Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Darrell Ernst sent these photos back in June but they’ve just reached the head of the queue.

My family went to Sebastian Inlet [Florida] this past Saturday morning and my daughter, Brianna, of course took her camera. Unfortunately I was stuck at home working on painting the house. My loss too because they had a rather rare surprise encounter, a Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens)! The same species Tara Tanaka so beautifully captured in her wonderful Big Red video. This bird is relatively rare, period, and Sebastian inlet is at a far edge of its typical range, at best. There are pics of a few other birds as well.

Here is a link to the pics Sebastian Inlet 06-18-16. All pics are by Brianna Ernst.

The 1st pic is of an American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus). This picture is an example of the dangers living with humans presents to wildlife. The foot of this poor bird is tightly wrapped in fishing line or perhaps netting. On the brighter side this picture clearly shows the striking blue eye of this bird (enlarge).

American White Ibis_Eudocimus albus-DSC_0158

The next 2 pics are of the rock star Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens). We spent a lot of time verifying the species because there is another bird that can look surprisingly similar and Sebastian Inlet is a bit far for Reddish Egrets. But a few features seem to clinch it. The blue legs, more evident in some pics than others, and the eyes. We speculate that this bird is young and hasn’t quite achieved its full adult colors. In particular the first half of the beak is a light pink in fully mature birds and the face is a blue similar to the blue on the legs. On this bird you can see hints of these colors but those features are still rather dark and there are still some feathers around the face that it will lose as it matures. My daughter was very excited about seeing this bird! She has been keeping an eye out since I showed her Tara Tanaka’s outstanding Big Redvideo.

Reddish Egret 4_Egretta rufescens-DSC_0143

Reddish Egret 1_Egretta rufescens-DSC_0062

The next picture is of a Snowy Egret (Egretta thula). The beautiful tassel-like plumage on these birds made them, in the past, regular targets. The plumage was used to decorate hats and other such things. Instead of capturing, plucking and releasing they were typically simply killed.

Snowy Egret 2_Egretta thula-DSC_0178

The last photo is proof that zombies actually do exist. No, there is nothing wrong with this bird. It is a perfectly healthy example of a teenage Wood Stork (Mycteria americana). It is in the process of losing its “baby feathers” around its head and neck and those areas will soon be bald, like vultures

Wood Stork_Mycteria americana-DSC_0084

And look at this bird. It’s not an egret, but the white morph of the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), sent by reader Craig Carpenter:

Craig Carpenter mage 7-10-16 at 6.02 PM

The “normal” appearance of the bird is below, but the white morph is common in some places. As Wikipedia notes:

The subspecies differ only slightly in size and plumage tone, with the exception of subspecies A. h. occidentalis, which also has a distinct white morph, known as the great white heron (not to be confused with the great egret, for which “great white heron” was once a common name). It is found only in south Florida and some parts of the Caribbean. The great white heron differs from other great blues in bill morphology, head plume length, and in having a total lack of pigment in its plumage. It averages somewhat larger than the sympatric race A. h. wardiand may be the largest race in the species. In a survey of A. h. occidentalis in Florida, males were found to average 3.02 kg (6.7 lb) and females average 2.57 kg (5.7 lb), with a range for both sexes of 2 to 3.39 kg (4.4 to 7.5 lb). This is mainly found near salt water, and was long thought to be a separate species. Birds intermediate between the normal morph and the white morph are known as Würdemann’s heron; these birds resemble a “normal” great blue with a white head.

The theory that great white herons may be a separate species (A. occidentalis) from great blue heron has again been given some support by David Sibley.

Photo below from the Audubon Field Guide:




  1. Tom Webber
    Posted July 25, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I propose the hypothesis that the white morph of the Great Blue Heron shown here is a juvenile Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea).

    • Posted July 25, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Absolutely. The beak should be yellowish in the GWH.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted July 25, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      I agree. The bill and head shape also look wrong for A herodias.

  2. Posted July 25, 2016 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Even though this is not a GWH, it is interesting to think about whether the GWH and GBH are distinct species. If they live together, have such different morphologies, and if hybrids are rare, then I think they should be considered distinct species. The clincher would be to show that the hybrids have very low reproductive success (either because “good” GWH and GBH won’t mate with the mongrel, or because there are some genetic incompatabilities). Maybe someone has looked at these aspects?

  3. seecarp
    Posted July 25, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    As poster of the supposed white morph photo, I will accept that it is actually an immature Little Blue. We have since gotten a better look and watched its behavior. The Little Blue is not a normal summer resident of north Georgia, which led to the confusion. Sorry.

  4. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted July 25, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Enlarging the picture of the White Ibis was well worthwhile to appreciate a great photo but also revealed in painful detail the fishing line around the foot. I’d guess that the bird is going to lose that foot.
    It is a a sorry illustration of how even small bits of our discarded trash can have a seriously harmful effect on wildlife. Sadly there are tonnes of trash everywhere one goes – a very poor reflection on our species. It calls to mind a very sad (yet strangely beautiful) series of photos by Chris Jordan of baby albatross skeletons on Midway Island with each one containing a pile of plastic objects that had been fed to the chick by its parents and eventually killed it (×24).
    We desperately need to up our game with regards to responsible disposal of our wastes.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 25, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      I have a friend who lives on Kauai and he is involved with “Net Patrol” which is a group of locals that clean garbage from the beaches. They’ll spend hours clearing a beach of nets / tires / plastics. The photos of junk on these otherwise beautiful beaches are unbelievable.

      Then a storm surge or very high tide comes in and washes tons more ashore. The clean-up is a task like that of Sisyphus.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 25, 2016 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes Jonathan, it is depressing how our trash effects the ecosystem. Here in Florida, and probably many other places, monofilament is a big problem for waterbirds. Often when we go to the beach we will see a bird that has been entangled in monofilament.

      We have begun to carry a plastic bottle with us when we go to the beach, just in case we spot some fishing line. My brother Connor loves to take home fishing lures that he finds on the beach, so we always have something in our bottle.

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted July 25, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Excellent work, Brianna! It is always a treat to see your work. These are some special birds that you have ‘captured’.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 25, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Mark! It took me so long to finally see a Reddish Egret. My friend Heather and I were so excited when we found one at Sebastian Inlet. I always bring my camera to the beach when we go, but we didn’t really expect to see anything special, so “Little Red” was a pleasant surprise.

  6. Mark R.
    Posted July 25, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Great big-bird photos!

    • darrelle
      Posted July 25, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Mark R.🙂

  7. Posted July 25, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    In the last photo, the color pattern of the heron’s wing gives me the illusion of a young carried under it.

%d bloggers like this: