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Compare: Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egret

At first glance, these two birds belong in the “white heron/egret” category of wading birds found at water’s edge. Snowy Egret, I thought, before I took a good look.

Jensen bridge.

We were doing that fun John-and-Amy thing where we drive around in our old Jeep with a fishing rod in back. We stop now and then, here and there, for John to cast a few and me to snap a few.

Birds on the seawall and down on the rocks were watching bait fish move in with the tide.

Not the same bird.

These two were close together on the wall.

I got a good look at the legs and feet, bills and lores, and realized one was a Snowy Egret (left) and the other a Little Blue Heron (right), a species that is white as a juvenile.

Snowies have black bills with a yellow patch, or lore, between their beaks and eyes, and yellow feet with black legs (mostly all black, but sometimes just black on the front of their legs!) Young Little Blues have gray-green legs, darker gray-to-black bills that are slightly thicker.

Both are in the Ardeidae family (herons, egrets, bitterns) and the Egretta genus of medium herons mostly breeding in warm climates.

Egretta thula

Looks like somebody was drawing with chalk where this Snowy Egret is standing! I like the yellow feet with the yellow flower.

Egretta caerulea

Little Blue Heron, not a Snowy Egret! Someday this bird will be a lovely, moody blue-gray-purple color, but not yet.

Here’s an adult Little Blue Heron, from photos I took last March.

Osprey wings

Osprey soars over the beach on Hutchinson Island a couple of days ago.

These large fish-eating raptors have a wingspan of four-and-a-half to six feet. They weigh between two and four-and-half pounds. That seems like a lot of wing for the weight!

Is the beach big enough for these two sanderlings?

The blog had a sleepy summer, but now it’s fall and we are on the move again.

My husband and I were driving around in the Jeep yesterday. He brought a lightweight fishing rod and I brought my camera. On Hutchinson Island, we parked at Beachwalk Pasley and went over the small dune to visit the beach before the storm.

No fish for my husband but I observed something I’ve never seen before, a short battle between two initially-peaceful Sanderlings who seemed suddenly to decide the beach was not big enough for both of them. It was like a cockfight in miniature, between a couple of birds weighing about 2 ounces each.

The battle suddenly resolved in a truce and the warriors resumed their rest.

Or are they lovers rather than fighters? Could it be a dance of a mated pair? So hard to tell!

We left as a storm was moving in from the south.

Good neighbors

This little woodpecker is peeping out the “front door,” waiting for mom or dad to deliver some fresh food.

He or she is in the trunk of a dead palm around the block from me. I heard some peeping while I was out walking the dogs last night (I think there is more than one bird in there) and went back with my camera this morning.

The trunk has many holes.

Red-bellied woodpeckers nest, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in “dead trees (hardwoods or pines), dead limbs of live trees, and fence posts. The same pair may nest in the same tree year after year, but typically excavate a new cavity each year, often placing the new one beneath the previous year’s.”

I have seen Red-bellied Woodpeckers in and out of this tree, and I could hear them nearby, so I didn’t linger too long and interrupt the little one’s breakfast.

The tree and bird were at the bottom of this street, near those two neighbors saying hello to each other. One of them is the woman who owns the house where the nestling’s tree is located. She told me she deliberately left the dead tree there because the woodpeckers nest there every year.

These honored dead

I discovered Alexandria National Cemetery last week. It is one of the 14 original national cemeteries established in 1862.

I walked through and noticed that the headstones were inscribed with names of men from “the North” who died during the Civil War, though Virginia was part of the South. A sign explained that Alexandria was captured and occupied by the Union as soon as war broke out, in order to defend the Potomac River entrance to the nation’s capital at Washington, D.C.

Our Memorial Day commemorations grew out of various Decoration Day traditions that began after the Civil War.

Blue Jay in another part of the cemetery.

This bird was looking young and handsome in blue and gray feathers.

