Tag Archives: yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

Never eat more than you can lift

Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.
— Samuel Butler

A great egret (Ardea alba) perched on a log with two Texas river cooters (Pseudemys texana) sunning nearby (2009_06_21_024660)

As I processed that photo of a great egret (Ardea alba) perched on a log with a couple of Texas river cooters (Pseudemys texana), I giggled at the thought of the egret trying to munch on one of the turtles.  Obviously the size of the reptiles would prohibit that.  But the same could not be said of a small turtle I watched become breakfast for a yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea).

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) trying to eat a small turtle (20080722_09794)

Along the bank of one of the nearby creeks, a bit of movement caught my eye.  It was the night-heron trying to eat something.  I couldn’t quite determine what was in its beak.

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) trying to eat a small turtle (20080722_09800)

The bird dipped it in the water, bludgeoned it against a rock, tossed it to and fro, and appeared to be resigned to not eating it since it couldn’t break it open.

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) trying to eat a small turtle (20080722_09812)

It was at this point that I got a better look at the food and realized it was a small turtle.  Here’s a crop of that image.

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) holding a small turtle in its beak (20080722_09812_c)

You can see the legs sticking out and the head hanging down, though the whole thing is covered with mud and identifying marks are obscured.  Still, it was definitely a turtle.

It seemed too large to swallow whole, and the bird had struggled with it for several minutes such that I felt certain it would give up.  After all the banging and washing, the carapace remained intact.  Unless the heron could pull the flesh from the shell by the dangling bits, it seemed breakfast would not be served this day.

But then…

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) swallowing a small turtle (20080722_09813)
A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) swallowing a small turtle (20080722_09814)
A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) swallowing a small turtle (20080722_09815)

In one swift move, down it went.  The whole turtle.  Shell and all.

After which the heron turned, took a drink of water, and proceeded to look quite satisfied.

Close-up of a yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) (20080722_09852)

It stood around for a while after that.  I’d probably need a rest, too, if I’d spent all that time and energy trying to break open breakfast only to swallow something as hard as a brick lest I be forced to give up the entire meal.

I was left to wonder how long it would take to digest the intact turtle.  And some time later, I was left to giggle at the thought of that scene as I watched the egret and its turtle companions.

Learning to hunt

From across the bay I see it.

Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing near shore across the bay (2009_08_15_028344)

Eyes half closed as if drifting somewhere betwixt waking and sleeping.  Standing amongst the verdant splendor that defines the confluence.  Facing into a summer morning with the same lazy feel that defines my walk.

And as it sits still, I kneel and watch it, let its stoic stance become me, feel its calmness as though it is my own.  Fifteen minutes pass before I realize neither of us has moved.

Finally, with not too small a bit of regret in my heart, I stand and continue my walk.

Much sweat and time pass as I journey along the creeks and away from the lake.

The floodplain feels lonely, a barren green world circumnavigated by people busy with their runs and bike rides and walks and other human affairs.  When a cottonmouth sunning in the grass slithers toward the brush as I approach, I stop and watch, the camera forgotten momentarily so I can see—truly see.

No one else would notice.  The snake deserves at least my full attention, its dark gray form punctuated by a light belly that shows when it turns, an underline of chalk for its blackboard form.

When at last the reptile vanishes and the reeds close upon its escape, I move on.

Crossing over Dixon Branch and turning back toward the lake transports me to a different world, a place where sunshine struggles to reach through the trees, where ligneous arms and vibrant foliage hold back the morning.

I let my feet carry me slowly along the bank, above the water, and I focus on little save enjoying a universe of splendor meant just for me.

Barn swallows flit about and speak a language I do not understand.  But I listen anyway, watch them, allow them to lull me to a restful place.

Titmice and chickadees scamper from limb to limb chattering all the while.

Somewhere in the distance a red-shouldered hawk calls out, a piercing cry slicing the day asunder.

I am barely aware of the passing horde of people, the comings and goings of those who do not see and do not hear.  Somewhere in places they travel but do not touch lies that realm that so enamors me, that can so fully occupy my mind and soul that I lose myself in it.

The raucous yammering of a kingfisher wrests me from my dreamworld, its voice approaching then receding as it flies past me traveling along the waterway.  I turn in time to see it race around the edge of the woodlands and back toward the bay.

Moving along the forest wall that is so familiar to me, I pause to enjoy the interminable descent of an evergreen bagworm, its slow falling on a strand of silk so mesmerizing and deceptive, as though it is an unmoving thing around which the rest of the world crawls.  Each simple breeze pushes it to and fro like a gale, and yet it keeps going, keeps moving toward a ground it cannot see, a forever journey from tree to earth.

Then movement far away catches my attention, something seen yet not seen, something in the periphery of space, a dance of shadows and light.  So I turn and look.

