Top Photo: Great blue heron.

Great blue herons (GBHs) are by far the most often observed heron in our wetlands. They, along with green herons, nest locally. Though green herons tend to move either to the coast or to the south after mid October, great blue herons may be seen at any time of the year. A thick layer of ice on the pond is the only deterrent to a great blue heron showing up.

GBH peers down at prey.
This is what the prey sees.

Frogs, fish, in fact, any aquatic life as well as birds, and small mammals are what GBHs eat. If any of those things are available a GBH will consume them.

A bullfrog for the heron.
GBH takes a bath in the wetlands.
A young GBH.
Adult GBH.

A curious behavior of GBHs is what I call the parabol stance. The bird stands upright, neck stretched out, with wings drooped to its sides and cupped, like a parabolic dish.

Catching maximum sun.

The heron faces directly into the sun as if to capture as much heat as possible. While in this stance, the bird invariably “pants,” its gular pouch vibrating rapidly (the white area below bill in photo). I’ve heard and seen photos of other species of heron taking the stance but have never witnessed it in person, except in GBH.

I believe the bird is attempting to rid itself of insect parasites who can not stand the heat and are therefore forced to move around through the bird’s feathers to avoid overheating, revealing themselves to the heron. The parasites are picked off during the subsequent preening following this behavior. The “panting” is a way of dissipating heat from the bird’s body acquired during the “stance.”

Great egrets tend to visit during late summer or fall. Spring is the season with the fewest sightings. Though, any season is possible.

This great egret arrived on a cold, wet day in December, 2011.
Same egret two weeks later.
The egret preens in a loblolly pine next to the wetlands.
The once abundant golden shiners kept the egret in place.
Another great egret arrived in August of 2012 but it was a brief stay.
Great egret (9/3/19).
This great egret dropped by on July 10, 2021.

Green herons are typically with us from mid April till mid September. Occasionally one shows up during winter.

Green heron with golden shiner.
You can see where the common name green heron comes from.
Green heron captures frog.
Green heron after bathing.
Sharing rock with young yellow-bellied sliders.
A fat bullfrog tadpole.
This green heron showed up on the unlikely date of 1/30/14 but was here only one day.

In April of 2017 a little blue heron dropped in to the wetlands. It was a young bird and hadn’t molted into its adult blue plumage. They’re white their first year of life.

Little blue heron in immature plumage.
You can just make out blue feathers coming in.

It’s always a treat to see a night-heron here at the museum. I’ve only seen them in spring (April – June) and they have always been birds in immature plumage.

Yellow-crowned night-heron in immature plumage (April 2018).
Molting into adult plumage (May 2011).
Same bird as above (June 2011).

And, black-crowned night-heron.

Black-crowned night-heron immature plumage (May 2008).

And finally, a bird I have not seen in our wetlands, but one that could appear, tricolored heron. The one pictured was at Sandy Creek Park, about 6 miles southwest, as the heron flies, from the museum. There’s no reason a tricolored heron couldn’t pop up in the wetlands.

Tricolored heron (9/21/15).

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