In last week's column I discussed four of the common long legged waders of Chautauqua County that can be observed in our area. Today I would like to continue this topic with five more members of this group, the American Bittern, the Least Bittern, the Snowy Egret, the Little Blue Heron, and the Black-crowned Night Heron. I'll Conclude this topic next week with the remaining three waders observed within our county's borders from time to time; these three will be the Least Bittern, Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret.
Starting this week with the American Bittern, well known by local birders for its pump handle call, the American Bittern is a widely distributed member of this group of bird in New York state. Unfortunately the bird is declining in our area. Preferring a nesting habitat of cattail marshes, it has also been found in beaver ponds, and shrubby swamps. Breeding studies are reporting declining numbers due to a loss of this preferred habitat. Historical breeding studies dating back to the early 1900s have also recorded significant losses of habitat as one of the main reasons for our local population decline. Early biologists began to record this data as early as the 1950s for that reason.
Discussing the spring arrival dates of the current members of this group starting with the American Bittern, this bird begins to arrive in our area around the end of March and birding hotline reports have indicated that the American Bittern usually leaves our area by the end of August. Breeding data has recorded the American Bittern commencing nesting and started breeding around the first of May in a marshy habitat usually producing three to four young in our region.
The next member of this group to report on is the Least Bittern. Is a sporadic visitor to our area having been recorded as early as the last week of March and reported leaving the area by the first week of November. It has been occasionally sighted as a nesting bird having been reported as such near the end of May and early June.
The Snowy Egret is a rare visitor to our county, having been recorded only three times over the years during the months of March and April in appropriate habitats. Reports of this bird have indicated that due to the desirability of the plumes of this bird for the making of ladies hats in the late 1800s the bird was almost completely destroyed by plume hunters. Fortunately conservationists stepped in to save this species. Thanks to the work of the conservationists, the bird made a dramatic recovery and by the 1950s data by ornithologists indicated the bird was on a recovery path. While still not on a complete satisfactory recovery, scientists believe that the success of this species does in fact now appear positive. While not completely satisfactory, birders are requested to study this species and report sightings to their local Audubon and birding organizations.
The next bird is the Little Blue Heron, another uncommon bird that has been observed in our county only rarely during the months of May and one rare August report was made several years ago. Breeding data has been sporadic statewide over the last few years, and its similarity in appearance to the Snowy Egret has added confusion when reported sightings are made. The Little Blue Heron has also been a difficult member of this group to identify due to the similarity to the Snowy Egret during certain times of the year. Most recent state sightings appear to be of birds moving away from breeding grounds, giving the impression of increased populations. There have only been a few local reports most occurring during the month of May.
The last bird for this article is the Black-crowned Night Heron; this bird has had sporadic reports almost all year long in our county. This is a bird that usually nests 20 to 40 feet above the ground in a marshy habitat. When near a marsh region in our county, watch for some of the nests and listen for sounds of the young birds above you.
Photographs, sightings and article suggestions can be sent to me by U.S. mail at 38 Elm St. Fredonia, N.Y. 14063, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.