WADING BIRDS - HERONS AND ALLIES

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Because they are inherently photogenic, large, and sometimes relatively approachable, these stately birds are a favorite subject of dedicated bird photographers and casual snapshooters.  Not all species that occur at the refuge are covered below; I have seen Roseate Spoonbills, both Night Herons, and a Reddish Egret only one or two times each in the years I've been visiting Woodruff, so they're not often present and extremely unlikely to be encountered. 

Herons and Egrets - all of these species can be seen along any of the impoundments and canals of the refuge.   The large pool you first come to just as you leave the parking lot and the canal on the south side of the dike bordering Pool 1 are sometimes packed with wading birds early in the morning. In general, the diversity and abundance of these birds is greatest from fall through early spring.  In summer, its often difficult to find more than a few individuals.  As is true with most birds, you're most likely to actually catch them feeding early or late in the day.

                  

A few Great Blue Herons are nearly always present on Pool 1 or Pool 3.  This is the largest of the herons at Woodruff, and are a relatively immobile forager.  It's therefore easy to overlook them, especially when they are at an edge and they blend in with the background vegetation.
                      Little Blue Herons are sometimes remarkably tame, and in the fall and winter, there are often a couple that forage along the dike on the south side of Pool 1.  One of the most frequently seen herons at Woodruff, little blues are pure white when juveniles, but can be distinguished from snowy egrets by their yellow-green legs and lack of a bright yellow patch of unfeathered skin between the beak and eye.
                        Less frequent than Little Blue Herons, a few Tricolored Herons are often present on one of the major impoundments.   They are also quite active as foragers, and sometimes snatch small fish out of the water while in flight (dip-feeding).
                      Green Herons can be found on the refuge year-round, but are usually harder to find in the winter.  They are usually solitary and relatively slow foragers, so you may have to look carefully along the edges of any of the canals, especially in areas where there is woody vegetation such as willows growing at the edge.  They are more common as breeding birds; one pair usually breeds in the clump of bushes to the south of the dike bordering the south side of Pool 1, about halfway out to the Hammock Nature Trail.  In mid-late summer, fledglings can often be seen hanging out on the larger waxmyrtle branches.
                      Great Egrets are most common in late summer-late winter, and are sometimes present in flocks of a dozen or more birds.   They also sometimes associate in feeding flocks with other herons and egrets, especially Snowy Egrets.
                         Snowy Egrets are smaller than great egrets, but like them  are most often seen in fall through early spring.  They will sometimes feed in groups, but watch for lone birds using the "bill-clapping" technique of foraging.  The bird stands still with the tip of the bill in the water, and by rapidly opening and closing it, creates a continuous series of ripples that purportedly attract some (stupid) small fish.  They will sometimes stand in this posture for several minutes at a time.
                       Probably the least frequently seen foraging egret on the refuge, small flocks of a dozen or so Cattle Egrets are sometimes seen in fall and winter flying across the refuge around dusk on their way to their nighttime roost.  They are occasionally seen feeding on the dikes.

Bitterns

                       Extremely shy and secretive, at least a couple of American Bitterns are present every winter on the refuge, but aside from the occasional individual that forages along the edges of one of the canals, they are seldom seen.  I see them most often at about dusk, flying from their daytime activity area to their nighttime roost, often in the large expanses of marsh south of Pools 1 or 3.
Least Bitterns are also present as breeding birds from about mid-April to the end of summer, but these TINY herons are even more secretive than their larger cousin.  Look for them in any of the marshes or areas of the impoundments where there is fairly dense emergent vegetation such as cattails, rushes, or sawgrass.  I see them most often in short flights from one area of the marsh to another - they usually drop completely out of sight when they reach their destination.

Ibises and storks

                     White Ibis are most abundant in the fall and winter.  They can be found feeding in any of the shallower pools or canals, often in association with other herons or egrets.  Immature birds have a considerable amount of brown plumage on the head and body.
                        Glossy Ibis are also common in the non-breeding season.  A flock of 20-30 birds is often present in Pool 1 for much of the winter in most years.
       Less predictable, but sometimes present in small numbers in  fall through spring,  Wood Storks are most likely to be seen foraging in pools or canals with low water levels.  They specialize on feeding in areas where their fish prey are concentrated by dropping water levels. They are mostly tactile feeders, wading around with their partly open bills submerged in water.  When they feel something hit their beak, they snap it shut.   Pool 1 and the surrounding canals are a good place to look for them.

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