Little Rookery

One of my new Facebook friends told me about a small group of nesting birds in the Freeport wetlands area, so my fave photographer Bill Maroldo and I wasted no time in checking it out. It isn't an official site sponsored by the Audubon Society like High Island but turned out to be quite productive for photographs. We have been several times.

There are a lot of Little Blue Herons in the area and we saw several nests. The site was actually just off the road at the end of one of the ubiquitous canals that crisscross the coast. After trudging through brambles and wildflowers we found a couple of open spots next to the water to set up our tripods.

Only at the edge of the water as there are alligators in this canal. Trust me, I saw a big one.

View looking down the canal Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 800

View looking down the canal

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 800

It was overcast and threatening to rain as we arrived that first morning. In fact, we did get sprinkled on; we had to cover our cameras and lenses with black trash bags. My wide brimmed hat is good for sun or rain and I got a great waterproof windbreaker for Christmas. Funny how your list for Santa changes after you retire.

Trees full of Little Blue Herons Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

Trees full of Little Blue Herons

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

Most of the Little Blues were a far reach for my 400m lens but after a while they started moving closer. Once they got used to us several came up to the trees just across from where we were standing. 

Lesson: Don't be in such a hurry to dismiss subjects as too far away for your gear. 

Two Little Blue Herons in full breeding colors Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1000

Two Little Blue Herons in full breeding colors

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1000

These two might be males having a bit of a turf disagreement; I don't know. The males and females look the same. Both bristled up when the upper bird landed on the limb, but settled down after a few minutes. (How Southern: bristled up and settled down ...)

These two exhibit the classic breeding changes: bright blue lores and upper part of the beak, deep maroon shaggy head feathers and beautiful slate blue body. Other changes include a more heavily black tipped beak and blacker legs instead of the normally grayish-green. 

We did not observe any nest building or herons carrying nesting material. Could it be they just refurbish established nests instead of starting anew each year? On subsequent trips we noticed new nests, but never saw any birds bringing nesting material or working on the nests.

We did see one juvenile holding a stick while perched on a limb. He waved it around... and you could speculate he was imitating adult behavior. 

Handsome Little Blue Heron standing over nest Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/640 sec ISO 1000

Handsome Little Blue Heron standing over nest

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/640 sec ISO 1000

One of the nests along the canal probably has eggs. They lay 3-4 pale bluish green eggs and if you look closely, there seems to be something of that color showing in the top part of the nest. This bird did sit on the nest; I can't find any information about who incubates the eggs. Great Egrets share nest duty and feeding the chicks and perhaps these do as well. 

I did find out that one study shows 73% of the chicks' diet consists of crayfish, so breeding distribution and timing is closely related to the availability of this resource. (Texas Breeding Bird Atlas). As we have had a very wet Spring I suspect these chicks will be fat and well fed. 

Juvenile Little Blue Heron Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/1250 sec ISO 1000

Juvenile Little Blue Heron

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/6.3 1/1250 sec ISO 1000

I don't have any photos of Little Blue Heron chicks (yet), but here is a juvenile that that was kind enough to land on a branch just above where we had set up. The chicks start out white and gradually turn blue as they mature. The intermediate phase is called Pied-bald or Calico. 

It is one theory that the young white birds can feed without harassment among other white birds such as Snowy Egrets and even White Ibis. This would give them an advantage during this crucial adolescent stage. 

And a better chance to grow up to be like this handsome bird:

Little Blue Heron in the rain and breeze Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

Little Blue Heron in the rain and breeze

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

There was a dead tree in the middle of the canal that was a perfect perch for these fantastic birds. Just look at those shaggy feathers!

Little Blue Heron just before take off Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

Little Blue Heron just before take off

Sony A77II with Sony 70-400 G2 f/5.6 1/1000 sec ISO 1000

We left after "only" 261 photos as it started to rain. Good thing we did as within 20 minutes it was raining so hard we could hardly see the road. Maybe the drought is over here on the coast; Houston has gotten 16.04 inches (40.74 cm) of our normal annual precipitation of 49.77 inches (1,264 mm). This time last year we had 7.36 inches (18.69 cm).  

Are you happy with all the rain we have been experiencing? What do you think of these birds? Would you tramp through knee-deep weeds and thorns to take a photo? Let me know in the comments below.