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Herons of White Rock Lake/Texas
Stories and photographs
by J R Compton
All Contents © 2012
and before by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction.
OTHER PAGES Index Herons
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HERONS on THIS PAGE Great
Blue Green Yellow-crowned Black-crowned Tricolored
BABY & Juvenile Pictures: Great
Blue new much younger Little Blue Tricolored Black-crowned Yellow-crowned
This page was updated February 1, 2015.
My Amateur Birder's Journal is updated at least three times a week — every month since June 2005.
my SITES, including this one.
The Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron Flying Low — May 2007
Blue Herons are big — bigger than any other heron or
egret — but not all that great in population. They are, in fact, much
less numerous at White Rock Lake, here in Dallas, Texas, USA than
our ubiquitous Great (white) Egrets, one of which I've seen run off
a pair of Great Blues flying into its territory, although the GBH
is larger and seemed the more likely victor in any skirmishes.
Either there are not very many Great Blues here
or they're hiding somewhere more exclusive. They are a solitary
lot. I've only seen as many as three together (except
at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation, where they seemed to own the
and they're usually
not together. Perhaps they only stay together long enough to court and
a Great Blue Heron of some distinctions
Great Blue Herons are gray, not blue, in direct
sunshine — with white and brown striations more or less vertical down
their neck and chest, and dark, almost black "crowns" on their heads.
Sometimes, when seen with the sun behind them, like this, they seem black, but
that's the shadow, not the bird.
Flaps Down, Wings Out — a Great Blue
a roof at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation -
This was the third time I'd seen a heron
sun itself with wings down and out like this (Betsy calls it "the Buddha
pose," so it's probably characteristic and useful. According
to Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation owner Kathy Rogers, birds have a special
need for sunshine Vitamin D, and this bird is getting it directly. Its own
Or so I thought until a reader, who
knows more than I do, lined up
some facts explained
otherwise in the August 2012 Bird Journal.
I have often seen their cousins,
the cormorants, standing out in the lake airing and sunning their wings,
but cormorants hold their wings higher. Cormorants dive and soak their
feathers when they catch fish and other delectables under water.
Following are images of Great Blue Heron chicks
from soon after they were hatched, their gangly "teenaged" weeks, and as young
adults. When I have them, I'll similarly update the other species on this and
the Egrets page.
Newly-hatched Baby Great Blue Heron (and
at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation
Young Great Blue Herons at Rogers
in April 2010
Juvenile Great Blue Heron May 2011
Juvenile Great Blue Heron
Their long-neck flying form, feathers and long
beaks all seem very familiar to this egret appreciator. Herons often fold their
necks back to further streamline their flying form.
Little Blue Heron
Adult Little Blue Heron in the White Rock
Lake Spillway under a Gray Sky
Little Blue Heron with a better camera
Blue Herons are
actually only just a little blue — in the upper portions of their beaks
and as a sheen over their feathered bodies. Checking my files, I found other
similar photographs from years before, all wading in the spillway. All alone.
So the little blues are regular visitors here, though usually not in numbers., although I once saw three together.
As painters know, the blue is mostly from their
tendency to say in well-shaded places, where they are illuminated by the
open blue sky. We don't notice it much in real life, because our eyes adjust
color automatically. We see their blue as gray, but cameras don't always.
Little Blue Heron Flying By — September 11
Every time I see a new photo of a Little Blue,
it looks like an illustration by somebody who hasn't quite figured out what
a heron looks like. The streamlined beak, especially in the flying shots,
looks prehistoric, more like a pterodactyl, albeit a small one.
Little Blue Catches a Fish -
June 12 2006
I had been checking this Little Blue early
nearly every morning for a week. Neither of us are early risers, but it shows
up well after the Black- and Yellow-crowned Herons, the hyper Snowy Egret
and the placid, stately Great Egret do — usually about 8:30 CST, and
I do mean "shows up." It may have
been right there all the time, but it blends so well into the deep verdant
reflections, that it always takes me a few minutes to pick it out.
