Monday, July 27, 2015

Retro Blog... The Bittern and the Bee

Spotting the Least Bitterns at Oceanside last week reminded me of the first time I got to see one. It was at the San Elijo Nature Reserve on August 4, 2012. Below is a "retro blog" post and you can see why I fell in love with these little birds in my first encounter with them!


Wow, what wonderful weather we are having! Great time to go to the beach to cool off or go for a walk to the lagoon. My friend in Escondido tells me it is over 90 degrees and the humidity feels uncomfortably high. Feeling very grateful I am at the coast with its wonderful weather and cooling sea breeze. Of course there are blooms everywhere celebrating summer! 

It must be butterfly season too, they are also everywhere. Here is a shot of a beauty. 

Where there are flowers, you will see bees collecting pollen and nectar.
Bees are not the only ones to thrive in the summer... the young birds also have a great start in this wonderful climate and in habitats where there are plenty of prey for them to feast on like this juvenile Least Bittern that I spotted in the middle pond (nicknamed duck pond) at San Elijo Nature Reserve. This little body of water is located past the boardwalk on the main nature trail. This little guy is on the hunt for some lunch.
Insects are part of its diet, but honey bees? The honey bees are loaded with nectar and it's probably like eating a piece of candy to this juvenile Least Bittern. 

The bee is really struggling and trying to use his stinger but not able to do so successfully being held captive at the end of the Bittern's beak.

This juve must know the dangers of the stinger, he immediately puts the bee underwater.
The bee must be still buzzing, the youngster proceeds to squeeze and smash it from head to tail.
He flicks the bee back in the water to test if for life. He waits a few moments to see that there is no more movement.

The young Bittern retrieves the water soaked bee from the water. He not only drowns it and makes sure it is dead,he also gets the prey wet so it is easier to swallow.

Gives it a good squeezing on the stinger end... which pops the bee like a grape. You can see the stinger separate from its body.

One more squeeze on the head and the bee is ready for consumption.
Back to his main diet of tadpoles and small fish. Bitterns are excellent hunters and have almost a 100% success rate when going after prey even though these birds are 13 inches long, You can see by this photo that the measurement is mainly due to his long neck. Least Bitterns are really a tiny heron.
Here is a shot of the youngster catching himself a nice snack.
Looking around the duck pond, I also spot several juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons resting in the reeds. Easy to recognize them with their spotted feathers.
But one Black-crowned Night Heron stood out. Looking all grown up, this sub-adult looks wonderful in its first summer feathers. All of his spotted feathers are gone from his back but the beak still has the green coloring of a juvenile.
Checking on the juvenile Least Bittern again, I could not believe my eyes! Check out the photo I took. There were not 2 juveniles but 3 of them in the same area!!  Wow... what a great day this has been for birding, I am in Heron Heaven!

Here is a close-up of juvenile #1.  I think this is a female, she has lots of golden orange colors and still has some natal feathers on her back.

Here is juvenile # 2, lol... I will call him "Curly" his mohawk is a little curly but that could be because he just dove in the water to catch a fish.  Curly has the most natal feathers sticking out on his head and back. He appears to be the smallest/youngest of the three.

Here is a close-up of Juvenile #3. I think this one is a male... looks like lots of dark feathers coming in on his back... also he has the longest mohawk but has very few natal feathers on his back. I would say he is the oldest of these three. Of course in a week we won't be able to tell the difference when it comes to the natal feathers.

 An adult is spotted nearby and has caught a fish.

A youngster comes flying out of the reeds chasing and begging mom for food. She has decided to keep the fish for herself and flies off with her snack. Probably teaching the youngster that he will have to fend and fish for himself.

 Not happy that mom took off with her snack, he decides to hunt for himself.

This is the typical way a bittern hunts for prey, they perch over the water and strike down at the fish or tadpole that may swim by. 
Full concentration.
 One of the juveniles spots something and freezes. 
Whatever he saw, he is now in the classic bittern defense stance. 
He follows the threat as it flies past.

