Tag Archives: green heron (Butorides virescens)

put on your faces – earth day 2010

Today is Earth Day 2010.  For forty years this annual event has served to focus attention on issues such as conservation, pollution, climate and sustainability.  That 2010 is also the International Year of Biodiversity makes this Earth Day even more important.

Every 24 hours approximately 100 species go extinct, relegated forever to the past tense.  It seems to me that every day should be Earth Day.  But since I have no interest in preaching, I thought I’d mark this event with a special edition of put on your faces.  Because it’s faces like these that we stand to lose.

Close-up of a mallard duckling (Anas platyrhynchos) (2009_06_03_021795)

Mallard duckling (Anas platyrhynchos)

Close-up of a white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) as it feeds (2009_07_18_026958_c)

White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata)

Close-up of a juvenile male blackbuck (a.k.a. Indian antelope; Antilope cervicapra) (2009_05_22_020931)

Blackbuck (a.k.a. Indian antelope; Antilope cervicapra); juvenile male

Close-up of a green heron (Butorides virescens) (2009_09_05_028705)

Green heron (Butorides virescens)

Close-up of a fox squirrel (a.k.a. eastern fox squirrel, stump-eared squirrel, raccoon squirrel or monkey-faced squirrel; Sciurus niger) (2009_09_27_029754)

Fox squirrel (a.k.a. eastern fox squirrel, stump-eared squirrel, raccoon squirrel or monkey-faced squirrel; Sciurus niger); male

Close-up of a green anole (a.k.a. Carolina anole; Anolis carolinensis) (20080817_11010_c)

Green anole (a.k.a. Carolina anole; Anolis carolinensis); male

Close-up of a differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis) (2009_10_02_029993)

Differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis); male

Close-up of a male great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) (2009_10_25_034089)

Great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus); male

Close-up of a male fallow deer (Dama dama) (2009_05_22_020739)

Fallow deer (Dama dama); light morph male (buck/stag)

All in a day’s walk – August 22, 2009

It all started with two birds way the hell across the lake…

Two black terns (Chlidonias niger) perched on half-submerged branches (2009_08_22_028472_c)

Even using a 400mm lens, the viewfinder showed me nothing but two dark specs perched atop half-submerged branches.  I might as well have been looking at a bit of spilled pepper on a blue tablecloth.

Still, I snapped a few images because I already knew I was looking at less conventional fare.  Only when I viewed the photos full-size the next day was I able to see the birds more clearly, and only then did these black terns (Chlidonias niger) finally have a name.

It’s a shame I didn’t have a 1200mm lens with me.  For that matter, it’s a shame I don’t have a 1200mm lens period.  Oh to be rich…

A silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) feeding on flowers (2009_08_22_028487)

Even as I stood hoping beyond hope that I might get a decent picture of the terns, this silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) flitted up beside me to enjoy a nectar breakfast.  A leaf-footed bug joined it momentarily but proved too fleeting for an image.

For that matter, the small butterfly sipped its liquid nourishment for only a handful of seconds before darting off into the bright morning sky.  I suppose the two insects quickly escaped in response to me hopping about and fussing vehemently after discovering I was standing in a pile of coyote droppings.

Needless to say, I dragged my feet for some distance trying to dislodge the smelly hitchhiker attached to the bottom of my shoe.

While checking the progress of my cleaning effort, I spied something of interest lurking about near shore yet distant from the trail that carried so many joggers and cyclists.  I tried to ignore the pungent cloud that encompassed me so I could sneak up on this latest discovery.

A green heron (Butorides virescens) standing still in the southern watergrass (Hydrochloa caroliniensis) (2009_08_22_028512)

Little more than a stone’s throw separated me from this green heron (Butorides virescens).  The verdant hues of its plumage melded with the southern watergrass (Hydrochloa caroliniensis) surrounding it.

And I wondered if it could smell me, smell the horrid guest still clinging to the bottom of my shoe.  I certainly could…

Something about the mysterious nature of green herons intrigues me, beguiles me, captivates me.  Secretive they are, stealthy yet evident, boisterous whilst disinterested in attention.  Only when a second green heron flew in to cause trouble did this one flee the scene.

I was so close

With horrid stench in tow, I moved on.

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) sunning on a log (2009_08_22_028529)

Red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) remain ubiquitous here.  Painted and softshell and snapper turtles join them, along with a host of other tortoises, but this one proudly grabbing some rays on a log epitomized the pedestrian nature of these reptiles: They’re everywhere!

I knelt in the wet grass to watch it.  That unfortunately put me in a position to smell the full weight of the reek stalking me from beneath my sneaker.

How can one man walk such a distance without losing the coyote sign he stepped in long ago?  Such questions vex me.

When a lumbering giant dragged his fatigued dog too close, the slider lived up to its namesake and vanished with nary a gesture.  I scarcely heard the timid splash before realizing my eyes rested on an empty log.  Amazing how they do that.

Sick of my own smell, I moved on—scraping my foot all the way.

A Sonoran bumble bee (Bombus sonorus [sometimes Bombus pensylvanicus sonorus]) collecting pollen from a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower (2009_08_22_028535)

It didn’t take long before I stood near one of the many jumbles of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) growing along the lake’s edge.  The bulbous flowers smell of treats for children, and wafting on the air to taste of this splendor are many insects.

Sonoran bumble bees (Bombus sonorus [sometimes Bombus pensylvanicus sonorus]), like all their kith and kin, dart about with drunken abandon, flitting from bloom to bloom sans concern for the world of men.  All they care for is filling their pollen sacs so they can return to the nest as providers, unsung heroes in the world of insects.

