdorable

REMARKABLE FEET: SNOWY EGRETS ON ABACO


Snow Egret in Flight (Wiki)

REMARKABLE FEET: SNOWY EGRETS ON ABACO

SNOWY EGRETS (Egretta thula) are small white herons of the Americas, similar to the European Little Egret. The first thing you may notice about them is that they have remarkable bright yellow feet. This distinguishes these birds from all other egret and heron species.Snowy Egret ACH1409

Young Snowy Egrets often have yellow markings higher up on their legs.Snowy 24 a - Version 2

The feet are so bright that they are often visible underwater.Snowy Egret WB P1001206 copy 2

Snowy Egrets eat fish, crustaceans, insects and small reptiles. They have 3 main foraging tactics: (1) Standing still in or on the edge of water to ambush prey (2) Stalking prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet to flush out prey  (3) “Dip-fishing” by flying low over water.

Snowy Egret (Wiki)

In breeding season, Snowy Egrets grow beautiful plumes – “bridal plumage”. At one time these were in great demand as adornments for women’s hats (as with flamingos, parrots and many other decorative species). This reduced the population of the birds to dangerously low levels, from which they have now recovered. Their IUCN rating is now ‘Least Concern’.

Snowy_Egret_-_full_breeding_plumage-1

Contemplating the next meal… one of Sandy Walker’s excellent Abaco photos taken this winterSnowy Egret 1a copyPhoto Credits: Sandy Walker, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Wiki

ABACO: A SANDY ISLAND (SANDY BEACHES, A SANDY POINT & A SANDY WALKER)


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ABACO: A SANDY ISLAND (SANDY BEACHES, A SANDY POINT AND A SANDY WALKER)

This post features some great Abaco bird photos taken by Sandy Walker, a man familiar to anyone connected with the Delphi Club in any capacity at all, and well-known far and wide from Marsh Harbour to Ireland. Possibly notorious in some places… Sandy doesn’t talk about his photography much, though he has plenty to say on most topics. Here are a few of his photos taken in the last 6 months or so, and deserving a wider audience. The header image, from the Delphi garden, shows a Bananaquit in characteristic feeding mode.

CUBAN PEWEES

A great picture of feeding time, with the huge chick already seeming to have outgrown the parent – apart from its rather stumpy tailCuban Pewee - FV

CLAPPER RAIL

These shy  birds are reclusive by nature and relatively hard to photograph. They tend to lurk in the undergrowth or half-hidden on water margins. If they are caught in the open, they tend to run in a somewhat cartoonish sort of way. This one was having a good dig in the mud for food.Clapper Rail 3-2

WILLET

Large birds of the shoreline and mangrove swamps, and classed with sandpipers. In flight, they have eye-catching wing stripes that Sandy has captured with a bit of camera sharp-shooting. You can see more Willets HEREWillet 2 Willet in Flight 2

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK

I was with Sandy when he took this photo during an amazing early evening feeding display of these birds. A hundred or more were swooping and jinking, making the most of an evening fly hatch. Sometimes they flew very close to our heads, make a whirring sound as they passed. Their speed and jagging flight made them very hard to take. I hardly got one in my viewfinder at all, but Sandy is an excellent shot of a different sort, so I guess aiming isn’t a problem for him…Antillean Nighthawk SW copy

SNOWY EGRET

I love these handsome birds, distinguishable from all other white herons and egrets (in some cases as white morphs) by their astonishing bright yellow feet. These are so vivid that they are often  clearly visible when a snowy egret is standing in the water. This one was taken by the jetty at a local pond, a wonderful and secluded place to see water birds of many varieties, including rarities. Snowy 14 a

All images (except this one): Sandy Walker, with thanksSandy Walker on Skiff