Juvenile yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing in the shadows (2009_08_15_028388)

It is the same but different, a child of that which came before.  It wears the colors of youth.

It takes me but a moment to find its parent, the guide on this journey to learn, the protector and teacher for one so young.

Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing in a field (2009_08_15_028424)

Together they hunt the bounty of this field: ground skinks and green anoles, garter and grass snakes, grasshoppers and katydids, leopard frogs and Texas toads, and a laundry list of delectable tidbits that any heron would enjoy.

An adult and a juvenile yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) walking through a field (2009_08_15_028413)

They seem not to mind my approach.  At least not too much.  Though I admit I understand them, know what they fear, comprehend their behavior such that I minimize the threat I pose by invading their feast.

Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) hunting in a field (2009_08_15_028408)

All the while, the unaware masses saunter by oblivious to this shared hope for offspring, this example of parenthood manifest on a sunny day in a field where so many will pass without seeing.  For what hope does nature distill in every parent save that for the safety and longevity of children?  Yet humans fail to appreciate it when it comes from anything other than another human.

Juvenile yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) hunting in a field (2009_08_15_028427)

So I alone witness what should be celebrated.  I alone…

And my thoughts wander back to that heron across the bay.  Suddenly its drowsy appearance makes sense, at least in my mind.  I tell myself that it spent the night tending to the child and found in the quiet of the morning bay a bit of solace as its mate took the child under its wing so it could learn to hunt.

— — — — — — — — — —

Photos are of yellow-crowned night-herons (Nyctanassa violacea).


To finish what I started for dearest nathalie with an h, who claims vehemently—and overmuch—that she sees only ducks when visiting White Rock Lake, I thought it time to share some of the other waterfowl who live here but who are in fact not ducks.  To be more precise, these are herons[1].

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) perched in winter trees (2009_02_14_009307)

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) perched in the trees across the lagoon[3].

A green heron (Butorides virescens) standing in verdant spring foliage (20080629_08323_n)

A green heron (Butorides virescens) hiding amongst branches draped over a creek.

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) perched on fallen limbs (2009_02_03_006217)

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) trying to sleep on a sunny afternoon.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) perched on a log in Sunset Bay (20080701_08757)

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) perched on a log in Sunset Bay.

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing along the banks of a creek (2009_03_07_012299)

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing along the banks of Dixon Branch near the confluence.  (I think the mallard drake is there for decorative purposes.)

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing in the treetops (2008_12_28_003901)

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) perched high in the treetops[4].

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) resting in the middle of a pond thick with vegetation (2009_04_16_015547)

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) resting in the middle of a pond thick with vegetation.

A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) stalking the shallows of a plant-filled swamp (2009_04_16_015585)

A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) stalking the shallows of a plant-filled swamp[5].

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] While these are all herons by definition, some are called egrets.  ‘Egret’ is the name given to heron species that is normally all white[2] and that grows long, showy plumes in the breeding season.

[2] The term “all white” does not refer to color morphs, forms of albinism or those species that demonstrate white plumage only during adolescence.

[3] The cattle egret perched in trees some distance from me.  Given its small size yet high reflective properties when matched against barren winter trees, I assumed at the time that it was a great egret curled up sleeping near the water’s edge.  Only when I processed the images much later in the day did I see it clearly enough to recognize my error, after which I cursed myself for not taking more than one cursory photo.

[4] Undoubtedly the most difficult heron species to photograph, great blue herons are flighty creatures who avoid humans at all costs.  It’s more likely for me to see one take to the skies and disappear behind treetops than it is to see one standing still near enough and long enough for me to capture a good picture.

[5] Little blue herons are anything but little, yet they are smaller than great blue herons.  This has to be my favorite heron species given its color, something I failed to capture in this image as I was looking at a dark bird in the middle of verdant foliage covered with water, water reflecting sunlight right into my face and the camera lens.  Nevertheless, you can see this bird’s plumage is a vaporous menagerie of my favorite color: purple.

[6] As for the title, see the bottom of this post for an explanation.

Birds I never knew – Part 3

Ever had the wrong camera for the job?  Ever taken aim and snapped a photo of something so far away that you’re convinced it’s just a leaf blowing in the wind?  Ever taken pictures out of the moonroof of your car while speeding along a busy boulevard?

Truth be told, many times I’ve attempted to capture an image that I knew ahead of time was well outside the scope of my abilities, the power of the camera, and the convenience of the circumstances.

But I never let any of that stop me from trying.

A juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea) perched on a fallen tree at Lake Tawakoni (211_1130)

A juvenile yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea).  While visiting Lake Tawakoni more than a year ago to see the giant spider web that spanned acre after acre of the shoreline, I chanced upon a small bay thriving with wildlife.  I regrettably had only my previous camera with me, a Canon PowerShot S50, and it simply had none of the range or power I needed for such a vast and beautiful place.  Yet I felt a tinge of excitement when I reviewed the images later and found it had memorialized this child as it stood preening in the morning sun.  The bird had been so far away from me that I couldn’t tell what it was—other than being a large bird, I mean; I was therefore pleased to no end to find that small camera had been able to see what I myself scarcely recognized from across the water.

