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.


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Winging It


While most of us have seen birds splashing in water to find relief during hot weather, other cooling techniques are available to them. Lifting or spreading their wings, allowing the flow of air across unfeathered or less-feathered body parts, also helps to dissipate the heat of summer.

Because I’ve usually been at work and without a camera at hand when I’ve seen great blue herons engaging in the behavior, I was especially pleased to find this pied-billed grebe with raised wings at the Brazoria Wildflife Refuge near the end of July.

Despite their reputation for being a bit skittish and camera-shy, this grebe continued its behavior for nearly fifteen minutes. Raising and lowering its wings in a slow, repetitive pattern allowed body heat to escape, and keeping its wings raised for as much as a minute at a time might have caught a bit of breeze as well.


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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!
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