Instinctive Behavior in a Green Heron, Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

What a book a devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature! –Charles Darwin

Usually when one sees a wader grab a prey item, the prey is subdued, perhaps by a few pecks, then manipulated into position and swallowed. Today at Brazos Bend State Park, however, I observed a Green Heron grab a large American Bullfrog tadpole. The bird picked up and then dropped the tadpole a few times after intermittently pecking it. Finally the bird discarded the tadpole and walked away. I thought this strange given that waders of all species at Brazos Bend eagerly consume amphibians in all stages of development. Perhaps (although it seemed unlikely) the bird considered the tadpole to be too big to swallow?

I continued to watch the Green Heron fully expecting the bird to reconsider and return to the tadpole and eat it. Instead, it caught a juvenile frog and repeated the whole process! After pecking the poor frog a few times, the Green Heron just walked off without eating it. I have only seen this sort of thing once before when a Little Blue Heron captured and then discarded a crawfish. Do these waders hunt and kill (or at least maim) instinctively without being hungry, and without lardering the prey–just like well-fed house cats? If so, stone cold killers, these fellows!

Green Heron with juvenile frog at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
Bad Day at Elm Lake: this Green Heron captured, subdued, beaked, and then discarded without eating this unfortunate frog. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). High-speed synchronized fill-flash.

©2012 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

Sabine Woods, Texas: Close Encounters of the Feline Kind

Time spent with cats is never wasted. –Sigmund Freud

I took the opportunity to visit the Texas Ornithological Society Sabine Woods Sanctuary this week while Elisa was working in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m sunburned (sweated off my sunscreen in a matter of minutes), covered with various insect bites and stings, and my left hand is swollen due to contact with some poisonous plant. Deer flies will eat you ALIVE this time of year. It was like the CONGO!

 Got some nice shots, though–Yellow Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Orchard Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers (strangely out of place!) and a few others. The best part: I was in an area of thick, chest-deep vegetation that was alive with cotton rats when I heard a rustling noise. That sounds mammalian, I reasoned. I saw the brush parting ahead as if something the size of a Cocker Spaniel was coming toward me. And it didn’t stop! It didn’t know I was there–strange, given that I’d been sweating like Nixon for the past two hours. Is this a cougar!?! went through my mind (I saw one here last spring). Am I about to die?

Suddenly a cat-face poked right out in front of me, about five feet away. I knew it was a cat before I knew it was a . . . bobcat! The bobcat couldn’t figure out what I was. I was big, with five legs and one huge eye! The bobcat couldn’t decide to attack or not for a full two seconds, but let out a growl as if to say: “Thanks for chasing away my rats, you . . .  silly-looking creature!” The bobcat quietly slipped back into the brush and disappeared.

Bobcat at Sabine Woods Sancturary, Texas
Puzzled: This bobcat couldn’t identify an animal with five legs and one huge eye. Texas Ornithological Society Sabine Woods Sanctuary. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

©2012 Christopher R. Cunningham. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.

New Article and Collection: Stalking the Hunters

Stalking the Hunters: Observing and Photographing the Predatory Water Birds of Brazos Bend State Park, Texas explores the hunting activities of waders and other birds at one of the Texas Gulf Coast’s finest birding sites.

Little Blue Heron with American Bullfrog Tadpole at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
This Little Blue Heron has just captured an American Bullfrog tadpole. Photo taken at 40-Acre Lake.