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 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.