"The Night Hunter"
Sometimes you just have to be with the experts to learn the tricks of spotting birds.
I was enjoying one of those field trips with the Red Cliffs Audubon in Nevada, at the Henderson Bird Preserve. It was in the early morning hours and our group was walking around the ponds to see what birds had migrated in. Even in early morning, the sun was hot and I was wishing I had brought my hat. It was about then that I noticed the electric touring cart for visitors had one empty seat . . . and so I chose to ride, rather than walk around the ponds. It was a real treat to have two expert birder employees in the cart to take us around the ponds. As we drove they pointed out Mallards, Ruddy Ducks, some Long-billed Curlews, Moorhens, and a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Hey wait . . . where was the Night-Heron? Our guide pointed and said, "right over there." It was still invisible to all of us. He told us to look for the white blotch in the reeds. We backed the cart and looked at what we thought was an old plastic bag half way up the reeds in the pond. It took binoculars and a second look to see it, sitting three feet above the water, and yes, it was a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Our guide told us this is what Night-Herons do, they roost and rest during the day in the reeds or in a tree, and can be spotted easily, if you know what to look for. We know now!
Black-crowned Night-Herons are aptly named as they are active in the dark, hunting from dusk to dawn. Lots of food is available in the dark, like amphibians, toads, frogs, etc. This heron feeds when other herons are asleep. If you are in wetlands, and you see a hump-backed silhouette or a bird in a slouch position, it is probably a Night-Heron. This species is one of the most abundant herons in the world. Adult Black-crowned Night-Herons are unstinting, and willing to share their nest to brood chicks not their own. When Night-Herons hunt for food, they may stay motionless for long periods of time . . . until the right meal comes along. Some times Night-Herons will rapidly open and close the beak in the water to create a disturbance that attracts its prey, known as bill vibrating. This is an opportunistic hunter in any wetland situation, including fish hatcheries, where they are considered a pest. I consider it exciting to see even one.
The Henderson Bird Preserve is free and open to the public. If you decide to go, make it in the spring when the desert is blooming, like tomorrow. Be sure to search the ponds for the sleepy Black-crowned Night-herons. The picture this week is by Marilyn Davis. If you have questions about birds or Red Cliff Audubon activities, call 435 673-0996.