Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Episode 633 (8-1-22): Two Great Waterbirds

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:58).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-1-22.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the weeks of August 1 and August 8, 2022.  This is a revised repeat of an episode from August 2015.

SOUNDS – ~4 sec – call from Great Egret then from Great Blue Heron.

In this episode, we feature two mystery sounds, and a guest voice, to explore two striking birds—striking in looks, and striking in how they hunt.  Have a listen for about 30 seconds, and see if you can guess these two long-necked, long-legged wading birds.

SOUNDS AND GUEST VOICE – ~30 sec – Voice: “At once he stirs and steps into the water, wading with imperial self-possession on his three-pronged, dragonish feet.  The water could not tremble less at the passage of his stilt legs as he stalks his dinner.  His neck arches like the bending of a lithe bow, one of a piece with the snapping arrow of his beak.”

If you guessed, egret or heron, you’re right!  The first call was from a Great Egret and the second from a Great Blue Heron.  The guest voice was Alyson Quinn, reading part of her “Lesson from an Egret,” inspired by a September 2007 visit to the Potomac River.  The word “egret” derives from an old German word for “heron,” a fitting origin for the many similarities between these two big birds.  The Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron are the two largest of 12 North American species of herons, egrets, and bitterns.  The Great Egret is strikingly white, while the Great Blue has only a partially white head over a bluish-gray body.  But a white subspecies of the Great Blue, called the Great White Heron, occurs in Florida.  Great Egrets and Great Blues both typically feed in shallow water, taking fish, amphibians, and other prey by waiting and watching quietly, then quickly striking with their long, sharp beaks.  The two species also share a history of having been widely hunted for their long plumes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; the impact on their populations helped lead to nationwide bird-conservation efforts and organizations.

Distinctive looks, behavior, and history make these two “Greats” a memorable and meaningful sight along Virginia’s rivers, ponds, marshes, and other areas.  Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs, and thanks to Alyson Quinn for permission to share her “Lesson from an Egret,” which gets this episode closing words.

GUEST VOICE – ~18 sec – “I want to be more like the egret, with the patience to be still without exhaustion, to never mind the idle currents or be dazzled by the glamour of light on water; but, knowing the good thing I wait for, to coil my hope in constant readiness, and to act in brave certitude when it comes.”


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close this episode.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 277, 8-10-15.

The sounds of the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron were taken from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site, http://www.musicofnature.org/.

Excerpts of “Lesson from an Egret” are courtesy of Alyson Quinn, from her blog “Winterpast” (September 21, 2007, post), available online at http://www.winterispast.blogspot.com/, used with permission.  Ms. Quinn made the recording after a visit to Algonkian Regional Park, located in Sterling, Va. (Loudoun County), part of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.  More information about the park is available online at https://www.novaparks.com/parks/algonkian-regional-park.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


(Except as otherwise noted, photographs are by Virginia Water Radio.)

Upper two images:
Great Egret along the New River near Parrott, Va. (Pulaski County); photos by Robert Abraham, used with permission.  Third image: Great Blue Heron in a marsh at Wachapreague, Va. (Accomack County), October 5, 2007.  Bottom image: Great Blue Heron in a stormwater pond on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, July 28, 2015.


The following information is excerpted from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service”:

Great Egret “Life History” entry, online at https://services.dwr.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040032&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=19202; and

Great Blue Heron “Life History” entry, online at https://services.dwr.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040027&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=19202.

Great Egret

Physical Description
“Large, heavy, white heron with yellow-orange bill, black legs, long, slender neck, and long plumes extending beyond tail….”

“Male selects territory that is used for hostile and sexual displays, copulation and nesting.  Adjacent feeding areas vigorously defended, both sexes defend.  …Migration occurs in fall and early spring along coast; winters further south than Virginia. …Foraging: alone in open situations; prefers fresh or brackish waters, openings in swamps, along streams or ponds; wader: stalks prey; known to participate in the 'leap-frog' feeding when initiated by cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis).  Prey are taken in shallow waters; prey usually includes insects, fish, frogs (adults and tadpoles), small birds, snakes, crayfish, and many others.  Nesting: in trees or thickets, 3-90 ft. above water in willows, holly, red cedar, cypress, and bayberry on dry ground in marshes.”

Population Comments
“Dangerously near extermination in early part of [20th] century due to plume hunting; population comeback hampered by loss of habitat, exposure to DDT and other toxic chemicals and metals. …[Predators include] crows and vultures….”

