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.

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.