Today I went to the rookery at Ocean City Welcome Center. Dispersed among the trees were hundreds of egrets, ibises, night herons, and other shore birds. It was a photographer’s paradise as one could look in almost any direction and click away.
Finally, the parent was able to fly away to look for more food. White Ibises eat insects and crustaceans that they find in the mud.
This post is my response to Tina’s challenge at Lens-Artists Challenge #205 – The Eyes Have it. I almost never photograph humans, so my entries will consist of pictures of birds that I encounter in a rookery, a wildlife refuge, or in our backyard.
Yesterday the rookery next to the New Jersey Ocean City Welcome Center was teeming with egrets, herons, ibises, and many other smaller birds. The Great Egrets breeding season was at its peak as you can see from the following images.
The parent egret will eat the eel then regurgitate it into the bottom of the nest. Then the young chicks will be able to eat it.
I have been saving photos of birds over the past several weeks, waiting for an opportunity to post them. Here are most of them, in no particular order.
Night heron babies are not among the cutest by any stretch! They do grow up to be very handsome adults, and require a lot of feeding for that. That’s why their parents come back every year to the rookery which is surrounded in all directions by an ocean brimming with crustaceans and fish.
In a nearby nest, a Black-crowned Night Heron juvenile was going through the same hunger pains.
The Ocean City Welcome Center was built as part of the Route 52 bridge that connects Ocean City, NJ to Somers Point, NJ. The 2.74 mi (4.41 km) bridge was built between 2006 and 2012, at a cost of $400 million.
A few days ago, I walked down to the bottom of the bridge. From the Welcome Center sidewalk, one would look down on the rookery with many trees where the herons, egrets, ibises and other birds nested. Few birds, if any, were nesting at the bottom. Most photographers stay on the pedestrian walk above the rookery.
There were ducks and night herons swimming and drinking from small depressions where rain water had accumulated.
When the weather is nice, the bridge is a very active place. Thousands of cars cross it every day, as do pedestrians (walkers and joggers) and cyclists. There is also an area in the middle of the above photo which is reserved for people who want to fish from the ocean.
With bright sunshine, white clouds on blue sky, bearable temperatures, and a cool breeze from time to time, it was a perfect day for photography. There were already about a dozen photographers with their massive long lenses pointed at various points of the rookery.
Except for the sleepy night herons, the birds were very active, flying in and out of the trees every minute or so. I ended up taking many more pictures of birds in flight than I had planned.
Last year I missed going to the rookery right next to the Ocean City Welcome Center in Cape May County at the southern end of New Jersey. Three days ago, I went there in mid season. The rookery was filled with many birds, some I had never seen before.
The night herons have built nests, incubated their eggs and some were busy raising the young ones. There were probably some nests well hidden behind tree branches and leaves, with eggs that had not hatched yet.
The night herons, as their names imply, are most active after dusk when their eyes serve them well. During the day they appear somnolent, almost lethargic, which of course is good for photography as they can hold their poses for a long time.
These herons migrate long distances to their nesting grounds in New Jersey, and they do look impressive in flight.
A few days ago, I went to the rookery next to the Welcome Center in Ocean City, NJ. It is quite late in the breeding season and most of the newborn herons, as well as their parents, have migrated. However, a handful were still around for pictures.
Two weeks ago, while the paparazzi were clustered around a nest with new chicks, I saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron fly to the marshes at low tide. These birds, as their name implies, normally feed in the evening, but this one was going to have lunch by pulling out worms from the sand.
The heron ate at least half a dozen worms.
At the rookery next to the Welcome Center at Ocean City, NJ, I saw a Little Blue Heron and its juvenile child. Their colors confused me at first. Juveniles are white, while adults are deep blue and purple. The rookery also had white egrets, both Great Egret and Snowy Egret, which added to my confusion.
The one way I could be sure was when parent and juvenile were together, as when the parent brought food home for the hungry juvenile.
In the first post for this series 11 days ago, I posted pictures of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron tending to her five eggs. Yesterday, I went back there and saw that the eggs have become young chicks covered with down, barely able to stand up. There were about twenty photographers gathered on the sidewalk above the nest, all vying to take pictures of the herons.
As I got there, the male heron had just landed with a twig in his beak. The female will take it and add it to the nest.
There were five eggs, but I only see three chicks. I wonder what happened.
Mother heron proceeded to feed the chicks.
Afterwards, she spread out her wings to shield her children from the hot sun. She kept her eyes closed, perhaps taking a well-deserved nap.
Following are pictures of the Ocean City Welcome Center and the bird paparazzi.
Black-crowned Night Herons are a major presence at the rookery next to the Welcome Center at Ocean City, NJ. These birds hunt for their food starting at dusk, and their eyes are one of their most noticeable features.
Despite their size these Herons are easily intimidated by the Red-winged Blackbird, a fierce defender of its territory. I saw a Blackbird chase a Heron into a tree.
Pursued by the Blackbird, the Heron tried to hide among the branches. Unfortunately, too many leaves shielded the small Blackbird from the camera.
Yesterday, in this series first post, I wrote that it was late in the season.This was because I saw many juvenile birds at the rookery, and only one nest with unhatched eggs.
