The Poets’ Birds: Wood Storks

 

Despite the wide variety of birds I’ve featured in this series, I never thought to include the wood storks (Mycteria americana). Having seen them only once, in August of 2016, I always assumed their visit to the Brazoria Refuge was an aberration. The Cornell birding site supported that conclusion, noting that the species occurs in only a few areas of the United States: particularly in wetlands or preserves along the Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia coastlines.

On the other hand, storks believed to originate in breeding colonies in Mexico and Central America have been reported in the lower Mississippi River Valley, Louisiana, and Texas during the late summer and fall. That could help to explain my second sighting of the birds in early July of this year — in the same area of the Brazoria preserve where I first encountered them.

I assumed that the pair shown above, and a half-dozen others wading among the grasses, soon would be gone, but by July 21 an impressive group of a hundred or more — both juveniles and adults — were roaming the flats, perhaps attracted by the falling water levels in the freshwater ponds and the consequent heavier than usual concentrations of fish.

The bird’s fishing technique is unusual, and fun to watch. Dipping its open bill into the water, the stork waits for a passing fish. Once it senses a fish, the stork snaps its bill shut, and dinner is served. According to National Geographic, the fish don’t have much of a chance; wood storks are capable of snapping their bills shut in as little as 25 milliseconds.

Despite the group as a whole being almost beyond the range of my camera, a few individuals were close enough for me to capture some of the oddly appealing details of their appearance. On both occasions the storks were accompanied by flocks of roseate spoonbills, but those photos can wait for another day. Here, it’s the wood storks’ time to shine, along with William Logan’s memorable poem.

 

Behind the movie theater’s neon beau monde
cooled the dank waters of a retention pond,
cyclone-fenced, palm-guarded, overgrown.
You walked there when you wanted to be alone.
For weeks nothing stirred the blackened reeds,
which were enough, those days you felt in need.
Then, one evening through the gathered gloom,
as if something uncanny had entered a room,
across algae green as an Alpine meadow,
eight white ghosts floated faintly through the shadows,
pausing, worrying, then slowly moving on,
the waters like a chessboard scattered with white pawns.
When bankers review their fat portfolios,
they draw such dark beaks open and closed,
great shears to cut some invisible thread.
The pale birds stalked like something newly dead.
One lifted a black-edged wing, in search of food,
and somehow that broke your somber mood.
Yet on they marched, like Dante’s souls through Hell,
awaiting the Last Judgment’s redeeming bell,
working their way in silence, fallen aristocrats.
You said they looked like ladies’ hats,
white as the color of love, if love has color —
bright white, you meant, only a little duller.
                                                            “On the Wood Storks” ~ William Logan

 

 

Comments are welcome. For more information on poet William Logan, please click here.

107 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Wood Storks

    1. They’re remarkable birds. At one time in my life, I might have thought them ugly, but no more. It’s hard to get a sense of their size from these photos, but some are noticeably larger than great blue herons or great egrets, which makes them easy to spot from a distance. With luck, they’ll still be around this weekend, and I can get some better photos.

  1. What beautiful birds! I’m always amazed that birds can be so clean living out in the elements. Never saw a Wood Stork before or knew of their existence.

    1. I’m not surprised you’re unfamiliar with them So was I until three years ago, when I first saw them and thought, “What in the world is that?” Because their range in the U.S. is so limited, it may well be that these are birds that have come up from the south, rather than coming over from the east. In either case, I’m glad they came.

    1. Thank you, Margaret. It’s always a pleasure to make one of these unexpected discoveries. A friend in Florida sees these relatively often, but around here the sightings are rare enough that they get reported even in print newspapers.

  2. What an exciting sighting! And so many of them too. The closest we have is probably the heron and the egret. Thanks for the lovely poem as well.

    1. Seeing them in real time would thrill your birder’s heart, Arti. What’s even more fun is their willingness to tolerate other species. I’ve seen them feeding with cormorants, white ibis, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, great blue herons, great egrets, and a variety of ducks and coots around them. I’d love to have some photos of the whole gang — I’m going to give it another try this weekend.

    1. You probably do, Tom. I had no idea how long a human blink lasts, so I looked it up. Of course there’s variation, but 100-400 milliseconds seems average. If we blink, we will miss that snap of the beak!

