Photos From 2015

2015_HERON_SlideShow2

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This video is a showcase of photos taken by volunteers and staff throughout the 2015 colony monitoring season. It is 9 minutes long, complete with music, captions, and photo credits.  Thank you to everyone who shared your magnificent photos for inclusion. Think Spring!

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Species Spotlight: Why Egrets are so Great!

A Snowy Egret sporting its plumes which were once more valuable than gold. Note its yellow feet. Photo by Ron Logan, taken in Florida.

A Snowy Egret sporting its plumes which were once more valuable than gold. Note its yellow feet. Photo by Ron Logan, taken in Florida.

It’s the end of December and our colonial wading birds have flown the coop for warmer locales.  Can’t blame them, can you?  Despite their absence at this time of year, now is when I think of two species in particular: the Great Egret and the Snowy Egret, and it’s not because their feathers are as white as snow.  It was the near extinction of these egrets that sparked the formation of the National Audubon Society as well as the first annual Christmas Bird Count.

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HERON Volunteers Fill Crucial Information Gaps

Great blue heron nest discovered and photographed by Paul Cyr.

Great blue heron nest discovered and photographed by Paul Cyr.

This past spring while I was focused on completing an extensive aerial survey effort to estimate the statewide breeding population of great blue herons, 76 Heron Observation Network volunteers quietly continued their important work.  For seven years now, these citizen scientists have visited great blue heron colonies across the state to document nesting activity, including the number of active nests and the number of young produced.  These data from the first six years of volunteer surveys fed directly into the design of this year’s dual-frame aerial survey, and the data collected this year and over the next few years will feed into similar aerial survey efforts to determine the population trend.

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Nature’s Beauty Inspires Linda Panzera’s Photographs and her Generosity to Maine’s Wildlife

HERON volunteer, Linda Panzera, with camera in hand while observing a great blue heron colony.

HERON volunteer, Linda Panzera, with camera in hand while observing a great blue heron colony.

One of the best aspects about running a citizen science program such as the Heron Observation Network is meeting and regularly interacting with over 100 volunteers from all walks of life, who live all over the state (and out of state), and who share a passion for and fascination with the natural world.  One such volunteer I’d like to highlight is Linda Panzera.  She has been monitoring great blue heron colonies for HERON since 2010.  As with all of my volunteers, I greatly appreciate Linda’s commitment over the years, her willingness to schlep across fields and forest to a mosquito-infested wetland to observe nesting herons in the heat of the summer, and her positive interactions with colony landowners that enable us to continue monitoring these sites over time.

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Species Spotlight: Maine’s “Night Ravens”

Adults perched during a ground survey. Photo by Brad Allen.

Adults perched during a ground survey. Photo by Brad Allen.

Great blue herons have been a huge focus of the Heron Observation Network’s survey efforts and blog posts, but let’s not forget the other colonial wading bird species that nest in Maine in the spring and summer months: night-herons, ibis, and egrets (oh my!). This fall and winter, I plan to share some information on these other members of the family Ardeidae. They have many characteristics in common with great blue herons, but each species is also unique and deserves the limelight once in a while.

Let’s start with the black-crowned night-heron whose scientific name, Nycticorax nycticorax, translates to “night raven” and is appropriate considering its nocturnal habits and its crow-like call. All herons have the ability to feed both day and night due to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision, but night-herons primarily feed at night except when they are caring for their young who require feedings throughout the day as well.

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On the Hunt for Heron Foraging Locations

Photo series by Doug Albert.

Photo series by Doug Albert.

We are looking for volunteers willing to scope out areas habitually used by foraging great blue herons in anticipation of a potential research project aimed at tracking adults with satellite transmitters.  By partnering with Dr. John Brzorad of Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina and the non-profit organization 1000 Herons, we hope to learn more about the birds’ daily movements, energy budgets, colony fidelity, migration routes, and wintering locations.

