Monday, June 11, 2012


Whether you're hunting mushrooms, glassing for elk on a hillside or trying to look through water to see the fish, it's all about pattern recognition and what we call, "getting your eyes on." After that first or second sighting of something you're having to pick out of a challenging background, your brain seems to relax and you start seeing the shape you're looking for much more easily.

Same thing happens when we're looking for waterbirds to count. At our refuge we count waterfowl, shore & marsh birds, and raptors twice a month. Sometimes it's about trying to tell cranes from geese in the first light of dawn, or picking out different duck species in a flock of hundreds; sometimes it's just seeing them where they are. Last week provided some of the most interesting -- and rewarding -- exercises in pattern recognition we've had in a while.

Because I was recording sightings for four avid birders my POV was from the middle of the back seat. While everyone else was glassing the sky and nearby telephone poles and trees, my view was kind of like this.

Hey look! That's a...

Killdeer on a clutch of four eggs.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) are fairly common down here but I had never seen a nest before. Had the bird not been on them, I'm not sure we would have noticed the eggs.
Later on we saw this:

Oh look! What's that?!?! Oh yeah...

Green Heron on a nest.

The nest was typical for the Butorides virescens, a basket of small sticks on a branch over the water. Next week we'll be checking for little gray downy chicks; if there's an average clutch of 2-6 green eggs in that nest we are hoping for least a few hatchlings.

Alas, we don't have any nest cams on the refuge (yet) and after a brief look around the web the Green Heron doesn't seem to rate one. If you're interested, you can see young GBHEs at the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Great Blue Heron Cam, along with all sorts of other nest cams.

During that same bird survey we also saw a Black-necked Stilt on a nest. We have already seen Snowy Plover chicks and owlets so for the next survey we'll be on the lookout for all manner of fluffy balls o' bird on the ground and in nests. If they're mobile, the chicks should be a little easier to pick out, although as I recall, those SNPL chicks looked like dirty cottonballs drifting across the salt-encrusted grass and beige sands of the lake edge where they nest. Better be gettin' my eyes on...

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I love your shot of the Green Heron. I'll have to get my eyes on next time I go out with my family.