    1. It’s becoming fashionable to attribute everything in the world to climate change, but in this case I don’t think it’s the best explanation. From what I’ve read in various sources, including the Texas Breeding Bird Atlas, the birds’ behavior seems in line with what’s been reported in the past.

      This snippet from the Atlas is relevant: “Wood Storks breeding in the southeastern United States exhibit lengthy inter- and intra-regional movements in response to resource availability.” Area fishermen have been muttering for months about the unusually large numbers of bait fish in the waters along our coast — precisely the sort of resource that would attract wood stocks, whether from areas east of here or from Mexico. Now that the water levels are falling, the numbers of wading birds of every sort are increasing in the ponds where I’ve found them in the past.

      Beyond that, it’s also true that my failure to see them from year to year doesn’t mean they haven’t been here. I’ve spent a lot of time searching and failing to find sandhill cranes, while friends happily post dozens of photos from the very areas where I’ve been searching. The phrase “luck of the draw” comes to mind.

    1. I hope you get the chance to see them some day. They’re both funny and magnificent, and their behaviors with one another are quite interesting. I’ve seen some behaviors I understand — like mutual grooming — but I’ve seen other that I can’t quite figure out. More research is required!

    1. That’s a great video. There are other birds that use that stirring or raking technique. I’ve seen the snowy egrets do it, and black-necked stilts. The roseate spoonbills are perfectly designed to bring up prey with the side-to-side sweeping motion of their bills that stirs things up; they have receptors that also can sense the presence of fish or other creatures. They are clever: all of them.

  3. I can remember when I didn’t know what a wood stork was. Hiking with the Sierra Club, our leader excitedly pointed them out flying in the distance over a Big Cypress access area. But, all I saw were white birds with a bit of black way off. They were in a highly endangered status here in Florida at that time, but have since been down listed with increasing numbers. An article I read seemed to indicate they were never endangered everywhere but the Florida populations had gone to Georgia. They have in fact taken over the rookery I love to frequent for photos. My first face to face view was actually in Key Largo and even then I didn’t know what I was looking at but was taken by the interesting head and face textures. Now I see them often and even nesting pairs with baby wood storks.

    Oddly, because I have a penchant for quotes and poems about my subjects, I have looked on numerous occasions and never found a poem such as you have about the species. I love the somber references and fallen aristocrats. This species has often been noted for its scholarly seeming demeanor and sometimes called the Preacher Bird for its thoughtful philosophical bearing. Also Old Flinthead for that neck texture you could seem worthy of striking a match upon.

    Watching them swish the waters for food is not unlike the side swipe of the spoonbill. But, its a more gentle sweep as they probe the shallows to sense the fish and exert that lighting fast snap you describe.

    There was a time I thought the Great Blue Heron the largest of the wading birds in the realm, but the wood storks do tower over even the majestic Great Blue.

    I think I like that third image best of the pair moving toward each other. These are all great distance shots with excellent detail. And I know what you mean about visiting a place and never seeing something, that is there when you aren’t. But, every trip out brings something new.

    Love your post,words and images!! :)

    1. I laughed at the suggestion that the Florida storks had gone to Georgia. Can’t you just imagine the conversations out on the mud flat? “Well, guys, things are a little slow around here. You want to take a midnight flight to Georgia?”

      Apparently their migration patterns are still a bit of a mystery; I read that it’s possible some mixing takes place between your native species and the ones that come up from Mexico and Central America. In any event, the biggest threat to them seems to be habitat loss — as it is for so many species.

      Since they don’t breed here, they’ve mostly been standing around and eating, or eating and standing around. I saw some wing flapping today, and occasionally a pair would raise their beaks skyward, but I never heard a single sound from any of them. I did see some mutual preening, which was interesting. They’re certainly tolerant of other birds. I watched a group of black-necked stilts feeding beneath them today, running in and out of the storks’ legs while those big birds just peered down at them. It really was funny.

      I haven’t had time to look at today’s photos yet, but I have a feeling they’re not going to satisfy me. I wasn’t able to get down to the refuge until noon, and the light was bright and harsh. I may make one more run down there very early tomorrow morning. If they’re in the same place, the sun will be behind me, and I may be able to get the photos I want — especially ones that show them with other birds, so their size is obvious.

      It looks to me as though the juveniles are fuzzier around the head than the adults — much like the pelicans. Is that right?

