August brings about another kind of migration to the northeast region of the United States. Shorebirds begin to make their yearly trek toward their winter homes. The Lake Erie shore attracts many of these shorebirds and one particular beach in northern Ohio is one of them. Not only does the beach at Conneaut, Ohio have the Lake Erie shoreline, there is also a large sand bar containing a mud flat (when it’s not flooded) and a photography friendly marshland.
The sand bar is a two hour drive for me so I don’t go very often, especially since most of the birds have lost their colorful breeding plumage. However, it is a good place to see a nice variety of birds.
In this photo blog, I’m going to show you a very difficult bird to find, our smallest heron, the Least Bittern. Then, I’ll share a few photos of a bird that has managed to avoid my camera lens until this year, the American Avocet. Then I’ll share a video containing clips of the Least Bittern, American Avocet, and more.
The Least Bittern is very well camouflaged, making it one of the most difficult North American marsh birds to spot.
The least bitten measures between 11 and 14 inches in length with its neck outstretched. When in a relaxed position, I’m guessing they are half of that.
The Least Bittern uses its long neck to search for and catch prey without leaving the perch. If you look closely, you can see the target on the Spatterdock leaf, a dragonfly.
The Least Bittern eats mostly small fish (such as minnows, sunfishes, and perch) and large insects (dragonflies and others); also crayfish, leeches, frogs, tadpoles, small snakes, and other items.
In this photo, this female bittern just caught a dragonfly nymph. (A dragonfly’s life span is about one year with very little of that time being spent as an adult dragonfly. A dragonfly nymph is the middle, and longest, stage between the egg and adulthood. During the nymph stage, they spend their time underwater so, unless you witness a Least Bittern catch one for a snack, you seldom see them.)
Bittern can feed in water that is too deep for them to walk in because of their habit of straddling reeds.
As I mentioned earlier, the Least Bittern is our smallest heron measuring between 11 and 14.2 inches in length. Even with a wingspan of 16 - 18 inches, it only weighs between 1.8 – 3.6 ounces.
The Least Bittern has adapted for life in dense marshes. As I previously mentioned, rather than wading in the water like larger herons, they move about the marsh clinging onto cattails and reeds with their long toes. It slips its thin body through even the most thickest marshes.
Because of its preferred habitat, it often goes unseen except when it flies. Perhaps the only way you will know one is nearby is because you hear its cooing and clucking call notes. However, sometimes you can find them in the open such as these bitterns I found hunting on the Spatterdock.
Until this day I’ve never seen an American Avocet. I was really happy to see at least one come to my shore today. At 16.9 to 18.5 inches in length, they are a lot larger than I thought they were.
Probably the most distinguishing mark of an American Avocet is their long, upturned bill. I would love to see one of these beautiful birds in the spring when they are in breeding plumage. In the photo below you can still see the fading rust color of its neck.
This avocet stayed at the edge of the shoreline, however, they do prefer shallow water and large mudflats.
Their diet consists mostly of small crustaceans and insects, also some seeds. They feed by walking through the water with the tips of their bills in the water and slightly open. They filter food items from below the water surface.
During migration, the birds need to eat and sleep during their stopovers. This avocet was preening for a little while and its eyes were beginning to close in the warm sun.
We had an interesting visitor one morning. As I and a small group of photographers and birders waited for the Least Bittern to venture into the open, this immature Great Blue Heron walked up on us and wasn't afraid at all.
As I promised, here is a short video of some of the birds that can be found in a marsh.
I hope you enjoyed this little compilation of photos from Conneaut, OH. There's always an adventure waiting around the next turn.
See you there,