One Last Neighbor ~ The Night Shift Worker

My black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

In apartment complexes without assigned parking, finding an empty spot isn’t always easy. I thought it odd that two spaces convenient to my new apartment never were occupied, but I was pleased.

Then, I took a better look at the concrete in those spaces. Lying beneath a large live oak planted at the edge of the parking lot, they were spattered with what appeared to be white paint. Clearly, a bird was parking just above those spaces, and given the size of the splotches of excreted waste, it probably was a heron.

I began parking elsewhere, and spent a few days scanning the tree to see if I could find the bird. Eventually, I spotted it: an adult black-crowned night heron so well-hidden that a casual observer never would find it. Two days later, it had chosen a different branch, and I was able to snap a few photos.

These short, stocky birds usually are seen in profile, at the edge of the marshes and waterways where they hunt. Shooting up at the bird provided a new and utterly charming way of seeing it. In particular, its face seemed rotund, and a little chubby; I couldn’t help laughing, even as I admired its decorative white head plumes.

Eventually, the bird allowed a bit of a profile shot, showing off its thick, ready-for-serious hunting bill and a hint of the solid black back that matches its crown.

Although it watched me as I moved around, searching for better vantage points, it never left its branch, and never showed any sign of feeling threatened. Eventually it turned away slightly, gave me one last, coy glance, and then tucked its head into its feathers, ready for a nap before the evening’s hunt.

 

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.

The Watchers In the Shadows

In the early 1980s, during another partial solar eclipse in Houston, the sight of crescent-shaped shadows beneath live oak trees enchanted me. The memory never faded, and I was eager to revisit the experience during this week’s eclipse.

As neighbors gathered, buckets of water, colanders, saltine crackers, and even Pringles potato chip cans worked perfectly well as viewing devices.

Still, the trees were my favorite.

Even on concrete, the little crescent moons they shed were well-defined.

When rising winds tumbled their branches, the shapes shifted in unpredictable ways. Here, a school of angel fish crosses their concrete reef.

Captivated by shadows on the ground, I hardly noticed the murmuring above my head until it grew louder and more insistent.

Scanning the branches, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Other watchers had awakened and had begun to stretch, scratch, and perhaps even think about fishing.

Green heron (Butorides virescens)
Black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Whether the herons felt the rising wind, sensed changes in the light, were attuned to the slight drop in temperature, or simply were curious about the humans below, they chattered and stirred until, as the moon moved away and the bright afternoon returned, they settled in again on their branches.

Tonight, the humans have gone, the slivered moon has set, and the herons are calling through the darkness. At first light, they will return to the trees and spend the day drowsing there among the branches. While their habits are less predictable than an eclipse, no glasses are needed to see them, and no years-long wait is required.

 

Comments always are welcome.