The Gettysburg Address was on an outside wall of the cemetery superintendent’s lodge. President Lincoln gave the speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA four months after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Remember.

City birds, big bugs and a new birdwatcher

A Starling disassembles a cicada, on a sidewalk in Alexandria, Virginia.

It’s a big year for bugs.

Cicadas crawl about forests all over the world, and most have annual life cycles. But periodical cicadas, which don’t exist anywhere else on Earth but the eastern United States, spend far more time underground before emerging in broods to mate either every 13 years or every 17 years. A different cicada brood emerges most years, but these groups vary greatly in size and location. This year will be special: The so-called Brood X is among the largest and densest. The insects will appear by the billions in three distinct hotspots that cross parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, and Tennessee. 

House Sparrows were munching cicadas too.

Seems like a big bug for a small bird, but cicadas are slow and defenseless. Though perhaps their defenses are in their periodically large numbers.

Birds usually help keep bug populations in check, and the cicada influx will be a bonanza for a number of medium- or larger-sized birds that are big enough to dine on the two-inch insects. But because millions of cicadas emerge on a single acre of forest during big brood years, even the keenest birds hardly put a dent in the population.

If you live in the mid-Atlantic region, you can: Help researchers learn which birds eat periodical cicadas.

I am visiting my eldest daughter Anna who moved to the DC area with her husband a year ago during the stress, masking and lockdown restrictions of Covid. Regarding meeting new people and enjoying the culture and variety of city life, she said, “I might as well be living on the moon.”

Earlier this spring, Anna discovered a woodland area along a stream a few blocks from her apartment. It connects to a small park with a paved path looping under trees and through the grassy flood plain. She goes there many evenings after a long day of working from home and before doing homework for her online classes. She has started to learn the birds.

A Great Blue Heron is a regular visitor to the stream.

Yesterday in the early evening, Anna logged her first eBird checklist there. A new birdwatcher has fledged!

These Mallards made the list, as did one Mourning Dove, two Blue Jays pestering three Crows (Fish or American, we weren’t sure), a couple of Carolina Chickadees in a willow tree, four European Starlings strutting around on the park lawns, two madly-singing Gray Catbirds, three Northern Cardinals, and a couple of House Sparrows.

She also learned that a pair of binoculars plus intent staring up into the tree canopy or down into a meadow can be a conversation starter with other nature lovers, dog walkers and curious passersby. Welcome back to Earth from the Moon, dear daughter.

Tern time

You can know a Sandwich Tern by the yellow tip on its bill, as though it’s been dipped into a mustard jar. Mustard. Sandwich. Get it?

I’ve been lazy about learning my terns. So I especially tried to see terns last Saturday (a week ago) for birding’s Global Big Day.

I did a couple of eBird checklists, first along a favorite stretch of beach north of the House of Refuge in the morning, then north of Fort Pierce at Avalon State Park in the afternoon.

I contributed two checklists to the amazing world total. Nice to be a part of the big day, but it reminded me I don’t always enjoy a diligent count of carefully identified birds while also trying to get a few good photos.

Royal terns loafing in the bright afternoon at Avalon.

My husband helped during my afternoon excursion. He had the binoculars and I had the camera and the iPhone eBird app. So I would ask him to count and also check and describe the birds up ahead in that flock on the beach to see if they were a mix of different species or they were all the same.

The Royal Terns were active and plentiful on that stretch of the beach. They are large terns with dagger-like orange bills, black legs and a long, forked tail.

Breeding adults have a full black cap that sometimes looks a bit shaggy and unkempt in a strong breeze. Non-breeding adults look like they have the receding hairline of male pattern baldness.

Non-breeding hairdo.

Forked tail of a Royal Tern with a full black cap.

Caspian Terns are the other large terns along Florida beaches. I will try to get a photo and show the differences between the two.

The medium-sized terns around here: Sandwich. Breeding birds also have a shaggy crested black cap. Non-breeding birds have a partial black crown, as shown above.