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Archive for the ‘Field Notes’ Category

Volunteer, Rick Lawrence and technician, Brittany Currier, making observations from the wetland edge.

Volunteer, Rick Lawrence and technician, Brittany Currier, making observations from the wetland edge.

This Thursday, I had the pleasure of going out in the field with volunteer, Rick Lawrence, and technician, Brittany Currier.  This was my first heron colony visit of the season and it was a rewarding one.  Despite post-holing through snow to get to the colony wetland, the day was relatively warm and more importantly, sunny!  When we reached the colony edge, I immediately noticed one adult great blue heron standing on one of the nests, and a second flying off in the background.

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To celebrate the Heron Observation Network’s fifth year, I put together a collection of Photos from the Field, taken by myself, co-workers, and some very talented HERON volunteers.  Many THANKS to all the HERON volunteers who monitored colonies, and to the landowners that allowed access.  Here’s to another exciting year ahead of us!  Happy 2014!

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Photo by Doug Albert.

The great blue heron nesting season went by as quick as a flash this year.  Fall is when I collect all the HERON volunteers’ data and enter it into the database to get an idea of how the season went for herons (which I will blog about at a later date).  It is also a great time to visit colonies on the ground for several reasons: 1) I can usually get a fairly accurate nest count because the nests typically persist into the fall (and most often as long as the following spring); 2) the birds no longer occupy their colonies at this time of year, so I can get real close without causing any disturbance; and 3) there are no biting insects to contend with!

My colony of choice to visit this week was one that is 3.5 hours driving time from my office in Bangor.  Sometimes it is difficult to commit to a long day of driving for just one site, but this turned out to be well worth it.  The weather was absolutely perfect, the company was very pleasant, hospitable, and knowledgeable, and the site was quite unique as far as heron colonies go.  Below is a photo journal of the day’s visit.  Hope you enjoy the adventure…

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Snowy egrets perched in apple trees.

This past May, I had the unique opportunity to assist National Audubon Society (NAS) with a wading bird census on Stratton Island in Saco Bay.  Part of NAS’s Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Sanctuary, this 23-acre island is located 1.5 miles south of Prout’s Neck and is home to an immense diversity of wading birds, waterfowl, seabirds, and songbirds, and is an important stopover for all the above during migration.

In fact, Stratton Island hosts the most diverse wading bird colony in Maine, and is the most northerly U.S. breeding location for a few of these species.  On the north side of the island, great and snowy egrets, black-crowned night-herons, little blue herons, and glossy ibis layer their nests in among the branches of choke cherry and apple trees.

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We’ve had some hot sultry days this summer, and if you were smart you retreated to a shady spot or went for a swim at a nearby pond.  But what about all those great blue heron nestlings that were sitting in their nests 20-100 feet up in a  tree, often in full sun?  Sure, their nest tree may be surrounded by water if it is a snag in a beaver flowage, but that water is completely inaccessible to a nestling who takes around 80 days to learn how to fly. 

How do they keep cool on those 90+ degree days?  Like humans, birds rely on evaporative cooling to release heat; however, birds do not have sweat glands like you and me.  Instead, they lose heat through their respiratory tract.  Some birds do this by panting, but others, including herons, do so by “gular flutter”.  Gular flutter is a rapid vibration of the upper throat and thin floor of the mouth.  By opening their mouths wide and rapidly flapping the thin gular membranes of the throat, they expose a large featherless area to moving air.  To see what gular flutter looks like, click on the link below to a web album containing 2 short videos:

Gular Flutter Videos

Herons may also change their posture to keep cool.  The “sunbathing” posture or “delta-wing” is sometimes assumed to aid in cooling the bird itself as well as to help shade its nest contents (eggs or nestlings).  Often sunbathing is accompanied by gular flutter.  The sunbathing posture I witnessed below was seen in mid-May on a day that was not noticeably hot (at least to me, but I was shaded by a blind).  This adult most likely had eggs or newly hatched young in the nest, but it doesn’t appear that the sunbathing posture is serving to shade any nest contents here.  The adult is actually facing into the sun.  Perhaps this is one of many reasons that led to this nest’s failure?  It was inactive only 1 week later.

Adult great blue heron “sunbathing”.

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Last Wednesday I took to the field to check out a great blue heron colony that I have only seen once during an aerial survey in 2009.  Since then, a volunteer has been monitoring the colony on the ground.  I finally made personal contact with the landowners this year and made a date to meet them and take a walk through the woods to the beaver flowage that housed the snags that held the heron nests. 

As we approached the wetland, we quieted ourselves knowing that our presence could easily disturb the nesting herons.  We ducked in and out of brush and young trees and snuck our way stealthily towards an opening at the water’s edge.

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The following was written and shared by Diane Winn of Avian Haven, one of the largest bird rehabilitation practices in New England.  Located in Freedom, Maine, they have treated over 12,000 birds comprising over 100 species.

Great Blue Heron found injured at Cobbosseecontee Lake. Photo by Steve Allarie

Warden Steve Allarie called on the afternoon of October 24th to give us a heads-up that he was about to attempt a rescue of a Great Blue Heron tangled in fishing line near the north end of Cobbosseecontee Lake.  Responding to a call, Steve had found her standing up, half in and half out of the water, with a significant length of monofilament wrapped around the left wing and leg, and some tissue damage to the wing.  Steve made a quick detour to grab a large kennel, and returned to the site with Warden Dan Christianson.  

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