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Posts Tagged ‘heron’

American Bittern. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The East River is NYC’s premier waterway and as founder of the LIC Community Boathouse and HarborLAB, I’ve made it my paddling home. At sunset, ferry boats filled with skyline gawkers will nearly flip to the west, and East River bridges set the scene for countless films. But for a kayaker, it’s the wilderness refuges of its islands and inlets that make this tidal strait endlessly fascinating.

Returning to Randalls Island from Governors Island in the Sunday morning calm after City of Water Day, Caroline Walker and I paddled through the outskirts of Hell Gate toward Mill Rock. I was admiring Great Black-backed Gulls at rest and Double-crested Cormorants perched on the island’s rip rap skirt while drying their wings when I spied something a bit different — a bird with the shape of a heron but markings similar to an American Woodcock. Caroline described it as “brindled,” which is pretty apt.

As we drifted past, a handful of cormorants and gulls took off while most ignored us. The misfit bird, however, walked quickly and deliberately into the brush that grew down from a turf mound to the rip rap line. It seemed to almost instantly disappear among the twigs and leaves. I didn’t have a camera.

After some research yesterday, I realized how lucky Caroline and I were! We had spotted an American Bittern. This species has fantastic camouflage for its reedy habitat, and so is rarely seen. Sadly, its population is declining rapidly with diminishing wetlands (though I’m comforted that its conservation status remains “least concern“). Good places to seek them are Pelham Bay Park (join Wild Metro for a volunteer day) and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. But they can pop up well away from salty shores. Prospect Park Lake, in the heart of Brooklyn, may have drawn this other one.

For those not lucky enough to glimpse this stealthy heron, there’s still a chance to hear its odd call, the second part of which sounds to me like someone repeatedly unstopping a PVC pipe. Strange that a creature would evolve to be invisible only to concurrently acquire a voice that earns it nicknames like “Stake Driver, Thunder Pump and Mire Drum.”

The American Bittern I observed was silent, so I have something to look (or rather, listen) forward to!

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Photo by Ted Gruber. 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

I think anything with the word “night” in its name benefits from a bit of mystery by association. As if Yellow-crowned Night Herons needed the help. With gorgeous plumage and reliably picturesque harbor backdrops, these birds are a favorite of NYC Auduban/New York Water Taxi tours and individual birders.

 

Fellow LIC Community Boathouse volunteer Ted Gruber snapped this shot in Steinway Creek, where it was perched atop a collapsed dock. A solitary Black-crowned Night Heron was nearby as well. I’ve found the black-crowned variety to be more common, but having both in view was ample reward for our early start and two crossings through whirl-pool filled Hell Gate. Okay, so I admit I love going through Hell Gate at peak current.

 

Yellow-crowned Night Herons have been spotted at City Island, but I would imagine that Staten Island and its nearby islands in the Arthur Kill would also provide good habitat. Any other recent sightings?

 

We didn’t get to see this bird lunge at a crustacean, insect, mollusk, amphibian, or fish. The action happens in darkness for this species. Instead it (the sexes look alike) simply held its place in a stately fashion. The species is threatened in our area, but ironically it’s also more widely dispersed than before; when the Bermuda Night Heron went extinct, environmental authorities there imported this North American species and plugged it into the vacant ecological niche.

 

Yellow-crowned night herons lay their eggs in overhangs, whether a living bush or a jutting piling or beam. We didn’t see if this one had a blue-green clutch of eggs because getting that close would disturb it. The geese and mallards along the East River shores and on North Brother and South Brother islands had full nests, so perhaps there’s a decent chance that New York City has an upcoming generation of Yellow-crowned Night Herons warming in Steinway Creek?

 

I’ll write a more complete report on the Steinway Creek at a later date. Due to an imminent property sale, the city and state should aid Astorians in seizing a rare chance to ecologically restore the petroleum-despoiled, sewage-filled waterway and its surprisingly verdant southwest bank. Toss in a kayak launch, and you’ll have a constituency to keep it green, blue, and clean for neighborhood youth…human and heron.

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