Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Sabbatical

Some of you have seen this little sketch before. When spring comes I want to embrace every possible moment of it! Time to be outside, not pecking away on my computer. So for a little while I’m going to take a sabbatical from blogging.

I’ll be back!

Friday, April 6, 2012

More from the Heron Web Cam

I’ve been watching the great blue heron web cam again. I never thought I’d consider a web cam a treat, but treat it is. In the wild I would never have such a good look at the nest behavior of a pair of herons. Meanwhile where I live we just broke the March precipitation record. March is usually one of Oregon’s wet months ... this was a soaker. Still getting lots of rain now that April has started.... a good time to stay indoors and enjoy something different.

If you didn’t see my last post, you should probably read that first. I’ve been watching a web cam put up by the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell, University, New York. ( ) The birds first nested in Sapsucker Woods, Cornell in 2009. This year Cornell put up a web cam before the birds returned in the spring. On April 1 I was watching when the female laid her third egg. Here are today’s notes:

This heron has an itchy chin.

April 3 -- 2:45 PM: With a little luck and information I’ve come back to my computer to heron watch. If the heron lays a fourth egg in the same time line, it should happen in the next couple of hours. Big IF. I’m going to sketch while I watch.

The female was on the nest when I first arrived. I knew right away I hadn’t arrived late for the party. One of the herons was standing, carefully tucking a couple very fine sticks into the nest cup. When I’ve looked at a heron nest from below all I see are rather coarse sticks. With the web cam I see fine twigs line the nest cup. It isn’t nice and fluffy like an eagle’s nest or a raven’s, but at least more comfy looking that I expected. I’ve seen adults bring in lots of sticks, but not little twigs.
I’m hoping for another egg. I’m looking for some gulping and maybe a little hunching. When I’ve watched a sandhill crane lay, it was obvious a lot of hard work is going on. Yesterday’s heron egg laying took me by surprise. The female stayed flat on the nest and I really didn’t know it had happened until she stood up. Now I know better what to watch for.

The male just brought in a funny looking stick. Lots of little branchlets on one end. Is that where little twigs come from? The female stands, then bows low with her long neck plumes wired out. She croaks as she dips, then reaches for the offering. All too soon it is the female that flies off. Darn. The waiting game is on.

The web cam even has sound. Occasionally I hear a heron, but there is also a pleasant chatter of crows cawing in the distance, a hen mallard quacking and maybe a cardinal. Canada geese erupt into a squabble every so often. There are more calls, but I don’t know my eastern bird calls well.

3:45 PM: The male starts calling. The female is on her way in with a stick. She doesn’t stay long. I’m juggling drawing and trying to get a little housework done. Nothing is going to happen while he is on the nest!

5:25 PM I’m still watching. The sun has gone down (remember the nest is on the East Coast and I’m on the West Coast). The female has been on the nest for awhile. The web cam gives us a surprisingly good image using just ambient night light. I can see her plumes, an eye, and even some bill color. The calls of spring peepers fill the night. Earlier over 34,000 people were watching the web cam, but now that it is dark the numbers of people have dropped way off.

The female still lies flat on the nest, but she is fluffing the long plumes on her back -- a slow motion bellows. The feathers go up ... and down ... and up ... and down. Is this it??

All is quiet for about a minute and then she stands ....... yes! A fourth egg lies in the nest. 5:26 PM West Coast time (8:26 PM cornell time). Laura, at the Lab of Ornithology, did a wonderful job of predicting when the fourth egg would be laid.

According to the web cam moderators four eggs is what they expect, although a fifth could come. Incubation is about 28 days. First egg could hatch May 24. It’ll be a long wait between now and then.

Followup: This pair of heron has had four youngsters in the past, and four is a common clutch. I’ve been taking quick peeks at the web cam several times a day. The last time I looked on April 5 the cam was shut off. I don’t think Cornell was expecting another egg, and the moderators must have been worn out by then anyway. Morning brought a surprise -- a fifth egg! Now to wait and see if all five hatch.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lucky Me! -- Great Blue Herons

No, I’m not one of the winners of the mega lottery. I’d have to buy a ticket first. My luck today was unexpected and unusual.

Three days ago a friend in Indiana sent me the link for a great blue heron web cam being broadcast by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ( ). I’ve taken quick peeks at various web cams since they became available, but usually the critter was sleeping on the job. It is fascinating to peek into a bear’s den or view the world from the top of Mt. Washburn, but usually one look is enough. This cam caught my attention. Cornell has set two cameras to work giving the viewers a very up-close peek into the private lives of a pair of great blue herons. I’ve spent many fascinating hours watching a couple of heron colonies near here, but always from far away and far below. These camera are so close that if the bird on the nest stands up, one camera shows only its legs. .... and its eggs.

There were two eggs when I took a quick peek yesterday, and two eggs this morning. I had lots to do, so I settled on watching for fifteen minutes before breakfast, and a couple of quick peeks during the morning. I watched the herons mating and then the male seemed to celebrate by bringing in half a dozen sticks. The female accepted each stick and carefully added it to the nest.They changed places, preened, and never seemed to sleep.

This afternoon the skies were spitting rain and ruffling the long plumes on the heron’s back. Not much going on but that was good. I had a telephone conversation to pay attention to and felt a little guilty I was even watching the herons while talking.
I almost dropped the phone. All seemed quiet. Looking back over the comments, others were anticipating the event. I’ve seen a sandhill cranes lay an egg (twice), and both times it took several minutes of hard work. .... so I wasn’t prepared. Suddenly mama crane stood up and there were three beautiful eggs, instead of two! One was a little darker than the others.

This cam is wonderful! While I write I have it on. Even though it is 2:15 in the morning in New York I can see enough to know the adult on the nest just stood up, pooped, scratched and then settle down again facing in a different direction.

After mama laid her third egg, she settled down again. The next time she stood, about fifteen minutes later, the new egg was drying to the same color as the others.

For more about these marvelous birds, be sure to go to Cornell’s site.