Friday, December 21, 2007

The White Race of the Blue Heron


The American Great Egret
Species are defined as populations, the members of which are able to interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
The American Great Egret is what Peterson described as, "the white race of blue heron", or in other words a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron. Local guides just say ‘White Heron’ and that seems like a good name. I wanted to see the bird's feet to know more about its positive ID, there are actually 11 tall white birds that can be mistaken for the Great American Egret in Belize. That could have been what Bubba was wondering also when he jumped from the boat. The startled heron flew a few flaps, about five, and then glided down to the sea grass beds again to resume fishing. Black feet to match the legs! That, combined with the yellow bill is a positive ID for this bird.
During my short look, I saw a three foot tall heron; it was solid white except for where its orange, pointed bill connected with its head and the color seem to extend towards the eye. The eye was yellow in its iris and the bird stood on black legs and feet. Its neck had the heron's "S" shape and was more than twice the length of its body.
David Sibley’s Bird Behavior Guide says, ’It nests atop the mangrove just like its cousin, the Great Blue Heron, where two or three blue-green eggs are laid.’ November is the nesting season for them as well; it uses the same fishing ground and techniques.
Birds tend to sleep at those times of the day when they cannot feed, thus not only do day feeding birds sleep at night and nocturnal birds during the day, but birds such as waders sleep when the tide is high. High and low tide changes about an hour each day so at certain times of the month, the hot middle of the day is good bird watching, if it's low tide. Normally early morning and late afternoon are the best.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gray-Necked Wood-Rail

Gray-Necked Wood-Rail
In the order of Gruiformes and the family of Rallidae is the species Aramides cajanea or the Grey-Necked Wood-Rail.
Bubba and I were strolling along a path through the mangrove on our way to visit the golden nymph of the river when this remarkable bird crossed our path. I was impressed with Bubba's restraint in not chasing it.
The rail stood about 16 inches tall and looked like a colorful marsh chicken. As you might imagine its neck is gray, yellowish green bill and red eyes. Its rump is black with an oddly turned up tail that wags when it trots.
The legs are red, long and bare feet that have three long toes forward and one rear toe that is raised and doesn't appear in its footprint.
Its walk seemed very similar to the domestic chicken, strutting its head forward with each step. It only scurried a short distance at the sight of us until it was protected by the thick mangrove, where it slowed, then stopped to look at us as well. I would like to hear its description of what we look like.
Most rails are flightless birds, as are most of its order, however, some have the ability to fly feebly for short hops to taller perches or from running, flapping, take-offs can glide short distances, usually with legs dangling.
In a predator free environment that some islands provide, flightlessness evolves quickly in most species.
Later when predators such as cats dogs and man are introduced to the island the Ralliade are exterminated quickly. Archeologist discover bones with some regularity of recently exterminated species on islands where rails were previously unknown. The order contains 28 species known to have fallen to extinction. Most of which became extinct in the period since the beginning of the European exploration of the Americas ( post 1492) and are only know by their bones and travelers accounts. This is more evidence of Bubbas theory about your species soon being endangered if you taste good.
Most Rail are secretive and difficult to observe: consequently our knowledge of their behavior is limited. “Rare” is how Peterson describes its sightings. It nests on platforms of Twiggs just above the water line at waters edge of marsh in mangrove thickets. A very safe place unless a swimming snake or renegade developer with a bulldozer comes along.
The Wood-Rails lay 4 to 5 eggs that are whitish to buffy white, spotted with brown and greys.
I’ve seen many Grey-Necked in the lagoons around Maskall and along the banks of the Northern river. H. Lee Jones in his very popular book titled ‘Birds of Belize’ lists the status in Belize of the Grey-Necked as ‘once on Ambergris Caye, however Bubba and I see them regularly on the Northern parts of the islands back lagoons.