      1. Yeah the young ones have fuzzier heads then they get the receding hairline pretty quick and the forehead plate etc. Having more hair young seems common from species to species.

        Laughing over your description of the storks peering down at the little long legged guys. They pretty much lord it over any assembled group of birds hanging out for a bit of fishing. Even in Johnny Crow’s Garden by L. Leslie Brooke the array of animals includes “Then the Stork Gave a Philosophic Talk” …they just have that cerebral demeanor.

  4. I’m going to echo all the other comments. I’ve never heard of wood storks much less seen them. In fact, I’ve never seen any storks at all. What fantastic pictures! Thanks so much for sharing. One of the great pleasures of blogging is to travel afar without traveling and to see new things.

    1. I’d always associated storks with Europe, and had no idea that they lived in this country, too. In fact, these wood storks are our only native stork, so most people haven’t seen them. Their breeding colonies are primarily in Florida, in the Everglades. I’ve yet to hear one make a sound, but this is what a nesting colony sounds like. Amazing.

    1. The funeral director analogy is great, but you know what else they remind me of? That old “Kilroy was here” drawing that came along around the time of WWII. Can’t you imagine one of these stork’s beaks hanging over that wall, instead of Kilroy’s nose?

      As big as they are, they need a lot of fish. However it developed, that Quik-Klose Beak™ does allow them to consume a lot in a short time, with very little effort.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading that poem, but those last two lines:

    white as the color of love, if love has color —
    bright white, you meant, only a little duller.

    took my breath away.

    1. Those are fine lines, no doubt. I’m glad they struck you as they did. I noticed that Logan teaches at the University of Florida, in the heart of wood stork country. I suspect his experience of the birds helped to inform the poem.

  6. So many fascinating creatures in Nature, Linda! Thank you for finding these storks and sharing them with us. Obviously, I’ve never seen one in person, so your photos are as close as I’ve come to experiencing them. I’m going to have to Google them to see how large they are, as it’s hard to tell from a photo.

    1. Debbie, I didn’t so much find them as trip over them unexpectedly. I really never imagined I’d see them again, even though I hoped I would. I’ll be posting a few more photos of them over on Lagniappe; one reason is to show their size relative to the other birds at the refuge. I’m hoping if I get down there really early tomorrow morning I’ll have better light, and be able to avoid people whose behavior causes the birds to scatter.

  7. Storks in cloaks of ermine white, long-billed and elegant in the bright
    And stainless glare of noon, grave and solemn, gone too soon,
    Leave naught to mark their progress through the reeded glades
    But enigmatic hieroglyphs like signatures upon the shoreline’s page.

    1. You certainly got it with “bright and stainless glare of noon.” I’m hoping for a little less glare tomorrow if I can get back to the refuge early enough, although the way the light reflects off those flinty old heads is pretty remarkable.

  8. Thanks, Linda, for more beauty added to my life by your gorgeous pictures and intelligent research. I’ve taken the liberty to add a bit of humor on my blog with a link to this post. My yin to your yang, or something like that.

    1. What a sweet gesture, Oneta! I can’t wait to read what you’ve put together. I think these birds are amusing all on their own, so it makes sense that you’d think to stir up a little humor with them. I am glad the photos pleased you. I’m not entirely happy with them, but I’m going to give it another go tomorrow and see if I can’t get a little closer to them — or at least have better light. We’ll see!

  9. What an amazing sight and to think I was thrilled when I saw one Stork at the pond behind my apartment building.

    To see hundreds of these wonderful creatures in the one spot would be a real treat.

    1. Sometimes, one (or a few) is all it takes. Like masses of wildflowers, masses of birds are impressive, and there’s nothing quite like seeing an entire flock take to the sky, but I’ve never found that delight depends on numbers.

      I’d not seen a single one of my favorites, the rain lily, all year, but yesterday I noticed five of them blooming alongside a country road. Those five little flowers were enough to fill up the ‘rain lily void’ in my life — pure delight.

  10. Fine images of these wonderful birds – what an opportunity to see them, and the roseate spoonbills as well. Hard to imagine they can close their bills that fast…

    1. The size of the fish they’re able to catch that way has to have an upper limit; they can’t be very large. I’ve not yet seen one doing what so many birds do: lifting the head to allow for swallowing a large fish. If they’re dependent on small fish and other such critters, there’s a lot of bill action going on. It’s such a delicate action, really — quite the contrast to the stork’s size and heft.

