Tag Archives: Snowy Egrets

Grand Heron of the Great Marsh: Cape Ann’s Great Blue Herons

Mostly elegant, though sometimes appearing comically Pterodactylus-like, the Great Blue Heron is found in nearly every region of the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as the southern provinces of Canada.

Its light weight, a mere five pounds, belies the fact that the Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest heron, with a wingspan of up to six and a half feet and a height of four and a half feet. I write elegant because it truly has a grace unsurpassed when in repose or waiting to strike a fish. Images of Pterodactylus come to mind when you see the bird battling for territory with other herons or flapping about in a tree top; the Heron loses all its sophisticated exquisiteness, transformed into what looks like a great winged beast.

Pterodactylus images courtesy wiki commons media

This summer past was a tremendous year for observing herons and egrets on Cape Ann. Our marshes, ponds, and waterways were rife with Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Herons, American Bitterns, and especially Great Blue Herons.

Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets, Cape Ann

At every location Great Blue Herons were foraging either with a flock of mixed herons and egrets, or in a solitary manner. Great Blue Herons hunt day and night and I would often find them at daybreak. They will stand quietly for hours, repeatedly striking the water with lightning speed, and nearly always resurfacing with a fish or frog. Great Blue Herons are survivalists and their diet is wide ranging, including large and small fish, frogs, insects, small mammals, and even other birds. Because of its highly varied diet, the Great Blue Heron is able to spend winters further north than most other species of herons and egrets. Even when waters freeze, we still see them on our shores well into December.

Great Blue Herons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as cranes, which they are not. Cranes are entirely different species. Bas relief at Crane Estate, Ipswich.

Don’t you think it amazing how perfectly these largest of North America’s herons meld with the surrounding landscape?

Here are some moments from this past summer and autumn observing the elegant (mostly) and elusive Great Blue Heron.

Fishing – Great Blue Herons capture small fish and amphibians by plunging into water and then swallowing whole the prey. They also use their powerful bills like a dagger to spear larger fish.

Great Blue Heron range map

Snowy Egrets Flight

I often think of this quote from the Dalai Lama when watching birds and butterflies in flight – “give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back, and reasons to stay.”

The clip of the Snowy Egrets in flight was shot on a still and hazy summer afternoon, late in the day after the birds had been foraging in the marsh. As soon as the Egret flew above the tree line, the atmosphere became clearer and I imagined it was quiet and peaceful in the windless treetops. The Egret was joined by four more Snowies as they headed off to their night roost.

A SUMMER SIEGE

A congregation of egrets has many collective names including skewer, siege, sedge, wedge, and congregation. I like the names siege and congregation and the above photo shows a siege of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets preening after a day of fishing at the Jones River Salt Marsh.

SNOWY EGRETS SYNCHRONIZED BATHING

Four Snowy Egrets preening and one turtle photobombing

A FINE FROGGY LUNCH FOR A LITTLE BLUE HERON

First hatch year Little Blue Heron eating an American Bullfrog

Why is this not so little white heron called a Little Blue Heron? Compared to a Great Blue Heron, it is relatively smaller. As to the entirely white plumage, this is a first hatch year Little Blue in its white phase. In the second spring and summer, the white feathers will gradually be replaced by beautiful slate blue feathers, giving the bird a temporary and unique calico appearance.

Little Blue herons are closely related to Snowy Egrets and the white immature morphs feed alongside the Snowys. You can tell them apart easily not only by bill and feet, but by their feeding habits. Snowy Egrets forage with a great deal of flourish, agitating the water with their feet, and vigorously fluttering, flapping, and flying along the shoreline. Little Blue Herons are stealth hunters, moving with slow deliberation before executing an exacting capture.

Beautiful Harvest Moonrise-Moonset

harvest-moon-2016-copyright-kim-smithLast night’s Harvest Moon rising was spectacular, especially the striations of clouds in the moonglow. Early this morning the moon was nearly as big and beautiful too, and as I was setting up my gear, Snowy Egrets flew into the setting moon.harvest-moon-set-snowy-egret-copyright-kim-smith