All That Was – An Egret’s Tale

•April 16, 2014 • 3 Comments

Egret Nest Site - As if it never were

All That Was – Egret Nest Site as if it never were!

The male Great Egret chose for its nest a quaintly shaped pond apple tree near the boardwalk at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. The male of this species does the choosing of where he will conduct his mating displays… a location which becomes the future site for nest construction. From his platform of twigs gathered from branches of nearby shrubs and trees, he strutted his stuff fanning out the delicate aigrettes that adorn his back during mating season, to attract a mate. A beautiful female accepted the invitation and together they built a nest within the branches and green leaves of the small wetland tree. He gathered the nest materials and she was in charge of the arrangement and placement of the twigs. Even after mating and the arrival of three baby blue eggs, the presentation of twigs continued to ensure on-going maintenance and arrangement of twigs into the walls of the nest. The nest was never left alone to protect the incubating eggs and also to prevent other birds from stealing twigs from an unattended nest. This is a problem in a nesting colony where there is competition for materials. So the pair alternated sitting duties in order to take turns catching fish to feed themselves and eventually their young. They were partners in the truest sense of the word.

Great Egret Mating Pair Nest Building

The Great Egret Pair builds their nest. He brings materials for her to arrange.

But, even as they made their nest, laid and incubated the eggs, there was frequent aggressive behavior from other adult males in breeding colors in the area. Sustaining the site seemed a fight from the very beginning with persistent intruders. But, our pair held their own, kept the nest attended, and took care of their young. When photographing the parent on duty when the chicks were about a week old, even a casual observer that day could see the furious flutter of aggressive behavior from other adults near the nest.

Egret Pair-the nest they built

The nest they built. Three blue eggs are incubating.

My personal return to see the nestlings’ development about 10 days later was marked by the realization that something catastrophic had occurred. Among birds siblicide, or the killing of younger chicks by the older, reduces the number of chicks. Seeing fewer nestlings with time is not unusual. But, this was different as no parent, no chick, no nest remained within the curve of the branches of the pond apple tree. It was as if it had never been; nary a twig to tell the story.

It was unusual enough for me to ask other observers and I received various stories from the father eating the chicks to raccoons getting at the nest.

However, Jamie Felton, wildlife photographer of Felton Photography, told me the rest of the story and is taking the time to gather up some photographic evidence on her site. The father did not eat his chicks. After persistent sparring with intruder egrets the situation came to a head. For two days the parents battled with another male egret in breeding plumage to preserve their nest. On the first day the intruder succeeded in tossing two chicks from their nest and the last chick was left alone for a couple of hours on the next day, before the intruder tossed it out as well. The nestlings were not eaten but pecked at and tossed overboard. The intruder egret won the nest, then sat there in its stolen territory and displayed, looking for a female for two days. The killer egret never attracted a mate that either of us knows of as of this writing. I did see a male displaying at the spot but no new nest appeared on subsequent visits. His destruction of the nest did not pay off for the marauding egret.

Jamie reports further that after the first two chicks were tossed out, that one of the parent egrets was seen feeding the last chick and standing by for a time before it was lost. The parents were seen to return after all the chicks were gone to fight again with the new occupant…presumably at this point for the parents it was about the nest as it was all along for the interloper.

While we accept in theory the struggle for survival among wild animals; it is not something we are looking for, at least in such angelic-looking creatures! Whether the vast savannahs of Africa or the wetlands of Florida, it is all the same. Eat or be eaten, reproduce or die out. The pressure is enormous to mate and deliver the next generation. I think in a nesting colony that you see intensified competitive behaviors due to sheer proximity and competition for materials. I am uncertain why the aggressive egret’s choosing was of an occupied location since in other areas of the colony egret nests sit more harmoniously side by side, but hormones are high and our little family of White Egrets struggled and lost.

The great herons and egrets can have more than one clutch in a season and most especially will try again after the failure of a nest. Perhaps this pair will appear at a new spot and raise a new brood to fledge.

Unfortunately this story describes the fate of the egret nest on my post “An Egret is Faithful 100%” which welcomed the cute little chicks as we welcomed the advent of Spring!! I’d described it as a symbol of rebirth and renewal which I much preferred to having it turn into an example of nature red in tooth and claw!! So I do feel sorry to report their struggle and the demise of this nest.


Protective Egret looks over chicks

Protectively Watching Over


Find Jamie Felton and her wonderful photography web site Felton Photography HERE!

Click HERE to link to her Flickr photo gallery and this new born image of the first chick to hatch at the very nest described in this post?

