Monday, July 23, 2012

Black-Crowned and Yellow-Crowned Night Herons and Blue-ringed Dancers

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, South Island Park, Wilmington, IL; 7/22/2012.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: After reading about it on the IBET ( ) network all summer, I finally found the time to take the two hour drive from Rockford, IL, to visit South Island Park in Wilmington, IL (just a few miles south of Joliet) to check out the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Above), that has been a surprise summer resident there for much of the summer.  For me, the drive was worth it, not only because I was able to locate it fairly quickly (my gal Val saw it first), but also because it became #404 on my Life List. Their head colorings are very striking with a bold white cheek, yellowish crown (thus its name - and not very visible in my photographs), and long white head plumes, contrasting its otherwise black head. Otherwise they are mostly gray overall with yellow legs and feet.
The same YCNH, South Island Park, Wilmington, IL; 7/22/2012.
The Yellow-crowned Night Heron stayed close to the shore busily hunting the shallow waters for its meals, mainly crustaceans. When I first spotted him, he had just caught something and was eating, but I was too far away for a decent photo. I slowly crept closer, staying behind trees to not startle it, but he didn't seem to mind our presence and basically ignored us.  These Herons are probably more common in the southern half of Illinois, but have been known to make appearances in northern half which is probably at the northern edge of its typical summer range. They can be found in the Southeastern corner of the U.S., spreading up the Atlantic seaboard as far north as Rhode Island as  Massachusetts, and as far west as Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. They are an all-year resident of Florida.

Black-crowned Night Herons: The Yellow-crowns' cousins, the Black-crowned Night Herons (Below) are far more likely to be found in Northern Illinois.
A Black-crowned Night Heron, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
Although I have seen Black-crowns a good number of times in Northern Illinois; my best photographs of these guys are from elsewhere. For the past few breeding seasons, a large colony of Black-crowned Night Herons have been nesting at South Pond in Lincoln Park of Chicago. I have yet to witness the many nests in the South Pond trees, but hope to make that pilgrimage next Spring.  I have also seen them in Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, as well as out West when I did some Spring birding in San Diego at a fantastic bird habitat called Famosa Slough.
The Black-crowns are slightly bigger than the Yellow-Crowns, and have a visibly stockier profile. They are mostly white with with a black back, bill, and crown (thus its name). Like the YCNH, they also sport the long plumes protruding from the back of their heads. These plumes in both species will grow longer as they are courting mates in the breeding season.
Another BCNH, Famosa Slough, San Diego, CA; 4/7/2012.
Black-crowned Night Herons are generally more widely spread and more northerly than its Yellow cousins. They can be found from coast to coast, north into the plains of Canada, and south along the Gulf and Pacific coasts of Mexico. I have even seen them in Hawaii (Below).
One of my favorite early photos of a BCNH doing some evening fishing at a Kauai waterfall, Hawaii; 7/9/2008.
The photo (Above) was taken with one of my first cameras (DSC-7 Sony) with only 8 mega-pixels and a 15x zoom. But even in the dim evening light and with the grainy quality, I loved the setting and composition of the shot. (Below is a Link to more of my early BCNH photos from my blog post of  6/15/2010: ).

Blue-ringed Dancer Damselfly: While I was stalking the Yellow-crowned Night Heron in South Island Park, I couldn't help but notice the multitude of damselflies that were present along the river's edge.
A Blue-ringed Dancer, South Island Park, Wilmington, IL; 7/22/2012.
I probably saw at least 7 different looking damselflies buzzing and flitting around the grass and shallow water's edge. The only one I am fairly positive about identifying is the Blue-ringed Dancer (Above).  The other 6 may not be different species. They could be male and females of the same or even immature damselflies. I am still learning about these intricate little creatures.

I find that adding dragonflies and damselflies to my repertoire of wildlife subjects, has added many new challenges to my amateur photography skills. First of all damselflies are so tiny, that unless I am specifically looking for them, they are very easy to miss. Secondly, my birding lens (Sigma 150-500mm) is not very practical for taking macro shots of these diminutive damsels. So while I am primarily out hunting birds with my big lens and then spot a damselfly, I am too lazy to change to a more practical lens (I also have a Canon 18-55mm and a 55-250mm and am not even sure if they are better suited for insect photos or not, until I actually try them for that purpose), and I find myself having to back away from my subject so my Sigma can focus on the insect. If I am too close, the Sigma will not focus. But then because the subject/insect is so small, I am never really sure I have a sharp focus. Plus the depth of field on the Sigma is so narrow that I can't even get the damselfly in focus from head to tail. If the head is in sharp focus, the tail isn't, or vice versa. (i.e. Above: the Blue-ringed Dancer's head is out of focus, while its tail is sharper).

In practice, I have much to learn about both - these new insects and my photographing of them. Hopefully as I get better my damselfly, dragonfly, and butterfly photos will get better. Next weekend will feature Hummingbirds from the Southwest.

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