Stalking the Mudflats and Shallows – Part 2

Large wading birds have broad appeal and a huge following. They have it all – visibility, beauty of form and color, wings spanning several feet in flight, etc. A sighting is an event, even more so when the species in question is uncommon to the area.

Such is the case with the Great Egret (Ardea alba) in Central New York. Its summer range is extensive, including the Mississippi River drainage and the east coast of the U.S., but typically does not include inland regions like ours. We’re not far from several large wetland and lake ecosystems, including Lake Ontario, so are more likely than most to see one of these lovely birds drifting through. 

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I had the good fortune to observe and photograph a lone Great Egret from a ground blind at a reasonable distance, on the same morning that I captured the Great Blue Herons that were featured in the previous post. These two posts represent one of my most rewarding – and challenging – photographic adventures to date. Needless to say, my head was, at times, spinning, as were my camera dials!

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The large size (about 3 feet tall), yellow beak and black legs are diagnostic.

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The feeding behavior of Great Egrets is much like that of Great Blue Herons. They stalk and spear a variety of food items, including small fish, frogs and aquatic invertebrates. The fully extended body that precedes a lunge is a beautiful sight and seems, like the routines of Olympic gymnasts, physically impossible!

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In addition to the Great Egret, there were three Great Blue Herons, a dozen or so Canada Geese on this site in close proximity to one another. I saw some antagonism between the egret and herons initially but, for the most part, they seemed tolerant of one another.

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Great Egrets were nearly exterminated in the late 19th century due to market hunting for their breeding plumage. Fortunately, they’re adaptable to a variety or wetland habitats, both saltwater and freshwater, and responded well to protection and conservation practices. That said, any species that relies on wetland habitats and some degree of seclusion from people and predators should be on our watch list. I for one have had my eyes opened in terms of the importance of a relatively small wetland site with a few pools and open mudflats. 20 or 30 wetland birds, perhaps a dozen species in all, frequent it daily at this time of year.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.