Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dark Night of the Soul

Here I have arrived at a time of sadness; this is the very last of the beach posts. It has been tremendous fun to recount the shoreline sightings from my June day in Jersey, and a welcome mental respite from my current location, which is in fact cooking me in my own skin (which I guess is better than being cooked in someone else's skin huh?). I saved my favorite bird for last. Even though I saw about ten new birds on the beach, my favorite sighting was of a bird I often see around the riparian preserves in Phoenix, but not like this.

Oh sigh...a Black-crowned Night Heron with breeding plumes out in front of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful thing. I see these birds almost every time I visit the Gilbert Water Ranch in southeast Phoenix, but there it definitely didn't feel like I was seeing the birds in their proper element, or at least in their most pure element. Crashing ocean waves and a stingy salty breeze? That's as elemental as it gets!

There was a pair of these stocky-but-elegant birds on the Barnegat Bay wharf. While the little shorebirds all scuttled along in an anxious state, these lanky striders made their rounds on the rocks with calmness and dignity. They seemed to be enjoying the the sounds, the sights, and the smells as much as the actual hunt and prospect of getting food. While it was enjoyable to watch them surveying the churning tide with their ruby-red eyes, it was even more interesting to watch them gaze out into the horizon for minutes on end, apparently thinking about very serious things. Heavy sits the crown, as they say.

Every once in a while they'd turn and look right at me. GLARE! Is there just something in human nature that makes us unnerved by red eyes? I mean, they're not too uncommon amongst birds, and the red eyes are one of the Black-crowned Night Heron's best features. Even so, I think I'd rather cuddle with a three-legged Harpy Eagle that hasn't eaten for a month than with this Night Heron.

Look at this picture for a minute and then see if you too think this bird's legs are too far forward on its body. I know, it's just the way it's standing but still...looks funny.

Even as the sun climbed high overhead, the Herons maintained their stoic vigil atop the rocks. They looked so cool and so morose, but when they turned their heads they'd catch the pleasant sea breeze and get a nice fluff. I don't often think of Night Herons having a lion's mane but, well, there it is.

 And sometimes they'd really get fluffed! It's not just the bold red eyes of the Black-crowned Night Heron that are so intriguing; it's that the birds are also shape shifters. I really wish I could do this (whatever is going on in the bottom photo); it looks way more satisfying than a heavy shrug or sigh.

I had to go out to the Atlantic coast to be reminded how awesome Black-crowned Night Herons are, and I'm ashamed to say I might find the more muted Herons in Phoenix to be dull by comparison. At any rate, it was fun to have one of these more common birds still serve as a highlight in my trip. Batman may have based his motif on the Bat, but I'm thinking the Dark Knight had Black-crowned Night Herons as the inspiration for his attitude and style.