  11. Even if you generally couldn’t get as close as you wanted to, you did a creditable job with the first and last picture.

    It occurred to me that 25 milliseconds is 1/40 of a second, and we take almost all our photographs at faster shutter speeds than that.

    1. The first and last photos were taken in the middle of the day. I’m hoping that the birds are in the same spot this morning, and that the early morning light is more favorable.

      I hadn’t thought about comparing the stork’s bill action to our camera shutters, but you’re right. Apparently a longer ‘bill speed’ is enough to capture a fish, though.

      Yesterday’s floral excitement was finally finding five fine rain lilies alongside the road. Given the wind, it took 1/640 of a second to stop all the blowing around, but it worked, and it wasn’t hard at all to get close enough to the flowers.

    1. What a perfect description. On the other hand, if their appearance is a bit off-putting, some of the behaviors I watched yesterday were quite appealing. I’ll be posting more photos over at Lagniappe in a couple of days, including one of the most amusing bird behaviors I’ve ever seen.

  12. Thank you for your exquisite photograph of these graceful birds. Their white feathers photographed beautifully. What an eye you have and a great camera.

    1. I was able to catch a couple of them in flight yesterday, and like pelicans, they do seem more graceful in the air. I was surprised by the iridescence in their black feathers, too. I didn’t expect it, and it was a great treat to see.

  13. Wow, your final shot is especially perfect for that shivery poem, which I also love. And that seems like real life – one viewer sees remorseless bankers/newly dead/ghosts of fallen aristocrats, marching through Dante’s hell, and another sees ladies’ hats and love. What a neat poem.

    1. I liked that juxtaposition of images at the end of the poem, too. It perfectly expresses a reality of life: interpretation may not be everything, but it sure is a lot. It gets a lot harder when we come up against something that seems to defy interpretation. If I’d never seen a wood stork, didn’t know they existed, and then came across a group of them in a marsh at twilight, who knows what my imagination might construct? See: Sasquatch.

    1. One of the things I observed about them this year is how tolerant they are of other birds. Somewhere in the batch of photos I took yesterday I have one of small shorebirds like sandpipers and black-necked stilts foraging beneath the storks, running through their legs while the storks just peer down their beaks at them and don’t move a feather. It really was amusing!

  14. It is nice to see a whole flock of these wood storks visiting peacefully in our state. If I had to guess, I would have said we don’t have them here and sharing with other birds. You were lucky to have found them. We see plenty of roseate spoon bill around here. I will look forward to your post on them!

    1. Even after I saw them three years ago, I wasn’t sure they really were one of “our” birds. In a sense they’re not; they move in and out like migratory birds, don’t breed here, and apparently are unpredictable in their appearance. That’s just another way of saying I really was lucky to find them again, and it was worth going back last weekend to just watch them for a while. They weren’t any closer, but I was able to get some photos that show their size relative to other birds. I also discovered they’re quite tolerant of other species, and once I sort through things, I know I have one photo that shows an absolutely hilarious bit of behavior.

      The spoonbills are just beautiful — despite those bald heads!

    1. They’re impressive, for sure. When I went back to the refuge last weekend, they didn’t show up at this feeding spot until around 8 a.m. I looked for their roosting spot, but couldn’t find it. They nest in trees (hence, ‘wood stork’) and I assumed they would roost there, too — but that could be wrong.

      I have confirmed that the juveniles have gray feathers around their necks, and lighter bills, so there are some youngsters in the mix I found. In fact, I think the first photo might show an adult (on the left) and a juvenile.

    1. When they fluff up, they really fluff. And they do seem to spread out rather than clumping together in groups, which adds to that rows-of-cotton impression. I’m going to go through the photos tonight — I hope I have one of a fluffed-up bird.

  15. What an aptly named bird! There is something wooden about them, but not in the sense of being stiff or formal. They are wooden in the best sense of the word: ingrained with a kind of character that is partly mysterious, and partly humorous. Your photographs nicely capture this!

    1. To be honest, I had no idea until after I’d taken the photos and was doing some reading about them, that they’re called ‘wood storks’ because of their preference for roosting and nesting in trees. It makes sense, but I like your way of thinking about the name, too. ‘Ingrained character’ is it, exactly.

