This presumed Little Blue Heron x Snowy Egret Hybrid in Spurwink Marsh of Cape Elizabeth adds to the mix of ultra-rare hybrid herons that have been occurring annually since 2012 in the Greater Scarborough Marsh area. Or does it? See below.
The last cadre of migrants are arriving, and the late spring “rarity season” is now upon us. With new arrivals, breeding birds on territory, and the expectation of the unexpected, it was a great week of birding for me as I head out to Monhegan Island with our annual tour group.
My observations of note over the past seven days included:
- 1 continuing presumptive LITTLE BLUE HERON X SNOWY EGRET HYBRID, Spurwink Marsh, Cape Elizabeth, 5/22 (with Jeannette, et al). Present since 5/16, this would be the first record of this hybrid combination in Maine, and one of the few ever. I say “presumed” because I am not sure how we would rule out Little Egret (or a hybrid that includes Little Egret) as the other half of the mix, especially with the long-ish-looking dual wiry plumes. Furthermore, some folks have raised doubts about even the potential of mixed parentage here. While clearly different from the TRICOLORED HERON X SMALL WHITE EGRET SPP hybrids that have been in Scarborough Marsh since 2012, I hypothesized about the possibility of Little Blue joining the mix(es) in my 2021 article in North American Birds. I saw the bird again on the 23rd with clients, and obtained better photos than the evening before. Unless of course, my fascination with the hybrid herons of Maine is clouding my judgement here? (Edited for clarity and for minimizing definitives*)
The bicolored bill and blue-gray lores looks fine for Little Blue Heron, but the bill seems a little longer and thinner. The two wiry plumes on the back of the head also look longer and wispier than a Little Blue – could it suggest that the small white egret that’s 50% of its blood (we think) is actually a Little Egret…or the Little Egret x Snowy Egret hybrid…or…
The extra bushy plumes suggestive of Snowy is evident here, and are the soles of the feet a little yellowish? Other photos show the blakcish legs better than this, and 1st summer Little Blue Heron should have uniformly yellow-green legs, especially if still this white.
Also very Snowy/Little-like are the bushy plumes on the foreneck. When it shook, I also observed some whispy white plumes on the back…neither of these should be so fluffy and obvious in a pure Little Blue Heron, especially in its first summer.
***5/26 am edits: The more I think about and study this bird, the less sure I am. It bothers me that the lores and bill are spot on for a Little Blue. But would color develop further when in high breeding, which it won’t reach until next year? Could this just be a super-shaggy-looking Little Blue? Howver, the legs are black or blackish, which is not a characteristic of Little Blue Heron at any age. There seem to be too many anomolous features here to dismiss it as just another splotchy 1st-summer Little Blue. Perhaps, as the summer goes on, and more adult-like characteristics develop, a true pattern and its presumptive ID will become apparent. Hope it sticks around in the same area!**
- 1 BLACK-NECKED STILT, Eastern Road Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 5/23 (with clients from Maine and Idaho). First spotted by one of my clients as we were split up and scanning both sides of the marsh for sharp-tailed sparrow activity. Awesome find, Ralph! Here’s a lousy, one-armed phone-scoped photo of the bird in the distance.
- 1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Garcelon Bog Preserve, Lewiston, 5/25.
With the advancement of the season, my personal “FOY’s” this week were limited, as expected in late May, but many of our latest-arriving breeders are showing up on territory now.
- 1 Alder Flycatcher, Long Reach Preserve, Harpswell, 5/21 (with Harpswell Heritage Land Trust tour group).
- 1 MOURNING WARBLER, Long Reach Preserve, 5/21 (with Harpswell Heritage Land Trust tour group).
- 1 Eastern Wood-Pewee, our property in Durham, 5/22.
- 1 Common Nighthawk, over Bayside neighborhood of Portland, 5/22 (with Jeannette).
- 3+ Saltmarsh Sparrows, Scarborough Marsh, 5/23 (with clients from Maine and Idaho).
- 2+ Nelson’s Sparrows, Scarborough Marsh, 5/23 (with clients from Maine and Idaho).
- 7 RED KNOTS, Pine Point, Scarborough, 5/23 (with clients from Maine and Idaho).
- 3 Short-billed Dowitchers, Pine Point, 5/23 (with clients from Maine and Idaho).
TOURS AND EVENTS:
- Our June 2nd Zeiss Pelagic is sold out, but we are starting a waiting list in case there are any late cancellations. Please email the store at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on it.