Summertime Blues

Tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor )** ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge


The calendar may say September, but this is the Texas coast, where hot days and nights often continue until October. Until the heat breaks, everyone does what they can to keep cool: some go to the beach; some seek out air conditioning; everyone whines, whether a little or a lot.

Even the creatures have their ways of coping, including this heron. I’d never seen one half-submerged in the water and feared it might have been injured, but when it raised itself on two apparently good legs, it seemed that wasn’t the case.

Finally, with a wild flailing of wings, it went back to the business at hand: a cooling bath in the pond.

After about ten minutes of splishing and splashing, he began plunging beneath the water’s surface.

Was he tempted by a fish or a crab? Beautifying his beak with a mud pack? Or just having fun? There’s no way to know, but whatever he was up to, it surely beat standing on the bank in the heat.



**Note: Originally, I’d identified this as a great blue heron, but Judy Lovell, bird watcher-and-photographer extraordinaire, provided the correct identification. The tricolor heron’s  more colorful feathers and greenish-yellow legs help to distinguish it. The tricolor also is noticeably smaller than the great blue heron; if I’d seen this one standing up, out of the water, the size difference would have been obvious.  Thanks, Judy!
Comments always are welcome.

66 thoughts on “Summertime Blues

  1. Looks like Harry’s cousin has it under control! Fishing, I think. But who knows. I’ve never seen one in that position either — at first, I thought the water was exceedingly deep. Wonderful photos as always, Linda.

    1. Actually, it appears to be Harry’s cousin, once-removed. Judy Lovell, who knows her birds, spotted it as a tricolored heron; I’ve changed the description of it. That said, I’ve never seen a heron of any sort taking a bath, and it was wonderful fun to see. With all that mud dripping off its beak, it needs to get back down in the water again.

    1. Note that a reader pointed out what I missed: it’s actually a tricolored heron, rather than a great blue. That said, its impulse to splash around in the water suggests it’s not just our backyard visitors who know how to cool off. I suspect your pond is filled with visitors these days!

  2. Excessive heat can be a huge problem for birds not adapted for it, and panting, erecting their feathers for air circulation and immersing in water are all strategies to stay cool.

    1. I’ve seen mallards pant, and I’ve seen great blue herons with their wings spread, but I’ve never seen a heron engaged in this behavior. Note that I missed a correct identification on this one, probably because it was down in the water. Another reader from Florida, who really knows her water birds, spotted it as a tricolored heron; I added a note at the end of the post.

  3. Love the herons. We have a couple that periodically come to our pond and I enjoy watching them with their stillness and patience.Like you, I never saw one so submerged as this one..

    1. I’ve always seen all of the herons as models of stillness and patience, which made this one’s behavior even more interesting. A friend pointed out that this is a tricolored heron rather than a great blue, but that doesn’t diminish the appeal of its behavior. Apparently even the most dignified bird can have enough of the heat.

    1. I love watching birds when they’re bathing. Even the big, fat pigeons that show up at my bird bath are amusing, especially when one plunks itself in the middle of the water and refuses to move, no matter how many sparrows harass it.

    1. Judy Lovell fine-tuned my identification: it’s a heron, but a tricolored rather than a great blue. Clearly, I was fooled by its position in the water. That said, it does have some remarkably messy feathers, probably because of its enthusiastic bathing.

      Isn’t it funny how songs that have remained buried for decades can suddenly come to mind? That song came out sixty-one years ago, and it’s still fun.

      1. Your mention of 61, along with the era that that song is from, reminded me that 1961 is the most recent year whose number can be rotated 180° without changing its value (assuming you write the 1 as a straight line with no hook). We won’t be around for the next one in 6009.

        1. Is there a word for that phenomenon? It’s like a palindrome, but not exactly.

          I was amused to read the phrase “straight line with no hook” and have an image of your mesquite bean with the hooked end come to mind. The last time that happened, I was crossing a concrete bridge that had an orange-flowered vine growing up through a crack and spilling onto the shoulder of the road. I ‘remembered’ a photo you posted showing something similar, but I couldn’t find it using ‘Mopac’ or ‘orange’ as search terms (although I did find the snailseed vine). Maybe I imagined it, but I don’t think so.

          1. People have called it an upside down year but to my mind that’s not the best term. If someone asked me turn 1961 upside down, I’d come up with 1691. It’s a question of which axis you do the rotating around.

