Tricolored Herons at Anahuac
May 31, 2019 ~ Last week I showed you the nesting White-faced Ibis we found at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, but there are other birds in those same canes and reeds. We saw Cattle Egrets, Great Egrets and lots of Tricolored Herons. The Tricolors don’t seem to fly as far for nesting materials and favor much smaller and lighter weight material than the White-faced Ibis. Seems reasonable; they are much smaller and lighter birds.
We had noticed them flying around but this is what sparked our interest. We were standing on the levee road on the last leg of the Auto Tour around Shoveler’s Pond doing the White-faced Ibis. They just appear in the sky with a stick they picked up from somewhere out of view. You can see the dried reeds and canes in the image to the right; the birds are nesting all in that foliage across the open water. But then a pretty little Tricolored Heron flew across the water…
And landed at the bottom of the slope.
He poked around in the tall grass until he found a suitable stick, lifted off and flew down the canal towards us a little ways before rising up and over the tall reeds to get to his nest.
We saw several show up down the slope from where we were standing. Whatever they were finding in that small patch just before the retaining wall for the parking area was in high demand.
Well.. that had to be investigated. We walked down a bit closer and started watching for the Tricolors. They were predictable but each had a little different way of landing in the area. On each of the three visits we saw Tricolors hunt that area for sticks and fly back to the nesting sites. Of course the wind and the light were different each time. I don’t really have any good shots of the approach; by the time I saw one headed for the slope and got it in focus, he was landing so we will start there.
All the Tricolors were in various stages of breeding colors: just look at that bright blue bill and maroon/mahogany feathers on his neck and chest. This landing was a straightforward feet-first stick-it style.
The one above had a slight turn into the wind and a gentle descent.
More of a classic style and since I was a bit later on the click, we can see his back and tops of wings better.
This guy shown above looks kind of awkward but hey… I was a bit lower on the slope so the angle is different.
And why this guy flew back across the water to the slope with a stick … I have no idea. But he did. Just when you think you have it all figured out, they surprise you. We did take a LOT of shots of them landing; it is the most interesting part of the series. IMO.
This is my favorite. Not happy with the background (too messy) but I don’t want to change it out.
Finding a suitable stick
See what I mean about small and lightweight nesting materials? I suppose this location was good for that size; maybe they go other places for heavier materials. It was harder to see them during this part; the high grass obstructed the search process. Bill noticed that the Tricolors seem to try to balance the stick before they carry it off where the Cattle Egrets just grab it anywhere. I am going to look for that next time.
The Cattle Egrets liked this location as well. It got a bit crowded but since they are both colony breeders, they must be used to it. I have written before about the stick selection process with Great Egrets. We have seen them pick up and discard sticks so there is some criteria for what they finally choose.
Taking off with nesting materials
This guy has something rooted and pliable to weave into the nest. He has his wings fully extended and they are going up….
And here he is just getting airborne. They all do this total extension first step.
And then they start the strong down beat to get some lift. A few more strokes and they are sailing past you.
As you try to keep up with them as they pass by. I like the darker backgrounds; it gives a lot of depth to the image. This stick is so small you wonder why he bothered.
See, they are just carrying small twigs back to the nesting site. I have never seen a Tricolor carry giant sticks like the Great Egrets and White-faced Ibis attempt. And the Roseate Spoonbill will try to carry huge sticks.
His bill seems to be extra blue but it could be the light. He was in a fairly shaded part of the canal or a cloud passed by. One day we were even sprinkled on as we stood on the slope. These were taken over three days and the conditions were different each day.
And then they would rise above the reeds heading for a nest site and disappear into their mysterious avian world.
We watched them for a long time on each of our three recent trips. And the Nikkor 500 f/5.6 PF is perfect for this kind of photography. Remember, you are standing on a slope and in the wind. Last year we did get some great images of them with nesting materials using the Nikkor 500 f/4E FL with 1.4x TC and a tripod, so it is certainly possible to work with a supported lens. We even got some nice shots with the Nikkor 300 f/4 PF and 1.4x TC that year so less reach is not a big problem. Hand-holding is more versatile but the weight of a heavier lens is going to wear you out after a while.
Sometimes you get one to really show off for you. He had done a big fluff-up and was settling back down to get to work finding that special stick.
One of the days we found a Tricolor with perfect breeding plumage eating tiny fishes at the boat ramp bridge. He was standing on a submerged culvert and ate his fill of little fish. His bill and lores are bright blue and his legs are purple. These high colors start to fade once they mate and start the process of incubating eggs and raising chicks.
Bill Maroldo shot a kazillion images of this one from inside the truck; I propped the big lens on the hood and took almost as many. The Nikkor 500 f/4E with the 1.4x TC gives me 700mm and sometimes that is a nice option. I used it here where the bird was unlikely to move much, and for the Green Heron babies we found since you had to stay back a ways from them. Maybe I can tell you about them next week…
If it we can get a cloudy day we are going back. A Least Bittern flew by us two different times and we got no images! And I have never ever seen the famed Groove-billed Anis that are supposed to hang out near the first boat ramp. And then the Green Heron chicks must be almost grown. Have you been to Anahuac? What did you see? Let me know in the comments below.