Thursday, May 21, 2015

Heron Hygiene

This Green Heron at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina appears to have a substantial build up of powder down "powder" on it's beak and face.

The white-ish stuff comes from special feathers on the bird's chest that, rather than molting, grow continuously and disintegrate into a talcum-like powder. The powder is used as a way to absorb fish slime and other schmutz that get's all over the Heron as it catches fish and other prey. You can see tufts of down stuck in this bird's beak. It uses it's beak and toes to distribute and remove (after it has absorbed whatever goo needed cleaning up) the powder.

I have also noticed Heron's dip and briefly swish their beaks in the water right after they swallow a fish. I'm guessing they do this to de-slime their beaks. Like most predators, Herons are fastidious about hygiene.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Friday, May 15, 2015

Business End of a Heron

The daily use and abuse a Great Blue Heron's beak takes is clearly visible on this bird at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina.

Made of keratin just like human nails and hair, bird beaks too are susceptible to chips and scratches. In a weird parallel universe there are salons where birds go to get their beaks polished and painted.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Eyeballed by Egret

So, I'm sitting on a guard railing next to a marsh at Huntington Beach State Park, minding my own business, chimping some test shots I just took, I hear this commotion in front of me, I look up, and BAM! Here's this Great Egret giving me the stink eye.

He's like, "Hoomon, who said you could sit there?!" He stared at me for a moment. Then he preened a few feathers and flew off.

I just love that creamy white plumage! Especially the way the late afternoon sun back lit it in this shot. You can see how full, lacy, and clean all the feathers are. Just a magnificent bird.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Blow Dry and Fluff

Here's a female Anhinga drying off in the breeze after diving for fish at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. Unlike the other fishing birds I saw, this breed swam under water to spear fish with that really sharp beak. To stay submerged, her feathers became completely soaked making her negatively buoyant. Then she would spend considerable time air-drying her plumage only to jump back in and go fishing again!

I watched her as she dove repeatedly for minnows along the edge of a fresh water marsh. She stayed down for 20-30 seconds at a time, moving several meters while submerged. I followed her trail of bubbles to anticipate where she might come up for air. When she did come up, only her neck and head came out of the water giving her a snake-like appearance. "Anhinga" is a Brazilian word that translates to "Snake Bird," among other things.

Here she is looking snakey.

Unlike the beaks on the much larger Herons and Egrets (see previous posts), Anhinga's are finer and sharper, indicative of the smaller fish they spear underwater. They are so fine at the tip, they are translucent. If a an Anhinga were to open it's mouth, the upper and lower halves of the beak would be almost needle-like at the tip. Apparently, they do spear smaller fish with their beaks slightly open and larger fish with them closed.

Tom Bradley  ©  2015

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Great Blue Heron

From this front view, a Great Blue Heron at Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, doesn't look so blue.

He looks more brown and tan, like the rocks along the shore of this marsh. Perfect camouflage. He matches his background as viewed from the point of view of the fish he is hunting; his legs have the same tonal and color gradient as the rocks; rusty brown leg feathers match the seed heads of the grass; light tan with darker shades of gray make his body look like a rock; even the slender, pointed feathers gracefully hanging from his body break up his silhouette by mimicking blades of marsh grass. As Dexter Morgan once said, "Camouflage is nature's craftiest trick."

Tom Bradley  ©  2015