Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bulletin 220 - Best of 10 years #3 - waders, water and marsh birds

In this edition, I will look at my favorite photos of the groups that include cranes, waterfowl, herons and rails etc. Many ducks are beautiful in the breeding plumage. The first is the amazing Wood Duck. I photographed this bird in Hermann Park in downtown Houston in 2008.

Wood Duck - male
The next one is the Ruddy Duck. The male in breeding plumage is rusty red, with a black and white head, stiff black tail and blue bill. I saw this bird in Carmel California in 2007 and is the only one I have ever seen in this plumage.

Ruddy Duck - male

The next two birds were photographed in Barrow Alaska in 2010. The male King Eider has a colorful face.

King Eider - male

The Long-tailed Duck was formerly know as Oldsquaw. The breeding male here has a black head and neck with a white face. The body is brown and of course he has long spiky tail feathers.

Long-tailed Duck - male
The Nene is the state bird of Hawaii and it is a handsome goose. The easiest place to see it is on Kauai as there are no introduced mongoose. They can be seen around the resorts etc. On Hawaii and Maui, they are high up on the mountains to avoid predation by the mongoose, so are much more difficult to find.

The 52 " Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America. It is also one of the rarest birds in the world with a wild population less than 500 birds. In the 1941 the population fell to just 23 birds and a joint USA and Canada project was launched to save the species. They summer in northern Alberta and winter on the Texas coast. Attempts are being made to establish other flocks in Florida, Louisiana, and a migratory flock in Wisconsin that was taught to migrate to Florida using an ultralight aircraft as was pioneered in the movie 'Fly Away Home'. See the article in Wikipedia for more info on these efforts.

Whooping Crane
Aransas NWR - Texas
Herons and egrets are very common in the Houston area so we get kind of blase about seeing them, but I have selected 4 for inclusion in my favorites, 2 from my local area, and 2 from Panama.

The most difficult to find member of this family in the USA is the secretive 13" Least Bittern. Fortunately, Anahuac NWR is considered the best place in the USA to look for them. In the summer of 2008, my goal was to get a good photo of this bird. I went there Saturday and Sunday for 2 weekends in a row, but just got some mediocre photos. The next weekend, I tried again. I parked my car at the boardwalk and I guess this bird felt sorry for all my efforts as it climbed up on the reeds to eye level right in front of my car, 15 feet away.
Least Bittern - female
The Reddish Egret is a salt water bird. It occurs around the Gulf coast, and on the Pacific coast from Mexico southwards. Some of the birds are pure white however, and they are rare. Sibley says about 2-7% of the Gulf coast birds are white. None of the Pacific coast birds are. This bird was reported on Bolivar flats in July 2008, and I went the next weekend and found it. It is the only pure white morph bird I have ever seen. So how does one ID this all white bird as this species rather than some other common white heron or egret. First by the size, it is large 30" and much taller than 24" Cattle or Snowy Egrets. Also the location, along salt water. But the pink lower mandible is a clue as the Great Egret has a yellow bill. Also the shaggy plumes on the neck and chest are diagnostic for this species.

Reddish Egret - white morph
The Capped Heron is a really pretty bird with its blue skin around the eye, black cap, yellowish neck and long plumes. It is a South American bird whose range extends into Panama. We only saw this one bird, but he sat still and allowed multiple photos.

Capped Heron

The last heron is the Boat-billed Heron. This nocturnal bird uses stays hidden during the day, but the guide in Panama knew of a roosting place and we saw perhaps 20 birds, both adults and juveniles. It is similar to the common Black-crowned Night-Heron, but has the peculiar enormous bill. I think I had seen this bird only once before in Brazil.

Boat-billed Heron - adult

The rails, coots and gallinules make up a family of chicken-like marsh birds. The coots and gallinules are common and easily seen in the open. Rails, however, are secretive and in general hard to see as they stay in the reeds. My best rail photo in the USA is this Virginia Rail that I photographed in Carmel, California in 2010.

Virginia Rail
The most easily seen rail in the Central America is the 15" Gray-necked Wood-Rail. I had seen it several times before, but on the Costa Rica trip, I got my fist photo of this bird.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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