Long Lake Great Blue Herons

sunset_heron_lowres

This is one of Long Lake’s Great Blue Herons, probably bedding down for the night, since Great Blues do tend to sleep in trees. Down south, where our herons migrate to, this makes good sense because that way they won’t be some alligator’s evening meal.

This heron’s bed is the dead pine on the west shore of the lower lake, in the first bay south of the narrows.

If you watch the shore closely, in our lake’s most secluded spots, you will sometimes see the herons stealthily hunting. They walk, slowly, watching for fish that swim by, or frogs or small snakes. They hunt by sight, including in dim light thanks to having an extra dollop of rods in the back of their eyes. They don’t hunt by smell at all. In fact they have a very weak sense of smell–which is probably a good thing, considering the somewhat smelly stuff they eat. Fish are heron’s main food. They stab them with their sharp beaks. Then they have to make sure to swallow them head first, so that the scales and fins don’t get stuck in that long esophagus.

heron1_lowres

This Great Blue looked a bit worse for wear when we spotted it a few weeks ago. We suspect that he (or she) was in mid-molt, but we’re not sure. Speaking of not sure, he and she herons look alike and are sized alike. Herons can sort it all out. But for human observers, that’s basically impossible.

We also wondered if this individual was a juvenile. If so, it was already full size. And, speaking of size, these guys are big. They have a wingspan of 5.5 to 6.5 feet.

Here’s a look at a heron wading in the shallows in front of our cottage, looking for breakfast.

shore_heron_lowres

Great Blues are shy birds, easily spooked. This next one flew off and gave us a good look at the deeply bent wings in flight and those trailing legs.

heron2_lowres

 

Thirsty fawn

doeandfawn2_lowres

“Mom, I know it’s kind of early for us to be drinking. But I’m parched. If I don’t get something to drink right now, I’m going to faint.”

“You drink, I’ll watch. Drink quickly, little fawn. I don’t like the looks of that guy in the pontoon boat. He’s aiming something at us.”

“Mom, no, I’m not done yet. My mouth is still as dry as a mouthful of sand. The world is terribly hot.”

“When they aim, we run.”

doeandfawn1_lowres

This pair was drinking in the late afternoon, on the east side of the last bay in the south lake just before the narrows. The doe seemed very aware of us, even though we were far off.

What’s up on Long Lake

flying_loon_lowres

We aren’t going to have any loon chicks this year on the lake. But we have loons-in-residence and from time to time we’re the party lake this summer. Loons occasionally gather in social groups. We hear them flying in, sounding their loony-tunes flight calls. We see them doing their skittering chasing about.

The underside of a loon is always a surprise. Even when you know their beautiful plumage is topside only, that white underbelly still seems sort of unfinished. Like the black magic marker ran out of ink.

See how the loon has its feet crossed in flight, as if at the ankle?  I’m thinking that must help it to deal efficiently with wind resistance. If loons did all that foot waggling and scratching in the air that they do in the water, they’d probably fall like a rock.

Here’s a beauty of a definitely different sort.

vulture_lowres

The Turkey Vulture. We see them circling in kettles that can number a few dozen individuals. But they don’t always travel in packs. This guy was a loner. Its fanned-out wing tips are a dead giveaway. Also, if you see a bird swooping down to something dead and smelly that’s pretty much a giveaway too. Oh yes, there’s that red head, all nicely defeathered so the bird can pick at carcasses and not have to do much grooming. There’s no mistaking that red head.

This fellow, cruising high over Long Lake, is a Great Blue Heron.

flying_heron_lowres

Great Blues fly with deep, strong beats of their very wide wings. But from ground level, it’s the long trailing legs that tell you best what’s up . When Great Blues fly, they pretty much fold their necks into sort of an “s” shape. So, look for long legs, long beak, but you won’t really see a long neck. And if you’re suddenly being reminded that all birds are descendants of dinosaurs, you’re probably looking at a Great Blue Heron. These guys may set you to wondering if the dinosaurs are still extinct.

Here’s one everyone knows, the Bald Eagle.

baldeagle_lowres

If Bald Eagles are flying high, they are more likely to be gliding than riding a thermal up in a spiral as a vulture does. On Long Lake the eagles often fly low over the tree lines. Their wing tips fan out, but not so exaggeratedly as a vulture’s. And unless the bird is very high or very backlit, the white head and yellow beak is the giveaway.

Dinner in the Long Lake nursery

kingbird_feed5_lowres

“Ahhh, mom. Not dragonflies again!”

kingbird_feed3_lowres

“No complaints. They’re nutritious and it’s all your dad and I can find tonight.”

The Eastern Kingbird nesting in our dock-bench cupholder seems to have three (or possibly four) hungry mouths to feed. Both parents are foraging and both bring food to the cupholder gang.

kingbird_feed4_lowres

In fact, the adults are now taking their parental roles a bit too seriously. They’ve decided we’re a threat as we walk to our pontoon boat, which is tethered to the dock. They’ve been dive-bombing us when we enter or exit the boat. Fortunately, no collisions (yet).

Quite the mess ‘o birdies!

crowded_kingbirds_lowres

Those little tuffs of baby bird are just the best.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Phoebe nest is…well…

crowded_phoebes2_lowres

…getting a tad crowded. I’m thinking a fledge or two pretty soon would be a good idea.

Long Lake’s Bird Nursery

kingbird_nesting_lowres

This is the bench on the end of our dock. You may wonder why that bird, an Eastern Kingbird, is squashing herself (the herself is the hint) down so low on the armrest.

kingbird_nesting2_lowres

If that doesn’t beat all. She’s nesting in one of our cupholders! Actually, though it’s a bit cramped for a bird that’s between 7.5 and 9 inches long, maybe she’s a trendsetter. It’s sturdy. As long as she stays put it probably won’t get waterlogged. I’m guessing it holds the heat quite nicely. And it’s definitely not going to get blown away in the wind.

She’s been very tolerant of our comings and goings. We have tried not to disturb her. We aren’t, for example, sitting on the bench. She has dibs on the bench for the duration. But our pontoon boat is moored to the other side of the dock and we’re not abandoning our boat to suit this Kingbird, or ahem, Queenbird.

She flew off for a bug dinner, no doubt, and Steve was able to peek into the nest.

kingbird_eggs_lowres

Well, I’ll be. And since this photo was taken, a fourth egg has been added to the clutch. The average clutch size is 2-5 eggs. Incubation is 14-17 days. And the time from hatch to fledge is 16-17 days. We’re in it for the long haul and just hope this spot isn’t too exposed to predators once the chicks hatch.

We think that this Eastern Phoebe has found a much better nesting place than the Kingbird. Phoebe is under our side porch overhang, atop a gutter drainpipe, with the chimney at her back.

bird_at_nest_lowres

Our Phoebe is quite the graceful one, shown here working on her nest. We’ve also watched this flycatcher in prey mode. The Force is strong with this one! She hits her target for sure. And quick.

Even Martha Stewart would be proud of this creation. The moss and other greenery is the perfect touch.

phoebe_eggs_lowres