      I have one photo somewhere in my pile that’s the funniest bird photo I’ve ever taken. It shows a behavior that’s better seen than described. I’ll be sure you see it when I get the photo located and cleaned up a bit.

  16. Their neck feathers are unusual, aren’t they? Kind of scruffy and unkempt on top of their sleeker body covering. I love the imagery of the poem, especially “eight white ghosts floated faintly …” … and “great shears to cut some invisible thread.”

    1. I’ve tried to find some explanation for those naked necks and heads, but haven’t been successful at this point. Birds like vultures lack feathers because of their feeding habits; I thought perhaps the storks and roseate spoonbills might be ‘bald’ for the same reason.

      When I read the poem, that line about ‘great shears to cut some invisible thread’ brought to mind the three Moirai, or Fates: Clotho, who spun the thread of life; Lachesis, who measured the length of life’s thread allotted to each person; and Atropos, who chose the manner of each person’s death and cut their life-thread with “her abhorred shears” when their time had come. I’m sure that’s the analogy the poet had in mind, and comparing those beaks to Atropos’s shears is genius.

      I hope this weather isn’t slowing you down too much — although your travel is allowing you to get out there on the trails and such in places that have much better weather than Houston’s right now!

  17. What amazing contrasts there are in these interesting birds. Their wing feathers are ethereally fluffy. Their heads look tightly helmeted. And from a distance, those neck feathers look almost scaly.

    1. You’re very perceptive! The young storks have gray feathers on their necks, but as they mature, the feathers disappear, and the adults end up with featherless, scaly necks. I’m still sorting through my photos to find a few that show them in flight, and also in contrast to other birds. It’s hard here to appreciate their size; they are larger than even the great blue herons and great egrets, which is saying something. The littlest shore birds scoot around beneath them as though they’re moving through a forest of legs; it really is amusing!

  18. I love your photographs, and observations, as usual. Your post reminds me of two children’s books. The first is The Wheel on the School, in which children try to find a way to have storks nest in their town so that they will bring good luck. It won the 1955 Newbery Prize. The second is The Trumpeter of The Swan by E. B. White, told from the perspective of the swan(s). Forgive me if you know of them already, I am just so struck by the beauty of birds, and the way they call to us.

    1. I don’t know either of those books, so I’m glad you mentioned them. I know E.B. White, of course, but I’d never heard of The Wheel on the School. I was quite taken with the story line when I looked it up — and to find Maurice Sendak as illustrator made it even more wonderful. Now, I’m going to have to find the book and read it, just to see how the children brought back the storks.

      There is something compelling about birds in general, and these storks are perfectly charming. They can be amusing, too. Some of their behaviors made those of us watching them laugh out loud.

    1. I hope you have that chance, Tanja. I began spending time in the refuges in order to see native wildflowers, but it didn’t take long for me to begin paying more attention to the insects, grasses, reptiles, and birds. Migration times are marvelous — there’s such variety — and in winter, it’s especially fun to see all the birds that have come south to spend those months with us.

  19. I think you got great close-ups. The third one is so interesting because of the way they face one another, as their beaks do intersect which makes the shot so appealing. Also the texture of their skin is highly detailed, probably because of the midday light you mentioned you used, which to me is useful for this purpose and can be used to one’s advantage, specially when it gets a bit hazy, the light is filtered and works well because it’s still much brighter than what you would get if it were a cloudy day. The whites are really detailed and not overblown.

    I first saw them in Central Florida about ten years ago. It is the only stork breeding in the United States and was placed on the Federal Endangered Species list in 1984. According to the National Park Service, the species was changed from endangered to threatened in June 2014. However, because Wood Storks occur only in a small portion of the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists them as federally threatened.

    Wood Stork populations are vulnerable to changes in water levels. This is the reason the wood stork serves as an ‘indicator species’ for restoration of the Everglades ecosystem. Their presence serve as indicators of environmental conditions and can predict future events within that system.

    I like William Logan’s poem. It’s so interesting to see how poets capitalize on bird’s social behavior to create so much lyricism and metaphors to confront readers with similar behavior and do it poetically! He does a good job too.

    1. Their sensitivity to water levels is interesting. When I read that they prefer to feed on falling waters, it helped to explain when and where I’ve seen them. I’d already decided that many of our other birds, like the roseate spoonbills, weren’t around because the water in the ponds was too high for them. Sure enough, as the rains came to an end and the heat rose, the ponds began to dry, and the birds appeared en masse: plovers, sandpipes, stilts, spoonbills — and storks!

      I’m better at sorting the juveniles from the adults, now, thanks to the transition from feathery to leathery necks as they age. I’ve also come to realize their behavior can be quite interesting — even amusing — even when they seem to be “just standing around.” There’s a lot of mutual preening, bill raising, and sudden get-out-of-my-spot wing flapping that goes on, and it’s great fun to watch.

  20. It is so interesting that you are starting to see them in your area. I remember seeing them stalk about when I went to visit my friend who lives in Cape Coral in Florida. What a wonderful way to fish, they have.

    1. In truth, they’ve been around far longer than I’ve been seeing them. In fact, I was talking to some people yesterday who’d seen them at a local nature preserve, perched up in the trees like proper wood storks. The people had been kayaking, which may explain why I haven’t seen them out there. In a kayak, you can access part of the refuge that otherwise aren’t available.

    1. If you ever do see one, you’ll not have much trouble identifying it. They are really big birds, and with those ugly/adorable faces — well, they’re pretty easy to pick out in a crowd. I hope you do get the chance to see one someday; they’re great fun to watch.

  21. As I just mentioned in my second post for today, I missed a lot of folks posts because of some glitch between WP and me. I’ll have to start using the reader if they can’t restart my receiving notifications as has always been the case until now.

    These are magnificent birds and quite lovely in their own storkish way. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one around here even as a wayward traveler. I like all three shots and the first and third are especially appealing. A dance of storks.

    1. With luck, it’s figured out. I was delighted to have such a quick response from WP. I sent you an email with a copy of what they said, and a couple of tips.

      I was surprised to find that the storks do venture up your way from time to time — not regularly, but at least occasionally. I’d love to visit the rookeries in Florida and see the young ones. They start out life pretty darned cute. Then, they turn impressive. I always imagine them with a pair of rimless glasses perched on their noses.

    1. I really was surprised to see so many. One would have made me happy, and a dozen would have been heaven. I was so pleased to get some decent photos of them. If its another three years before I see them again, I can look at my photos!

  22. Wood storks (and rain lilies on the other side), I’ve never even heard of them, much less seen them.
    I admire you for all the things you do, your photography, your writing, your blog, your travels to search for ‘finds’, your unusual occupation. I wish you lived within reach, but then I couldn’t marvel at things you introduce me to.

    1. There’s no question we’d have a fine time if we were closer. I’d even help weed the garden! But as you say, there’s value in the things we’ve introduced one another to. I still remember the time you straightened me out on the geraniums, and introduced me to them as ‘cranesbills.’

      Oddly enough, I was on a plant walk last weekend, and by sheer coincidence happened to be around when a woman found some cranefly orchids: a Texas native. They weren’t yet in bloom, but I at least have photos of the buds to share, and I plan to go back this coming weekend to see if I can catch them in bloom. It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive to the spot where they’re growing, but — orchids! One of the things I’m grateful for is the rich diversity of Texas. I may not be able to do the long-distance traveling I covet, but there’s no dearth of things to see closer at hand.

    1. They remind me of a cartoon character, or at least an image of a stork wearing glasses perched on its substantial nose, but I can’t find it. Just imagine one of these peering over a pair of wire rimmed glasses, and you’ve got it!

  23. Great post and, I agree, they are fabulous birds. I’ve spotted them around here on occasion.

    I’m not surprised that you found some in the Brazoria Refuge. It looks like prime wood stork habitat.

    (Do you suppose there’s a bird version of a Fodors Travel Guide, outlining good spots to vacation?)

    I’ve been watching the Mississippi Flyway cam the past few days. If you can’t be there, it is the next best way to enjoy lots and lots of birds. There’s two bald eagles perched there right now, with pelicans and sea gulls and some small long billed something-or-others digging in the mud. Those are not quite in focus, so I can’t really tell what they are. Caught a great egret taking a bath and long soak yesterday during my lunch break.

