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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Western Reef-Heron continues

The Western Reef-Heron, the rare bird that has only been seen 3 times before in North America (once before in the U.S.), is continuing in NH. It was seen on Monday from 2:00 to 4:00 pm at low tide on the flats viewed from Clough Court off South St. that runs between Rt. 1A and 1B in Portsmouth, NH. Hundreds of birders from many areas of the country, even Alaska, have come to see it. If you want to see it, look at the New Hampshire Birds listserv for the latest updates. It may not stay around that much longer, as fall is here, and it may migrate to??? Basically, we do not know where this bird came from or where it is going to.

There was a Western-Reef Heron report from Stephenville Crossing, Newfoundland in 2005. That bird stayed for the summer, lingered through the first week of Sept. then left.

This year, a Western-Reef Heron was discovered in Big Glace Bay Lake, Nova Scotia on June 26th, and it may have been there as early as May. That bird was seen until August 2nd. then disappeared.

On August 18th this year a Western-Reef Heron showed up in Kittery, Maine and this bird (which I have photographed) is the one that has divided it's time between Maine and NH, most recently just in NH, and has delighted so many birders. (Note, the only other North American record of a Western Reef-Heron was in 1983 in Nantucket, MA.)

So many questions remain. Are the 2005 and all the 2006 sightings all of the same bird? Where did the bird come from in the first place? How long will it stay this year? Where will it go next? Is there some special wintering place it goes to in this hemisphere, that no one has yet discovered? Hmmm, maybe we should all be checking out the herons in Florida this winter, maybe its hanging out with the Snowys and Tri-colored Herons there. Or maybe it winters in Barbados or elsewhere in the Carribean.

And, of course, one of the biggest questions is, is it a Western Reef-Heron in the first place, or maybe a dark morph Little Egret, as current research suggests. There are some fascinating behavioral observations on the Western Reef-Heron seen in Newfoundland in 2005. That bird was seen in the company of a Little Egret (another rarity there at the same time.) The two birds were seen frequently feeding together and often the bird identified as the Western Reef-Heron would pick up twigs or sticks and present them to the Little Egret!

Now that's awfully friendly for birds that are considered two separate species. That type of behavior usually occurs between mated pairs of herons. For example, Parsons, K.C. and T. L. Master. 2000. In The Birds of North America, No. 489 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA., an authoritative monograph on Snowy Egret, notes that the "male supplies nesting material while the female works sticks into the nest" and the "nest relief ceremony is often accompanied by offering nest material."

As they say, the whole thing gets "curiouser and curiouser". Stay tuned.

Photo © Lillian Stokes, 2006

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