We only had an hour and we had a task to accomplish as citizen scientists for Maine IF&W’s Heron Observation Network. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to count the number of nests, the number occupied, the number not occupied, the number with residents, the number of immature, the number of mature, the number of . . . you get the picture.
In the past, this was the largest inland rookery in the state and supported 40+ active nests, but over the last few years the numbers had dwindled and today we found only nine. Of those nine, three were inactive. Where have all the birds gone, we wondered.
As we started to focus on the scene before us, one member of our team spotted a wood duck surveying the beaver pond from a limb on one of the many old snags.
And then we looked upward. Counting isn’t always easy–in fact, it’s never easy. One immature–check. More than one? Well, we could see a lump representing another bird. Was it one lump or two? Over and over again, we counted.
And then there was this nest that was hidden from our sight at first, only because it seemed to blend in with the pine tree behind it. Again we wondered–why was this adult standing on it? Was this a sentry watching over all of the nests why the other parents were off fishing? Usually, though, experience told us that sentrys stood on higher branches–the better to watch for predators.
Suddenly we heard a commotion in the water and noticed action near the beaver lodge. What was it?
And then the sound of the youngsters crying frantically made us look upward again, where we spied an incoming adult.
The kids exclaimed their excitement because a meal had certainly arrived.
We could almost see their smiles as they anticipated the goodness they were about to receive.
But . . . no food was regurgitated despite the kids’ squawks.
Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.
And Momma preened.
Back in the pond, a family of Wood Ducks swam among the flowering Watershield.
And up again, we noticed slight movement in the nest.
Could it be?
Before we answered the last question, a Red-winged Blackbird paused . . .
sang . . .
and looked around as if to say, “Did you hear me?” We did.
More squawks from above and we saw another adult fly in.
It seemed Dad had joined Mom and the family was complete.
But only for a second, as Mom took off.
“Where’d Mom go?” and “What’s to eat?” was all Dad heard.
She didn’t go far, but like all mommas, she needed a few minutes of time to herself.
Meanwhile, back by the pine, that little bit of fluff moved some more.
And someone else needed to stretch his wings.
It was like watching a tennis match, for our eyes moved back and forth, up and down–especially when we heard movement in the water again and saw the same something undulating through the water.
We weren’t the only ones watching all the action from a hidden location–a water snake on a hummock across the way did the same.
Skyward, the family unit came together again. And still no food. The kids were getting impatient.
And then one parent left briefly and returned–with a stick for the kids to add to the nest, perhaps heron-speak for clean the house first and then you’ll get a snack.
“We did it,” they tried to tell her, but Mom had her eyes on something else.
Her focus wasn’t on the beavers that swam back and forth below. Oh, and if you think this is the hump that had been making the water boil, you are mistaken.
“Mom, bring back lots of fish . . . pleeeeease,” the kids cried as she took off again. “We’ll even eat frog legs.”
But she had her eyes on other things–sticks from one of the abandoned nests.
She pulled one out.
And the kids looked away and one complained to Dad about all the housework they were expected to do and they still hadn’t received their allowance.
Unfortunately, it was time for us to head to work, but our undulating friend returned.
Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Water Snakes, Beavers . . . and a River Otter! A slice of life in the rookery.