Last weekend I found myself birding on Moose Island, a small island in northern Illinois near where the Des Plaines, DuPage and Kankakee Rivers meet to form the Illinois River. Located there is the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center and a pretty walk along the water and through a nice prairie. My brother Brian and I birded there briefly for the first time last year, but I think it was pretty cold at the time.
I also walked back over the bridge and a short distance along the Illinois and Michigan Canal. From 1848 to 1933 the I&M Canal connected the Chicago River to the Illinois River that then feeds into the Mississippi River, thereby providing a waterway from New York Harbor all the way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
Below is one view from the island as well as a map of my route, including the short north-south walk along the narrow I&M Canal on the west side. It was a gorgeous day.
I took photos of a Belted Kingfisher dive-bombing the water for fish and a few other birds of interest, but the surprising thing about this day was the number of herons of different kinds that I encountered. The most interesting one, and one that entranced me for over an hour, was this Green Heron I came across on the I&M Canal.
In my experience Green Herons generally sit hunched over, facing forward, without expression or apparently without the need to move one femtometer for hours at a time. This one was different, and despite the middling quality of these photos due to the low light I thought this bird would be worthy of presentation.
You can see the alertness of the bird in the photo above. Suddenly it decided to do something I have never seen. Maybe it was being territorial, although I didn’t see any other herons. It stretched itself farther than I ever thought it could. Look at that last stretch downward!
It started twitching, then took off flying suddenly, landing only about 15 feet away.
So now I knew to watch for the twitching before it took flight. After quite a while it started twitching again so I started taking pictures, but instead it launched downward and plunged its head completely into and out of the water…
and came up with a Bluegill!! A big one, too.
It seemed bemused by the size the fish, and it took a while to finagle it off its bill.
I was surprised when it started to swallow the fish–can it really eat something that large??
Apparently so. Here’s its reaction when it swallowed:
The bulging of the neck afterward is very visible in the photo below. I would have gotten a picture of the Green Heron taking off again but I was too busy “chimping” my pictures on the back of my camera (as my brother accuses me of doing) and missed it. Note to self: After a heron eats a big fish, it is not interested in continuing to fish and will likely leave.
The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.
I wish I had known that. I would have paid more attention to what the bird was doing. Next time…
Walking back along the canal I came across another heron, this pretty Great Blue Heron. It assumed the standard statue pose and allowed me to take quite a few shots before it flew off gronking. That’s two herons…
And back on the island a Great Egret, yet another type of heron, flew overhead. In fact, at the end of the day many of these flew in sequences of brilliant white across the dark, rosy-tinged clouds of the sunset. By that time my SD cards were full, so I just sat back and experienced the sight. Beautiful.
When I processed my pics later I came across a bird I had managed to get a shot of earlier in the afternoon. At the time I thought it might be an American Bittern (which to my surprise is also a heron), but in fact I found it was a juvenile Black-Crowned Heron. So with four species, the theme of the day really appears to be “herons”!
On a side note, earlier this year I made a resolution to pay more attention to butterflies and dragonflies (and maybe damselflies). I was amazed by the photographs and descriptions of these on Brian Hicks’ site. So here is a shot of a Blue Dasher (yes, I looked that up) I took on Moose Island during this day. This image does tolerate enlargement, so clicking on it will show a larger version.
What an enjoyable day.