For the Birds: Sights and sounds of a fall canoe ride

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron perches on one leg in a tree in Brookfield, Conn., during the fall of 2018.

Here’s the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

….

The fall drawdown on large New England lakes can make it a challenge to launch a canoe. The shoreline is often soupy and mucky, making it a dirty and dicey proposition to get in a quick paddle.

A little dirt and muck have never deterred me, however, especially when the possibility of good duck watching lies ahead. Such was the case last week when I braved the Lake Lillinonah shoreline in southwestern Connecticut to launch my canoe. Lillinonah is considered a lake because of its width, but it is really part of the Housatonic River.

Thankfully, it hadn’t rained in a few days so much of the shoreline was hardened mud. It got muckier the closer I got to the water, but I was able to leave the tail end of the canoe out far enough that my feet only sunk down about 2 or 3 inches before jumping in.

The bottom of the canoe’s interior was smeared with mud, but what the heck; it’s a canoe, a little dirt won’t hurt it. I lifted up my butt, dug in the paddle and pushed off hard. I was on my way and instantly felt the cares of the world disappear as I glided over the glassy water, surrounded by New England’s famous fall colors.

I turned the first bend and was bombarded by a cacophony of lawn mowers, leaf blowers and construction equipment. The noises came from both shorelines and the cawing of several crows flying overhead was almost completely drowned by the machines. It was 8:05 a.m.

I paddled quickly and eventually put the noises behind me. I came across a family of white-tailed deer munching on leaves from a tree that had snapped in half. The top half of the tree now dipped into the shallow water of the lake’s edge.

Two young deer stood up to their bellies in water and picked off the leaves, while the mother deer stood on the shoreline to keep watch. She didn’t seem too worried about me and let the youngsters eat. She did keep an eye on me until I had drifted well past the ill-fated maple.

Around the next bend, a great blue heron strutted along the shoreline looking for morsels. Unlike the deer, the large bird was worried about me and fleeted to a nearby branch overhanging the water. I tried to retreat from the bird before I spooked it, but I didn’t see it in time as I rounded the corner. It wasn’t too stressed as it stood one-legged on that branch for several minutes as I observed from below.

As I admired the bird in the tree, another heron several dozen yards downstream took off and flapped slowly and deliberately across the river and landed on the opposite edge.

Herons, most of them anyway, will be heading south before long. They are typically the last waders to leave New England in the fall and the wader species with the most overwintering birds.

I’ve done a Christmas Bird Count in southern Connecticut for many years and there are always a handful of great blue herons. There have also been great egrets, black-crowned night herons, and yellow-crowned night herons, but nothing close in number to the great blues.

A flock of mallards flew across the scene and landed in the distance. I was hoping to see migrating ducks such as common or hooded mergansers, bufflehead or scaup, but had very little luck in that department. At the very end of the trip, I saw a lone male common merganser flying overhead along the snaking river.

It was a fleeting glimpse, but enough to build extra excitement for my next canoe ride, muck and all.

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A few more shots from Assateauge Island National Seashore

Photo by Chris Bosak  A tri-colored heron at Assateauge Island National Seashore, Maryland, summer 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tri-colored heron at Assateauge Island National Seashore, Maryland, summer 2018.

The other day I posted a few shots of a brave green heron I found at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland. Here are a few more shots from that trip.

Coming soon: Shots of the wild ponies at Assateague.

Photo by Chris Bosak  A green heron on a railing of a walkway at Assateague Island, Maryland.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A green heron on a railing of a walkway at Assateague Island, Maryland.

Yes, that’s my car in the background. Couldn’t resist getting a shot of the bird with the car in it, too.

Photo by Chris Bosak  A tri-colored heron at Assateauge Island National Seashore, Maryland, summer 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tri-colored heron at Assateauge Island National Seashore, Maryland, summer 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak  Waders gather at a pool of water in the marshlands of Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, summer 2018.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Waders gather at a pool of water in the marshlands of Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, summer 2018.

Brave green heron

Photo by Chris Bosak  A green heron on a railing of a walkway at Assateague Island, Maryland.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A green heron on a railing of a walkway at Assateague Island, Maryland.

When someone posts to a rare bird alert a sighting that occurred outside of the specific designation area (a Rhode Island bird on Connecticut Rare Bird Alert, for example) they call it extralimital. Well, this post is extralimital in that the photos were not taken in New England, but rather on Assateague Island during a recent visit to the Maryland beaches.

I got up well before sunrise and arrived at a spot as dawn was breaking where hundreds upon hundreds of waders could be seen in the shallow marsh ponds. I walked to the edge of a short wooden walkway to get a different angle of the sunrise. As I turned to walk back along the walkway I was caught off guard by a green heron literally feet away from me on the railing.

The New England green herons I’ve seen and photographed over the years have been very wary. They certainly aren’t approaching me to within a few feet. Well, this bird did. So, of course, I took a bunch of photos of it. Here are a few.

I hope to post a few more photos of that trip (including some of the wild ponies), temporarily making this site http://www.birds of new england and a bit beyond.com

Photo by Chris Bosak
A green heron on a railing of a walkway at Assateague Island, Maryland.

Another (and closer) shot of the heron

Photo by Chris Bosak Great blue heron at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, CT.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Great blue heron at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, CT.

The consensus seems to be the bigger (or closer) the better. So here’s another shot of the heron that I didn’t include in the previous post. You ask for it, you get it at http://www.BirdsofNewEngland.com. Thanks for your feedback!

Great blue heron at Merganser Lake (lots of shots)

Photo by Chris Bosak A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

It’s always nice when a bird is patient enough to let you experiment with different angles and magnifications. That was the case with this great blue heron I saw on Merganser Lake (really Lake Waubeeka) in Danbury, Conn., on Tuesday evening.

I know the photos are all very similar, but what magnification do you like?

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A great blue heron stands on a dock at Lake Waubeeka in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2017.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron preening

Photo by Chris Bosak  A yellow-crowned night heron preens in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A yellow-crowned night heron preens in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.

Birds preen to keep their feathers clean, strong and in order. The barbs sometimes come unattached and, amazingly enough, they can reattach the barbs with their bills.

Here’s a shot of a yellow-crowned night heron caught in the act.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron chilling out

Photo by Chris Bosak A Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2017.

Here’s a shot I got of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron just chilling out on a branch in a marsh last week. Yellow-crowned Night Herons are good at chilling out as that’s usually what I see them doing. Good for them.

Yellow-crowned Night Herons are birds of the marshes and other tidal areas. They look similar to their cousin, the Black-crowned Night Heron, which is found around brackish and fresh water. Black-crowned Night Herons are a bit more stocky, however.