An Accidental Birder's Journal

About turtles basking in willows and another little brown heron
in Gallinas River Park at Las Vegas, San Miguel Co, NM
22 August 2015

While I have been abirding I have also continued my usual walks, seeing what is out there. The flood of 2013 reconfigured the river, cleaning out 100 years of silt, turning ponds into gravel bars and digging new holes here and there. In one of these new holes I have recently gotten a glimpse of possibly a large fish falling back into the water with a loud splash and noticed turtles basking...

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Thur, 6 August 2015
  I see a Red Eared Slider (like those iconic Madeleine, I remember from my childhood the pet turtle with the exact same markings in a clear plastic pond with a island in the middle) and two other very similar smaller ones but without the red ears. They separately rise from the deep, swim a short way taking in oxygen, then silently sink back to the depths. Their endurance under the water is far greater than mine for waiting for them to reappear so I walk on.

Sun, 16 August 2015
I discover a small Snapping Turtle in turtle hole. The snapper was trying to climb onto a short two inch diameter floating branch which kept rolling toward him whenever he put his claws on it trying to climb on. Finally he decided that the dead willows the flood had laid into the river would do just fine. He crawled onto the semi-submerged branches, stretched out his neck to its full extent leaving just his carapace and his nostrils out of the water, his favorite basking position. That neck of his is just about as long as his carapace, so be very wary trying to pick him up. His name is well deserved.

Fri, 21 August 2015
  That supposed fish jumping I had a glimpse of earlier this month turns out to be a Slider. Being cold blooded, turtles need to bask in the sun to keep their body temperature up. These turtle were named for their ability to quickly slide off their basking platform, be it log, rock or stream-side willows and into the water.

Sat, 22 August 2015
  With the disappearance of the Yellow-crowned Night-herons I went directly to the turtle hole. I stalked slowly up to where I could see the debris dam at the end of the hole, where I knew that the turtles sun themselves. There I see on a floating log a large Red Eared Slider and a smaller one. I get their photo which seems to annoy them. They slide back down into the murky water and I continue down stream.

  Just beyond, on the other side of that tangle of dead willow, floating logs and whole saplings liberally festooned with plastic bottles, rubber balls and various other flotsam and jetsam was a juvenile brown heron, standing tall, perched on the dead willow. After photographing him I continued on my way. Forty minutes later I was back on the other side of the river and he was still there, in a slightly different position, hunched over, staring at the water. I assume he is waiting for little fishes, while about 100m downstream I saw fat crawdads feeding on algae growing on the spillway of the dam that had formed the old mill pond which the flood of 2013 had turned into a gravel bar.

  I include here a some of our Yellow-crowned's family members found here in years past. The only way I have seen the Black-crowned here is flying away when I inadvertently disturb these hunched over bumps-on-a-log. The Great Blues usually see me first and fly away; this immature one was less wary and merely repaired to a tree. The Snowies showed up here in the drought year of 2012 and like the Yellow-crowned are seemingly less skittish then these other herons.

About names
  These Yellow-crowned are not strictly Night-herons as you can see from from photos. They are quite active in the day. They used to belong to the same genus, Nycticorax, as the Black-crowned Night-herons and others but now they have their own genus Nyctanassa. with Nyctanassa violacea violacea the migrating sub-species breeding in the SE US, wintering in the Caribbean and South America. They still retain the 'Night-heron' in the official AOU name.   At we learn:

In late summer, a few wander far to north. Strays from western Mexico reach southwestern United States.
If ours are from Mexico, they are Nyctanassa violacea bancofti and in Spanish are called 'Garza-nocturna Coroniclara', 'pedrete corona clara' o 'Martinete Coronado'. The differance between the two sub-species is slight if not purely subjective. Mainly the difference is that they have separate territories and N. v. bancrofti does not migrate.


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Peter Wait That's all for now,

this 31st of August, 2015