My readers are well aware of my birdwatching obsession. I have been pretty successful in photographing the subjects of this blog – in Africa, Vietnam and I have even spotted a few close to home along the Long Island Sound:
As I captured more and more in photos it began to dawn on me that I was getting very confused as to what designates each species. The above are snowy egrets, for example and the bird at the top of the post is a great blue heron from Tintoreras Islet off the coast of San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos. Apart from color these birds share many common physical characteristics: long thin necks and legs, and thick long beaks. They are both coastal birds.
So I did some research (one of my favorite (post trip activities) and guess what? They are even closer that I imagined.
Egrets are really just a type of heron. The latter are more variant in color, and while both are large birds, herons have the largest species (however as you will see below they also have smaller versions). Egrets appear to like standing in the shallows more often than herons which prefer to be perched on a higher spot.
In conclusion, there isn’t much difference – and don’t get me started on cranes which are also in the same family.
I won’t try your patience with more ornithology – let’s get to the birds themselves. The Galapagos does have its own endemic species called of course the lava heron. As noted above it is quite small as herons go and their grey color makes it difficult to spot them. These small herons live and nest along the lava rock coastlines, saltwater lagoons, and mangrove forests and feed on small fish, crabs and lizards, a similar diet to its larger cousins you will see in a moment.
The Tintoreras islet is an other-worldly place of jagged lava formations in contrast with its white sand beaches – in another post of landscapes I will share photos of its peculiar beauty. We were walking along a very thin path along the shoreline – those lava formations are razor-sharp so it is not a good idea to stray – and a motion caught my eye. It was late in the day with the sun set low directly in front of me – so my first pic of the lava heron was more like those shadow pictures I made in school:
This lava heron was a bit shy in comparison to the other birds on the Galapagos so when it noticed our approach it slipped back into the shadows of the lava rocks. Undeterred, I walked ahead to where I had spotted some Sally Lightfoot crabs (here is a sneak peek, closeups and details on this crustacean in an upcoming post):
Sure enough, the lava heron had walked around the rocks towards this potential dinner and reappeared – note another crab in the background:
I guess my practice stalking of local birds (cardinals, blue jays) paid off.
Fortunately for me the lava heron’s bigger relatives were not at all shy. Wherever there was potential food – crabs, lizards etc it was easy to spot one:
In a recent post about marine iguanas I wrote about a very patient heron that was so intent on the thousands of baby iguanas in his view that he didn’t even acknowledge our approach – I was only a few feet away when I took these pics:
Just a note: ordinarily it is considered proper to stay a good 10 feet or so away from wild animals, but in this case we had no other way to get past this heron on our narrow path without getting close.
My next heron encounter also broke this invisible barrier, but this time I wasn’t the one who made the approach. I was enjoying a little private pool time in the late afternoon on Santa Cruz Island before getting ready for dinner. Lenore and I were staying at the wonderful Finch Bay Hotel while the other members of our group were at another hotel close by. By way of explanation – we had to make a very last-minute change to our trip dates to the Galapagos and due to this lateness, the hotel we were supposed to stay at was totally booked. The Finch Bay Hotel was offered up as an alternative – and it turned out to be magnificent – another wonderful example of WDTGAP (there were plenty more of these moments I will share in a future post).
I am in the midst of my reverie when, with a flurry of feathered wings, this beautiful but quite large blue heron decided to land right next to my lounge chair – and this one definitely acknowledged my presence:
Again, as with my encounter with the frigates in the fish market, my first reaction was not fear, but one of delight and I slowly reached for my camera and started to shoot. In its turn, the heron decided I was neither a predator nor food so it casually walked around the pool area, even stopping to take a drink:
The heron even managed what I imagined a friendly smile at me before he left: