Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Herons in the herbs

Recent rain has helped the herb spiral to flourish. It has also seen the rapid growth of the surrounding lawn and this has been the ideal habitat for some very elegant diners. A family of White-faced herons spent several days foraging for insects amongst the wet grass. When disturbed these enormous water birds would take refuge on nearby rooftops. But the herb spiral was too tempting and they were soon back for more.

The colouring suggests that the visitors are two juveniles - they are lacking the stark white face that gives them their name. Another difference is that juveniles fly with their neck extended while the adults curve their necks back into their bodies. These youngsters are lucky to have the school grounds to get used to the world before heading off for a life along the Cooks River and beyond. But we'll probably see them next year when they look for a safe place to nest.

Back in the school grounds another family of herons is just getting started. During the school holidays a nest was established in the same location as last year. For many weeks the only thing to be seen was the tail of the parent sitting on eggs and the increasing collection of white poo on the ground.

In recent weeks there has been much more activity. Three chicks have hatched and there is a flurry of activity every time a parent returns with food.

In a very short time the chicks have gone from fragile fluff balls with weak looking wings to quite sizeable and strong individuals. In between feeds they stretch their wings, walk (or rather stagger) around each other in the crowded nest or stand tall. This exercise will help prepare them for short visits to nearby branches and the ultimate challenge of learning to fly.