By late morning, the creek is crawling
with families of ducks, Muscovies, grackle. One morning there
was even a flock of red-winged blackbirds flapping — and other life. When
I finally found it amid all the color in that teeming creek, it was busy
fishing, zig-zagging slowly across the brilliant wet green, ever closer to
my side of the lagoon.
Little Blue Heron Wiggle Beaking Fish -
June 12 2006
Usually, it fishes like other herons and egrets,
more active than the crowned herons or the great egrets, a little calmer
than the hyper snowy. But it has this one particular technique I'd never
seen before, and every time he employed it, it worked. In fact, while I've
watched any gathering of hegrets (herons and egrets), it's always the Little
Blue who catches the most fish.
Looking down into the water (as above), apparently
concentrating on its prey, the Little Blue bobbles its head through a series
of quizzical little left and right tilts, stopping at left and right extremes,
figure-eighting side to side, very much like a fish.
It could just be following the fish,
but it seems more involved than that, almost as if it were leading the
fish into mirroring its motion. Then, suddenly, our little blue bird darts
its beak into the water, and splashing and flapping for balance, pulls out
and swallows another little silver fish.
Little Blue Heron Flying Up the Dam
The bluest blue I ever saw a Little Blue Heron
be was in open shade — illuminated primarily by the deep blue sky —
on 19 July 2007 when I shot this. I don't think it had anything
to do with this beautiful color, but it was escaping from a raging, fully
fluffed-out Snowy Egret on the steps of White Rock Lake's lower Spillway.
Now, finally, I understand why someone might call this bird a Little Blue,
even though it usually appears as a red and black.
The Same Little Blue Heron a Few Seconds
Later in Sunlight
This is what Little Blue Herons
look like most of the time in bright sunlight. Hardly any blue at all. And
enough red along the neck to confuse some people who think they could be
Tri-color or Reddish egrets, who mostly hang out along the coast and are
Little Blue Heron Interrupts Its Hunt to
Stare Curiously at the Photographer - July 31 2009
I used to think there was only one Little Blue
Heron around White Rock Lake, and the rest of its extended family was hid out
somewhere close. But that was before I stayed in the Medical Center Rookery one
evening as the light failed. When it was almost dark, I saw wave after wave of
Little Blue Herons flying from the direction of the Trinity River to the rookery.
Perhaps hundreds of them. They are stealth birds, perhaps even more 'Night Herons'
that the Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned varieties.
Little Blue Heron in Full Breeding Plumage
Our Lady of the Lake College in San Antonio, Texas - May
We don't have any images of really little
Little Blue Herons, but now that we know that, we'll pay a lot more attention
to them at the Southwestern Medical School Rookery this spring and summer. There
will be lots of Little Blues there, although they tend to nest very high in the
taller trees, at least some of them nest around the edges of the rookery, so
it should be possible to catch shots of them nesting and the little ones inside
those nests, if I set up a tripod and go at the task seriously.
Little Blue Heron Delivering a Stick for
Here a Little Blue in full breeding plumage
delivers a stick for their nest. It seems symbolic, like a betrothal gift.
Four or More Downy Young Little Blue Herons in their Nest — June 2014
Adult and First-spring Juvenile Little Blue Heron also at the Our
the Lake rookery in San Antonio, Texas — June 2014
Immature Little Blue Heron flying … December 7 2007
But we do have photographs of juvenile Little
Blue Herons, which are often confused with other heron and egret juveniles, except
their beaks are dark gray and after a few weeks, they begin to show dark edges
around their wing tips.
… and swinging down for a landing
Almost every time I photograph a Juvenile Little
Blue Heron, I originally assume it is an egret. When processing the
image on my monitor, however, I see some subtle but noticeable
differences. Egrets don't have black-tipped wings or green legs, lores (except
for breeding and nesting) and feet. Only immature Little Blue Herons do.
A White Little Blue Heron Changing into
a Blue Little Blue Heron
Gradually, the dark patches grow till it covers
the whole bird, so they go from white to blue Little Blue Herons, and they look
like this while changing. The black/blue spots enlarge to cover the
Tricolored Heron — May 3 2008
At the time, this was the only Tricolored
Heron I'd ever seen, and when I saw it, I didn't know it was what it
was. On May 3, 2008 at the Rookery where
I saw it, I assumed it was a Great Blue Heron, and only figured it out after
I had it on the first Bird
Journal page I used it on.