            Could your flower be buffalo gourd? I see it most often sprawling by the side of a road.

    1. Dick Clark had two television shows that I remember: American Bandstand and Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show, which was sponsored by Beechnut chewing gum. The clip I linked is from that Beechnut Show, and while I never thought about it at the time, I’m sure the kids in the audience received free gum and were encouraged to chew it as obviously as they could.

      I do remember that we were encouraged to collect the green Beechnut wrappers and send them in after we reached a certain number. I don’t remember the purpose at all; I only remember a shoe box filled with wrappers, and my friends and I chewing away. The only time I was publicly disciplined in school was during my seventh grade year. I was caught chewing gum in study hall, and had to stand on the stage in front of everyone with my gum on the end of my nose. A little more of that could straighten out a number of problems in today’s educational system!

      1. A woman who posted an entry about Dick Clark several years ago included this, from her high school French teacher: “The only difference between a girl chewing gum and a cow chewing its cud is the thoughtful expression on the face of the cow.”

      2. Ah, the Beechnut sponsorship would explain the massive amount of gum chewing. Hmm, as for standing with gum on the end of your nose, that was obviously an effective and unforgettable punishment. Do kids still chew gum much anymore?

  4. What antics. Fun photo series. Great detail captured in the second one – even expression (like,” I’m bathing, some privacy please”? ) He almost looks camouflaged in the first one. (Whew. It’s been hot, but apparently in 1907 and 1909 it was a couple of degrees warmer on these days. Not great temps for repairing dead grass hole, but may try …and have to put a tent over the new sod? Sure seems like August.) A splash down is tempting for all

    1. I love watching birds bathing — any bird, anywhere — but this was special. He was a little beyond the reach of my lens, but sometimes even an imperfect photo’s worth sharing. The good news is that I was far enough away that I didn’t bother him, and got to watch for quite some time.

      The last two mornings have been bearable, with lower humidity and a light NE breeze. After 10 a.m.? Not so much. But when I went back to work last night about 6:30, there was a noticeable change in the air. It’s hot, but the sun’s lowering, and the days are getting shorter. One of these days, everything will change.

  5. Even “up” here in the (cooler) Texas Hill Country, “everyone whines, whether a little or a lot.” Maybe I should join the heron – or fly back to Alaska. But seriously, Mary and I were talking about the weather lately and we agreed that this summer – with only a very few exceptions – seems to have been cooler than the last one. At least in our neck of the country.
    Have a nice weekend,

    1. I wonder if the difference for you is the humidity. When it lowers here, even hot temperatures are more bearable — there’s truth behind that old saying that it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Just for grins, I checked the current conditions; we’re both at 94F, but your humidity is 28% and ours is 47%. Of course, if you’re that dry, your drought index may be higher, too.

      I love weather talk, even when it’s whining. But most of it isn’t — it’s just a way to acknowledge that we’re all in this together. “Hot ‘nuf for you?” “Yup.” That’s all it takes.

      1. I’ve heard that here the average temperature is 5 to 10 degrees lower than at the coast, and also that the humidity generally is much lower – and I think that’s about right. I agree: it’s the humidity that kills. I don’t look at humidity, though, very much when I want to find out if it’s going to be comfy or a sauna. I look at the dewpoint. Whenever that rises above 65 degress, it’s starting to feel really uncomfortable.

        1. Dewpoint or humidity — either will do when the comfort calculation’s going on. Personally, I’m waiting for 75F and 45% humidity, with a light north breeze. That’s the ticket!

  6. As soon as I saw the first shot, I thought, I’ve never seen a heron sitting in the water like that. Always up on those skinny legs – – that’s the typical, or stilted, image. I hope it felt cooler and was just fooling around.

    1. It may be more common for herons and egrets to cool this way than I’ve realized. It occurred to me today that when it’s really hot — the time that the birds would be most likely to engage in cooling behaviors — I’m probably the least likely to be around to see it. Also, my hunch is that the water depth has to be right. I’d never see that around here, because the water’s too deep; we see the diving birds, but very few waders. There certainly wasn’t anything stilted about this one’s antics!

    1. Herons and egrets do stand around a good bit when they’re not wading along, looking for a snack. I suppose that’s why witnessing these “unusual” behaviors is such fun. Odd as it is to say, these experiences seem to make them even more alive than we imagined.