    1. A friend mentioned that she found some in trees at a refuge closer to here. There’s quite a large rookery across the Bay, too. I suspect if I got myself over there, I’d probably find more of them, since I know there are lots of egrets, spoonbills, and herons there.

      Can you believe I didn’t know until this past year that the big birds, like the great egrets and great blue herons, will take baths, too? I ought to post a few of those photos. They look so funny, hunkered down in the water. We’re so accustomed to seeing them in their ‘upright and locked’ positions that my first thoughts were that something was wrong. No — they just enjoy cooling off, too.

      I have such a hard time with those little birds. I did finally come across a family of ruddy turnstones. I thought the name was so funny, until I learned that they do, indeed, turn over stones while searching for food. Add in their ruddy color, and there you have it: a name!

      1. I had never seen one take a bath. They’re always just standing or gliding along in the water, looking for lunch. I thought something was wrong with the poor thing, at first. Then, it dawned on me – it’s hot. He’s just having a soak to cool off.

    1. Your Harry and these wood storks, and their fishing methods, remind me of a passage from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I’d forgotten it, but it really does seem to fit our “waiting waders”:

      ““In summer, I stalk. Summer leaves obscure, heat dazzles, and creatures hide from the red-eyed sun, and me. I have to seek things out. The creatures I seek have several senses and free will; it becomes apparent that they do not wish to be seen.

      I can stalk them in either of two ways. The first is not what you think of true stalking, but it is the Via negativa, and as fruitful as active pursuit. When I stalk this way I take my stand on a bridge and wait, emptied. I put myself in the way of the creature’s passage, like spring Eskimos at a seal’s breathing hole. Something might come; something might go. I am Newton under the apple tree.

      Stalking the other way, I forge my own passage seeking the creature. I wander the banks; what I find, I follow, doggedly, like Eskimos hunting the caribou herds. I am Wilson squinting after the traces of electrons in a cloud chamber; I am Jacob at Peniel wrestling with the angel.”

      I think I need to dig that book out, and have my annual re-read!

    1. Over time, I’ve sorted through the family memorabilia and disposed of a good bit, but I still have one of my birth announcements that my parents sent out. Of course it shows a stork bringing a baby — one of those sweet myths that seems to have faded now. But the storks still are around, and seeing them — sometimes with their own funny babies — is great fun. I’m hoping to see more before they finally move on.

  24. You are fortunate to have the lagoons to photograph the stork (and other birds). One of my goals has been to go to a migration zone and see birds–any birds. The stork is actually a rather magnificent bird and Logan’s poem is so descriptive. Your photos are lovely.

    1. Well, you might have one of those migration zones closer to your winter digs than you realized. Take a look at this bit of temptation. I’ve often thought of going to Nebraska to see the sandhill cranes, but Arizona wouldn’t be bad. A quick look at the map suggests the distances would be close to equal for me, but for you? You’re going to be in the neighborhood.

      1. Thanks for the information. We may be in that area in November, which is known for birding in general. But April and May are the months for migration of a variety of birds. Portal, AZ is apparently the place to be for the spring migration.

  25. What magnificent birds these are! I’m just in awe of the size and detail from your images. It’s hard to believe something of that considerable size could be swift and snap their bills shut so quickly! I’d love to observe that.

    I believe it was you who suggested I read Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” some years ago when I was laid up with back issues. I try to read that book each winter. Stalking with a camera is one of my favorite ways to burn daylight.

    1. They are large, for sure. In fact, they’re noticeably larger than a great blue heron or great egret. It’s amusing to watch them with other birds. Perhaps because of their size and strength, they seem quite tolerant of everything from ibis to the little shorebirds given to wading through their legs. There’s nothing like seeing a dozen black-necked stilts running around on the “ground floor” while the wood storks nap, or gaze into space.

      I could have recommended Dillard’s book to you, because I recommend it to everyone who has even the slightest interest in the natural world, and even a few who don’t. In fact, I thought of her when I read your story about rescuing the frog. One of my favorite lines in Pilgrim is “We have not yet encountered any god who is as merciful as a man who flicks a beetle over on its feet.”

      1. Aw, I do that a lot lately – flicking beetles on their feet. With apples, peaches and pears ripening and falling to the ground we’re seeing a lot of beetles. I often wonder if they become intoxicated from feasting on the fermenting fruit!

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