Lake Martin in Louisiana is an official wildlife sanctuary, and is home to a natural rookery where thousands of wild shore birds and migratory songbirds build their nests each year. The area is also referred to as the Cypress Island Preserve. Among the hundreds of species nesting here are several varieties of heron and egret (including the Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and more), Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants, Anhingas, Roseate Spoonbills, and Osprey.
My husband and I visited Lake Martin for the first time last Saturday. It was mid-afternoon when we arrived so the sun was over the west side of Rookery Road and extremely bright which made it difficult to capture good images of the birds. Another disadvantage was that the birds in the rookery were more distant than I had originally thought. I snapped a few shots and hoped to get better shots the following morning when the sun would be behind us. The morning light was much better for photos, however, it was still difficult to shoot the birds that were farther away from us. In short, the following photos are the best I could get...
Adult Little Blue Herons are very dark all over. At close range or in good light, they have a rich purple-maroon head and neck and dark slaty-blue body. They have yellow eyes, greenish legs, and a bill that is pale blue at the base, black at the tip. Juveniles are entirely white, except for vague dusky tips to the outer primaries. Immatures molting into adult plumage are a patchwork of white and blue.
The Little Blue Heron is a stand-and-wait predator, rather than a frenetic, dashing-about predator. They watch the water for fish and other small morsels, changing locations by walking slowly or by flying to a completely different site. They nest in trees, usually among other nesting herons and wading birds.
Great Egrets are tall, long-legged wading birds with long, S-curved necks and long, dagger-like bills. In flight, the long neck is tucked in and the legs extend far beyond the tip of the short tail. All feathers on Great Egrets are white. Their bills are yellowish-orange, and the legs black.
Great Egrets wade in shallow water (both fresh and salt) to hunt fish, frogs, and other small aquatic animals. They typically stand still and watch for unsuspecting prey to pass by. Then, with startling speed, the egrets strike with a jab of their long neck and bill. They are colonial nesters, typically placing stick nests high in trees, often on islands that are isolated from mammalian predators such as raccoons.
Gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close is the Roseate Spoonbill. Locally common in coastal Florida, Texas, and southwest Louisiana, they are usually in small flocks, often associating with other waders. Spoonbills feed in shallow waters, walking forward slowly while they swing their heads from side to side, sifting the muck with their wide flat bills. Diet is mostly small fish such as minnows and killifish, also shrimp, crayfish, crabs, aquatic insects (especially beetles), mollusks, slugs. Eats some plant material, including roots and stems of sedges.
The Roseate Spoonbill nests in colonies. At the beginning of breeding season, the entire flock may suddenly fly up, for no apparent reason, and circle the area. In courtship, male and female first interact aggressively and later perch close together, present sticks to each other and cross and clasp bills. Their nest site is in mangroves, tree, shrub, usually 5-15' above ground or water, sometimes on ground.
I saw only a few Roseate Spoonbills and Little Blue Herons in the rookery area while the Great Egrets were quite numerous and widespread. I hope to return later in the season to catch a few glimpses of their offspring.