Great Blue Heron Hatchlings at Wakodahatchee

The Great Blue Heron is the largest wading bird found in the United States, consequently is it isn’t surprising that their nesting activities are pretty impressive.  On a recent visit to Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, Florida I was able to see this first hand.  The fifty-acre man-made nature preserve was dotted with large, impressive Great Blue Heron nests on top of just about every clutch of bushes throughout the park.

Mother Great Blue Heron looking over her newly hatched baby.

Herons breed in a group called a herony, which is a more specific version of the term rookery.  The nests are built by both the male and female heron.  The male gathers sticks and twigs and offers them to the female who then weaves and arranges them in to a large saucer-like nest. The nests are about four feet in diameter and three feet deep and are lined with softer materials such as leaves and grass.  The female then lays two to six pale blue eggs and one or two of those result in baby herons.

Two young Great Blue Herons poking their heads out of the nest.

Both the male and female participate in the feeding of the young herons, by over-eating and then regurgitating the extra into their babies’ mouths.  As a parent who had to feed a baby of my own in the not too distant past, I am grateful that humans do not feed their young using that same method.

If you are interested in watching the nesting behavior of Great Blue Herons from the comfort of your home or office then check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live Great Blue Heron Nest Cam.  At the time this article was written the first two eggs had just been laid.

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Egret and Herons

Here are some shots of an Egret and some Herons I captured on my last birding walk.  Egrets and Herons are carnivorous birds both belonging to the Ardeidae family.  Their beautiful plumage has made these birds popular in the fashion trade in the past.  It also makes them fascinating birds to observe and photograph.

Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

Looking for breakfast.

Keeping a wary eye out for the birding paparazzi.

Hey!  You!  Put that camera away.

Great Blue Heron braving the wind.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Birding the Everglades: Anhinga Trail

I invited my dad to join me on my latest birding expedition. My dad is a great appreciator of nature, and is probably the biggest reason why I have grown to have such a love for birds and nature. During my childhood my dad would always stop to notice the little treasures that exist in nature. That sensibility somehow made through my thick-headed and distracted adolescence and now it is instilled in this adult version of me. The two of us had a wonderful time enjoying what nature had to offer.

We decided to venture down to the southern end of Everglades National Park.  We found ourselves tackling the Anhinga Trail and the Gumbo Limbo Trail, which are both just a couple miles inside the main park entrance in the Royal Palm State Park section. Every time I make out to the Everglades I find it incomprehensible that the sprawling suburbs of a major city are no more than a fifteen minute drive away. Once you get out there you are immersed into a completely different world. The “river of grass” dotted with hammocks and pinewoods extends farther than the eye can see. Birds and other wildlife that rarely or never venture into to the nearby neighborhoods thrive, although their continued existence is threatened by South Florida’s increasing growth.

Thanks to the recent generosity of a very good friend my ability to capture digital images of my birding experiences has been greatly upgraded. Here are a few of the many wonderful birds we saw. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Eastern Wood Pewee

Anhinga (Breeding Plumage)

Double-crested Cormorant

Red-shouldered Hawk

Purple Gallinule

Green Heron

Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Last weekend I loaded up the family and set off for Shark Valley, at the north end of Everglades National Park.  It was an overcast day and we drove through a couple of rain showers to get there, but once we had parked and bought our tram tour tickets the sun peeked out and the remainder of the day was beautiful.

Shark Valley is a great place to observe exotic birds and other wildlife in their natural habitat, because it is really nothing more than two paths running out to an observation tower eight miles deep into the swamp.  Once you’re out there it is wilderness as far as the eye can see.  I’ve been out there several times in the past with my bicycle, but this time we opted for the tram tour, because an eight mile bike trek would probably be too much for my five-year-old to handle.   The tour was narrated by Ranger Mel.  He did an excellent job pointing out animals and educating us about the Everglades’ history, natural features and the challenges it faces.  As a novice birder, I was especially grateful for Mel, because he identified the bird species we saw.

Female Anhinga

Female Anhinga

Anhingas perched on the trees hanging over the deep water areas drying their wings in the sun.  It is easy to distinguish the females from the males, because they have a sandy-white head and crown.  The male Anhingas are almost completely black.

Red-shouldered Hawk

A Red-shouldered Hawk watched us from the high branches of a distant tree, making me wish I had a better camera.

Great Egret

Great Egrets perched atop the little Cypress trees that dot the “River of Grass.”

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

A Great Blue Heron stalking new hatched alligators, begrudgingly yielded the road as we approached.

In addition to the birds I was able to photograph we also saw Black Vultures hovering overhead ready to perform Nature’s clean up duties.  American Crows as big as ducks observed us closely on our ride in and on our ride out.  Northern Mockingbird flew in hopping and skipping patterns from bush to bush and a lonely Western Osprey hovered high above everything.

My wife and daughter, who were initially somewhat skeptical at the idea of spending an afternoon in the wilderness, ended having a wonderful time.  My daughter said her favorite bird of the day was “the fat one.”  Later, I discovered that she wasn’t referring to me, but the Red-shouldered Hawk, which coincidentally was my favorite bird of the day as well.

Until Next Time,

The Fat One