Now What?

 

If you’ve ever felt as though you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, you might feel some kinship with this pied-billed grebe, who seems to have caught more than it can swallow.

Field guides note that grebes consume aquatic insects, crustaceans, leeches,  tadpoles, mollusks, and ‘small’ fish, but when this grebe popped up in front of me, fish firmly clenched in its bill, I was surprised by the fish’s size: it looked more suited to a heron than a grebe.

On the other hand, the fish wasn’t struggling to get away, perhaps because the grebe already had begun the process of repeatedly pinching the fish with its strong bill, killing it by damaging its internal organs.

What happened next I can’t say, since after only a few seconds the grebe spotted me and dove beneath the surface of the water. I never saw it again, and presume it surfaced in the midst of some nearby reeds, where it could continue dining in peace.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Apparition

 

Scanning the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge’s water lily-filled pond for waterfowl or alligators, I glanced toward the shoreline and found myself eye-to-eye with what only could be called an apparition.

Usually associated with the Virgin Mary, departed pets, or an assortment of unidentifiable ghosts, ‘apparition’ also is defined as “anything that appears unexpectedly or in an extraordinary way.” The word certainly applied to this American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus): a secretive, often difficult to observe bird that I’d never seen, never thought about, and certainly didn’t expect to find patrolling a local pond.

Apparently the inability of birders to track down American bitterns is common. A secretive marsh bird with impressive camouflage, they often fade away into similarly-colored vegetation, or remain unnoticed as they freeze to avoid detection: neck and bill pointed toward the sky, and eyes cast downward. During the half-hour or more that I watched this bird, it never moved from its spot, seemingly content to raise or lower its neck as I moved from one place to another on the boardwalk.

The bird can perplex even the experts. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that, “Because of this species’ secretive nature and inaccessible habitats, remarkably little is known about the basic aspects of its biology, including sources of mortality, habitat use, mating systems, and population structure.”

Now that I know the bird can be found here, I’ll be watching for it, and hoping to hear its ‘song’ in the spring. 

Dr. Frederic Reid, director of conservation programs at Ducks Unlimited, describes the American Bittern call as sounding like the phrase ‘pump-er-lunk.’  “You’re in the middle of the marsh, you hear this noise, and it sounds mechanical,” he says.

Listening to the so-called song on the Cornell site, I had to agree; it brought to mind the sound of the hand pump in my grandmother’s back yard. I’m only glad I saw the bird before hearing it. If I’d heard it first, I might have dismissed it as a piece of malfunctioning equipment.

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.