#383: Western Reef Heron

As usual, I woke up about 5:00 A.M. on Monday morning. I debated heading out to Drier-Offerman/Calvert Vaux Park to see if the previous day’s Western Reef-Heron had returned. It had not been relocated on Sunday by anyone besides the original observer (though he had posted good photos so there was no doubt what it was) and I needed to go to work, so I hemmed and hawed about whether to make the trip. I thought maybe I’d try after work, though the tides would be wrong.

Then shortly after 7:00, news went out over the local rare-bird alert that Doug Gochfeld had seen the Western Reef Heron fly in about 6:50 and it was now being well seen by multiple observers. That was too much to take, so I threw my binoculars and camera into my backpack and called a cab.

The cab dropped me off at the Eastern entrance to the park about 7:45. I hopped over the concrete barrier and walked very briskly down to the inlet. (Fortunately I know this spot well.) I scrambled down the hill to the water through a lot of very tall mugwort, thoroughly staining my beige pants. (I knew I should have worn the black jeans today. Oh well. Dress code at work is pretty casual.)

Various herons and egrets were feeding in the inlet near the tideline eighty meters or so to the south of me, mostly Snowys. I scanned the group with my binoculars and there it was: a blue heron with a white face, black legs with yellow feet, long thin black bill, about the size of the nearby Snowy Egrets. Even from a distance it was unmistakable. (I’d researched it online the night before, and knew what to look for. Otherwise I’m not sure what I would have thought: Snowy Egret-Little Blue Heron hybrid maybe? It’s not in any of the North American field guides.)

This should be a picture of the Western Reef Heron but in my hurry to get out to the site I left the memory card for my camera at home.

I walked South through the mud another 10 meters or so (damn — now my shoes are messy too) to join another group opf birders who were scoping the bird. They were trying to decide which friends were stuck in offices whom they could call to needle about the bird. I kibitzed for a few minutes, then climbed back up through the mugwort, and headed off to the D train.

The heron did not reappear Tuesday, so I’m very glad I made the effort to see it when I did. It did reappear on Wednesday though, so apparently it’s hanging out in the area. It’s Thursday dawn as I type this. I expect we’ll know in another hour or two if the heron is there today. No one’s sure where it roosts, but it tends to spend high tide elsewhere and return for low tide. However Wednesday, it hung around longer and spent at least some of the high tide on an old abandoned barge in the creek.

We think this is the same bird that’s been seen the last few years in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Maine, and New Hampshire. If so, it’s likely to stick around for a while. If you want to see it too, your best bet is to try Drier-Offerman park at low tide. However, there are a lot of good feeding grounds around Jamaica Bay, Staten Island, and other places in the area, many not regularly birded, so if you’re out there anywhere keep an eye peeled for a small blue heron with a white face.


Drier Offerman park is easily accessible from the D train; Bay-50th Street stop, (which is not the same as the 50th street stop). From the subway, walk down Bay-50th street, cross the highway, and turn right along the highway service road until you reach the park entrance on the left. Or you can cross the baseball fields before you get to the park to view the inlet from the other side.

If you’re coming by car, take the Belt Parkway to Exit 6N, Cropsey Ave. If you’re in a taxi, they can drop you off right in front of the entrance almost as soon as you get off the Belt. If you’re driving yourself continue to Neptune Ave and park in the Home Depot Parking lot. There’s a small park along the canal by Home Depot that leads back to the inlet, and gives good views of the bird. You can also access this side of the inlet by crossing the baseball fields.

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