Sorry for all the
the tree limb interference. Tricolors have since been using the Medical School
Rookery, so I have had many more opportunities to photograph them — plus
we've seen them down along the South Texas Coast, but this was my Tricolored
Tricolored Heron Up Close at Matagorda
on the Texas Gulf Coast
Tricolored Herons have bluish gray beaks similar
to Little Blue Herons — the forward part of which is darker towards black,
although that's hard to see in this photo. They also have big red eyes like
the Night-Herons; pinkish gray legs and feet; a dark head and forward bodies
except for a stripe of white on their fore neck not unlike the Great Blue Heron's,
although the Tries are thinner and more contrasty; the underparts of their wings
and bodies are white — that third color. Plus, breeding adults have that
jaunty white occipital plume, which is slightly more obvious in the image below.
Tricolored Heron Hunkered Down on a
in Dallas' Medical Center Rookery
This colorful bird was photographed after
fellow birder Jason (a.k.a. Weazel) told me where to find a nest of them
he'd seen and photographed. It took me awhile to find it. Actually Anna found
it. It was so deep into the woods and high off the ground, it was a serious
challenge to even see. We strained to see any eggs or downy young but
did not discover them. That time.
Anna's photo of a Tricolored Heron Chick
Leaning Out from its Nest
Anna's Photo of a Juvenile Tricolored Heron
My June 2012 shot of one a little
The Medical Center Rookery in Dallas, Texas.
Somewhat Older Juvenile Tricolored Heron
on South Padre Island in August 2009
Juvenile Tricolored Heron Landing on That
Long and anything but green, but it's still
a juvenile Green Heron.
we saw this Green Heron in
the creek near the Old Boathouse at White Rock Lake in Dallas, I thought it might
be a bittern, because of its breast stripes, and it looked like
a heron cousin. I was surprised that a bird with no discernible green could
be called a Green
but that's what it is, although t does look green in some light.
My second realization — that continues
to baffle — is the apparent size of these birds. The juvenile stretching
above (and standing below) looks much longer than the 18 inch maximum the books
Green Heron Flapping
Probably the best, best-exposed and most
detailed Green Heron series I ever photographed was in September 2007
other really good one from August of that year. On my Annotated
of White Rock Lake, I named this little
park on the west side of the lake, "Green Heron Park" in its honor.
I think the City calls it something else.
Green Herons sometimes appear tiny.
When I saw one in the reeds along the lake's east shore by the Arboretum,
I estimated it to be as much as five inches high. When we returned to find
it standing in the same reeds the next day, leap-frog flying from one reedy perch
to the next down the shore, it seemed at least twice that size. Its striped-tie
had changed to neck and breast stripes, its overall color from black to brownish,
and we noticed its fierce, grimacing smile extending behind its beak.
Green Heron Shape — August
Every summer I seek out Green Herons trying to get closer
and more detailed photographs. They are fast and wary, but if I get up early
enough, I can often find them hunting in the weeds along the shore of White Rock
Lake. When I'm careful, have a decent long telephoto lens and hold very still,
I am sometimes rewarded with more revealing images, like this one.
Grimacing Green Heron — What
looks like teeth are markings.
When we saw the red and blue adults on the edge
of the Old Fish Hatchery area, we were surprised to perceive it as somewhat smaller
than the juvenile we'd seen. Herons play many visual tricks.
Adult Green Heron — June 10 2007
We were on the watch for them now, and we've seen the usually
solitary birds in many places around the lake, at Sunset Bay, The Spillway
Steps, both south of the Singing Bridge and north of there, as well
as near The Arboretum.
Either they are just coming out,
or because we are more aware of them, we see them more often. For a long
time we didn't get nearly enough visual contact to learn much
more about Green Herons than kinda what they look like. But over the years,
I've found more and more of them, especially hunting in the long weeds along
White Rock's shores.
Fierce-looking Green Heron
— July 2012
However, like Great Blue Herons who are actually gray, Green
Herons are actually black, reddish-brown and white.
Adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - June
also in short supply here — even more so since a Lakewood resident
whose yard they'd chosen to have a stinky rookery on, cleaned
them out during the middle of this century's first decade. I've
only sighted two or three together along the same section of shore a couple of
times, and I came upon this one by accident, while photographing a hyperactive
Snowy Egret beating the water for fish. Since 2011, I've seen a couple others.
Often, in the last few years, Yellow-crowns are sighted,
snuck up upon, then they skeedaddle soon as a camera is brought out. This one,
keenly looking for food, wasn't letting some goofy photog with a middlin' telephoto
stop him from catching a fish or two. It stood there
flicking its occipital plume back and forth from time to time. I figured I must
have got several shots sharp, so I carefully backed off, then went up the hill
and got back to The Slider, drove home and caught up with some missing sleep.
Prey's Eye View — Adult Yellow-crowned
Night Heron —
May 3 2007
I'd seen both Yellow- and Black-crowned Night-Herons
there on recent evenings — though early June, but rarely more than two
at a time, usually only one. I keep returning, hoping for better shots,
though I skip weekends, as people will be everywhere, and the Crowns
seem shy, even for herons.
Some books say Night-herons are nocturnal — hence
the name, but I have not found that true. Though maybe it used to be.
Both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Herons readily come out in bright sunlight,
although they favor shady places. I have often seen them early in the
morning and late in the evening and only rarely at night, although it's dark
then, so it's much more difficult to see anything.
Adult Yellow-crowned Night Heron Flying -
April 17 2003
The first one I saw was in a tree. The second, a few years
later, stood near the middle of the creek, where I almost did not see
it. These herons are very well camouflaged. The adult's rakish, white
Occipital Plume only last through breeding
season, so that may well color almost all their actions.
The heron did not quite manage
to pull this out of the murk. — June 6
I followed this Yellow-crown for more than an hour as it
slowly, methodically, one slow, calculated step at a time, inched its
way through vegetation along the creek. I had the camera on a tripod and kept
the bird in sight all that time — long enough to attract a legion of chiggers
I'm still itching with.
A couple times I saw my feathered friend catch, chew (!)
and swallow smaller snacks, but it was after bigger game. I could
not see what it saw in the sea-weedy water, but I got a shot of it almost catching
it, but not able to pull it up out of the ooze. I think it was growing
there. It seemed rooted. I still wonder what our ambitious heron thought it could
do with something that big.
Juvenile Yellow-crown Night-Heron Flying
Away Fast 2010
A runner who had asked what kind of a bird that was, told
me that in the 30 years he's been around the lake, he'd never seen a
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron before. I like to think I notice things other people
don't, but once one tunes in, they are not difficult to find — if you pay
Later that same day, I saw another Yellow-crown standing
on shore near Singing Bridge south of Mockingbird. I angled my car into
the parking area, so I could shoot without startling it, while monitoring two
guys unloading a canoe, since I've been considering floating devices to get me
closer to wild birds.
While I was focused on the bird, the idiots with the canoe
walked boisterously right up to where the bird stood and put their boat
in, never even noticing the shy, elusive and quickly high-tailing Yellow-crowned
Night-Heron. It's illegal to interfere with Federally-protected shorebirds,
but first you have to be able to se them.
Startled by Budding Naturalists, an adult
Yellow-crowned Night Heron Jumps Into Sudden Flight
Three Young Herons at Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation
- June 2008
The two on the right look like Yellow-crowned
Night-Herons, and the one on the left looks like them, so these well could all
three be Yellow-crowns. Unfortunately, because Yellow-crowns and Green Herons
do not nest with the other herons and egrets, baby pictures of those species
will be more of a challenge. But I'll have my attentions tuned to finding
some, so I can finish this page, in that regard, at least.
One of Two Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Herons raised
in the Sunset Bay area during the summer of 2010.
See the top couple of entries in the July
2010 bird journal for many more images of "The Twins."
Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret and Juvenile
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron — August 2010
Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron — September
Black-crowned Night Heron Fishing in Slow
Motion — May 19 2011
This used to be my best shot
of a Black-crowned
here fishing from the concrete abutment below the walking bridge at the
White Rock Lake Spillway. I've seen them there several times since, although
they are not regular visitors. Heavy rains bring them out. Our continuing drought
defeats us all.
Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron flying June 1 2006
When I saw this juvenile heron I didn't know whether it
was a black- or yellow-crowned, but I bought a few new books and kept
watching and photographing it. Life on the Creek is so fast, I can watch whole
families evolve almost before my very eyes, when I keep them open. This
bird's legs and feet are yellow, and its beak mostly is
Downy Black-crowned Night Herons Fighting
Black-crowned Night-Heron Chicks Still
In Nest - photo by Anna Palmer — June
Black-crowned Night-Heron Chick in nest —
Night-Herons out of the nest but still in the rookery — May 28 2008
I may eventually be able to discern a juvenile Black-crowned
Night Heron from a Yellow-crowned in the field, but when I'm photographing them,
all I usually know for sure is that they're juveniles. There are two
telltale differences. Back-crowned herons have large spots on their wing
coverlets, and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have tiny white spots and thin white edges.
Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron jumping into flight
from a perch at White Rock Lake in December 2007
Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron flying up to a Perch
in December 2007
Black-crowns, according to David Allen Sibley in his Sibley
Guide to Birds, have "heavy but sharply pointed, extensively yellowish
bill[s], and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons have "dark, thick bill[s]."
Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron on the Lower Spillway
at White Rock Lake — May
Thinking About Flying — July 2008
This bird is about two months older than the ones in the
trees at the Medical Center Rookery. It's bigger, smarter and somewhat more experienced.
It is mostly on its own now, finding its own food and learning from his family.
Either Territorial or
Breeding Dominance Battle
Between Two Adult Black-crowned Night-Herons …
interloper won, chasing the other away. June 4 2006
I even captured a quick, but exciting, flap between two
adult black-crowns. I believe the battle was over territory, although
what I don't know about herons' inter-social activities could fill a web site.
Before this episode, I thought of them as quiet, gentle birds.
They are like every other bird I've paid attention
to long enough to get beyond well-focused portraits. I've seen egrets
fight, grackles, European
Starlings, pigeons, even red-wing blackbirds.
Why not herons?
That young Black-crown
we've been watching is growing fast. It flew off soon as I
got this shot, but it's looking well, all red-eyed and bushy-tailed. June 13 2006
Meanwhile, I am upping my estimates for the heron population
of White Rock Lake to maybe three or four dozen, considering how many
habitats like this exist here. In the creek where I've been shooting they
are only away from prying eyes if the eyes don't make much effort, which most
My population guesses, like most of bird commentaries are
largely uneducated. I'm relying on what I see and photograph, although
I do constantly check my observations against the experts in my
growing library, although I have seen as many as three juvenile Black-crowns
in one place at one time. So there must be more out there.
Heron on the Rocks — Camouflage In
Sometimes, they are almost impossible to see
hidden in plain sight among rocks. Squint. See?
This suite of web pages is an educational process, much
like learning a new camera. It moves
in fits and starts. This page has been and will continue being updated
as my experience expands, every couple days or weeks or whenever.
The photo above is a case in point. I'd neglected
to discuss their natural markings as camouflage. Perhaps because
it is obvious to me, because I have learned over the past several
months to find them exactly where I expected them.
They don't move for long periods of time, but when
they do, they are easier to see. Often that slight movement
has startled me. Surprised me. This morning (as I write this and made
the photo above earlier today), I saw four Black-crowns in rapid succession.
I'd never seen that many together — although I have since then.
Yesterday, somewhere else, I saw three juvenile Black-crowns
in another rapid succession. I was glad, because that probably means
there's lots more out there that I've never laid eyes upon, and I like that idea.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Alighting on the Dam
Adult Black-crowned Night Heron Landing in the Upper Spillway
at White Rock Lake - July 2010
All words and photographs
copyright 2006 through 2012 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.
I'm not an expert. I'm just a photographer with a fascination for birds.
of February 17 2008, when I thought I'd lost the hit counter above