Relaxing a bit as the danger passes.
Looking to see what may have been the cause of such a reaction by the youngster, I spot a Red-shouldered Hawk flying northwest.
The young bittern keeps watching until the raptor is well out of sight. 
Well today there were three Least Bittern juveniles. Maybe someone will spot a fourth one tomorrow. This hummingbird perched nearby was also interested in watching the antics of the Bittern juveniles. I think this is an Allen's Hummingbird. It is really hard to tell from this view but he sure has a beautiful rufous coloring on his back. It has been a fantastic day for birding but it's time for me to head for home.

Have a fruitful week everyone!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Young Snowy Egret Takes the Plunge

With not much bird activity at the San Elijo Lagoon, I decided to go back to Oceanside Harbor to see if I could get another look at the Least Bitterns again. I didn't get a shot of the bitterns but a young Snowy Egret fledgling flew in and proceeded to take a bath. I was very happy to get such a beautiful bird subject to photograph taking what appeared to be his very first bath.

As I was looking for the Least Bitterns near the Oceanside Harbor bridge, three Snowy Egrets came flying in right into my camera lens range. I noticed that two were adults and one was a very young looking juvenile. He came strolling right in front of the area were I was standing and proceeded to take a bath. Just the way he was behaving and the HUGE amount of talcum powder type of dust that came out of this young bird told me that it was probably his very first bath. Below are the some shots that show the youngster bathing. He was absolutely precious to watch. What a cute little guy and such a beautiful bird too. 
Slowly sinks to his belly...
But gets nervous and looks around to see if I could be a threat to him. 
Feeling more comfortable with my camera pointed at him he submerges straight down without any warning. 
 Washing his face...
 The expression on his face is precious!
He may be thinking... "That was fun" as he squats down again and feels the water with his wings. 
Up again but he gets that look in his eyes like he is going to take another plunge.
"Is anyone watching"? He shrinks himself and sinks lower into the water.
Boom! He takes another dip.
Really working his head underwater. 
LOL... he has that precious expression under water too.
 Isn't this the cutest little snowy you have ever seen?
If Snowy Egrets could smile I would have to say he is smiling right now. 

Look at all that talcum powder fluff floating on the surface in front of him that has flaked off his body! 
 He has that look again... to plunge or not to plunge.
 He is really thinking about it. You can still see all the debris floating in front. 
 Plunge! LOL, yes, he is that quick to drop from standing to submerged. 
 He is so adorable. What a sweet sweet bird this little egret is. 
 Now he looks like he is getting the hang of it and enjoying his bath. 
 Yes, he is smiling again! Really working his wings now. 

 He is getting wet all over. LOL, If I was a few feet closer I would be wet too. 
 He pauses.
 He is thinking again... plunge or not to plunge.
 Looks my way was as to say "what do you think... plunge or not to plunge"?
 I give him the thumbs up and he thinks about it for a few more seconds.

 Using his beak to clean and scrub all around
 Pumping the wings to get the water to all the hard to reach places. 
 Working his wings. 

He looks to be sure he is still safe. The two adults are nearby and appear to be standing guard as this youngster takes his bath. 
 Slowly sinks down again. 

 Another plunge?
 No... this time he just works his wings. 
 A few more splashes to get water all over. 
 Slowing down. 
 The fluff from his feathers is still all over the surface of the water .
 I thought he was done with his bath but it looks like he wants one more dunking. 
 Really got some water on his back this time. 
 It's amazing that his crown feathers don't even look wet. 

Few more pumps of his wings to get the water sloshing under his wings and he appears to be done. 
 Folds his wings and slowly rises up.
 One giant shake.

Now the wings work to air dry them. He just keeps flapping and flapping them, flicking all the water off his feathers. 
 He is all done and looking very clean and refreshed. 
 Lots more flapping of the wings as he walked towards one of the adults. 
 His feathers are so clean and bright they are "glowing". 

All clean and refreshed, he flies over to join an adult that has been standing patiently watching over her youngster. Another adult Snowy hunts for fish nearby. This has been another wonderful day at the Oceanside Harbor and now it's time for me to head for home. 
 Have a refreshing weekend everyone!