The Supervisor


While I cautiously prowled the bank of a ditch at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, seeking a way to isolate a pair of unexpected basket-flowers against the sky, this juvenile night heron watched from his perch on the ditch’s control valve. His seeming curiosity — or his unwillingness to abandon a nice, sunny perch away from the alligators — gave me a chance to admire his finely-patterned feathers and large, colorful eye.

In the end, I judged him to be a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea). The bill of the juvenile yellow-crowned heron is mostly black, while the black-crowned night heron’s bill is partly yellow, but — like beauty — ‘mostly’ and ‘partly’ can be in the eye of the beholder, so I turned to his feathers to make a decision.      

Juvenile black-crowned night herons have larger, more discrete spots on their feathers, while juvenile yellow-crowned night herons display a finer, more distinct pattern of streaking. The white edging on their wing feathers connects to small white spots on the tips, giving them the more mottled appearance obvious with this bird.

What’s identical in both species is the pleasure a close encounter provides.


Comments always are welcome.

58 thoughts on “The Supervisor

  1. He was quite accommodating wasn’t he? I love when birds stay still for a nicely composed portrait as yours.

    Our fledged babes this year have been hunting on the creek’s banks, in our yard and occasionally seen sauntering across the driveway to another favorite hunting spot — in the veggie garden. They’re fun to watch.

    I use the bill (color and shape) to distinguish bt. the two species. YCNH has a chunkier looking bill overall and is all dark in color. BCNH’s bill seems slender in comparison and is lighter with a dark mandible tip.

    1. He was one of the most accomodating birds I’ve come across. I wonder if there might be something about that control valve that inspires such confidence. It’s the same one where I photographed this cormorant,and somewhere I have a photo of a snowy egret perched there.

      They are great fun to watch. There are a few who hunt in the median on South Shore Boulevard. It slopes down from either side, and stays wet. I suspect crawfish are there, in abundance. One of the sites (Audubon, I think) mentions that they’re hard to locate in the daytime, but that might have more to do with geographical location. Around here, it’s a rare day that I don’t see at least one adult, although the youngsters stay more hidden.

    1. I think the black- and yellow-crowned herons have some of the most attractive youngsters of the bird world. They do tend to be less flightly, too. I took this photo with my macro lens, rather than a telephoto; I was pretty close to him, and he didn’t care.

      The alligator mating season is over now, and before long they’ll become mostly inactive. From about mid-October to March, I’m much less likely to see them, unless they’re basking in sunlight on the bank. I did see far more young ones this year than ever before; foot-long alligators are pretty cute.

  2. It is always good to see the renewal of life, especially in view of the most recent report on the alarming decline of birds. And Trump keeps reversing environmental safeguards and denying climate science – go figure.

    1. It’s interesting to me which young birds I see — sometimes quite often — and which I never see. There are a couple of rookeries in the area I haven’t visited, and I need to do that. I’d especially enjoy seeing the roseate spoonbill and egret young; their photos are sometimes as amusing as they are cute.

  3. I do like the speckled pattern on the feathers. It provoked two thoughts in rapid succession, one: The Great Speckled Bird (I feel certain you will get the Acuff reference); the other, what a great hemicircular shawl pattern that sweep of feathers on the upper wing would make, with their speckled upper bits, and those white diamonds at the feather tips.

    1. Grandma used to sing “The Great Speckled Bird” from time to time, although she preferred “Blessed Assurance” or her favorite, “How Great Thou Art.” I had to look up ‘hemicircular’ — that was a new one for me. You’re right about what a great pattern the wings would make. Now I’d like to see the bird with its wings extended, to see what the whole pattern would look like.

    1. I’ve had some great opportunities. Honestly, when I turned around and saw this youngster, I never expected it would stay put. All it did was fluff its feathers and turn around occasionally. They’re unpredictable critters, for sure.

  4. Caption offered by Sr. Staff upon seeing the valve handle “I’m taking out this pipeline”.
    This guys looks well adorned with reflectors. Great focus on with this one.(Always amazed at the elegant details – and I probably always say that, but am.)

    1. Such a wry sense of humor — my compliments to the Sr. Staff. The reflectors image is good, too, although I will say that those patterns work awfully well at keeping them hidden when they decide to lurk in the weeds. The details are exquisite, aren’t they? I’m really fond of the black-crowned, and often laugh at them sitting like hunch-over old crones on the lines, but I think the yellow-crowned youngsters are cuter.

    1. Thank you, Lavinia. He was quite accomodating, finally turning on his perch so that the background wasn’t quite so busy. I really was surprised that he stayed put for the whole time I was around, and that he still was sitting there when I left. I told him he was a good bird!

    1. It helped that I was able to be so close. Only a few feet separated us, and I used my macro lens. That’s not something that happens every day. The breast feathers seem a little unfocused, but being able to capture the light in his eye and the details of the head and wings was great. I’m glad you like him!

    1. I don’t know which article you read, but I came across a good opinion piece in the NY Times that mentioned the recovery of waterfowl, due in no small part to hunters/conservationists who are part of groups like Ducks Unlimited.

      There’s a similar movement here in our area when it comes to fish. The state finally has reduced the daily limit on speckled trout to five all along the coast, and more and more of the fishing guides are encouraging catch and release as a way to begin rebuilding the population. There’s been so much pressure on the resource, from increasing popularity of the sport to floods and hurricanes, that something needed to be done, and people are accepting it well.