  7. I remember those Texas Septembers, Linda, and you’re right — any place with air conditioning or water is a real keeper. Looks like the heron instinctively knows that!!

    1. Without air conditioning, the Texas coast would be darned uncomfortable (or unbearable, depending on a person’s tolerance). On the other hand, this has to be the most overly air conditioned place in the country. I know people like to be comfortable — so do I — but the joke is that you know summer’s arrived in Houston when you have to start carrying a sweater everywhere. At least the herons don’t have to carry sweaters or fight over the thermostat settings!

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Judy. Once you mentioned the tricolor and I started looking more closely, things made more sense. If the bird had stood up, I would have seen it wasn’t a great blue because of the size, but I was so amazed to see it bathing, I missed some of the details (leg color, white belly, multicolored feathers). This is why it’s so great to have experts around — when we miss things, it can get corrected.

      I’m really glad to see you. I was thinking about you during Dorian’s passage up the coast. I’ve heard from a friend in Charleston; now, I’m waiting to get in touch with another friend in NC. I caught a glimpse of a chart showing another one developing over by Africa, but I’m going to ignore that for the time being!

      1. It is easy to confuse herons at distance, especially when the colors are not dissimilar. But, the Louisiana Heron aka Tricolor is a personal favourite and so they stand out for me.

        Yeah don’t want to think too hard about anything coming off Africa!! For sure!! I really feel tremendously lucky not to have gone through that this round. I undid preparations like shutters but decided to leave the hurricane fabric cover over the faux garage door wall. Looks kind of campy and didn’t want to undo all those stainless steel screws again. So will let that stay at least through September. Even though Wilma hit Oct 24th. Still amazing that a storm can be so close and currents in the atmosphere can carry it another direction. I felt badly for Grand Bahama and Abaco when it was sitting on top of them at 185mph….that is tremendous. For awhile Dorian tied with the Labor Day storm of 1935 as the worst to hit there. But I think that changed and Dorian takes the top spot.

        Thanks for thinking of me and all your friends in Dorian’s path.

        1. It is interesting how our favorites stand out. I can spot a white prickly poppy at some distance. There are certain bird calls I can pick out, too. When the first mallard ducklings start peeping, I hear them immediately, even if they’re some distance away.

          The low pressure area over the Bahamas right now has just been upped to a 40% chance of development, and it’s headed for the Gulf. For now, it looks like it’s going to scoot by you to the south. I guess it’s time to start paying attention again. I have a little project I’d like to finish up by Friday — get that invoice out before the storm comes!

    1. There are crayfish galore where that bird lives, and some of the biggest chimneys I’ve ever seen have been in that area. It’s usually the ibis that have muddy beaks from probing for goodies in the mud, but this fellow may have snagged an especially nice one.

      Summer and mud do go together in my mind. Mud pies, toes squiggling in mud along the river banks, and this old, old song that was a childhood favorite. I’ll bet the heron would like it, too.

  8. I have a tendency to time-slip to avoid the heat, becoming more and more nocturnal as it gets hotter and hotter. I do whatever cooking I need to do after dark and in larger batches to minimize the load on the AC. Also, I have a “no-sweat,” double-walled, stainless-steel, 40-oz drink bottle that holds a tray of ice cubes and keeps my beverage of choice cool all day. I’m in the process of teaching it to follow me around the house.

    1. I go the other direction, rising earlier and earlier to beat the worst of the heat. Unfortunately, the humidity’s often highest in the morning; that negates some of the benefits. I don’t use a fancy drink holder like yours at work (my favorite’s the standard gallon of un-iced water), but I can imagine the benefits of getting one trained to ‘come,’ ‘heel,’ and ‘stay.’ If anything’s amused me recently, it’s been discovering that I can keep the AC at 80 during the day. When it’s hovering around 100F outside, that twenty degree drop is enough to feel refreshing.

  9. Marvellous images and what a great way to cool down – bird or human. That last shot is a particularly good one and I can’t help but wonder what tasty morsel of food it has in its beak.

    We’ve gone back to winter weather this weekend after last week’s sunny days.

    I often had Turtle-Doves splashing to cool down in the water bowl at my previous apartment, but not so at the current location. Don’t know why. I did have a House Sparrow gasping for water sitting on the edge of the water bowl once, so I cut out a piece of cardboard and lodged it under the hanging metal grips to cast a shade relief over the water bowl.

