Last spring I came upon a little blue heron at my pond. I startled it, and it flew up almost at my feet, “exploding” into the air beside me. So I got a very good look at this bird that normally breeds to the south of us. I wrote about it here in my column last year, spoke to bird specialist Tony Beck… And that, I thought, was that.
So I was taken aback to find a pair of them this year.
The Birds of Canada describes this heron’s range: “Breeds in the southern Atlantic and Gulf states, north along the coast to Massachusetts (casually) and south through Central America to Peru and Uruguay. Wanders northward occasionally to southeastern Canada.”
I immediately recognized the bird last year, because Eric and I had just returned from Louisiana that March. As part of that trip, we’d enjoyed an exploration by boat of a bayou at dawn. (“Welcome to the swamp…” just about sums up that wonderful boatride!)
The birdlife was simply astonishing: as dawn broke, the hundreds of vague “puffs” of white in the trees we’d noticed turned out to be roosting egrets. Rosy coloured “puffs” transformed themselves in the light into roseate spoonbills, another species that was a treat to see.
But the hundreds of little blue herons roosting in the trees needed sunlight before their camouflage colours of slate blue and russet became visible.
These herons, which are only 50-74 cm in height (compared to the great blue heron at 108 to 132 cm), are common in Louisiana. As dawn graduated to morning and sunlight infused the day, we were overwhelmed at the vast numbers of these birds.
In the ungainly way herons display, the little blues would take flight from their night-time perches, flapping their wings overhead as we craned our necks, binoculars glued to our eyes, observing their every move.
Here is how A field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies, by Roger Tory Peterson, describes them.
“A slender, medium-sized heron. Adult: Bluish slate with a deep maroon-brown neck; legs dark. Immature: All white; legs dull olive; bill pale bluish, tipped with black. Birds in transition are boldly pied with white and dark.”
It’s an exciting discovery here in the Pontiac, and you can bet that I’ll be keeping my eye on this pair, to see if they build a nest and have babies.
I noticed last year that The Ottawa Citizen bird columnist, Elizabeth Le Geyt, noted that a little blue heron had been spotted in the region. It will be very interesting to see whether her column mentions this species again.
For the bird is extremely rare here. Looking at the Birds of Canada, this heron’s status in Canada is described variously as being “rare,” an “autumn wanderer,” “recorded rarely.”
The only recorded instance of them being sighted in Québec is at “Moisie Bay, August 1928.”
So, now we could add “Pontiac County, May, 2000, 2001.”
Another species that is uncommon here but which some hunters are re-introducing so they can shoot it, is the ring-necked pheasant.
One of my readers called me a few weeks ago, to report sighting the magnificently coloured male near her Quyon home.
So I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled, hoping to see one myself. And all of a sudden, there it was, in a splash of sunshine at the edge of one of our backroads. Perfectly still, it gave us plenty of time to observe it.
If you’ve not seen one of these gorgeous birds, do take a moment to look it up in your bird book. The male has a glossy green head, white neckband and a splash of scarlet around its eye. The body is a gleaming chestnut brown with black flecks, culminating in an elegant, very long and pointed set of tail feathers. This is a stunning bird.
Sadly, it is also delicious. That’s why it was an introduced species to Canada, years and years ago. It flourishes in the Vancouver region: in fact, at Eric’s aunt’s former farm in Richmond, they were so numerous that they were considered as pests by some.
But here in the Pontiac, they are extremely rare and cannot overwinter successfully, for any predictable length of time. Tony Beck simply shakes his head, noting that just like the wild turkey, pheasants do not stand a chance here in our harsh climate.
Climate coupled with hunters, that is, who will shoot these birds in season, on sight.
But the little blue heron isn’t quite in the same league as the pheasant. It has migrated here, perhaps to breed, and then will fly south come autumn.
Let’s hope that the pheasant survives the fall and winter.
Keep your bird sightings coming. We have red-breasted nuthatches nesting in the trunk of a dead tree near the vegetable garden. Other species that have returned here are the thrasher, woodcock, snipe, bobolink, meadowlark among others.
Katharine Fletcher is a keen birder and freelance writer based north of Quyon. Contact her at email@example.com else at 458-2090.