Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Waders Return

Luscious spring days bring a slew of large wading birds to the Central Savannah River Area. Unless you have a pond on your premises or have access to a neighbor's, you'll have to get out in the field to see these beauties.

You might expect to see the great egret, snowy and cattle egrets, great blue and tri-colored herons and the smaller green heron . . . all elegant and graceful birds.

The cattle egret is a comparatively newcomer to the States, showing up in the CSRA in the early sixties. It is an African egret and no one knows for sure how it found itself in South America about 100 years ago. It is assumed it was blown by hurricane winds from Africa to South America. From there it easily hopped over to the Caribbean Islands. It appeared in southern Florida in the early 1940s.

Augusta birders were expecting it to find its way up the Eastern Coast and in the early 60s it was seen at an Augusta airport for the first time. A new bird in the area! Excitement ran high.

During the breeding season, cattle egrets show buff on their crown, breast and back. The bird appears white at other times of the year, the buff becoming indiscernible. Usually, these striking birds head for the coast for the winter months.

This little egret gets its name by following cows and grabbing up insects disturbed by the grazing cattle. They perch on the backs of cows and other animals and there they find sun-warmed insects. They know a good insect cafeteria when they see one.

Slightly larger than the cattle egret, the snowy can be distinguished from the cattle by its yellow slippers and block stockings. During mating season, it is adorned with waving plumes that curve about its neck, fluttering in the breeze as it feeds and takes care of its young in the nest. Standing over three feet tall on slender black legs and feet, the great egret's entire body is snowy white, accented with straight white plumes on its breast and back when breeding. This handsome egret can be seen at all times of the year in the CSRA.

Another magnificent long-legged wader is the great blue heron . . . a permanent resident of the area, though its numbers increase in the winter.

It's a good thing great blues are well behaved and don't go in for necking. If they did, their long necks would become like the maze of a tangled water hose. Beside his long slim neck, the great blue has long, slim dark legs that lift him to a height of over four feet. A wing span of six feet adds to his splendidness.

Though the tri-colored heron is not common to the area, we do see it occasionally. As its name suggests, its plumage is composed of three colors. The head, neck, wings, back and tail are dark slate-blue. Its belly, rump and under wings are white. The third color, a tawny to dark chestnut stripe, runs the length of the neck.

Arriving in the spring after a winter absence, the unique green heron is back, claiming his "home stead rights" on the border of some miry pond. This is one of the smallest of the large waders. He stands only 16 to 22 inches from his long pointed bill to the end of his stubby tail. A bluish-greenish-gray back is accented by a chubby chestnut colored back. The legs are extremely short for his size.

All herons fly with the neck folded backwards in an "S" curve, their head between their shoulders and their long legs stretched out behind.

These beautiful and graceful birds are out there now. Go see!

Condominiums For Birds