    1. Every pool benefits from having a cabaña nearby — how nice that you provided one for your sparrow. I have mine tucked near a schefflera, where it’s shaded from mid-afternoon, and that helps. I always change the water when I get home from work, as it heats up significantly during the day. It’s amusing to watch the birds when I step outside to do it; they flutter in, knowing that they’ll have a chance for a cool bath.

      I’d rather have lobster dripping butter than a crawfish dripping mud, but I suspect the heron was perfectly happy, and I was glad to get that bit of mud dripping from its beak.

    1. Beautiful, albeit a little disheveled. He spent so much time in the water that I finally gave up waiting for him to leave the water and rearrange his feathers — he obviously was enjoying himself.

  10. Delightful sequence. Now I realize the Tricolored heron is similar to the great blue heron, although more in color than in size. That splishing and splashing is well caught!

    1. Sometimes it’s harder to spot the differences among these birds when we find them in the wild, doing what they do. Looking at them next to each other on a website or in a book is one thing. Finding one half-hidden by water, with its feathers going this way and that, can fool a person — it clearly fooled me! No matter. Mistakes are as important in the learning process as getting things right the first time.

      It certainly was fun watching this bird. It seemed to be enjoying the water play as much as a kid playing in a sprinkler.

  11. I’ve watched great blue and green herons here, along with great and common egrets, and never saw them bathe this way. While not Texas hot, our summers do get into the upper nineties and occasional one hundreds. So maybe this tri-colored was starting a new trend. It’s fun to try to figure out what the “others” are doing and attributing their behavior to that of humans. He certainly appears to be enjoying the water. Probably spent a lot of time preening afterwards.

    We sure have been going down memory lane with our musical links lately. I don’t remember but I wonder if the hint of his nakedness in the tub caused much of a furor back then. Although “back then” seems to be returning. I read that some school was banning Harry Potter over the spells in the stories.

  12. I only figured out today why the title of this post seemed so familiar. You have to remember this one. So good!

    To be honest, I don’t remember any furor at all about “Splish, Splash,” but there was a lot of live and let live during my childhood and youth. I remember my parents rolling their eyes when Elvis showed up, but that was about it. Of course, there were a lot of half-naked kiddos running through sprinklers on front lawns, so a bathtub didn’t hold many mysteries.

    As for that latest Harry Potter hubbub, it came about when the priest in charge of a Catholic school sent out an email saying, “The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells which, when read by a human being, risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.” I wonder if the good Father realizes all his students already have read the books and seen the movie?

    The other thing I’ve seen birds do is spread or lift their wings to cool off, and mallards will sit in the shade at the marinas and pant. The mallards have figured out that the hose bibs at various boat slips drip if the water’s not turned off, too. They’re quite clever about finding a nice drink of fresh water on a hot afternoon.

    1. Yup, I sure do. What I liked most about that was they were actually playing the instruments and singing. So much back then was lip-synced.

      I believe that Elvis did kick up quite a fuss at first with his hip gyrations. So suggestive, I guess. Yes, I read that and just shook my head. I sometimes wonder where people get their ideas these days, I suppose it has always been that way with crazy notions. But some of the things people say, maybe to acquire attention, is a little beyond belief.

      I wonder if this egret was doing what you are describing. My favorite Elliot Erwitt shot.

      1. I’ve never heard of Erwitt. Given your love of dogs, both general and specific, I can understand why you’d like his work. That egret cracks me up. Somewhere I have a photo of a great blue that looks like it’s trying to camouflage itself. I can’t find it just now, and it’s better to show than tell. I’ll dig it out and post it one of these days. It’s one of those photos that’s not particularly “good,” but it still cracks me up.

        1. There were a few collections of his work and I chose the one with dogs to share. But he also did a lot of street/people photography including quite a few of Marilyn Monroe.
          Good is all relative most often. Like my moose shot. Not technically well done but still a nice moment captured and shared. I’ll look forward to your comical heron.

    1. I found my photo of a pair of egrets — one great, one snowy — doing the same thing. I suppose one reason we don’t think about the big birds bathing is that they can’t do it in our birdbaths or most backyard ponds. They need a slightly larger tub! It certainly was fun to see.

    1. I love stumbling upon scenes like this. It’s great to see animal antics on television or in youtube videos, but coming across them in real life is even better, even if the critter in question is as common as this heron. It may be a common bird exhibiting common behavior, but I’ve never seen it, and that’s what counts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.