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.

Latest For the Birds column: Looking at birds’ bills

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron stands in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron stands in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

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

Although I’ve made this claim with many birds over the years, the great blue heron stands as one of my favorite birds.

My “favorite” bird may vary depending on the season and what I’ve recently photographed, but a few species have long been “one of my favorites.” Hooded and common mergansers, common loons, wood ducks and American oystercatchers stand alongside the great blue heron in that category. Of course I love all birds – well, most of them anyway — but these stand out for me, regardless of how many I’ve seen over the years.

It’s probably just a coincidence but with the exception of the wood duck, Continue reading

Full length shot of the heron; check out those legs

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Well, you can see one leg anyway. The other is tucked into its feathers as a way to regulate blood flow and keep extremities from freezing — a ploy used by many birds. I like the spot of blue by the heron’s eye.

More heron photos to come shortly. Another heron was hanging out nearby, too. More on that one soon.

Great blue heron with breeding plumage in the snow

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron rests on a log in a pond in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Despite the 14 inches of snow that fell in Danbury, Conn., a few days ago, this Great Blue Heron is ready for spring and sporting its breeding plumage. Late winter snow falls can make for some interesting photos for sure.

Never tire of Great Blue Herons

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

I have a stock pile of Great Blue Heron photos to last me a lifetime. Here are some more I took this week as I can’t resist driving or walking past one without taking some photos.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron walks in a pond in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

Latest For the Birds column: Maybe it’s a Black-crowned Night Heron

Here’s the latest For the Birds column. Thanks for supporting BirdsofNewEngland.com

Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-crowned Night Heron perches on a railing at a marina along the Norwalk River, Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Black-crowned Night Heron perches on a railing at a marina along the Norwalk River, Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

I receive several “what type of bird is this?” requests. I like helping out in that way and look forward to opening the email when I see that in a subject line. I like the challenge that I know is coming.

Sometimes the identification is easy, especially when a photo is included. Sometimes the identification is more difficult, especially when there is no photo included and I’m going strictly on a text description. I like those challenges, too.

I’m amazed at how often the unknown bird turns out to be a black-crowned night heron.

I receive a letter from someone saying they saw a larger bird by the water that they had never seen before. The bird is described as being stocky, large, gray, short-necked or long-necked.

How can a bird be short-necked and long-necked at same time? Like all waders, black-crowned night herons sometimes stand with their neck outstretched and sometimes with their neck curled against their bodies, giving them a stocky appearance.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Black-crowned Night Heron perches on a railing at a marina along the Norwalk River, Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Black-crowned Night Heron perches on a railing at a marina along the Norwalk River, Norwalk, Conn., spring 2016.

Sometimes people recognize the black-crowned night heron as a heron. Sometimes they are mistaken for a duck. It’s a logical guess because the herons are always near water.

At dusk, black-crowned night herons can easily be mistaken for a gull, especially while in flight. They are about the same size as our larger gulls.

The black-crowned night herons is a stocky wader with gray-and-blue plumage and brilliant red eyes. Adding an element of confusion to the mix is that immature birds are just as big but have mottled brown plumage and orange or red eyes. Many field guides don’t include the immature plumage so it really leaves a beginning birder hanging.

I was fooled by this when I was a novice birder. I was taking a guided walk along a small river in southwestern New Hampshire when two large brown birds flew out of a tree overhanging the water. It was only a quick glimpse and I immediately thought they were green herons. What else could it be? I thought to myself.

“Two immature black-crowned night herons,” the leader of the walk said suddenly.

Wow, I thought. I didn’t even know they lived around here. In fact, in that recollection I’m probably giving myself too much credit. I likely had never even heard of black-crowned night herons at that point. This was long before I had become familiar with the birds of southern New England, along Long Island Sound, where black-crowned night herons are much more common.

It was on that same walk that I learned field guides can cause confusion in another way, too — by not including female plumage on the same page. We saw a group of about six large ducks on the river. They had dull white and gray bodies and light brown heads.

“Common mergansers,” the leader said.

I looked up “common merganser” in my field guide. I was confused. It showed a bright white bird with black markings, a dark green head and a red bill. Another birder in the group, more experienced than I was at the time, told me: “That’s the male in the field guide. Those are females in the river.”

It was the last day I used that field guide.

But back to the black-crowned night herons … I think another reason people don’t know them is that they are overshadowed by their taller, more ectomorphic cousins. Everyone knows great blue herons, but not everyone is familiar with black-crowned night herons, especially people who do not live near water. Black-crowned night herons are mostly seen around brackish water, but are also fairly common around freshwater.

Another point of confusion is that they are just as often seen perched in trees near water as they are actually wading in the water. Great blue herons, by contrast, are almost always seen either hunting in the water or flying. They are seen perched in trees on occasion, but not as often as black-crowned night herons. It is a sight to behold, however, when you do spot a great blue heron perched at the tip of a towering evergreen. Indeed, that was one of the sights that took me from a casual watcher of birds to an obsessed birdwatcher and photographer.

That sighting is unmistakable. Almost everyone would recognize a great blue heron perched on the top of tree. Not everyone would know a black-crowned night heron.

They are not a favorite bird to many people as, in addition to crabs and fish, they also eat young birds and bird eggs. The black-crowned night heron is worth getting to know, however. It’s an interesting and handsome bird that’s here to stay.