Sumer is Agoin Out

Please refer to my last blog if you’re curious about the title. No, there are no typos. Hurricane Florence, that “uninvited brute,” though more like a “minor annoyance” here, had made landfall in North Carolina. My wife and I went for a walk at the Elizabeth River Park in Chesapeake. Water levels were unusually high. One of the docks was completely underwater and we noted fish in the parking lot. Something in the bushes that line the park spooked me. It was an immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron wrestling with something in the grass. It was wrestling with a grasshopper.

Young Yellow-crowned Night Heron eating a grasshopper
Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yes, this is a wading bird, mainly a coastal bird, and a bird we associate with water. But one often sees these birds in areas like this–upland areas, parks etc., provided the areas are near water. They are also found further inland. This heron’s favorite food is crustaceans, like the blue crab. I have a drawing of one here, courtesy of my granddaughter, Abigail Johnson.

Abby's Chesapeake blue crab
Abby’s Chesapeake blue crab

They’re Still Learning

But this heron’s diet also consists of insects, like this hapless grasshopper. The bird we observed was obviously still learning to capture prey. It reminded me of the bird on the bridge at Paradise Creek Nature Park that didn’t look too sure of itself. Though there’s a degree of hard wiring in place, and instinct certainly kicks in, there’s still a learning curve for these youngsters.

Here’s a composite of 4 photos that I took in sequence of the heron. View left to right in the top row first, then view left to right in the bottom row.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron composite
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron composite

The above makes me think of a story about another young bird, an immature Little Blue Heron. Caroline Haines, a fellow-birder up in MA, just shared it with me. She’s like so many birders who are fascinated by bird behavior. The little blue was feeding like our bird above. While feeding “it grabbed a dragonfly and swallowed it quickly, only to cough it right up. The heron tried again and coughed up the bedraggled dragonfly a second time. Then the bird decided to try swallowing the corpse with a gulp of water, like a human swallows a pill. But noooooo, up it came again! The heron finally gave up, spat out the dragonfly again, and went after a frog, which slid down easily.” Great story, Caroline!

Great Photographic Targets

Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are neat birds, because unlike many birds and much wildlife you can get close to them. We were probably 15′ away, if that. And they’re large. For those reasons, they’re good photographic targets whether they’re stationary or in flight. One doesn’t need a ‘bazooka,’ a super long focal length lens, to capture them. Ospreys are also great targets. So are Great Egrets. This explains why you see so many photos of these species here. Hummingbirds wouldn’t fall into this category.

This heron is a hatch-year bird and is now on its own. It will soon migrate right on schedule and to a place it’s never been before. We’ve talked about birds and the imagination. Imagine what a journey like that must be like for a recently fledged bird. This bird will probably wind up in the same place as our Royal Tern–somewhere in the West Indies.

Here’s a photo of some other birds that will be joining the heron, though in all likelihood they’ve left already.

juvenile Ospreys atop crane
Juvenile Ospreys atop a crane

I took this shot at Great Bridge Lock Park. These Ospreys were born and raised on this inactive crane. Imagine that! Ospreys, like all birds, are resourceful and opportunistic. These two could wind up in the West Indies as well, but they could also wind up in Central or South America. Like the heron, they’ll be traveling alone and to wintering grounds they’ve never been to before.

More Crabbers!

As sumer is agoin out, and autumn is acumen in, (and we’ll soon be knee deep in September), we can’t wrap things up without posting a last summer of ’18 shot. This is another in our long line of ‘indicator photos’ (photos that indicate the health of the Elizabeth). And it’s a composite like the one above.

Crabbing composite: three photos of people crabbing from a boat
Crabbing composite

These were crabbers I captured from the dock and woods at the Preserve on the Elizabeth. I like these photos because they capture people in action, and people doing what people do. These are also examples of street photography, though we could call them examples of ‘river photography’ here.

But My Pledge

As you can tell, I’ve become interested in crabbing, especially blue crabbing, while doing this blog. Now some might be concerned that this blog is morphing into a crab blog, or a rock ‘n’ roll blog (think Aretha), or a weekly photo essay. But don’t worry. It isn’t. It is, and will continue to be, a bird blog. We’ll continue to focus on birds and other wildlife in the Elizabeth River watershed.

Having said that, I love to learn about new things, and I’m enjoying learning about crabbing. There’s not much crabbing where I come from: north of Cape Cod. One of the many things I’ve learned is this: crabbing isn’t a subsistence activity. I thought it was. There are folks who engage in it to feed their families. But there are folks who engage in it just for fun. This kind of parallels fishing. There are subsistence anglers and there are recreational anglers. (Ospreys would be subsistence anglers, don’t you think?) I’ve also learned that people crab from boats. I didn’t know that either.

You Come Too

And with autumn acumen in, it’s time for the Great Migration Bird Walk at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth. Please join us on Sat. 9/29 from 8-10 am. And if you have children over 8 yrs., please bring them along. I love it when kids join us. I’m a big kid myself.

Fall is a great time to visit the park. Migrants pass through in good numbers, and we’ll be poised to spot them during the walk. And who knows? We could come across a rarity or two. Birding is always exciting because of its unpredictable nature.

So come prepared. It could be a routine walk, though no walk is routine there. Or it could be an unforgettable experience. Hopefully, it will be the latter!  Over 150 species have been spotted in this ‘destination for birds’ so far.

Quip, Question, Quote

Nature is the way that God communicates to us most forcefully. (attributed to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.)



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