Thursday, May 28, 2015
Black-backed Night Herons
I have been concentrating my photographic efforts on a pond in Upper Marlboro, heavily frequented by Wood Ducks this time of year. I counted thirty adults in one spot a few mornings ago — and those were just the ones I could see!
While standing at one end of the pond, I saw a heron at the other end of the pond that I did not recognize. It had body characteristics similar to Green Heron (which I have also seen there on each visit), but differed in other markings, including color.
They proved to be Black-crowned Night Herons, which are found world-wide and which are suppose to be fairly common in the U. S. Despite that fact, I have never seen one until the past week. The closest I have come is having seen juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Herons, a similar species, numerous times. There again, however, I have never seen an adult bird.
I have always chalked it up to the fact that they are nocturnal, which is why they are termed night herons. The two I have been seeing at the pond, though, seem to be fairly active in daytime.
They are relatively wary birds. Not much had been happening at the end of the pond where I had started out on this recent morning and I happened to see one of the night herons at the other end of the pond near the sheriff's offices (first image). It is farther than it looks. Remember, I am using a 400 mm telephoto lens.
I decided to move down there to see if I could get better images of them. I am not sure why they seem to prefer the micro habitat at that end of the pond, but over a week, I have never seen them up at the other end of the pond.
It doesn't have anything to do with water depth. The entire pond is quite shallow and I doubt you could find a three foot deep hole anywhere in it. So, that isn't it. Maybe there are better logs and branches to hunt from up at that end, although I would also dispute that observation.
As soon as I came down the bank at that end of the pond, they both vacated the area. That is when I was able to take the second and third pictures. I set up and waited, pretty confident they would eventually return. And, sure enough, about an hour later, they flew back in. They are both in breeding colors and if you look carefully in some of the photos, you will see that the bird on the left has long hind neck plumes. The other one does not appear to have them. That may be a male/female distinction; I don't know. The bird books I look at don't show any difference between male and female.
It seems to me they should have been named Black-backed Night Herons because, at a distance, the pattern of their back makes them easy to identify. (Were those Black-crowned Night Herons? I don't know; I couldn't make out the pattern on the crown of their heads.) There is no other heron with a similar black back. They have all the typical characteristics of some of the smaller wading herons — stocky neck, short legs with long toes, and short tail.
In this last photo, you may notice the heron is gossiping with a couple of turtles about the latest pond news. They may be discussing why I keep showing up. This pond is loaded with turtles too. They are everywhere you look. I haven't seen any snappers, however, and neither have I seen any snn...snn...naakes.