A grand Great Egret has been hanging out at the Good Harbor Beach marsh. He has been dining on small fish mostly. The photos are from Sunday but I didn’t spot him either yesterday or today; perhaps he has moved on.
The long breeding plumes are called aigrettes.
Cape Ann is part of the Great Egrets breeding range, particularly House Island. This Egret is in full breeding plumage, advertising to a potential mate how fit and desirable he is to other Great Egrets. These same beautiful feathers, and humanity’s indiscriminate killing of, are what caused the bird to become nearly extinct. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the long breeding plumes, called aigrettes, of many species of herons and egrets were prized as fashion accessories to adorn women’s hats. Thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to hunt or harm in any way gorgeous birds such as the Great Egret, and egrets and herons are making a comeback.
Fine dining in the marsh
Last week we posted a photo of a group of Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Great Egrets all foraging together on a rainy morning. The Great Blue Herons are so perfectly camouflaged when perched on the rocky shoreline and we asked how many GBH folks could see. Reader Julie W. saw the most and she even sent the photo back with the Great Blues circled. Thank you Julie for taking the time to do that!!
What do Great Blue Herons, North America’s largest species of herons, eat? Because they feed in a variety of both freshwater and saltwater habitats, their diet is richly varied. Great Blue Herons dine on small fish, crabs, shrimp, mice, rats, voles, frogs, salamanders, turtles, gophers, snakes, many species of small waterbirds including ducks and ducklings, and insects.
How many Great Blue Herons do you see in the photo above? I thought there was only one in the shot, until returning to my office and had a good look at the scene.
It’s not a surprise party, but it is limited in size. Invitations will go out in April. Mass Audubon is hosting a special retirement tribute for Chris Leahy in celebration of his remarkable career –45 years of “impact and success”. How nice to see a Gloucester naturalist treasure being recognized in the spring –(bird-a-thon season!)– at Joppa Flats Education Center, Parker River National Wildlife sanctuary. Folks and fans can also swarm cards and MA Audubon gifts as a great way to acknowledge this milestone. Chris’s astonishing powers of observation and communication skills can make anyone care about birds, nature, and place. Within a mere twenty seconds of conversation he can capture history and immediacy in such an affable and effortless manner. What an ambassador.
“If I said, ‘Are there more birds around in the summer or the winter?’ most people would say the summer, and that’s right. But not by much,” said tour leader Christopher Leahy of Gloucester, who holds the Gerard A. Bertrand chair of natural history and field ornithology at Mass Audubon. “Actually almost 50 percent of the 300 bird species that occur in Massachusetts occur here during the winter.”– Chris Leahy from Boston Globe article Thrills and Chills: Birders Brave the Cape Ann Cold and Find What They’re Looking For by Joel Brown, published February 5, 2009