Sunday, April 21, 2013

Würdemann's ist Wunderbar

Saturday morning, Maureen and I led a field trip at Maureen's old stomping grounds, at Skidaway Island State Park, where she worked as a naturalist throughout much of last summer. With migration in full swing, we were hoping to grow our county lists with some Neotropical visitors. Waking up to an ominous weather forecast, we moderated our expectations a bit, but fortunately, we needn't have. 


Before we even got past the nature center and onto the main trails, we had already ticked a flyover Whimbrel and picked up a FOTY Painted Bunting, along with a brilliant male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the hummingbird feeder.


A little farther along we came across a singing male Summer Tanager. Initially, he was hidden in the foliage of a short, dense tree right off the path, but as our group crowded around for better looks he was happy to oblige us. He came out a bit to a more open area, and gradually came closer and closer until he was practically right above us. Talk about a soul-satisfying view!

Walking through a particular marshy area, it's common to hear Clapper Rails all around. The first call we heard, though, sounded to the lot of us like its regal cousin, the King Rail. After some patient waiting, and after enticing it out with some playback, it finally appeared at the edge of the grass. It was definitely drab all over, and lacked the more heavy streaking that you'd expect more of a King Rail. Maureen's camera had died by this point, but I was able to record the call on my phone. So, what's more likely, a Clapper Rail that sounds like a King Rail, or a King Rail that looks like a Clapper Rail?


These were all good birds for the day, and we were already pretty happy with ourselves, but we were about to come upon a real show-stopper. The Skidaway Narrows, a waterway that runs alongside Skidaway Island, is a good place to pick up shorebirds, loons, and waders. We arrived at low tide, and along the exposed mud of the riverbank was a Great Blue Heron. The heron immediately struck us as being like no other GBHE we've seen, what with it's extremely pale/whitish head and neck, including a long white crest plume instead of the typical dark blue crest and plume. and brownish-gray neck. Our impression: Würdemann's Heron, the rare form of Great Blue that's intermediate to Great Blue and "Great White" Heron. These are rare enough in south Florida (we'd never seen one while living there), so seeing one in coastal Georgia was quite a surprise. 

I hadn't thought it would be worth bringing the scope along (big mistake!), so I left everyone waiting while I ran nearly a mile to the car and back, desperately hoping against all hope that the heron would stay put for the duration. By the time I returned, out of breath, but with scope in tow, it had moved to a less open area, after getting spooked by a series of passing speedboats. Nevertheless, it was good enough for some quickly digiscoped photos before it disappeared behind a muddy bank. It would briefly reappear a half-hour later, allowing some friends of ours to hightail their way to the park in time to see it, before it flew off for good. 


It may not have been a new species for anyone, but it was certainly very exciting to see an exceptionally uncommon variation of an otherwise common bird. It's also notable for producing the following effect: Next time to see me, wherever it is, expect to see me carrying a spotting scope.


  1. Soul satisfying indeed! And that's from over the interwebs. Y'all rocked that Tanager, or is it the other way around?

    That poor looks so embarrassed, like all the other Herons make fun of it or something. Great find and sighting though of the Great Half-White hope.

    Speaking of which, hope all the wedding plans and such are going swimmingly!

  2. Thanks, Laurence! We and the tanager actually took turns rocking each other, so everybody went home happy at the end of the day. Wedding plans are coming along quite nicely, by the way -- thanks for asking!

  3. That heron is far out...I'd love to get in on The Good Wurd.

    1. Hi Steve - thanks for sharing your enthusiasm. So far it hasn't caused the stir amongst Georgia birders that we'd expected (I guess because it's not a new species?). I'm glad to know ol' Wurd's got his fans over there on the West coast.