It is safe to say that Bob and I probably failed to get an exact count of all the different birds that we managed to see in San Blas, Mexico, but at least we were able to make positive identification of those species that crossed our paths, birds such as this Tri-coloured Heron.
We had just completed our boat ride around the periphery of San Cristobal estuary and were about to head into the mangrove swamp…
when a Tri-coloured Heron took flight from the distant mudflats. At this distance, you wouldn’t know that its wingspan is close to 3 feet.
With strong, steady wing beats, the Tri-colored Heron flew directly towards us and landed right beside our launch on the rocks that mark the entrance into the channel beneath the mangrove trees. We had a prime location for observation.
Showing no concern for the rumbling of our outboard motor, the heron stood sentry as our motorboat drew nearer giving us a full frontal view of the shaggy feathers around the base of its neck.
This species of herons are the only dark-coloured heron species to have a white chest and belly. We could just make out faint broken patches of the white stripe running the length of this heron’s neck though the reddish stripe that further accentuates the plumage of the neck was undetectable. Certainly the rust feathers on the throat were obvious.
During non-breeding season, as it was in January when we visited Mexico, these long-legged herons have a yellow or grey bill with a black tip and legs that seem to range in colour from yellow to olive-brown. You might think you were looking at a totally different bird during breeding season when the bill becomes turquoise blue and the legs bright pink.
The shrimp ponds on the outskirts of San Blas is where we found a juvenile Tri-coloured Heron a day earlier. Sheltered estuaries, mangrove swamps and mudflats are among the preferred habitat of Tri-coloured Herons so it made perfect sense to find these stately birds in both locations.
Slowly walking along the vegetation that lined the edge of one man-made pond, this Heron was stalking its prey where the water was shallow. Small fish make up a large part of a Tri-coloured Heron’s diet, and Bob and I had already noticed schools of minnows moving in tandem across the sandy bottom.
You can see that this juvenile has a white chin yet to turn maroon and greenish-yellow legs, but otherwise it displays beautiful chestnut plumage except for the diagnostic white belly and stripe the length of the foreneck.
Although these Herons use a couple of different strategies for catching prey, such as a running pursuit or stirring up the bottom with one foot, this individual seemed content to stand and wait for its prey to draw near. Its prey could consist of small fish, insects, crustaceans, reptiles or frogs.
We kept a close eye on this Tri-coloured Heron, but its catch was never revealed to us.
Back along the breakwater that protects the entrance to the swamp, this Tri-coloured Heron assumed the habitual pose of this species, with its neck curled into an S-shape.
With our guide slowly inching our boat into the shadows of the mangroves, we left this Tri-coloured Heron busy on the lookout for intruders. These birds are very protective of their hunting territory and will charge at others of their own species and other wading birds that come too close. We didn’t get to see any of that action that afternoon.