Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wachusett Reservoir Mystery Bird Solved? Making my Case for a Little Blue Heron

I'd get an email from Kevin on Sunday letting me know he got a Bonaparte's Gull on High Mile Road at the Wachusett Reservoir and that's a bird I really want this year on my list so got in the car hoping I'd spot it despite it most likely being a scope bird which is something I don't have.  I still held out hope though assuming I could get it in flight which would make it easier after all the practice I had late last year at the Cape.

 I'd make my way to the parking lot and realize construction in that area isn't anywhere close to being done so parked next to the trucks and did a quick scan left to right to see what was flying, in the water  or on nearby islands.

I'd see quite a few gulls in the water all in a line which made searching for the Bonaparte's easier because I've learned to look for the outlier and all looked the same so assumed all were the usual Ring-billed Gulls.  I would then go toward the smaller island near the building and see a large white bird that immediately caught my interest.

 I'd get my binoculars on it and be very frustrated the bird was so far out but was able to see the bird was a decent size, had a pale bill that appeared to have a tinge of yellow in it and was heron like so the first thought that would come to mind was a Great Egret that looked smaller than I'm used to seeing due to the distance between the two of us.

I'd change my angle some, do another look for the B Gull and then look back at the bird and could see that it had changed position and was foraging.  At this glance I had my doubts on my Great Egret as it almost looked like a Snowy Egret to me in this position but would quickly dismiss it due to probability.  I'd then think Little Blue Heron juvenile and again dismiss it figuring it was my "wishful thinking" again, that always get the best of me and do a big Mis ID on my blog.

I'd get on my cell phone and leave a message for Kevin to see if he had spotted a Great Egret as I thought I had one and was hoping he was nearby as 1. he has a scope and 2. he knows his birds!  I'd get my eye on the bird again and see it behaving in a manner I'm not used to seeing a Great Egret and that was slow and calculating.

I'd dismiss my doubts again and head back home after striking out on the Boneparte's and be happy I at least got a FOY Great Egret even if the view wasn't as ideal as I would have liked.

I'd then go home, get my pics on my computer screen and the doubts I had earlier were even more so once I saw all of my photos.  Hmmmmmm....The birds neck is far too short and thick to be a Great Egret I'd think. The more I see it, the more I think juve Little Blue Heron.  I'd dismiss it again due to habitat and it still being too early in the year but then I'd remember something Alan told me when I first started birding and that it habitat means nothing during migration and I've learned that myself over the years.

So out would come my various field guides to try and make some comparisons

With the first being Peter Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion as always.

The first sentence under the description really made me stop to think because that is how the bird I saw in question was behaving.  In fact, the little bugger was so methodical it made it's way all around the little island in a circle like fashion that I found both interesting and amusing. I'd also notice the stiff, extended neck that never seemed to get long enough to be a Great Egret's.

Another lousy record shot, but posting all of them anyways so you can see what I'm referring to.

I'd also witness some of the behavior above with the neck in particular which I found odd when I thought it was a Great Egret.  Dunne would also talk about how the bird prefers to forage on land and the bird in question would never leave the island for wading.

Now let's look at Dunne's description of the behavior of a Great Egret.  If you look at any of my photos you will not see that bird anywhere near the water nor will you see the neck straight or almost straight.  In fact, the bird in question never did that the entire time I observed it which was close to 40 minutes.

Next it was onto my 2nd Bible which was Sibley's.  The first thing that jumped out at me was the small dark tips  DISTINTIVE but often difficult to see.  I'd be looking for the B Gull again and could see a bunch of Ring-billed Gulls take to the air, I would then notice a rather large white bird above them and get my bins on them and see a bird much larger than a gull with dark wing tips and the first thing I think of instinctively and at quick glace was a Northern Gannet.  I'd very quickly dismiss that as the wingtips weren't as pronounced and why the hell would a gannet be at Wachusett Reservoir in the 1st place. ;-).  I'd whip out my camera knowing it was pointless considering I had an all white bird against a baby blue sky but attempted in none the less.

And this is what I would get. :-p.  Probably the worst flight shot ever in the history of blogging, but you can now see why I could see those black wing tips through the bins as what else was there for my eyes to focus upon as it jumped right out in those conditions!

Heading toward Clinton with some Ring-billed gulls not far behind.  My guess is something spooked the gulls and the heron followed suit.  Funny thing was the Double-crested Cormorants remained where they were as I looked.

Going....going.....gone.  It would be then I'd call Kevin again and tell him I had a Great Egret and if he were looking for it to head toward Clinton as that's where the bird in question was going.  I thought about jumping in my car and "tailing" it (pun intended), but Sunday at Wachusett Reservoir is not a good time to stalk birds by car with all the cyclists and folks on motorcycles so just resigned myself to the fact that it was a Great Egret and once again I was trying to turn it into something it wasn't.

This time though I think I'm right and am still going with my juvenile Little Blue Heron even though I never got a decent look at its bill or legs which is what most people use to ID it.  I should note I haven't entered it into eBird yet as I'm looking for diferring opinions and if you have one, please feel free to post it here or shoot me an email as you won't hurt my feelings.  Being a bird blogger I often have egg on my face with a mis ID and have learned to accept it in hopes others can learn from it as well as myself so post away if you think it's something else.

Sigh, it's times like this I realize I need a scope.  I've tried it in the past and I'm such an active birder and have been known to bush whack, crawl or climb on whim and a scope makes that difficult, but times like these makes me realize I'm at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to water liking birds like shorebirds, ducks, gulls and yes even heron's.  Thinking maybe I'll get one  second hand and keep it locked in the trunk for emergencies such as the one on Sunday.

Take care all.

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