I thank her sincerely for answering my curiosity about the fate of the egret nest which vanished so prematurely!!


As Ever,







Egretta tri-color, a Lady in Waiting

•April 5, 2014 • 11 Comments

Tri-color Heron (Louisiana Heron) Arranges Twigs in Nest with 3 blue eggs

 The “Lady of the Waters” (Audubon’s lovely nickname for the Louisiana Heron) is truly a ‘Lady in Waiting’ as she minds her nest of three baby blue eggs. Patiently tending the nest, she endured the hot afternoon sun filtering through the shaded privacy of her pond apple tree nest, got up and changed position several times, and relentlessly shook the twigs shaping the nest ensuring  a sturdy cradle. While I am uncertain when the eggs were laid, perhaps in three weeks or so new little tri-color herons will make their way out their shells.

Nesting Tri-color Face_5772-wp-s-2

Tri-color Heron (Louisiana Heron) tending eggs at nest

Tri-color Heron (Louisiana Heron)-nest sitting

Nesting Louisiana Heron - nest sitting with backside aigrettes


hmmm……message to us paparazzi!!

:)  Judy

Feathers – textures, patterns and growth

•April 3, 2014 • 10 Comments


Coppery Aigrettes of the Tri-color Egret

A spray of coppery plumes (aigrettes) lit by the sun and contrasted with the slate blue contour feathers and white body feathers of my favourite diminutive heron…the Louisiana Heron (Egretta tricolor).

Great Blue Heron Chick in Sunning Posture - Young Wings with Blue Quill feather growth

Ever since my first view of the young wings of a Great Blue Heron chick I have been fascinated with the way they grow and that interesting parallel arrangement of the pretty blue sheaths from which the feathers emerge. They always remind me of an Indian headdress in design. So I thought this view deserved some explanation!

A bird’s wing is very similar in its skeletal structure to a human arm and is, in fact, a modified limb. If you keep your upper arms to your sides, rotate your forearm sideways away from your body at the elbow, then tilt your hand down at the wrist with your thumb up, that is pretty much what you see in the picture above of the juvenile great blue heron standing with wings lowered and tilted towards the sun (sunning posture). The blue sheaths you see on this young bird house the growing flight feathers. From the ‘forearm’ section grow the secondary flight feathers and from the ‘hand’ section grow the primaries. From the ‘thumb bone’ grow the feathers of the leading edge of the wing called the alula. You can see this in the above image as well.

Feathers grow from papillae or follicles (like bumps) arranged along the birds skin in traces called ‘feather tracts.’ Each of these follicles is supplied with a vein and an artery. The outermost layer of the papilla forms a protective sheath inside which a feather grows, tip first, outwards. These new structures are called ‘pin feathers’ for their straight and pointy appearance. They are also called’ blood feather’s at this stage of growth due to the venous and arterial supply while growing which will bleed if plucked or broken. Ultimately the sheath splits and falls off allowing the tightly bound feather to unfurl. Once the feather is fully grown the papilla recedes and dries up leaving a hollow shaft. The feather is not ‘alive’ at this point not needing a blood supply, although the follicle itself does keep a blood supply in the skin. The tip is the oldest part of the feather and the base the youngest.

A chick like this one is growing new feathers all at once, and so there are lot of pin feathers. Later on as feathers become worn out new ones will grow to replace them.  Sometimes when you see a bird preening it is to get rid of insects or parasites, but also the sheaths do not always fall off so easily. I am sure many times when I see birds flicking their beaks out along the feathers that they are pulling sheaths from new growths away. I understand at times they will do this for each other.

In between the blue sheaths you can see other pin feathers sheathed in white for other feather layers. Right now the wing or arm of the bird looks rather like an anatomical drawing as there is not much there but skin, muscle, bone, ligaments and young feathers. When fully feathered these wings will become beautiful and inspire the awe that birds always do when soaring. Our arms so similar and yet we can only dream of flying!!

Dove Wing

This illustration of a dove’s wing shows the wing bones and how the secondary feathers relate to the radius and ulna of the’ forearm’ and the primaries extend from the’ hand’ bones. Alula feathers you see attached to the ‘thumb’ at the leading edge of the wing.

Below are the context shots of the nesting Louisiana Heron and the Great Blue Heron Chick.

Tri-color Egret at its nest-alarmed by an intruder

Great Blue Heron Chick--Sunning Posture with young wings-displaying blue quills with feather growth

I find the patterns of nature fascinating and beautiful. Natural forms, patterns and textures inspire everything from art to architecture to the clothes we wear!