        1. Thanks so much, GP. As a matter of fact, the article you linked draws on the one that I read; in a sense, it’s the same article. I did notice something else when I read it the second time. Bluebirds, too, have profited by human interest in helping them out. We can make a difference.

  5. I like the image very much.It always amazes me that young birds do have that look of being young….inquisitive, curious with a kind of wide eyed innocence of learning in their expression. Sometimes playful too. This image is indeed very nice.

    1. It’s always interested me that our young black-crowned night herons remain essentially hidden in the trees during the day, For that matter, the adults don’t often emerge until nightfall, and they take to their roosts fairly early in the morning. The yellow-crowned aren’t so shy, and even their young will get out and forage in the daytime.

      You’re right about their apparent curiosity, and their obvious interest in the world around them. That’s part of what makes them so much fun to be around. I sometimes feel they’re as interested in me as I am in them.

    1. He sure doesn’t. There are a lot of unsuccessful stalkings and probably a few confrontations ahead of him, but for now? He’s got a big, wide world to explore — and probably a parent still taking a look now and then to see how things are going.

  6. Those feathers ARE gorgeous. This is my first sighting of a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron. I have seen only one adult that strayed into Colorado, where it’s considered rare. Fortunately, we regularly get to see their Black-crowned cousins. I love watching them sit still for extended periods of time. There is a lesson there somewhere!

    1. That’s interesting, that you haven’t seen a juvenile. I’m really glad I was able to share this one with you. I enjoy the black-crowned, too. I love the way they sit, all hunched up. When the weather allows and I can keep the windows open at night, I love to hear them squawking when something disturbs them and they fly off the dock lines of the boats tied up in the marina. Someone who’s never heard them might well wonder what strange creature is prowling the darkness!

  7. That’s a great capture, the detail is beautiful. There was a pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons who nested for a couple of seasons just down the street from me. The whole neighborhood enjoyed their chick raising.

    1. What fun, to have a family so close by. I’ve never found a nesting pair, but I did wonder about a heron I found perched on an air conditioning unit behind a strip center this year. It was there day after day, and I suspect there might have been a nest in one of the larger trees close by. Lucky you, to have been able to watch the whole process!

    1. As much as I enjoyed Ian and Sylvia from the beginning, and Ian Tyson on his own, I never knew about the group name, or that the band continued to back them. It seems odd that I wouldn’t have at least read about that on an album cover, but at least you’ve educated me. Thanks!

          1. I’ve been streaming some of their music this evening. It’s nice to be reminded of some of it, although I’ve come to prefer some of Tyson’s work rather than the very earliest Ian & Sylvia.

    1. I’ve been trying to think which of the water birds might seem dowdy to me. The cormorant probably qualifies, and maybe even the coots and some of the gulls. But even the ones that seem the most awkward and graceless can be transformed when they take to the air or slide underwater. And so many of the youngsters are plain amusing. They’re all growing up, now — it’s time to learn how to be big birds!

      1. I meant to write that some of the water birds in juvenile plumage are dowdy- not other birds but certainly many young birds of other species are not dressed to the nines as young birds. Perhaps dowdy was a bit too strong,

        1. ‘Dowdy’ is such an interesting word. I was thinking about it at work today, and I realized that, when I was growing up, it usually referred to older women who wore aprons and sensible shoes. When I looked it up in the dictionary when I got home, I found that was about it: it means a frumpy, or unstylish woman. What really caught me, though, was the old Scottish word it’s related to: that word means flat, or dull. And in some sense, that’s exactly what some of the young birds are — for camouflage, no doubt.

  8. Linda I did not word my comment as I intended. I meant that some of the water birds in” juvenile plumage appear dowdy. Actually no bird, as an adult is dowdy- not even the cormorant nor the grackle. If one takes the times to -properly observe the afore mentioned birds, it will be noted that their plumage is quite beautiful when seen in favorable light.

  9. At first I thought that was a sprinkler control valve and you were about to get an unexpected shower by a juvenile delinquent.
    Very nice look at this handsome young bird. The eye is brilliant which always makes for a great bird portrait.

    1. Given the grip he has on that thing, it almost looks as though he could give it a turn. I wouldn’t have minded; in the summer heat, an occasional shower can be a good thing.

      That is is compelling, isn’t it? You’d think it would make it difficult for them to hide from predators, but the couple of times I’ve found one half-hidden in grasses, the eye was almost invisible. Without direct light, perhaps it fades away, making safety more possible.

      1. I do think exposure to light makes the eyes glow which would make sense. With most wildlife, the object is to capture behavior as well as beauty but the eye makes it more personal.

    1. Herons not only are attractive, they have terrific personalities, and each species seems to have its own little quirks — that makes watching them especially fun. I see more green ones in the marinas than any other heron. They like to perch on mooring lines to fish: especially the ones that droop down only a few inches from the water. They’ll often hang out beneath gangways or along bulkheads, too. I never know they’re there until they fly off with an indignant squawk, startling me beyond all reason.

    1. One of the things that makes the Brazoria refuge so great is its variety. It’s large enough to contain prairie, woods, ponds and sloughs, and mud flats, and quite a variety of creatures can be found there. Finding one of the youngsters is especially fun, and when they’re feeling sociable, it’s even better.

    1. Isn’t he fine? I was completely surprised by his willingness to hang around, and I was really happy when he turned on his perch and the sun lit up his eye a bit more. Just now, I wondered whether Audubon would have portrayed the juvenile, and he did.

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