You will find certain birds garner your excitement. My passion for birds and plants excludes none. However, the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron gets my undivided attention every time!
When we arrived to 0ur local River Park North in Greenville, North Carolina, we were anxious at just what we would see at this time of year. Since migratory birds were beginning to arrive in our area, we hoped to see some of them on our hike. Our party of three donned binoculars and packed up our water bottles to begin the deliberately slow hike. Anxiously, we set out from the parking lot and explored first area to the right on the trail which has a pond, observation platform, and picnic tables to eat from.
It surely didn’t take long for the binoculars and camera to get put to use. Double Crested Cormorants were fishing with their “Now you see me, Now you don’t” disappearing act under the water. When they wanted a different locale, their running on the top of the water for flight take off with all their frivolous fanfare commenced. Various Warblers were singing their hearts out in the pines and were flitting about in the green foliage. And wouldn’t you know it…about the time I would get the camera focused on one of these cute darting little birds, that’s just what they did…DARTED! A few Blue Gray Gnatcatchers were spotted perched in boughs, while Red-Bellied Woodpeckers hummed their trills high above us perched on the tree trunks. In addition, several park visitors were busy fishing from the observation platforms in the early morning cool temperatures.
As I was attempting to film the Cormorants swimming about, my friend said to me, “Hey Jane, look! There’s a Great Blue Heron on the limb right by you!” Perched in all its three foot tall glory…Naturally, I turned and it flew off across the pond to the shore on the other side. Oh well, there’s always NEXT time!
Walking Through the Magical Cypress- Gum Swamp
The large central path at River Park North begins in between several ponds, continues on out into an open field with a wetland habitat at one end. A heron rookery is located near the wetland area. Located high atop a power line tower was a humongous Osprey nest, complete with squawking parents. Once through the open grassy field area, you walk through a shady swamp of a very high topped canopy of Water Tupelo trees. It’s almost magical in there. The sounds of birds flows with a quiet echo through them as well as smells that permeate from the Tupelos in the water. The southern end of the tupelo swamp acts as a wonderful area for Prothonotary Warblers to take refuge. If you pay attention, as we did, even Mallards secretly swam through quietly among the tupelos as we watched from a close distance.
We just had to stop and take it all in as there are several cool types of trees that are growing in the swamp:
- Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Swamp Ash (Fraxinus caroliniana)
- Pumpkin Ash (F. produnda)
On the Trail to Yellow
On our way out of the swamp, we got distracted by a very evasive and tiny Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. Each time I focused in on it with the Nikon, it decided to flit to another branch. After about eight of these “romps” I gave up…my neck was demanding that I do so from looking upward! Nevertheless, we listened and watched its habits for a while.
Flanking along each side of the path in this area were beautiful Three-Lobed Violets (Viola triloba.) The light yellow greenish lobed leaves were very pretty and delicate, as were its lavender blue flowers. This was the first time I had seen a leaf like this. A special shout out to the In Defense of Plants on Facebook for helping me to identify this beauty! (Check them out and like their page, as well as visit their website. There are great podcasts and videos of wildflower expeditions into the woods, as well as photos of wonderful native plants and a plethora of great knowledge about them.)
As the Park had built a screened in platform in which to camp on, we definitely wanted to check it out as we are avid campers. It was fantastic. For info regarding how to reserve it, you should contact the park.
Amenities we found about the platform:
- Tin roof on top to keep any falling summer dew off or any rain you might encounter
- Screened fully all the way around the raised platform
- A screen door on either side
- Wooden floor
- A fire pit with grill top
- On the bluff overlooking the Tar River
- Also, a primitive camp site for one tent just beyond, but nearby the platform
Snake! Yellow-Crowned Night Heron!
After checking out the platform area, we proceeded on the trail. We meandered along and into the forest again, with some topography change. It changed to a little hilly terrain, with shallow standing water down in the lower area, with sub-canopy trees and various water vegetation.
All of a sudden my friend said excitedly “It’s a snake!” as the rustle of leaf litter was heard to the right of our feet. It had scampered quickly away from all three of us without any of us being able to give an ID of it.
That was exciting, but about the time she said “Snake!” she also said, “Hey! What kind of bird is THAT?” I about died. Frozen in my steps. Mouth agape and sucking in a large vacuaam of air. Merry Christmas to me! Standing down in the water as quiet and still as a church mouse was a lone Yellow-Crowned Night Heron! I could hardly speak. After what seemed like gasps and stutters from my mouth, I was able to communicate like a human and tell them what we were looking at. This was only my third time seeing one. Once, a rookery of them in the Bahamas, and the other in a swamp over in Greene County fishing for crayfish in the middle of the day. As was THIS particular observance — 12:30 p.m.! Funny for a bird with the word NIGHT in its name, I’ve only seen them in the DAY time!
About the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
- Size: 22 – 28 inches long with a wingspan of 42 – 44 inches wide
- Habitat: salt and freshwater marshes, mangroves, riparian woodlands
- Food: crustaceans of fiddler crabs, blue crabs, crayfish & other aquatic organisms
- Summer resident here in my area of North Carolina
- 21 -25 days of incubation, young stay in nest 25 days
- Stalks prey slowly…I mean slowly…like a slow motion movie
What a great time observing this beautiful and striking bird. It was starting to get warm out and our stomachs were beginning to growl since it was lunch time for us, too! Turning around at that point, we hiked back from there towards where we began in the park.
A little disappointed we didn’t get to see what the snake was when we stopped and saw the heron, nonetheless, we were to still be fortunate! Snakes play a big part in our ecosystem. Even some birds eat them. Lounging along in the sun on a tree branch over hanging the pond, we spotted the non-venomous Banded (Southern) Watersnake. It wasn’t bothering anyone and was out of harms way. The snake was about 3 feet long and in nice shades of brown, black and chestnut. The trip seemed complete after seeing this great reptile!
City Parks Near You
On most cities’ websites, they list their parks under the Recreation section on their menu. You can find those listed and check them out. Usually they have a whole page dedicated to each park, its amenities, what the hours of operation are, an event calendar and sometimes downloadable information you can put on your smart phone to have with you when you go.
Check for these types of downloads:
- walking trails
- checklists for wildlife, birds, plants
Also, check and see if they have any listed birding group or nature group for that particular park that you can join. Most of them are free to join and will post events or walks they plan to do on the calendar for the park.
When at the park, make sure you have taken with you water, are dressed appropriately for the weather, and bug spray. You can use your smart phone to photograph birds, plants, insects. It also comes in handy to record any bird sounds you hear for identification later. You can even take a note or two on it if needed. Or, you can take a small pad of paper with a pen for a simple sketch of what you see.
At the Park Today
What a wonderful morning we had at the Park! In addition to the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, we were delighted to also observe the Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinals, Hairy Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Canadian Geese, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Boat-Tailed Grackles, Chipping Sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, various water turtles and early spring herbaceous plants.
But… all-in-all, the highlight of the trip for me was most definitely the Yellow-Crowned!