Thursday, April 2, 2015

ACE Basin - Wading Bird Identification Tips

Tricolored heron (on log) and little blue heron
While driving through the ACE Basin I noticed a gathering of wading birds nearby the road and I decided to stop and observe them. I slipped up behind some palmetto fronds that acted as a natural blind for me, and bingo I was witness to a neat gathering of five different species of wading birds. Having been raised in the Lowcountry I was positive when I identified the great egret, snowy white egret, tricolored heron, ibis and the little blue heron. Of these species, I’d say that the little blue heron is the least encountered of the wading birds.

Snowy egret - notice the Golden Slippers
Not long after I began snapping photos, the little blue heron walked near enough to the tricolored heron for a comparison. These two species look very similar and birding books describe one as a medium-sized while the other is smaller-sized for a wading bird. They both wear feathers with a slate blue coloration, but the tricolored heron sports a white streak on his neck and a white belly. On this day the tricolored was hunkering down and did not reveal these telltale markings, so it took a keen eye to identify the pair as two different species.

Ibis - immature plumage
The great egret and the snowy egret were more easily identified with the large-size great white egret against the small-size of a snowy egret. A pro birding tip I want to pass along is that the snowy egret also has the distinction of having yellow feet. These wading birds walk through pluff mud at low tide while fishing, and the snowy egret is the only one to have what birders refer to as ‘golden slippers,’ So if you ever encounter just a sole egret, and can’t determine which it is via a side by side comparison, then simply watch for the color on their feet. 

April is the month when wading birds begin mating and the rookeries of the Lowcountry will once again become crammed with nesting activity. This will translate into extra feeding time and flying greater distances to forage, all of which will make viewing the birds more accessible. Keep an eye out for other birds of the marsh like the wood stork, great blue heron, yellow-crowned night heron and wood stork.

To view this feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries about the ACE Basin click National Estuarine Research Reserve - Trapping - 2015 Duck Finale - 25th Anniversary - 2012 Update / John  Frampton - 2013 Waterfowl Warrior Hunt - ACE Basin QDMA - Friends of Nemours - Wounded Warrior Deer Hunt - Colleton Plantation Tour - Mottled Duck Study - Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers.

To view my Birding Journal Observations click January / February 2015.

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