I did want to share the link to the blog of a wonderful and nationally acclaimed sculptress – Sandy Scott.  She specializes in sculpture and sketches of wildlife, especially birds. She has several posts on the anatomy of birds and bird wings with her own very clear drawings which she uses to teach how to accurately draw or sculpt them. Discovering her work was a treat for me so thought I’d share something found while learning more on this subject.


An Egret is Faithful 100%

•March 23, 2014 • 17 Comments

White Egret Face - Egg Sitting

Just like Horton of the beloved children’s book by Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg, a nesting egret is faithful 100%!! These avian parents will steadfastly endure the hardships of wind and rain and potential predators to stay and incubate their eggs. The male and female egret will spell each other in order to get food, but the incubating eggs are protected at all times until they hatch. Parents will stand to stretch, preen a little, turn the eggs and otherwise keep them covered.

The two nest sitting images were taken on March 8th, 2014. The chick images were taken on March 19th, the day before the official first day of Spring!! How fitting to have these little new beings as symbols of the continuity of life and renewal! Growing up my mother had an oft repeated phrase that used to tickle me…”Spring has sprung, the grass has ris.., I wonder where the birdies is? Well, they are here and very rambunctious already!!

Great White Egret - Egg Sitting

White Egret with Chicks - end of a long day

White Egret Siblings - 1 week

White Egret Chick at one week

White Egret Chick Facing the Sun - in nest

White Egret Nestling at 1 week old - in shadow of parent

Welcome to the world little ones!!

Happy Spring!!


Ugly Ducklings of the Heronry

•March 15, 2014 • 7 Comments

Curious Great Blue Heron Chicks Peer Over the edge of the nest

Curious Great Blue Heron Chicks Explore their boundaries in a late afternoon stroll to the edge of the nest.

Below I have included an excerpt from John James Audubon on the Great Blue Heron chicks which describes well the appearance of the nestlings. The selection of images here are of chicks just a few weeks old. They are not yet fully feathered and are indeed a bit ‘uncouth’ in their state of development and awkwardness in moving about the nest. Truly cute little ugly ducklings rapidly growing into those oversized knobby knees!  Like all toddlers they amble curiously about the nest, testing their boundaries and exercising their growing limbs. Quite helpless at this stage they seem almost adoring when they look up at their parental figure steadfastly standing by. Of course, they are learning rapidly that this is where the fish come from. I love the sights and sounds of a rookery from the chatterings of hungry chicks to the whoosh of wings as their parents arrive with a fresh meal.

  “This species takes three years in attaining maturity, and even after that period it still increases in size and weight. When just hatched they have a very uncouth appearance, the legs and neck being very long, as well as the bill. By the end of a week the head and neck are sparingly covered with long tufts of silky down, of a dark grey colour, and the body exhibits young feathers, the quills large, with soft blue sheaths. The tibio-tarsal joints appear monstrous, and at this period the bones of the leg are so soft, that one may bend them to a considerable extent without breaking them. At the end of four weeks, the body and wings are well covered with feathers of a dark slate-colour, broadly margined with ferruginous, the latter colour shewing plainly on the thighs and the flexure of the wing; the bill has grown wonderfully, the legs would not now easily break, and the birds are able to stand erect on the nest or on the objects near it. They are now seldom fed oftener than once a day, as if their parents were intent on teaching them that abstinence without which it would often be difficult for them to subsist in their after life. At the age of six or seven weeks they fly off, and at once go in search of food, each by itself.”

Great Blue Heron Nestling-Exercising Young Wings

Baby Great Blue Heron exercising its nice new wings.

Great Blue Heron-Indelicate Rump View & Exercising Young Wings

Great Blue Heron Chicks looking expectantly at its parent - meal time

Great Blue Heron Chick -Gazing towards the sun from its nest

Two Very Young Great Blue Heron Chicks-weeks old

These two guys are from a different nest and just a couple weeks old.

I look forward to watching these ungainly, ugly ducklings, grow into the beauty of their species!!


Tri-color Heron (Louisiana Heron)-lores and textures

•March 13, 2014 • 11 Comments


Louisiana Heron aka Tri-color Heron- Close up of eye and lore mating colors

The Tri-Color heron (Egretta tri-color) aka Louisiana Heron,  has always been a favourite subject.  No one can deny the dainty beauty of this small heron or its appealing quick movements as it darts about.  But today’s post centers around just the detail of the color changes of the lore or skin around the eye, and bill of the breeding bird. The normal yellow lore and yellowish bill with dark tip takes on nearly fluorescent blues and lavenders under the influence of the mating season hormone changes. The white head plumes are also a feature of breeding and not present otherwise. I am enjoying the learning curve of my new 300mm prime lens and feel in many circumstances it gives me excellent detail while there is still much to learn in dof management and light.