There were some juvenile Glossy Ibises, very hungry ones that did not give their parents any respite as they kept demanding for more food. They caused a lot of commotion from one end of the rookery to the other, juveniles chasing their parents to get food from their bills!
I also saw the following juvenile, which I am guessing is a Little Blue Heron. If so, it would be a first sighting for me. If you know it is a different bird, please tell me.
Ocean City, NJ is a resort town in South Jersey on an island which can be reached via a causeway. Driving on the causeway, before arriving in Ocean City, there is a turn-off for a Welcome Center. From a sidewalk right next to the center, every Spring and Summer it is quite easy to take pictures of Herons, Ibises, Egrets, and many other birds that fly in from the South to breed and raise their chicks. The sidewalk is almost as tall as the rookery trees, so one can look down on their nests and watch activities from breeding to incubating and finally fledging just before the birds migrate South. The birds seemed unperturbed by all the human lookers and photographers.
I missed going there last year, and this year I only managed to get to the rookery this past weekend. It is late in the season, but I still saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron nest with unhatched eggs. The tired-looking mother had just stood up to scratch herself.
After some more preening, she tidied up the nest.
Then she sat down and resumed incubating. The eggs should be hatching in a few more days.
Going through my files from this past June, I found the following series showing a Red-winged Blackbird dive-bombing a Black-crowned Night Heron that had strayed too close to its nest. This all happened in less than a minute near the Ocean City Welcome Center in New Jersey.
Busy preparing for an upcoming long trip, I have not had a chance to go out and take any photo. The following images were taken many months ago, but have not yet been published on these pages. There is no rhyme or reason to them, just interesting shots of landscape and wildlife that I have seen.
Yesterday the rookery next to Ocean City Welcome Center was very busy, with photographers and birds. The former brought their long lenses firmly anchored to bulky tripods, or to study arms. The latter, especially the younger ones, were up to their natural feistiness.
I tried to shoot a few bird-in-flight pictures, but ended up discarding most of them. Below is one of the better images.
Two juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron did not let up on their play acting, and I saw that other young ones in nearby nests were behaving likewise. Perhaps it’s a part of their growing up, preparing themselves for an independent life in a few more weeks,
Yesterday at the rookery next to Ocean City Welcome Center I took many pictures of heron nests and their occupants, as well as of other birds flying and nesting in the area. However, I think you may enjoy looking at the ones below, which offer a unique perspective on sibling rivalry.
A pair of young Yellow-crowned Night Heron, they have grown up quite a bit since last week, were confronting each other, and the facial expressions of one of them are priceless.
The above reminds me of another photo I took last year, at around this same time.
This past Sunday, as I stood by the side of the Ocean City Welcome Center to photograph Night Heron nests, there were many herons flying in and out of the rookery every few minutes. I tried to swing my camera around and aimed at them, but they were so fast that I never knew whether I managed to capture any of them. Actually, I did miss most of them, but the following somehow came out rather well.
The Night Heron hatchlings from last week are now wide awake, clamoring for attention and food. You can see them in the following photos and the two short videos at the end of this post.
I finally located a Black-crowned Night Heron nest.
The following video shows activities at a Yellow-crowned Night Heron nest.
Yesterday was the first time I used my camera to shoot a short video of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron tending to its babies in their nest. It is a little noisy, but here it is anyway so that you can see the interaction between mother and babies.
Going through my files from yesterday, I found one of an immature heron, probably a Black-crowned Night Heron.
And here’s one of an adult heron carrying a twig.
As predicted, the eggs in the Night Heron nests have begun to hatch. I went to the Ocean City Welcome Center today to look at them, and saw little balls of fur moving while the parents were busy preening or redecorating their nests.
At another nest, the male heron brought a twig back.
At yet another nest, no eggs had hatched.
There were many other birds around the herons. I only managed to get shots of Ibises and Great Egret.
Yesterday I went back to Ocean City Welcome Center to check on the Night Herons, both Yellow-Crowned and Black-Crowned kinds. They now have eggs, and this was the first time I was able to photograph bird eggs in their nests.
In case your are wondering, here’s a picture of Ocean City Welcome Center.
And here’s a shot of the place from where I’ve been photographing the Night Herons.
Finally, a photo of a Night Heron incubating.
Incubation lasts up to 25 days, so next week, there may be new hatchlings.
Last Sunday, as I watched the Night Herons at the Ocean City Welcome Center, I kept hearing loud noises as if someone was breaking branches. It turned out that it was the herons themselves. As you can see from the photo below, these herons have very sturdy, thick bills.
In fact, they are known as crab eaters, eating whole crabs by crushing them with their bills before swallowing them. With larger crabs, they grab them with their bill and then shake them violently to break them up into smaller pieces. Their bills are like those steel crab crackers that they have at restaurants that serve crabs.
A the start of breeding season, the herons have to build nests where the females will lay their eggs. They go around their neighborhood and use their bills to break dead branches and bring the pieces back to their nests.
The Welcome Center in Ocean City, NJ is right next to a rookery with many kinds of birds, including Yellow-crowned Night Herons. These herons are active during daylight hours, in contrast to the Black-crowned Night Heron that are nocturnal. The herons arrived a little over two weeks ago, but within a week they had been busy courting, choosing their partners, and building nests. I took the following photos last Sunday.
Meanwhile the Black-crowned Night Herons were starting to wake up.