Saturday, July 14, 2012

Night-herons Do, In Fact, Move

I pulled up next to a couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons parked next to Great Bay Boulevard near Tuckerton, NJ this morning, and leaned out the window for a chat. One of them seemed perturbed at my apparent intrusion and took wing, but the other said, "Oh, don't worry about him. Thanks, in fact - cuts down on the competition."

Nothing much happened for long minutes as we remained fifteen feet apart watching the light drizzle make little ringlets in the salt marsh ponds. Finally I said, "Dude, you know, I really admire you night-herons, but worry about you starving to death sometimes. At least you conserve energy - mostly when I watch you, you stand. The more I watch, the more you stand. Sometimes you do look down, real exciting stuff!" I winked at him to show I was kidding. "But seriously, how do you ever catch anything standing around like that?"

"Watch," he said. "I'll show you."

And then he stood stock still for a few minutes more, as if to test my patience. But eventually he took a long, slooowwww step towards the water, placing his foot ever so gently. Then another step. "By golly, you can move!"  "Shhhhhh," he said, "There are killies under this algae."

 In just a couple minutes he made it across two feet of salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), short form, to the edge of the pond. And then stared, and stared, and stared. . .

 . . . and then proceeded to do something that seemed kind of unusual. He inserted his bill through the algae lining the pond, and opened and closed it again, repeatedly. "Attracting fish, or what?" I asked.  "Shhhhhh," he said, the words making the water bubble slightly.

Eventually he closed his bill with an emphatic snap. Smoothly he lifted his bill out of the water, and sure enough he had one of the biggest killifish (or mummichog, Fundulus heteroclitus) I've seen clasped between his mandibles. Mummichogs rival fiddler crabs as the most important link between salt marsh productivity and predatory birds.

 In a second or two he'd swallowed the killifish, and stepped to a different spot to try his luck.

 "Nicely done! That Killie is nearly as big as the Spot I saw an osprey catch at Stone Harbor last week."

"Hmmph. Ospreys. They think they're so sexy. . . "

[Osprey with about as small a fish as Ospreys catch. My friend Sue Slotterback of the Nature Center of Cape May examined the photo and wrote me, "Hey, Don! That's a type of croaker called a Spot. See that spot above the gill and in between the base of the pectoral fin and the base of the dorsal fin?? Here's more info: .Great shot! That spot is a little guy! like a little goldfish cracker - only he's a little croaker cracker! :)"]

No comments:

Post a Comment