The Bird Meme: Day 23

Day 23: A bird you've wanted to see for a long time but still haven't

This could be a really, really long list, as there are plenty of foreign birds I could include on a bucket list (Galapagos Penguin, Steller's Sea Eagle, Resplendent Quetzal) and dozens of North American species (Gyrfalcon, Great Grey Owl, Red-naped Sapsucker) I haven't yet had a chance to go after. There is also a depressingly long list of birds I've actively pursued without success (Plain Chacalaca, Varied Thrush, Tufted Puffin) and plenty that just haven't turned up where I've been (Cerulean Warbler, Red Crossbill, Northern Goshawk). In short, the wealth of my choices here is not unlike that of the Sultan of Brunei.

Still, there's one bird that I've pursued on several occasions for a number of reasons. One, it's just a cool freakin' bird, and I want to see it at that pure id-based level. Second, it's the only North American member of its family that I've never seen, and it would boost my ego to check off another such taxon. (Right now, the only such family that I've polished off is the Sittidae--the nuthatches, which took a bit of travel, but which comprises only four actual species: White-breasted, Red-breasted, Brown-headed, and Pygmy--though I do have the Eurasian as well.) And finally, yes, it's a bird that would help me knock off one of my other obsessions, namely getting a life bird in each of the 50 states--a complex and arbitrary task that almost assuredly has its origins in my superego somewhere.

The Reddish Egret itself is appealing for several basic reasons. First, its appearance is both striking and also variable; the dark morph is grey, with a shaggy red neck and head, while the white is pure white. Both morphs have blue-grey legs and a pink bill with a dark tip, which is the bird's single most distinctive field mark. Second, its lifestyle is decidedly atypical for a heron. It feeds not by ambush, imitating a snag or a stand of reeds until prey comes close enough to spear, but by other methods that no other heron will so much as attempt. In some cases it will spread its wings to create a shady spot, where glare will not interfere with its attempt to spot prey, and where fish may mistakenly associate the shade with safety. But in all cases, the Reddish Egret is an active hunter, racing through the shallows, doubling back, stirring up prey wherever possible. This video gives you an idea of both how the typical heron feeds and how drastically different the Reddish really is.

Even if it wasn't such a cool bird, though, there's the fact that the Reddish Egret has defeated me on several occasions, and I'm eager to emerge victorious. I've traveled to its Gulf Coast on several occasions, but not in a way that would help me log the bird easily. My trip through the Everglades and Florida Keys kept me largely in either the grasslands, the mangrove swamps of the Ten Thousand Islands, or the docksides and open water of Key West, not the shallow saltwater flats where the ReEg feeds. My visit to New Orleans took me to Mobile Bay and Lake Pontchartrain, but I never got down to the real Delta where the bird was most likely to be. And my visit to the barrier islands on the coast of Mississippi and Alabama would might well have worked--if I hadn't taken the trip the year after Katrina knocked the area's habitat into a cocked hat, reducing the bird life to a minimal level.

But I'm still, as the saying goes, dipped. And the Reddish is the only member of the family Ardeidae for which that's true. Worse, it has been so for nearly two decades now; I officially checked off the twelfth member of the baker's dozen of North American herons back in 2001: the American Bittern. (Okay, I didn't check off the "Great White" morph of the Great Blue Heron until 2004, and I still haven't seen a "Wurdemann's" Heron, but these are subspecific variations of a bird I know well.) It's frustrating to be hovering on the edge for so long, particularly when you've done so much birding in areas where herons and egrets are common. I do sometimes feel as though I'm being taunted by the birding gods.

And the really annoying thing is that this is a bird that could really help me out. I've tried on multiple occasions to get a lifer in Mississippi, and I've been thwarted on each attempt. I've visited the Mississipi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge--twice--and haven't logged so much as a FOY bird there; hell, I haven't even seen a crane! I've tried other parts of the state, including St. Catherine's Creek NWR and John Kyle State Park, but though they were far kinder to me than MSC NWR, they did not yield a life bird.

So there it is: I want to see this bird for itself. I want to end the frustrations it has caused me. I want to see it in order to finish off a taxonomic task. And I want to see it to advance my own selfish ends.

it will be mine.png
Party on, Red.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 10, 2017 4:55 PM.

The Bird Meme: Day 22 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Bird Meme: Day 24 is the next entry in this blog.

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