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Biologists Take to the Air to Estimate Maine’s Heron Population

This is a typical "fly-by" view of a great blue heron colony.  How many nests do you see?

This is a typical “fly-by” view of a great blue heron colony. How many nests do you see? (Click image to enlarge)

On May 1st, IFW biologists and warden pilots began surveys for great blue heron colonies across the state.  These surveys are conducted using warden service airplanes which are flown at low level in order so observers can find colonies and count nests.  Once a colony is located, several passes are often required to count the number of active and inactive heron nests at each site.  The nests are made of sticks and can be in live or dead trees and occur in uplands, wetlands, and on islands.  When nests are in a dense stand of snags (dead trees), their gray color blends in well and can be difficult to count.  When colonies are large (in Maine, the largest colony is ~120 pairs), biologists must estimate the number of nests, for there is no way to fly over slow enough to count each one individually.  Further, when herons are incubating eggs, their gray bodies are difficult to see against the gray background of the nest.

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Photos from 2014

 

 

As a big THANK YOU to all HERON volunteers who monitored colonies, and to the landowners who allowed access, I’ve put together a slide show, “Photos from 2014”.  Check it out by clicking on the picture below, and be sure to have your volume un-muted because there is accompanying music.  ENJOY!
2014SlideShow

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Nocturnal Predators Likely Cause Colony Failures

Typical time lapse camera and sound recorder setup.

Typical time lapse camera and sound recorder setup.

The great blue heron was listed by MDIFW as a Species of Special Concern in Maine in 2007 because of a perceived population decline. Since I began working with herons in Maine, the first question I was to address was “What caused the apparent steep decline in the coastal nesting population?” Over the past six years I monitored both coastal and inland colonies to determine if that population decline is just a coastal phenomenon. In 2013, of 70 active great blue heron colonies we studied, ten failed mid-season, well in advance of expected fledging of young herons. The cause(s) of these colony failures were unknown, but disturbance by bald eagles, great horned owls, northern goshawks, or raccoons was suspected. In recent years, MDIFW has fielded numerous reports of bald eagles attacking great blue herons. This led me to believe that bald eagles may be the primary cause of disturbance and heron colony failures. If I could figure out what caused these colony failures, perhaps I would gain insight into the coastal population decline. This past spring and summer, my colleague and I attempted to learn what might cause a heron colony failure by “watching” and “listening to” the colonies around the clock. In early April, we deployed Day 6 Plotwatcher Pro HD time-lapse cameras at five great blue heron colonies that had failed in the recent past.  In addition, we deployed Wildlife Acoustic SongMeter2 Recording Units at three of these sites.  The time-lapse cameras recorded images every five seconds between dawn and dusk.  Although these cameras do not have infrared capability and do not operate at night, they were chosen because they can record a zoomed out view of most of the nests within a colony even when stationed 300 feet away, a predetermined distance chosen to avoid disturbance to the nesting birds.  To monitor heron activity at night, we tested the use of sound recorders to monitor potential nighttime disturbances.  The sound recorders were programmed to record sound for three minutes every half hour during the day (5am-8pm) and for three minutes every ten minutes during the night (8pm-5am).

Three out of the five colonies failed again before the young fledged. Through the use of the cameras and sound recorders, we believe we have detected the culprits.

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HERON’s Sixth Year Marked by More Volunteers and More Colonies

Photo by Victor Morin

Photo by Victor Morin

In only six years, the Heron Observation Network grew from 78 to 246 volunteer members! Just as Dr. Seuss said, “a person is a person no matter how small,” a member is a member no matter how many colonies they adopt!  Each member is invaluable in that he or she possess a unique understanding of the HERON program and its accomplishments, and likely passes on their knowledge to others even if just in casual conversation.  I believe this is how we’ve grown to the size we are today.

More members means more ACTIVE volunteers and ultimately more colonies adopted and monitored. Here are some quick stats for 2014:

 

 

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