The shorebirds are beginning to flock together, even as the summer songbirds are still plentiful. With the blue skies and bright sunshine, it was a wonderful day to spend at my favorite national wildlife refuge!
I parked my car along Bear Swamp Pool, and just sat and watched for awhile this afternoon. An unusual movement in the reeds caught my attention. A Least Bittern was hunting for minnows at the edge of the water. Can you see him in the photograph above? Here… let me blow it up for you.
There he is, hidden away behind the first row of reeds. The Least Bittern is both one of the smallest bitterns and arguably, one of the shyest. They prefer to stay in dense reed thickets where they are surprisingly well camouflaged.
As soon as I took the first photo, this fellow immediately took off deeper into the reeds. These were the only two photos I could take before he scurried away.
A strongly territorial bird, Black-Necked Stilts aggressively defend their nesting areas and their chicks. This Mama bird was protectively watching over her birds when a Red-Winged Blackbird repeatedly intruded into the Stilts’ territory.
Each time, Mama would take off and chase the Blackbird until it would retreat to a far corner of the impoundment.
Then she would glide back in to watch over her babies once again, only to repeat the exercise when the tenacious Blackbird would get too close.
As the Blackbird would fly away, Mama would relax as she returned to her chicks.
The chicks didn’t seem the least bit alarm by Mama’s forays around the marsh.
They simply continued feeding in the flooded grassy areas. The adult Stilts will remain with their chicks in their breeding areas until the chicks are capable of sustained flight, usually when they’re around a month old. By the end of July, the Stilts will begin congregating together to prepare for their long migration back to Central and South America.
As I drove through Bombay Hook, I saw this Great Blue Heron struggling to carry a fish to shallow water.
Now, Great Blues swallow their prey whole. I just couldn’t quite imagine how this bird was going to get that great big fish down it’s skinny neck. He struggled for over a half an hour…
… sometimes dropping the fish in the water…
… other times grabbing the fish head first to get it in position for swallowing!
Then, the Heron would flip the bird up in a gesture that would nearly pull the bird into the water before he would drop the fish and start all over.
Finally, the Heron maneuvered the bird just so…
… and with a sudden jerk, flipped the fish up so that it began to slide down his throat.
Amazingly, the Heron’s throat seemed to expand to fit the widest part of the fish.
One giant gulp, and down the fish slid!
The most surprising part of all? Within five minutes of swallowing that fish, the Heron went back to hunting for more!
Mama Willet was protectively watching over her two chicks this morning, though only one shows up in the photo. The serene moment was broken when a Black-Necked Stilt flew in near the chicks.
Mama Willet sprang into action, chasing the Stilt from her baby. The Stilt rang the alarm, and several more Stilts joined the fray.
Mama Willet was relentless, chasing the Stilts over and over.
Eventually, the Stilts retreated to the far end of the island in the middle of the impound, and Mama Willet returned to her chicks, who had hidden in the tall grass.
I didn’t see any unusual birds at Bombay Hook today. The ones who showed up, however, showed up in their finest attire, finding the best branches on which to perch, set against the best backdrops. All in all, it was a glorious day for birding.
I pulled up along Wildlife Road at Bombay Hook and the Great Horned Owl nest was so close to the road that I could take a photo clearly showing one of the owlets in the crook of the tree with my iphone. Thank goodness, however, for telephoto lens!
Using the car as a blind, I remained on the road so as not to stress the owlets. With the lens set at 300mm, the second owlet popped his head over one of the branches of the tree.
With the lens fully extended to 500 mm, I felt like I was in the tree with the owlets.
Great Horned Owls, the largest common owl in the Americas, lives year around in all but the northern-most reaches of North America. They prefer a habitat that includes a mix of forest and open areas. Within that habitat, they most often adopt a nest built by another species, such as Red-Tailed and other hawks, herons or even squirrels! At a nearby refuge this year, a Great Horned Owl adopted a nest on a man-made Osprey platform and recently an owlet has been peaking over the edge of the platform!
Great Horned Owls, fierce and adaptable predators, hunt prey as large or larger than they are, including Peregrine Falcons, Osprey, and mammals such as Marmots, Skunks, and Woodchucks. According to Cornell’s allaboutbirds website, when clenched, it takes 28 pounds of pressure to open a Great Horned Owl’s talons. With this powerful grip, they break the spines of larger prey.
Looking closely in his eyes, I can see the predator this baby will become.