A male eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) clinging to a bare branch at the top of a tree (20080414_03480)

A male eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis).  Mom provides several nesting spots for birds around the family farm, and one species that makes it their home every year is the eastern bluebird.  Although we had seen the mated pair busily flitting about the main yard as they tended to their family duties, I had not been able to take a photo as we ourselves were busy with hour own duties.  Standing at the far end of one of the pastures downhill from the house, I happened to see a shadow dancing at the very top of a tree on the far side of the farm.  I decided to attempt a photograph even thought I was at a tremendous disadvantage.

A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming in White Rock Lake (20080314_02701)

A female lesser scaup (Aythya affinis).  The males of this species are gregarious, yet the females always seem to be aloof…even a tad disinterested.  I admit once they’re mated they stay with their male counterparts, but as a group waiting to find a man, the females keep to themselves and stay well out of sight.  Imagine, then, my pleasant surprise to find this lone female trailing a group of males well out in the center of White Rock Lake.  I ran around Sunset Bay to find a higher vantage closer to their location, then I took a few pictures despite knowing she was too far away to see clearly.

A female spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia) hurrying along the concrete steps behind the Bathhouse Cultural Center at White Rock Lake (20080426_04797)

A female spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia).  After arriving at the Bathhouse Cultural Center where I would begin my walk, I sat atop a picnic table far from the water’s edge as I collected my things, put filters on the camera, and packed spare batteries and the like in the tripod bag.  American coots flying by drew my attention to the lake where I saw this gal bobbing along the concrete steps in the old swimming area.  She wasted no time as she hurried along, so I wasted no time in taking aim and snapping a photo.  As unprepared as I was, and despite my disadvantaged location well away from her position, I was happy I didn’t wait longer than I did: she vanished right after I pressed the button, flitting across the water and arcing quickly through the air out of sight.

A western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) perched on a wire (20080712_09306)

A western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis).  Driving along sans a care in the world save surviving Dallas’s horrific traffic, I do my best to remain aware of the nature that thrives even in this concrete jungle.  I’ve seen American kestrels perched atop light poles, massive hawks circling right above the road, armadillos sauntering along as though they own the place, and all manner of flora and fauna just hoping someone will notice them, appreciate them.  And so it was with this bird.  Resting on a wire hanging above the road, my quick approach meant I didn’t recognize it and wouldn’t be around long enough to do so.  I therefore opened the moonroof and held the camera out above the car as I sped along beneath it.  I didn’t zoom in since that would have made it impossible to take a picture or drive, or both.  What resulted was a wide-angle shot that hid this beautiful little spot of feathers off in one corner of a very large, very blank image.

An eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) perched on a plant in the middle of a field (20080426_04631)

An eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus).  Because one good kingbird deserves another.  No matter how often I visit White Rock Lake and walk the miles of shoreline, I never fail to see a new flower, snake, bird, or other bit of nature.  It’s not that I never noticed before; it’s just that this large expanse offers refuge to so many species that one can never see them all (and that doesn’t include migrants, some of whom are extremely rare in this area).  Well downhill of a massive field of wildflowers and grasses, I saw a red-winged blackbird perched on a wire and decided to try for a shot.  I had to face into the sun to do it, so I knelt down behind some brush to take advantage of the paltry shade it offered.  Only then did my vision clear enough for me to see this kingbird resting far uphill from me in a spot where the plants behind it gave some shade.

[Prev | Home | Next]

Flights of fancy

their feathers so graceful in flight
powerful wings carrying bodies so light
attuned vision beyond my own sight
imagination cannot so delight

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing at the edge of the lake (20080628_08249)

Poser: I watched this great egret (Ardea alba) stroll through the shallows before coming ashore and finding a spot to rest.

A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing at a creek's edge near White Rock Lake (20080722_09861)

Satisfied: A yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing at a creek’s edge near White Rock Lake.  The bird had just finished eating a small turtle (which I didn’t think it could swallow without breaking the shell open, but it very much surprised me in that regard).

Two ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), one adult and one juvenile, and each perched on a pier beam as they face into the winter sun (IMG_20080106_00989)

The same but different: A juvenile ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) on the left stands next to an adult of the same species.  I find it remarkable how different they look with only a year separating them.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) perched atop a fence wire (20080809_10681)

On guard: A female ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) perched atop a fence wire as she watches me.  Taken at the family farm while the air was abuzz with hummingbirds, each of them frequently sizing me up as they defended the various feeders.