Friday, September 21, 2012

The Great Blue Heron Makes Its Annual Appearance in Provincetown's Wetlands

Provincetown seems to be on a kind of migratory fly-over path for nearly 500 species of migrating birds, so at any time of the year we'll find several different types of birds winging in to spend a bit of time here. Some of these birds come just for a day or two to eat things that are "in season" for a very short time.  Out in the dunes I've seen swarms of hundreds of birds descend on some of the bushes on the sandy hillsides, gorging for a few moments and then taking to the air again, swooping up and down until the leader, whoever that is, decides it's time to land again. Some of those bushes will turn almost black for a few moments at a time with several dozen birds perched on each of the branches of a handful of bushes within a few yards of each other, and then the whole colony will take flight again, darkening a patch of the summer sky as they swoop left and right together with an almost military precision like hundreds of soldiers on a parade march, all making the methodical left-face in the same instant. These bushes are on the hillsides, away from the trail. and I've never walked closer to see whether they are eating berries or fruits of some sort, or maybe bugs, or caterpillars that can appear in the dunes in great numbers for a few days at a time.
Flocks of Baltimore Orioles swoop into Provincetown in the spring, and the American Goldfinch arrives in sizable numbers, and will often spend a good bit of the summer here flitting through the trees, especially out near the Provincelands Visitor Center. But every year, like clockwork, just a few of my favorites begin to arrive within what seems like seconds after that moment when the temperature begins to drop a bit, and the summer starts to wind down...
The Great Blue Heron can be found at this time of the of year out in the wetlands near the Moors Motel, in the Far West End of town. They are most often found standing at the edges of the little rivulets of water that snake through the tall reeds and grasses beyond Provincelands Road, standing motionless as tiny fish and other small edibles pass by in these shallow waters. They are found here most often as the tide is going out, usually at less than half tide, when their long legs will keep their bodies out of the water as they strike a pose and watch for whatever might swim by and become their lunch. They feed on small fish, aquatic insects, frogs and other delicacies that happen by, spearing them with their long, sharply pointed bills. Rarely they can be seen wading from one spot to another, but are usually found standing motionless at the very edge of the water, just behind a few reeds and  grasses where they are trying to hide from potential prey, which is what makes it a bit difficult for us to spot them as well.
Your best chance to look for this stately bird seems to be during the time when the tide is fairly low during the morning hours, while the tide is receding. Look for herons on the far edge of the little salt pond that rises and lowers with the tides, where the water flows beneath the road near the "bike rack" in that little bit of forest on Provincelands Road, where these birds are sometimes spotted knee-deep in the middle of the pond as well. You'll find them more often, though, by looking very sharply out over the wetlands, or the moors, as they are sometimes called, to the right of the Wood End Light, and sometimes quite close to the road. You'll likely see only one at a time, because they fish alone, but a pair of binoculars might help you find a few of them fishing in different parts of the marsh, far from the road. And of course you'll want to take your camera with you in search of this big, magnificent bird.

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