The Dawn Patrol

Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) ~ Galveston Island

On the Gulf-facing beaches of Galveston Island, dedicated surfers known as the Dawn Patrol arrive at first light. Disciplined and motivated, they add their own experience-based knowledge to the apps that help them gauge wind and waves before paddling out into the surf: hoping for a good ride.

The beauty of the sunrise, the uncrowded waves, and a certain edginess associated with still-roaming noctural predators all combine to make membership in the Dawn Patrol irresistable for some. Even in Galveston, where waves hardly rival those in other parts of the country, there are pleasures to be had.

Meanwhile, on the bay side of the island, a different sort of dawn patrol comes to life in the rising light. Herons, egrets, ducks, and ibis stir among the reeds and rise up from the water, ready to begin another day. Arrive early enough, and you may find one basking in the open, touched by that first, golden light.


Comments always are welcome.

62 thoughts on “The Dawn Patrol

    1. The eye certainly is dramatic. I enjoyed seeing the tiny plumes on top of its head, as well. I’m not entirely sure if they’re left over from its early days, or if they might be the first sign of adult plumes.

      1. Even in my suburban neighborhood, these herons seem to be among the most plentiful species. I often see adults, and recently there was a juvenile in the live oak behind my place. Wherever they’re found, they’re a delightful sight.

  1. That’s the look my cat gets when she’s about to bite me.
    As they say, “Get the eye in focus and the rest will take care of itself.”
    Nicely done…love the focus, and all the vertical leading lines take you right up to the heron’s head.

    1. I know that look. I have a photo of Dixie Rose I captioned, “Me Cat — You Worthless.”

      I don’t know if it’s these birds’ preference, but I often come across them facing away from the sun. This one was perfectly positioned: perhaps because the sun still was relatively low. In any event, it was a good reminder that getting out early has some real advantages.

    1. Some of its companions were more inclined to take flight, but this one seemed content to rest in the sunlight a bit longer. Perhaps we’re not the only ones who enjoy lingering in bed or with a cup of coffee before beginning the day.

  2. I would have a distinct preference for the avian dawn patrol. Yellow-crowned Night Herons very occasionally stray into Ontario, much to the excitement of the birding fraternity. A surfer would barely make an impression!

    1. Birds over boards it is, then. On the other hand, it’s interesting that many surf-related companies and programs are dedicated to more than catching the next wave. Here, the Dawn Patrol Surf Company highlights the importance of working on behalf of bees, , and some of the Galveston surfers are active in protecting sea turtles and their eggs. They depend on the natural world for their fun, and they’re serious about preserving it.

    1. They’re beautifully camouflaged, that’s for sure. This one was perched on a railing, which pleased me no end, but when they lurk in the grasses, they can be difficult to spot.

    1. That made me smile, Jeanie. You thought of herons as one species, and I was wandering around calling everything “a pretty flower.” I had no idea that flowers had families, or that a sparrow wasn’t ‘just a sparrow.’ We live and learn, for sure — and isn’t it fun?

  3. I’m another who’s more interested in the avian dawn patrol. It would feel magical to be there just as all the birds were getting active. Beautiful photograph – the orange eye is most striking.

    1. Come down to the shore at dawn and you can see both sorts of creatures patrolling the surf! It is a wonderful time. Given our heat, I’ve been making more of an effort to get out and about earlier, and when I can, it’s always worthwhile. This one’s eye was shining like a jewel; I couldn’t believe how vibrant it was.

  4. What absolutely beautiful prose, and wonderfully paired with the photo. I just love when everything comes together perfectly as it does here.

    1. What kind words, Todd. After the phrase ‘dawn patrol’ came to mind, pairing the bird with our surfers seemed perfect. Now that I think about it, the bird does have the look of a surfer at the shore, staring out at the water and hoping for just the right conditions. In both cases, concentration is everything!

    1. The photo did come out nicely, didn’t it? Of course the hardest part was getting myself on the road to be at the refuge just after dawn, but it certainly was worth it. The light changes quickly at sunrise and sunset, but it can create some wonderful effects.

  5. This is a lovely capture, Linda — the lighting is just right, and I love the look in this heron’s eye. Maybe he’s merely waiting for breakfast to show up, but I’m inclined to think he’s mentally preparing for the day ahead. Kind of like his morning pep talk!

    1. Wouldn’t it be fun to know what the creatures around us are thinking? I’m sure they don’t ‘think’ in precisely the same way that we do, but they clearly are capable of reasoning; that’s why they spend time looking around their world and deciding what their next move should be. This one is old enough that I suspect he’s fishing on his own, even if he’s sitting there wishing mom and dad would bring breakfast to him!

  6. I looks like it’s contemplating a successful day of hunting! It’s a beautiful photo; I especially like the way the background plant echos the vertical form of the heron’s plumage markings.

    1. I was concentrating so hard on getting relatively close to the bird without spooking it I didn’t even notice the pleasant background until I saw the photo on the computer. It does work well. I think it’s some sort of rush, perhaps combined with cattails. There’s a variety along the shoreline there.

  7. That’s a fine portrait and even as a juvenile these are striking birds. Especially with that eye!

    Your title first brought to mind the dawn chorus I hear as light begins to brighten the day in the early hours.

    1. And your comment brought to mind Thomas Merton’s introduction to his book Confessions of a Guilty Bystander:

      “How the valley awakes. At two-fifteen there are no sounds except in the monastery: the bells ring, the office begins. Outside, nothing, except perhaps a bullfrog saying “Om” in the creek or in the guesthouse pond. Some nights he is in Samadhi; there is not even “Om”. The mysterious and uninterrupted whooping of the whippoorwill begins about three, these mornings. He is not always near. Sometimes there are two whooping together, perhaps a mile away in the woods in the east.

      The first chirps of the waking day birds mark the “point vierge” of the dawn under a sky as yet without real light, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence, when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes. They begin to speak to Him, not with fluent song, but with an awakening question that is their dawn state, their state at the “point vierge”. Their condition asks if it time for them to “be.” He answers “yes.” Then, they one by one wake up, and become birds. They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing. Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.”

      It’s a great passage. You can find the first page or two here.

  8. What a gorgeous picture. A live work of art
    (Both sets of our juvenile night herons in the neighborhood survived. The twins are off, but the late one – the one whose parents had their first legs stolen/trashed – is still hanging around his tree looking confused late each afternoon – outgrown his nest – a small quickly made one – is barely a few twigs crossed anymore. The kid’s just going to have to relize eventually you jut can’t go home any more.)
    Lovely post which captured dawn on the beach and bay perfectly

    1. Well, we got that bit of WP foolishness straightened out. Another friend was having problems and discovered that cross-site tracking was the issue. That never had occurred to me, because I use Firefox, which disables such trackers by default. Now I have something to suggest to others who have problems getting signed in.

      As for your herons: congrats to their parents for their persistence. That young’un will figure it out soon enough. Perhaps that’s what the one in the photo was doing: figurin’ — in the country sense.

  9. The young folk resplendent in their dotted swiss finery. That orange eye. I can just see it doing the “teenage roll.”

    1. What a great image. I wonder what the heron equivalent of “Mommmmm…” would be. Maybe it was Mom who sent this one out to catch its own breakfast for once.

    1. He’s learning to be a bird! Unlike the fish, he’s not part of a school, but I’ll bet with some parental guidance and some older birds to help out, he’ll do just fine.

    1. There are a lot of morning treats to be enjoyed other than coffee and doughnuts — and many of them are less fattening. I still have to have my coffee, but I do enjoy substituting treats like this bird for my old habits. Besides, down at the refuges it can be pretty quiet in the earliest hours, and that makes sights like this more possible.

    1. At this age, they often surprise me when I come across them in the grasses alongside the ponds or bayous. They can disappear into the foliage — which is the point, of course! I suppose their speckling serves the same purpose as the coats of fawns, and it sure does work.

      The radar’s been suggesting that you’re a winner in the rain lottery. There have been scattered showers around here — very scattered — but the Cenizo has burst into bloom in the past day or so. I’m a believer in the barometer bush, so I’m expecting rain of some sort here.

    1. The golden tinge to its feathers did transform those white spots and streaks, and probably added a bit to the color of its eye, too. It was a lovely sight.

  10. I enjoy watching surfers, Linda, especially when they are facing really big waves. But I much prefer to spend my early morning hours watching birds as they go about their business. –Curt

    1. Now and then, it seems that the early birds — especially the gulls — enjoy watching the surfers, too. The surfers, of course, pay no attention to the birds; they have other things on their minds. Like you, I enjoy watching the surfers, but the birds interest me far more.

      The river cruise must be over by now — at least, I hope it is. I’d hate to think you were browsing online in the midst of that experience!

      1. Laughing, I was in Amsterdam. Not much time for blogging when we were on the boat. What an experience. Peggy and I have now found a form of cruising we can tolerate. Next up, the Nile, always one of my dreams. But there will be a lot of wandering North America again before we get to that.
        Now we are busy settling into our base camp, i.e. the efficiency apartment our daughter has attached to her house. W’ve downsized in extreme. The size happily fits us however. –Curt

        1. I’ve been doing some downsizing of my own, thanks in part to the upcoming hurricane season. Every year I look around, evaluate what should go and what could stay, and when I come across something that I’d be perfectly willing to lose to a storm, I take a minute to evaluate whether it might be time to let it go. My most recent project was a cull of the bookshelves. I donated some to the library, gave some away, and took those that no one wanted to Half-Price Books, where I exchanged them for the equivalent of two tanks of gas! It wasn’t quite bartering, but it was close.

          1. Wow, two tanks of gas! For Iorek that would be over $200. I like your approach. We should have used fire as our incentive. Getting ready to evacuate on a moment’s notice did force us to do some hard thinking, however. –Curt

            1. The sentimental stuff is the hardest to deal with. Still, we can pack a lot of memories and documents into Lorek or Princess. The plates, cups, shoes, and t-shirts will take care of themselves.

    1. Isn’t it? Human teenagers sometimes appear awkward, but there’s no awkwardness evident here. Now, if it were to try perching atop a tree, that might be a different story.

    1. Now that you mention it, that certainly is true. I’m in awe of the ones who’ll head off at 4 a.m. to be at a blind or other location well before dawn. Just hitting the road in the pre-dawn light’s about the best I can do, but the rewards certainly are there.

        1. To be honest, our recent heat has changed my patterns somewhat. Trying to be at work by 6:30 or 7:00 is setting up the sort of habit that makes early weekend rising easier.

    1. They are attractive youngsters. This is what it will look like as an adult. I often see the adults. They’ll line any median or ditch, even in town, if there’s some damp ground or water flowing. I suspect they’re probing for crawfish.

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