And by "rumors" I just mean great photos of nests taken by top local birders...clearly this was a mystery in need of investigation!
Luckily I was able to convince Will Cook to let me cover the highway 54 waterfowl impoundments for the Chapel Hill Spring Bird count. I had never birded these spots before (until recently I thought they were duck prisons and I'm not into captive birds), so I wasn't sure what to expect.
But when I arrived at dawn, lo and behold the trees were filled with Yellow-crowned Night-Herons!
|Yellow-crowned Night-Herons at the New Hope Creek waterfowl impoundment|
When I passed back by their haunt at 9 am, there wasn't a single one left to be found. They had all gone off to roost for the day I assume. They are Night-Herons after all, so-called because of their nocturnal (or maybe crepuscular?) behavior.
|Look at those toes! How can that be comfortable?|
I'm not sure whether the local population is growing or it's just that birders aren't at these little artificial highway-side marshes at dawn very often (I suspect both). All I know is that there is a ton of habitat similar to the area I covered that is either inaccessible or virtually never checked.
A simple extrapolation leads me to believe that at least several dozen Yellow-crowned Night-Herons must breed in the area. Yet until 5 or 6 years ago these birds were almost never detected on area spring bird counts. The previous record high count for the Chapel Hill Spring Count was 11 individuals. If only I could have been at two impoundments at once perhaps I could have broken the record...
Oh well, maybe next year!