Thursday, August 1, 2013

Life Through The Lens - Reddish Egret

The Reddish Egret is probably the most charismatic of our North American herons.  Most individuals are a drab red-gray, hence the "reddish" name (though some are white).  It is also the rarest breeding heron in the US - the Audubon Society estimates a population of only 12,000, with a range mostly restricted to the Gulf coast.  Its population was decimated by plume hunters in the early 1900s, and the species never fully recovered.  For this reason, it remains one of the most poorly understood herons species in the country.  Fortunately, the Migratory Bird Act now protects it, and we can still see this fascinating bird in North America.
Most herons and egrets hunt by slowly wading along shores and lakes, waiting for frogs, fish, and crustaceans to come into view.  They can spend hours waiting for the perfect moment to strike.  But the Reddish Egret takes a more active, and frankly more bad-ass, approach to catching food.  It runs and flaps its wings in a frenzied, circular "dance" to stir up mud and small fish.  An ingenious hunter, the Reddish Egret will also use its wings to make a canopy above the water - minnows flock to the shady area underneath, and the egret attacks.

Reddish Egrets, like many large wading birds, will disperse from their breeding grounds in the late summer - which is how the bird above ended up in North Carolina where I could see it.  I spent several minutes watching it feed - dancing, spinning, flying, and twirling more than an olympic figure skater.  Nearby birds seemed static in comparison to the comical grace of the Reddish.  A flock of Brown Pelicans, another bird back from the brink, flushed it deep into the marsh, far out of view.  I was left with a vivid memory of this energetic bird, and some photos - perfect for the August edition of Life Through The Lens.
Ready to strike

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