Bird Is The Word

Last week while pedaling on the LA River Bikeway a bird in the water caught my eye that I stopped and snapped (click the image for the bigger picture):

Though my first thought was “black-crowned night heron,” it was substantially larger than any I’d seen, plus it didn’t have the typical starkly contrasting plummage much less the telltale black crown.

So I hemmed and hawed and studied the image when what I should have done first and foremost was consult my copy of the indispensable The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, which had come in handy on so many previous identification occasions.

Instead, I let it be. Then while at the L.A. County Museum of Natural History with Susan last Sunday we ventured into the incredible Hall of Birds and by jove I thought I’d found the answer via a taxidermed specimen in one of the display cases: American bittern!

Certainly there were similarities in the shape and plummage coloration and size, and I was not only thrilled (at least initially) at solving the mystery (I believe I high-fived Susan), but excited by the prospect because while Southern California is considered part of their expansive range, I’d never laid eyes on one before.

But the more I compared my photo with the bittern facts the more I began to doubt it.

Sure enough, this morning I finally made the loooong walk from my desk to my bookcase, pulled out the aforementioned amazing guidebook by John Muir Laws, and there on page 253 were illustrations depicting a mature black-crowned night heron and below that, voila: a juvenile of the species.

It was as if Mr. Laws drew the very same bird I saw.

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Will Campbell arrived in town via the maternity ward at Good Sam Hospital way back in OneNineSixFour and has never stopped calling Los Angeles home. Presently he lives in Silver Lake with his wife Susan, their cat Rocky, dogs Terra and Hazel, and a red-eared slider turtle named Mater. Blogging since 2001, Will's web endeavors extend back to 1995 with, a comprehensive theater site that was well received but ever-short on capital (or a business model). The pinnacle of his online success (which speaks volumes) arrived in 1997, when much to his surprise, a hobby site he'd built called VisuaL.A. was named "best website" in Los Angeles magazine's annual "Best of L.A." issue. He enjoys experiencing (and writing about) pretty much anything creative, explorational and/or adventurous, loves his ebike, is a better tennis player than he is horr golfer, and a lover of all creatures great and small -- emphasis on "all."