Great Blue Heron

Physical Description
“Large grayish heron with yellowish bill, white on head, cinnamon on neck, and black legs,”

“Territoriality: known to have feeding territory in non-breeding seasons, defended against members of same species.  Range: breeds from central Canada to northern Central America and winters from middle United States throughout Central America; in Virginia, is a permanent resident of the Coastal Plain. …Foraging: stands motionless in shallow water waiting on prey; occasionally fishes on the wing along watercourses, meadows and fields far from water.  They also take frogs, snakes, insects, and other aquatic animals.  Nesting: predominately in tall cedar and pine swamps, but may also be found on the ground, rock ledges, and sea cliffs; nests on platform of sticks, generally in colonies….”

Aquatic/Terrestrial Associations
“Salt or fresh shallow waters of lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, bays, oceans, tidal flats, and sandbars; feeds in surf, wet meadows, pastures, and dry fields.”


Used for Audio

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Birds of the World,” online at https://birdsoftheworld.org/bow/home  (subscription required).

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2006.

Merriam-Webster  Dictionary:
“Egret,” online at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/egret;
“Heron,” online at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heron.

National Audubon Society, “History of Audubon and Science-based Bird Conservation,” online at http://www.audubon.org/content/history-audubon-and-waterbird-conservation.

Oxford Dictionaries/Oxford University Press:
“Egret,” online at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/egret;
“Heron,” online at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/heron. 

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2001.

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002.

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at https://services.dwr.virginia.gov/fwis/:
Great Blue Heron entry, online at https://services.dwr.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040027&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=19202;
Great Egret entry, online at https://services.dwr.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040032&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=19202;
“List of Native and Naturalized Fauna in Virginia, August 2020,” online (as a PDF) at https://dwr.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/virginia-native-naturalized-species.pdf.

The Waterbird Society, online at https://waterbirds.org/.

Joel C. Welty, The Life of Birds, W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, Penn., 1975.

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere 

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Birds,” online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/all/birds/all.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird. Information is available online at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at https://ebird.org/home.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web,” online at https://animaldiversity.org.

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at http://www.virginiabirds.org/.  The Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation, online at http://www.xeno-canto.org/.  This site provides bird songs from around the world. 


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

Following are links to some other episodes on birds in the family of herons, egrets, night-herons, and bitterns.

Episode 118, 7-9-12 – Summertime sampler of birds, including Great Blue Heron.
Episode 127, 9-10-12 – Green Heron.
Episode 235, 10-13-14 – Black-crowned Night Heron.
Episode 381, 8-14-17
– Midnight sounds near water, including Great Blue Heron.
Episode 430, 7-23-18 – Marsh birds in Virginia, including Great Blue Heron and Least Bittern.
Episode 478, 6-24-19
– Little Blue Heron.
Episode 603, 11-15-21
– Fall bird migration, including Green Heron and Snowy Egret.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-4: Living Systems and Processes
1.5 – Animals, including humans, have basic life needs that allow them to survive.
2.5 – Living things are part of a system.
3.4 – Adaptations allow organisms to satisfy life needs and respond to the environment.
3.5 – Aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems support a diversity of organisms.
4.2 – Plants and animals have structures that distinguish them from one another and play vital roles in their ability to survive.
4.3 – Organisms, including humans, interact with one another and with the nonliving components in the ecosystem.

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
K.11 – Humans use resources.
1.8 – Natural resources can be used responsibly.
3.8 – Natural events and humans influence ecosystems.
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.

Grade 6
6.6 – Water has unique physical properties and has a role in the natural and human-made environment.
6.8 – Land and water have roles in watershed systems.
6.9 – Humans impact the environment and individuals can influence public policy decisions related to energy and the environment.

Life Science
LS.3 – There are levels of structural organization in living things.
LS.5 – Biotic and abiotic factors affect an ecosystem.
LS.6 -- Populations in a biological community interact and are interdependent.
LS.7 – Adaptations support an organism’s survival in an ecosystem.
LS.8 – Change occurs in ecosystems, communities, populations, and organisms over time.
LS.9 – Relationships exist between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.
LS.11 – Populations of organisms can change over time.

BIO.6 – Modern classification systems can be used as organizational tools for scientists in the study of organisms.
BIO.7 – Populations change through time.
BIO.8 – Dynamic equilibria exist within populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.
Episode 606, 12-6-21 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.