Tri-color Heron (Louisiana Heron)-Face

I endeavored to crop this view closely enough to show the wonderful shadowed ruby eye and the intense expression of the heron. While trying to convey how something looks large on my computer monitor is not always successful in this format, I do get stuck on things like expression, so its tempting to try.

Louisiana Heron Face - Catching Late Afternoon Rays

A late afternoon capture with head plumes flying in the wind.

Louisiana Heron Portrait

Elegant Louisiana Heron at Wakodahatchee Wetlands

This image from a past post does show the normal yellow coloring of the lore even though the bird is decked out with the buff aigrettes and white head plumes of the season. Legs too are absent the bright red exhibited during the height of the breeding time.

Spring is always a time of intensified color as we leave the muted tones of winter…& illustrated so well by the avian breeding season!!



Danger Lurks in the Shadows

•February 20, 2014 • 16 Comments

Iguana - King of His Domain at the Wakodahatchee Rookery

Iguana basks in a primitive domain:  the dappled shadows of a bird’s nesting island.

I have read that the Green Iguana (Iguana iguana Linnaeus 1758) is primarily an herbivore with a diet consisting  of various fruits, flowers, leaves, and sprouting plants. I have come to feel that this species, introduced into the very favourable environment of South Florida by the release of unwanted pets into the wild, is just something we will have to live with. They appear to be firmly established. Other than munching on delicate landscaping and such things as my favorite bougainvilleas,  I’ve read they are relatively harmless if you leave them alone. They do have sharp claws, can bite, and their droppings can carry a salmonella risk.  I can’t say that I haven’t  enjoyed seeing these prehistoric looking lizards for the sheer fascination of their colors, textures, and vicarious view into a primitive long lost world. But, I have some concerns just the same.

The big lizards are arboreal and frequent areas around water. Described sometimes as agile climbers who can fall 50 feet without being hurt and can use their hind legs to grab branches and break their fall, I like this description by field biologist, James D. Lazell, Jr better: “Iguanas display a quiet, determined aboreality. They are most awkward in trees, except when resting motionless and frequently fall down; they seem to persist in climbing, provided there are trees around, even so. An iguana climbing around in a tree looks quite as much at home there as would the average dog. Further… “Iguanas are graceful at only two times: when running, and when  swimming.”  I can say that they do seem tentative moving from branch to branch, seem most comfortable lounging in the sun, and that they are glorious at moving quickly through water with that powerful undulating tail.

I bring this matter of the big lizards up again (see previous post) because I feel somewhat alarmed by the iguanas now lounging around the branches at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands Rookery. ‘Primarily an herbivore’ does have that qualifier after all…primarily!! In Lazell’s 1973 paper, “The lizard genus Iguana in the Lesser Antilles, Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (New York) 145, he describes the genus as omnivorous not herbivorous. He notes that he has observed wild specimens feeding on birds eggs and carrion. Others may say that the iguanas eat snails and grasshoppers only in the course of munching on plants. I do not see feeding on birds eggs as a byproduct of munching on leaves.

Last shoot when I was trying out my new lens, I saw more iguanas than ever right in the branches of pond apple trees where there are at least six Great blue heron nests, several Anhinga nests, and others…with eggs or very tender helpless nestlings.  I also saw a young bright green iguana chewing on some aquatic plants floating on the water. I see the degradation of the leafy habitat by hungry iguanas disturbing as well as the risk to eggs and nestlings and the health of the colony as a whole. On that visit and some prior visits I found on first glance that the iguanas were difficult to see. Nearly immobile as they rested on the tree limbs, the iguanas blended well into the dappled shadows and their own green and gray hues matched so perfectly their surroundings. The lizards like the branches themselves were camouflaged with the spatters of bird’s poop further disguising their presence.

While the images below convey the primitive glory of these creatures, I just would rather not see them in a bird rookery. 

Camouflaged by shadows and a coating of bird droppings an iguana lounges amid branches of a nesting colony

Iguana rests camouflaged in spatters of bird’s poop and the natural hues of its surroundings. Pretty hard to see at first.

Marine Iguana climbing from water onto boardwalk at Wakodahatchee

This colorful, and newly washed, specimen launched himself into the water, swam gracefully, and climbed up the wooden boardwalk where I leaned out for a quick capture.

Nature will always find a way to survive, but , hoping that the interesting and primitive lizards will do no harm in the rookery!!



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