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Little blue herons are out and about in Mecklenburg

A young blue heron.
A young blue heron. Phil Fowler

One cool morning about 10 days ago following a night of heavy storms I decided to check some local wetlands for dispersing long-legged waders.

Herons and egrets are on the move in mid-summer and I was hoping the overnight storms had grounded a few moving birds. Days during and following unsettled weather are often productive.

I stopped first at an extensive wetland behind Pike’s Nursery off Johnston Road. Immediately I saw a white heron hunkered down in the thick aquatic vegetation. The small size and black-tipped bluish bill quickly identified the bird as an immature little blue heron. Not a rare bird necessarily but a species that may not show up every year here either.

A loud high pitched keow caught my attention and I soon saw a green heron perched on a dead tree trunk clearly agitated by a pair of juvenile red-shouldered hawks on another dead tree. That little heron even successfully convinced one hawk to switch perches. Green herons are the smallest waders that we regularly see in the area.

I next checked a nice beaver-created wetland off Arrowood Road. Here I found not one but three little blue herons. Like the first, they were half hidden by the thick aquatic growth.

All three were slowly picking their way along, one slow step at a time. I soon realized they were patiently and successfully foraging for green tree frogs in the plant material. Nearby, an even smaller green heron sat perfectly motionless for over 10 minutes on a log, peering into the water perhaps to catch a minnow or tadpole. That provided a nice study in the contrasting feeding styles of the two species.

On to Walker’s Cove along the Catawba River where four great blue herons, two great egrets, and yet another little blue heron were hanging out. Great egrets, by virtue of their large size and longer legs, prefer to feed by standing relatively still in deeper water and waiting for a careless fish or frog to come close. Great blue herons employ a similar strategy.

So I considered the morning’s endeavor a success. There weren’t any big surprises or rarities but it is nice to find a total of five little blue herons at three separate locations anytime in Mecklenburg County.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com