Even as I watched them, I came to realize I didn’t stink.  Well, at least not as much.  In fact, one could have said at the time that my pungent aroma was distant, aloof perhaps.

Syrphid fly (Palpada vinetorum) on a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower (2009_08_22_028541)

Not that this syrphid fly (Palpada vinetorum) cared either way.  Right next to the ravenous bumbling leviathans, this fly-looking-like-not-a-fly hunkered down and played quiet.  Known to me by sight yet not by name…

At some point during my walk I realized my attention was nothing short of lacking.  Several hours walking and several hours of seeing little.

So I turned and headed toward home.

Along bamboo-encompassed walkways I strolled.  People came and went, faces melded with sun and shadow, voices danced silently on the wind.

Then I noticed it behind a woman pushing a stroller.  She never even knew it was there.

A mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) fledgling resting on the ground (2009_08_22_028589)

Its breathing writ in the language of sleep, this fledgling mourning dove (a.k.a. rain dove; Zenaida macroura) opened its eyes only when I stopped nearby, its gaze focused on me and me alone.

How long had it rested unseen so near the walkway?  One needed but to turn toward the bamboo to be a single breath from it.  Atop earth that matched its plumage and before shadow that hid its life, this babe had gone the entire morning without being seen by the legion of people wandering by.

I could have reached out and touched it.  I could count the reflections in its eyes.  I could see the intricacies of its feathers as molting gave way from a child’s garment to that of an adult.

Not wishing to disrupt it more than I already had, I took a picture or two before moving on.  My attention would draw that of others, others who would not share my appreciation and respect, others who would feel indifference at endangerment.

Besides, I felt joy at the lack of smell.  Suddenly I felt less putrid.  Amazing what a bunch of wet grass can do.

Tool user

Humans use tools.  We once felt that made us special, something more than the rest of the animal kingdom.  Then we discovered crows used tools.  Ugh!  So much for our self-proclaimed superiority.

We then tried to play down its importance by saying the angler fish using a specially shaped tongue to lure in prey didn’t count as tool use since it was a modified body part.  With the same logic we dismissed many of the things we saw in nature by proclaiming real tool use didn’t rely on adapted elements from our own body but instead hinged on finding and utilizing products from our environment.

As we looked closer at nature, though, we realized that kind of tool use appeared more common than we wanted to admit.

Chimpanzees use twigs and stems to fish termites and ants out of nests, and that skill recently took a major twist when it was discovered some groups of these primates were finding ways to improve the tool so it worked better.  Uh-oh.

Gorillas have been observed using sticks to gauge the depth of water as they cross streams and rivers.

Elephants strip bark from trees and shape the ligneous material to form bowls that they use to cover watering holes, thereby stopping evaporation so they can return later for another drink.  And that doesn’t include their use of branches to swat away flies or their use of large stones to disable electric fences.

Otters grab rocks and use them to hammer underwater shellfish until they fall free from their rocky perches, after which the otter returns to the surface to dine on the goody.

Dolphins utilize sponges as a fishing technique, a cultural phenomenon shown to be passed from generation to generation in these brainy cetaceans.  They pluck up sponges and hold them over their snout while they forage along the rough seafloor.

The Egyptian vulture uses rocks to break open ostrich eggs.

Crows use a variety of tools to reach food, some of those tools being spontaneously fashioned to fit the specific circumstances.

Woodpecker finches use cactus needles to retrieve grubs hidden deep within tree branches.

And the green heron (Butorides virescens) uses various lures to bring fish to the surface.  Anything from a twig to a feather, an earthworm to a bit of crusty bread.  These small, enchanting birds place their lures on the surface of the water and perch over it, stoic statues who watch carefully for a fish to take the bait.  Then the bird takes the fish.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched on a branch over a pond (2009_04_19_016330)

When I hunted down this green heron at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center rookery in the middle of April, I had hoped to see that behavior, and to capture it in photographs.  Unfortunately for me, my visit came on the heals of severe thunderstorms, so the entire pond surface was covered with debris: twigs, leaves, flowers and the like.  Even the heron realized the futility of placing yet one more bit of detritus on the water, so instead it stood on its perch and waited for a meal to come within striking distance.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched on a branch over a pond (2009_04_19_016279)

My presence didn’t help, but neither did the presence of hundreds of other birds who use the rookery every year.  I visited at the beginning of the nesting season, hence the entire area was a deluge of activity, from anhingas and Franklin’s gulls circling above the trees to at least six species of herons building nests, arguing with each other, mating, sometimes fighting, and otherwise being a loud and raucous invasion of this green heron’s attempt to grab some lunch.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched in a shrub (11248640)

When I ran across several green herons at White Rock Lake many months later, I held out hope that I’d witness their tool use for myself.  I ignored the fact that it was already dusk and I’d be lucky to see the bird, let alone its fishing expedition.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched in a shrub (12375616)

No matter.  A few chases, a bit of competition with ducks and egrets, another chase or two, and finally a close encounter as this green heron stood on a nearby tree branch.  Much to my surprise and that of everyone around me, another remained hidden much closer than this as it considered its options to chase away the more public bird.

Green heron (Butorides virescens) perched in a shrub (13112960)

We were all taken by surprise when the green heron in hiding darted into the sky and an aerial pursuit took shape a stone’s throw from where we sat enjoying the evening.

Perhaps some other time I’ll have a chance to photograph the green heron’s tool-using ways.

[Please don’t badger me with regards to the fact that nothing about the green heron is actually green.  As Anna said in response to the same observation: “Blue was already taken.”]